In August 2015 we spent 4 weeks in Iceland. We planned our trip roughly around 2 hikes. First we went to the Northwest of Iceland and made a trip in Hornstrandir. A Nature reserve where nobody lives anymore the whole year round. We were told the last inhabitants of Hornstrandir left in the 1950’s because it was so remote and tough to live. Now the old houses are used as summer houses by the descendants of those who once lived there.
So this post describes the first part of our journey in Iceland.
3rd of August
When we left we were both very excited and a bit nervous, as it should. Our flight was a little late and Nina took up the task to make pictures with her phone and post them on the blog while traveling. I must say she did a pretty good job as far as possible with the limited connection we had a lot of the time. And it was probably also a good thing as we tend to process our pictures and blog posts pretty slow (I’m writing this a couple of months later).
Arriving in Keflavik Airport we took a bus to Reykjavik to spend our first night on the city camp site.
As we still had an afternoon to spend we took an easy walk to the city center. The weather was actually pretty nice, a mix of clouds and sun, but with a pretty cold wind (well, at least at that moment we experienced it as a pretty cold wind).
We basically just hung out in the center doing nothing, had really good clams for dinner and got back to our tent as we were eager to leave the next morning.
4th of August
The next morning we had to get up early to catch our domestic flight to Ísafjörður, the district capital of the Westfjords. We left sunny Reykjavik in a small plane with less than 40 seats.
After a spectacular descend in the bay of Ísafjörður we arrived at a tiny airport. The town lies on the opposite side of the bay and about 5km a along the road. However we headed to the beautiful Tungudalur campsite about halfway the bay.
According to our plan we had this first day to take a look around, visit Ísafjörður, pick up our boat tickets to Hornstrandir and find a bottle of camping gaz. So that’s what we did. We climbed up to the waterfall above the camping site and later went to the town for our errands. In the town we also changed our plans for the next day (originally the plan was to make a hike in the surrounding hills) and booked a horse riding tour instead.
5th of August
Since the horse riding tour only started in the afternoon we had some time to spare in the morning, so we took another small hike a bit higher up the river.
But then the moment was there, Oiður (I have no clue how to write her name, so if anybody knows an Icelandic female name that sounds a bit as this, let us know) picked us up and took us to the horses. Nina had quite some experience in horse riding when she was young, but I only had been on a horse a few times in my life. On the other hand I have always liked being around animals.
Anyway we were pretty excited and had a lovely ride, me on Sleipnir and Nina on Lokkur. We tried the tölt, a gait which only Icelandic horses can do. It is similar to trot but instead of humping up and down you can easily sit still as the back of the horse is barely moving. However, with my experience in horses I only managed to get Sleipnir to do this for very short periods of time :-).
It was a really nice experience, and we loved also how they treated the horses in Fosshestar.
Unfortunately there was also one sad moment during this day. The zoom mechanism of our standard lens broke. In the end we were stuck with a Tamron 17-50 2.8 which could only make pictures at 17mm wide angle. The only other lens we had with us was the 70-200 Tamron, so from this point on there are only wide angle pictures mixed with telezoom pictures… For those who are interested, the camera we took with us is a Pentax K-3.
6th of August
Finally the day arrived we would leave for Hornstrandir. To get there you have to take a boat. Since we miscalculated the walking time to Ísafjörður’s harbour we had some stress to get there in time. We tried to hitchhike in order to get there quicker and luckily we got a ride from an elderly couple El Salvadorian immigrants.
In the end we had no troubles to get to the boat in time, and off we went!
After a rather short boat trip of about 1 hour we arrived in the bay of Aðalvík and were dropped off on the beach of Sæból: our adventure could begin! To be honest I was still a bit frustrated about the broken lens but Nina managed to take my mind off that and soon we were both enjoying the silence and remoteness of Hornstrandir.
Well, for Nina the enjoying stopped pretty soon again as she got a blister during the first hours of our walk. Luckily we didn’t plan to do a lot of kilometers as we only had the afternoon.
From Sæból we hiked up to the Southeast, passing an old church near a lake. Once we were over the pass above the lake, we turned East in the direction of Hesteyri. After about 10 km we found a nice camping spot for our first night.
7th of August
The next morning we went down to the shore again in the direction of Hesteyri. Hesteyri is, like Sæból and several other places in Hornstrandir, a small settlement that once was inhabited the whole year round. As Sæból it is also a drop-off point for the boats that bring tourists like ourselves and land owners a shore.
Once we passed Hesteyri we went up again to the highlands to make our way to Latrar. The higher we climbed, the nastier the weather became. Fog, wind and rain… We had our lunch under the protection of our tarp.
Once up in the highlands we were completely covered in mist, the wind got down a bit and we were walking in a white and very silent world, finding our way with the help of cairns.
For me, hiking in these conditions is kind of a mixed bag: it is such a beautiful and mystical world out there, but on the other hand there are the wet and cold conditions. And more important, after a while I would like to see better where we are going (even though we had the cairns and a GPS which told us we were on the right track). It brings a kind of uncertainty for me, together with the beauty.
Anyway, all things come to an end, as well this beautiful foggy walk in the highlands. And then came the moment we began to descend and start to see hints of the landscape through the clouds.
We descended through Stakkadalur into the big valley of Latrar. On our way down we passed a house with a group of hikers where we saw our first arctic fox. He was scavenging around the house hoping for food (which he also got). We went to take a look, made some pics and had a chat. Apparently it was a group of obese persons who were engaged in a program to have more exercise. Coming to Hornstrandir was the final goal they had been training for for several months.
