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Light Lines

A Slender Chance for Positive Change
Words: Calum Macintyre // Photography: Vegard Aasen, Terje Hoihjelle & Adam Gairns

Wild Norwegian nature is increasingly under threat from development. Is it possible to blend art, action sports, and environmental activism to thrust this issue to the top of the political agenda?

Vegard’s voice crackles over the radio as the sun dips below the horizon to the west: ‘I will do a test exposure and then I should be ready a few minutes later.’ I hurriedly shove my crampons into the top of my bag and check the head lamp’s connection for the fifth time.

The cold wind funnelling up the north flank of Austabotntind – a jagged mountain in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park – is throwing snow into the air all around me, making it difficult to avoid getting the battery connection wet. I make a platform in the snow for my snowboard and peer into the darkness below. Will the edge of my board grip onto the icy surface of the couloir? I click into my board and radio Vegard to say that I am standing in position. Then I cover my head lamp and immediately my eyes are drawn away from the small tunnel of light that had been illuminating the snow in front of me. The wide expanse of the Jotunheimen comes into view, lit by a soft mix of the sun’s afterglow and the first touches of moonlight.

I take a few deep breaths, readying myself to drop into the darkness below. Finally the radio crackles back to life and I hear the cue from Vegard: ‘Uncover your head lamp and drop in 10 seconds.’

The seed for Light Lines was sown back in July 2020. Vegard and I both live in Sogndal, a small mountain town on the west coast of Norway. Vegard has been building his photography portfolio for the last 10 years, combining technical landscape photography with humans doing spectacular things in the mountains. At the same time I have been engaging the outdoor community in the climate and nature crisis, pushing for people to get political so that we can create systemic change. The first project that we worked on together was the Man in the Moon – an image of my silhouette framed inside the full moon as I climbed alone to the summit of Austabotntind. Many people told me that this image made them ponder our smallness in relation to these wild landscapes.

On the way home from taking this photo, Vegard mentioned an idea that had been brewing for a while: someone would ski down the couloir that splits the North Face of Austabotntind, lighting up their descent with a powerful head lamp, and he would take a long-exposure photograph from the opposite mountain. The idea was to create a line of light that would trace spectacularly down the mountain, carefully balancing the bright light of the head lamp with the dark night sky. I remember feeling a sense of apprehension at such an ambitious project. The risks in these wild places at night – and consequences if something were to go wrong – are not to be laughed off.

The initial idea grew to include 10 iconic mountains from the Jotunheimen in the south to the islands of Senja above the Arctic Circle. As ideas swirled in our minds, something else altogether more tangible was happening to wild Norwegian nature.

I’ve been travelling to Norway since I was a young child, and eventually moved there in 2016 to study climate change management. Norway has a reputation as a country that places a high value on the environment and nature. However, after moving here I realised that the true picture is very different. More and more wild areas are being sacrificed for gondolas, hydroelectric developments, and motorways. The country has lost nearly 40 per cent of its wild areas since the early 1900s. It began to dawn on me that there is a systemic problem with how people value wild nature. They say that you do not realise what you have lost until it’s gone, and this is the sense I get in Norway as I live here now, 20 years after travelling here as a young child.

Politicians have allowed the value of wild nature to slip down the political agenda. Since 2014, there have been 22,000 applications to build out into protected areas in Norway – and 19,000 of these have been approved.

The first Light Lines photo was created in April 2022, on Ringstind in Jotunheimen. We showed the photo to numerous people and all were shocked by the blazing line of artificial light cutting diagonally through the scene. As though this majestic mountain had been turned into a ski resort. Back then we laughed off this idea, explaining that the mountain was inside a national park – there was no way that a gondola would ever be allowed to be built there. But as time has passed we have begun to realise that this belief was deeply naive.

In December 2022, something gave us hope. Norway’s climate and environment minister, Espen Barth Eide, went to Montreal and was a leading voice in the signing of a new international agreement to protect 30 per cent of the land’s surface from development. It was encouraging to see a Norwegian politician take the lead in an agreement like this. We read this news as the first snows began to fall in the mountains around our home, and it gave us a renewed motivation to use the next months to try to awaken the voice of the outdoor community in this fight.

It really felt like this might be a shift in how our politicians valued wild nature at home. We made a decision that we would give the photo of Ringstind, the one that people said made it look like a ski resort, as a gift to Espen Barth Eide for the work he did on this agreement and to inspire him to put nature higher up the political agenda at home too.

Just like creating international agreements to protect nature, creating these lines of light is not a straightforward process. It requires communication and timing beyond how we normally operate in these mountains.

