I never wanted to escape to the woods or mountains, I wanted to make nature and the open road my home and my office. To know that what I carry in my backpack is all I need to work and experience life - that is all I crave. This trip taught me that.
Words & Photography: Rania Rönntoft | Northbound Journeys
Location: Dalarna, Sweden
Many of us use nature as a means of escape from our everyday lives and from mundane routines. But nature has always had a pull on me and I wanted to make it part of my everyday life. Luckily, being a freelance photographer enables me to do what I love whilst being outdoors travelling.
When my friend Katarina invited me to her newly renovated home in northern Dalarna for an outdoor photography 'work-cation' I knew I had to say yes. I was looking forward to once again being on the road through Sweden, experiencing the northern nature with its mountains and fells and capturing it all with my camera. All whilst having inspiring business conversations and workshops together with some of my fellow photo colleagues - it sounded like the perfect getaway.
An early morning train ride takes me to Östersund where I meet up with my friend Helena who would be joining us. Together we set out on a small road trip towards our destination and after filling up the car and buying breakfast at the nearest gas station, we were off.
We avoided the highway and cruised on small winding roads through forests, coloured in all the shades of autumn. The mountains forever loomed in the distance but we never seemed to reach them. We were heading towards Flatruet, Sweden’s highest public road, situated 975 meters above sea level.
In our excitement about the adventure, we forget all about lunch.
After a few hours, the road starts to incline and it seemed like out of nowhere the forest opened up and then disappeared completely. No trees were to be seen and we entered a different world, where everything was desolate. As we opened the doors and headed outside, the wind quickly grabbed a hold of us and our hair whipped around our faces. It’s thrilling but after only a few minutes outside the wind chills you to the bone if you aren’t dressed for it.
The beauty of it all is simply breathtaking: the red autumn earth against the blue mountains, the hoards of reindeer roaming freely on the vast northern plains, with almost no human interference.
My mind works differently when I am outdoors capturing images, I lose all sense of time. I don’t know for how long we stayed, but suddenly I snapped back into the real world feeling satisfied with my photos and also from realising I was way too cold to hold on to the camera for much longer.
We continue along winding roads and sing along loudly to my road trip playlist. The sun emerges behind the clouds to present us with a golden sunset. It shines on us through the windswept fir trees and gives us the energy to reach our destination.
Just as the last light fades and a full moon rises above the waters we arrive. Our host greets us with a big smile and warm hugs as we enter her home; a barn newly turned into a house with a lot of the original details still present. There are candles lit in every nook and a fire burning in the fireplace.
She treated us to a home cooked meal which we enjoyed together with a few bottles of beer. We sit around the table talking for a bit and then we headed down to the nearby lake to make a fire and watch the harvest moon in all her glory.
Journeying here was an adventure in itself and this evening marked a perfect start to our trip.
In the days that follow, two more friends arrive. We start each day by rising early and enjoying slow mornings in the kitchen. The flame of the candles flickers gently and the sun makes art on the wall. One cup of coffee replaces the other as we talk, write and work.
Our host spoils us with freshly baked bread and I feel myself slowly set into a different pace. I’m becoming relaxed and as a result my mind wanders and new ideas spring into life.
After a few slow hours, we start to get ready by packing our bags. For the first time in weeks the skies are clear and oh how I’ve missed the sunshine! The days are spent hiking and exploring the surrounding areas while practising photography and learning from each other.
We spent one-day hiking in the mountains that stand blue in the distant - a nice contrast to the red and brown autumn grass swaying in the wind. After hiking a path that should have only taken about twenty minutes, we reached the peak of a small mountain called Lillnipen, situated 1100 meters above sea level and one of the peaks of Nipfjället.
Seeing as we are a bunch of photographers it took us a lot longer to do the climb due to all of the stops we made along the way. Once on high ground though, we found a rock to perch our backs against as we enjoyed a light lunch and some coffee overlooking the wonderful views before heading back down.
Being in Dalarna gives us the opportunity to explore a huge variety of landscapes and so, on our second day, we opt for a trip to Fjätfallen. The warm autumn colours glisten in the sunlight. The power of the water thunders loudly upon our arrival and we immediately scatter and start exploring the area with our cameras.
There’s a beautiful forest behind a windbreak and we gather up to head in amongst the tall trees together. The air is rich with the smell of coniferous trees and wet dirt. It’s a lovely hike where we occasionally stop to eat blueberries whilst trying to wave the midges away. I acquire a good hiking staff (which I am later reluctant to leave behind) and after a while, we come upon a small cabin.
It’s empty now but hopefully, someone has made use of it to escape their everyday life by coming here during the summer. Personally, I could see myself living like this on a permanent basis, well away from the bustling city life.
On our third day, we decided to hike in Fulufjällets National Park. There are a lot of National Parks in Sweden I have yet to visit, this is one of them. Then there’s the fact that this park also houses Njupeskär, Sweden's largest waterfall - which doesn’t exactly lower my expectations for today's adventure.
Siberian Jays - the symbol of Fulufjället National Park - curiously watch us from above. I gasp for air and hold my breath as one of them decides to land in my hand to eat the cracker I’m holding. To have a wild bird in my hand is an indescribable experience.
The landscape changes and we enter a dense forest, and after a while the path starts to incline. It’s not a long hike though and soon we come over the ridge to view the waterfall. It’s cold and windy down in the valley carved out by the water. The power of the fall roars and it’s hard to hear anything but I feel very much alive as I step carefully over the wet rocks to find the best spot for a good photo. One of my friends ventures too close and is soaked but happy anyways, she said it was worth it and I believe her...
There’s a fire pit situated on the top of the hill where we first spotted the waterfall. As we felt cold and wet we decided to backtrack there for lunch. We needed to get warm after being buffeted by the winds and water down below. A lot of clouds move in and the sun disappears. As we sit around the fire doing our best to get warm, the first snow of the year starts to fall. It’s not much at first but the size of the flakes increase and suddenly it’s like a magical snow from a movie.
To be in such a beautiful location and witness autumn and winter collide in their first battle of the year truly made this hike special. It always leaves me feeling invigorated when I get a taste of the power of nature; be it thunder or rain, the forces of water carving it’s way through mountains or seasons clashing. It’s awe-inspiring and I realise just how small we humans are.
After each day we return home to the house tired but happy, memory cards packed with new images and our minds packed with just as many stories. Our boots are muddy and our clothes smell of smoke. We put on some good music, bring out a few bottles of beer or wine and light up a fire in the fireplace.
Then we all help out with making dinner whilst simultaneously working with our images. Usually one of us goes down to the lake to keep a fire going in the sauna. We have great conversations about our editing process and what inspires us, how we go about writing about our journeys and what our goals are for the future.
After dinner, we thread with bare feet through grass covered in the first frost of the year. It’s dark outside when we enter the sauna and the heat feels good on our skin. The full moon makes the otherwise dark water look like liquid silver and the cold embraces us as we go from the heat of the sauna and silently slide into the depths of the lake. Well, we’re almost silent - the cold does make us gasp for air and let out a faint shout before going under.
As I lay in bed on our last night here I feel that my body and mind are equally tired. I fall into a deep, sound sleep free of dreams to disturb me. During breakfast on our day of departure, I realise how much I love this lifestyle.
I don’t want to escape to the woods or mountains, I want to make nature and the open road my home and my office. To know that what I carry in my backpack is all I need to work and experience life - that is all I crave.
To journey through Scandinavia working with photography and writing whilst also spending time with other creative people - old friends and new ones I make during my travels - is to me what life is all about.