We continued down and crossed the beautiful valley and its wide but shallow river.
Instead of visiting Latrar we took a shortcut and went North in the direction of Rekavikurvatn, a lake in a smaller valley where we planned to camp. This gave us some more wet feet as the terrain consisted for a big part of wet, swampy grasslands.
8th of August
After a day full of clouds we thought we deserved some sunshine! The next morning the weather seemed to agree with us. Morning clouds started to disappear very quickly making place for a bright, blue sky.
Again we had to climb up to the highlands and across a pass to get in the Fljót valley. What a different experience compared to the day before! No mystical atmosphere, but wide views and relaxed hiking.
Once we were down in the valley we had to cross Fljótsvatn. Our map showed it should be possible to wade through. It turned out to be possible, however the water came to the waste! While I was checking the depth without my pack, a woman with her two children and dogs showed up in a rowing boat. She offered us a ride to the other side of the lake, which we gladly accepted.
9th of August
So much for the nice weather! Next morning a thick deck of low clouds was floating in the valley. We had different routes in mind for this day. One which seemed more adventurous and another route on a more well established trail. Since both trails involved climbing to a pass, we opted, with the foggy weather in mind, for the less adventurous route. This however, also involved hiking through the wetlands on the shores of Fljótsvatn, which turned out to be quite a tedious and lengthy task.
Once climbing up to the pass the fog became very dense and we were pretty happy wooden poles were guiding us the way. Getting closer to the pass we lost them anyway and had to find our way on GPS, which meant we had to climb a very steep and scary part right before we got there (we think the actual trail took another route but we could not find it). Once up we took a short break but due to bad weather conditions we decided to skip on lunch and continue our way to get down as soon as possible. So after we ate some energy bars we continued through the dense fog along a slope and in the end crossed another smaller pass to finally descend to our camping spot on the shores of Hlöðuvík bay. Luckily the wooden poles were back in the game, helping us to stay on track.
In the end, this hike took much longer than we anticipated, and Nina got a bit injured as her leg started to complain heavily during the last descend to our camping spot. Besides that, we were both pretty tired and soon the decision was made to take it easy the next day. So instead of crossing the mountains to the South and later cross them back to end up further up in the bay, we would take a serious (and calculated) shortcut following the beach.
10th of August
So the next morning we started off easy. The weather was not bad, but not good either: beautiful clouds and a bit windy. We walked along the shore and passed by lots of driftwood and sadly also a lot of plastic and other garbage thrown on the beach.
We also made a “lowest point” picture. Usually we make a picture on the highest point of our trip (well, more or less). But now we were worried we would be in dense fog, rain and wind when we would be on our highest point and maybe unable to make a picture. So, to compensate we took a “lowest point” one.
A bit further on we also passed an “official” campsite. Later on our trip the ranger stationed in Höfn informed us, in a friendly manner, we should have camped at these sites. At the time we were not aware of this, and I’m also not sure if it is by law forbidden to camp outside of these area’s. However, with more and more hikers going to Hornstrandir, this might not be an unnecessary request to protect the fauna and flora.
Speaking about the fauna, we also met our first seal! (With a very happy tail 🙂 )
At noon we arrived at the other side of the bay at a lonely house. We had lunch and watched a young arctic fox play under the building. The easy morning and the encounters with the seal and fox had lighten our spirit so much, we decided to go on in the direction of Hornvik.
We started of with a steep climb leaving Hlöðuvík bay, but the trail was very good and we had no difficulties getting to the pass. Once over the pass we followed the slopes to the right on fairly level but rough terrain, after some kilometers leading to another pass providing us views on the cliffs of Hornvik, our final destination.
Even though this was not the initial plan, we were in a good spirit and carried on until we arrived at the official campsite in Höfn. We were welcomed by the ranger who is stationed there during the summer.
All in all we enjoyed this day very much!
Later in the evening we had a little chat with the ranger and it turned out we were quite lucky we made it this far getting ahead on our schedule. The following day they predicted very nice weather to visit the famous cliffs, but the days after that they predicted a heavy storm. So, as we were very keen to visit the cliffs we were happy to arrive a day earlier then expected, even if that meant we would spend a stormy day doing nothing at the campsite afterwards.
11th of August
Next morning we got up early, pitched the tent down and went off for our day trip with only a light day pack!
Before getting to the cliffs we had to cross the bay of Höfn ending with a wide but shallow river crossing. Then following the coastline on the other side of the bay and finally climbing up to the cliffs. It was a a very calm and clear day, making this a really beautiful experience.
12th to 15th of August
The next 2 days we just hung out at the campsite, Nina’s leg and foot needed some rest and in the afternoon of the 12th the storm also kicked in. The ranger was pretty interested on how our tent/tarp would hold in the storm. Turned out it handled the strong winds very well, which came not as a big surprise to me as Trailstars are known for their bombproof wind protection.
Due to the storm our return on the 13th was a bit doubtful as the swell might be too strong for the boat to pick us up. But in the end everything went as planned and we got back to Ísafjörður safely. Arriving back in society we craved for a hot shower and booked the only one-person room left in the local hostel. The well deserved shower was followed by a lovely dinner in Húsið, one of the local restaurants in Ísafjörður.
On the 14th we had another horse riding trip planned in Þingeyri. However, this was not such a good experience for us as we did not really agree with the way business ran.
Finally we left Ísafjörður again by plane in the early morning of the 15th and by that the first part of our trip to Iceland ended.