Initially we thought that we would have all night to take these photos, that we just had to get to the summit after sunset. Only after the first photo did we fully grasp the time pressure. As the sun goes down, it becomes dark enough that the light from our head lamps is visible in the image. However, as it darkens, stars appear – leaving blurry traces on a long exposure. This means that we only have a small window between sunset and the stars appearing to ski the line and capture the photo. Vegard’s long exposure must be perfectly timed to balance the bright head lamp and the lingering twilight. A slender chance to create positive change.

It is February 2023 and I’m finally back in the place where the seed for this whole idea was sown: Austabotntind. I’m strapped into my snowboard, peering down at the steep snow slope falling away into the darkness below. I count down in my head – 10, 9, 8… 3, 2, 1. Then I pull my gloved hand away from my head torch and let its light flash against the rock walls to either side.

Pushing forward, the edge of my snowboard grips the icy snow at the top of the line. I hear it fighting for grip on the steep slope, a crunching shriek, and wonder what Vegard is thinking – he must be able to hear it reverberating off the walls around me as he stands with his camera on the opposite mountain. Then I’m away.

I fight to keep my single edge in control as I swoop down, concentrating on the need to keep looking ahead – I must not expose more of the mountain to the light from my head lamp than necessary. As I reach the bottom the radio crackles, and I hear a scream from Vegard: ‘Keep going! Past the end of the line!’ He chose to place the camera higher than planned for a better angle, but this means I have to ride much further than we had thought. The goal is for the Light Line to exit the frame. If I stop halfway across it will ruin the image.

After an eternity bouncing across the rough sastrugi snow on the glacier at the bottom I hear Vegard shout on the radio that I am out of the frame. A few seconds later, he adds ‘Amazing!’ and I let out a deep sigh of relief. This was always going to be one of the more difficult and risky lines on our list.

As I stand there in the silence that follows, I begin to think about where I am standing. In summer there is a mountain road not far from the bottom of the glacier. But now, in winter, it is far from the nearest open road – it feels like I could be in any wild place on Earth. I imagine the photo that Vegard has just taken. A wild landscape changed in a second by me riding down it with a head lamp. The thing is, when I reach the bottom I turn my light off and the mountain goes back to the way it was.

This is what we are trying to communicate to people through this project. When a politician takes the decision to allow development in wild nature, it only takes a split second for the decision to be made – but the consequences are for eternity. The landscape will never go back to the way it was. I wonder if people travelling in the Alps before it was developed had the same thoughts. Perhaps we are in the same moment here in Norway. Will we look back on this time in history and realise what we lost when we allowed the wild to be filled with infrastructure?

We return home, happy that another photo has been checked off the list. But our feeling of accomplishment is extinguished as we learn of a political case that represents everything we are trying to communicate with these Light Lines.

There are plans to build a new four-lane motorway through a nature reserve close to Lillehammer. The government’s own environment agency rejected the plans as being too impactful on biodiversity and the natural quality of the reserve. However, Espen Barth Eide – the minister whom we planned to give the first photo to – has come out in support of changing the protected status of the reserve so that it can be built upon.

A nature reserve is Norway’s highest level of protection, even stricter than a national park. Yet the minister, who had signed an international agreement to protect nature around the world only two months before, places little value on this protected status. Vegard and I, deflated, agree that there is no way we can send the minister our planned gift. Instead we decide to put his photo up for auction, donating all the proceeds to the political campaign to pressure the government to roll back its plans.

That is what this project boils down to. We want people to feel an emotional connection to these landscapes when they see the photo, and then be engaged enough to take political action. The loss of our wild landscapes comes down to one thing: too little political pressure from those of us who see the value in these places. It is all too easy for politicians to listen to economic interests.


I write this just a few days after we exhibited the first Light Line in Oslo’s literature house. Over 100 people turned up on a Saturday morning to show their support for the campaign against the motorway. After the event we nervously waited to see whether people would feel that the connection between our photos and the loss of wild nature was strong enough. In the end we received a bid of nearly €4,000 on the photo meant as a gift for the climate and environment minister. The money will go towards paying for a lawyer to fight the plans for the motorway in court.

What gives us hope? Ordinary people fighting to put the value of nature higher up the political agenda. I think back to turning off my head lamp at the bottom of the line and standing on the quiet glacier looking up at the stars. It is these moments that future generations risk to lose if we do not stand up and act.

This story was first published in Sidetracked Magazine Volume 27

The fight to protect wild nature in Norway continues. For more information on how you can help, visit
Written by Calum Macintyre // @calummacintyre5
Light Lines photography by Vegard Aasen // @vegard_aasen