Iceland 3

Location: Höfn

My actual journal entry for this morning was, “Holy Shit!” 

Since it never truly becomes dark in Iceland this time of year, I had some difficulty falling asleep. My insomnia could also be due to my excitement to press on and see more, rather than the brightness of the sky. I’ll compromise and say it was a little of both. I finally dozed off for a few hours, only to wake to the sound of rain. Heavy rain. Rain was not going to stop me, I brought waterproofing for everything! I got out and snapped a few photos then continued to my first turn off. A small hidden sign marked an almost invisible road. The only thing I could see was an outline of a road, marked by carefully placed rocks. “Here goes nothing,” I thought, as I cranked the wheel. I slowly drove down a small embankment and then back up a small hill. I was told “no off-roading,” but this path had a sign, some road markings, and previous tire tracks. The woman at a gas station had told me about this spot. When I no longer felt comfortable driving, I parked and began walking. I crested the hill and the face of a glacier beamed back at me. I don’t know who’s smile was bigger. As chuck of ice broke off, and all I wanted to do was touch it! 

I got as close as I could, well, as close as I felt comfortable getting. Staring up at the face of a glacier is a surreal feeling. It was very unnerving listening to it crackle. After hiking around for a while, I returned to my car. The rain was still coming down in a constant drizzle. 

I pressed on to Skaftafell for an all day hike up past Suartifoss, to Sjónarnípa, which promised an awesome view point of the surrounding glaciers and mountains. I hiked upward for about five kilometers. Through loose gravel, waist heigh shrubs, up hill sides and along steep drop offs. By the time I made it to the first overlook, the fog had became so thick I could barely see anything and rain started to come down. I was drenched long before I could dig my rainproofing out of my bag. Cold and a long way from the base, I continued up through the loose slate mountain side. After a few more hours of hiking I could no longer feel my hands or face. I changed my course and set off down the mountain to find a rebuilt historical farm.  Despite the less than ideal conditions, this was an incredible hike and led to the exploration of a few massive waterfalls that I could explore from all angles. 

“Monday it will be clear,” the woman from the information center at the base told me when I finally found my way back dripping wet and incredibly muddy. Monday? On Monday I will be so far west, I won’t have time to come back. If the conditions had been better, there are a number of different trails to take, each taking you higher and higher. The longest being a 16km hike to the tallest peek. Or deep down into the glaciers through the notorious blue ice caves.

I found out very early on that if you sleep at the “tourist” spots, you can explore them at 5am before any of the busses start showing up. No fees (which are extremely rare regardless of the time you go) and no people. Just you and the magnificent Icelandic landscape. I define tourists spots as places with specific bus parking, modern buildings with a cafe and/or gift shop, clear and easily accessible viewing areas with safely measures in place. By around 10:30am these places would be swarming with tourists each itching to see the magnificent view and the peaceful elegance I loved would disappear. 

By circumventing this entire fiasco, I could explore as I pleased. No lines, no limits on how long you could stand and take it all in. 10 am is when the buses chock full of tourists usually started to arrive, and kids took over. At 10 am it was time to head for the hills, and explore the spots the average tourists cannot find or get to. This is how I began to structure my day. I would get to bed by 1am, sleep a few hours, and get up by 5am to explore as many tourist spots as I could until 10am and then escape into the mountains. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Before I departed Seattle, one of the many people I was corresponding with mentioned an incredible canyon in the area I was currently at. Johnny helped me narrow my search, and a local farmer gave me directions. After a little while I found the road, marked “F-ROAD” in big, red letters. A farmer at the sign said I could make it to the bridge. So I pressed on. When a sign says F-Road, it means you better be freaking prepared for this. You are going to cross rivers, canyons, and drive through stuff that can only be found in Iceland. This road was not bad, definitely not the worst I had hit yet. I pulled up to a small parking lot on the rivers bed, right before a bridge. I got out of my vehicle, and ran into Antonio, a backpacker from Argentina that I had met while photographing a waterfall on the side of the road. “Ryan! You have to get up there! To the end!” He said in excitement as we shook hands “The man by the road told me about this spot.” 

It was a 2km long canyon that went 200m up or down depending which end you were at. It was amazing. As I hit the top of the canyon, the winds started howling. The path narrowed to a width of only a foot, with a 200m drop on either side. I thought about crawling to the little ledge, but the ground was super muddy. So I tightened my core, kept my center of gravity as low as I could and put one foot directly in front of the other; heal to toe. Within 20 minutes I had made it the two meters to the edge. Wow! Jagged rock pillars jutted out and up while a waterfall glided over the edge. As the wind pushed me back and fourth, I snapped a few pics and then tried to figure out how on earth I was going to get back. There was no turning around, and no walking backwards. Thankfully someone had placed a tiny little plaque at my feet to remind me that falling was very likely....

to be continued next week.


Ryan McNamee