14 April 2016

Kiruna - Sweden

In February, a friend of a friend asked me to photograph her wedding in Sweden in the Ice Hotel, Kiruna, which is 200km north of the Arctic Circle. I joined her, her husband and their family for a five day adventure. I was so grateful to be able to go and share the experience, her family were so kind and warm towards me. This quarter has been a time of travelling alone for work, three trips in three months for work - before 2016, I had only ever traveled for myself. Lately, I have felt like the luckiest person around.
We took a tiny plane from London to Kiruna, an airport with just one arrival and departure a day. We passed over miles and miles of snow-covered, uninhabited mountains and forests of northern Sweden. It was February and the sun was setting at 1.50 p.m, the sky was lit up in an array of oranges and the plane was dark inside with nothing but sun rays coming through the windows. We were told the temperature this time of year could drop to minus 40 and we needed to prepare with woolen garments and thermals. I had no idea what a temperature like this could even feel like. We saw Aurora every night, I had seen it once before in Iceland but not like this. The first night was spent drinking in the ice bar from hand carved ice glasses. The following day I explored the hotel itself - it was spectacular, every room was hand carved differently. The hotel was quiet and I walked from room to room by myself, each of the beds had reindeer skin to sleep on. Afterwards, I walked to the lake by the hotel and followed some howls to find a group of beautiful huskies waiting to pull sleds. I remembered my foster husky and how much she would have loved to do this.

One night, five of us took snow mobiles to a forest for a night time drive. We drove for hours, swerving in-between trees, plowing through snow in the pitch black until we reached a frozen lake. We drove through the center of the massive expanse, I could see the orange glow of a hut on the edge of the lake, I could hear the huskies howling from a nearby night husky ride. On the horizon there was a slight twilight glow in deep red above the trees, they looked as if they were on fire. In the other direction, pink and green northern lights danced across the sky. It was exactly how I had pictured being in the Nordic winter wilderness would be. I could see animal tracks, single paw prints from what looked like a wolf, outside the husky route path. At other points I saw reindeer and elk tracks, also smaller tracks from maybe rabbit or hare. Eventually we arrived at a small island in the middle of a frozen lake, we stopped our snow mobiles and trekked on foot to a log cabin with fire pit where we sat, ate, drunk and warmed ourselves. After we drove back as fast as we could across the lake, I remember letting out a laugh of excitement because it was the most fun. Afterwards we drove to an Aurora Camp which was on the edge of another lake,  surrounded with tall evergreens and wooden huts. I walked down to the lake and set up my camera on a tripod on the ice, in time for the sky to light up. The three of us stood on a frozen lake in the arctic circle, drinking vodka from mugs with our cameras on tripods pointed at the sky while watching the sky dancing with greens and pinks, then just like that, it was gone again. The cold killed the batteries quickly, whenever there was nothing to see or clouds arrived I would place the batteries in my sleeve to keep them warm. It was midnight and the air was so still, it was minus 16 but I didn't need gloves as I couldn't feel the cold anymore, I was so awake with quiet excitement and felt I could've stayed there all night. After everyone went to bed, I stayed on the lake a little while. Aurora never came back so I reluctantly walked back to the log cabin. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, a wind burned happy face looked back with dread-locked hair.