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On our superexcellent hiking excursion

As some of you may know, EPI and I belong to a hiking group that meets on the last weekend in July every year to do some, um, hiking. We are fortunate to have a member on board who knows Iceland pretty much like the back of his hand, and tend to choose locations that are relatively off the beaten track.

This year we stayed at Holt in Önundafjörður, on the West Fjords, and headed out for three full days of hiking nearby.

On the first day we drove to the small village of Súðavík, which I associated mainly with a tragic snow avalanche that claimed the lives of about a dozen people back in the mid-1990s, just after I’d moved back to Iceland. We parked at the foot of a mountain called Álftafjarðarheiði [Álftafjörður heath] and hiked across, up to an altitude of 725 metres, then back down into a valley called Korpudalur. There we were met by some incredible people [friends of the aforementioned group member, who happen to run a small travel service there] who whipped up waffles and cream, coffee, and even bread and cheese for us. After a full 8-9 hours of walking, you can bet they tasted pretty good.

At the top

On day two, we drove to another small town, Suðureyri, where we were ferried north across a small bay to a spot called — logically enough — Norðureyri. [Suður meaning south, norður meaning north, and eyri meaning spit]. The ultimate destination was Galtarviti, a lighthouse about as remote as they come, pretty much inaccessible except by boat — well, or via the route we were taking. That meant walking along the shore of the bay for a couple of hours, then clambering down to the shore and walking on an intensely rocky beach for another 2-3 hours. It was a treacherous route, so much so that only just over half of the group was able to do it. Not to mention it’s ONLY passable when the tide is out. When we finally got there I NEVER, NEVER, EVER wanted to see another large rock in my life and was sure I would dream rocks for many nights afterwards. Anyway, we finally reached the lighthouse, which incidentally acts as a retreat for groups like bands who go there to record music and stuff. We had something to eat, signed the guest book [the house is left open], after which we had another mountain to climb to get back to human habitation. Trust me, the last thing ANY of us wanted to do at that point was climb a mountain, but it was still infinitely preferable to walking back along the shore. The climb to the top was OK, the climb down was PRECIPITOUS. I mean, we got to the edge, looked down, and just about had a vertigo attack. Yet down we went, on one of those “tread sideways, lean on poles, don’t look down” type of treks. And you know what? I FORGOT MY CAMERA ON THAT DAY. D’oh!!! But just to prove I was there, here’s a pic of the lighthouse that I snapped on my phone.

Third day, we went even more remote, sailing from Ísafjörður to Aðalvík, a bay on the northern West Fjords [frequently referred to as Jökulfirðir, or Glacial Fjords] that is completely inaccessible on land — well, except if you wanted to go on foot, which must be pretty hard because I’ve never heard of anyone doing it. Because it’s so remote, it’s become deserted, similar to the nearby Hornstrandir, which is a nature reserve and popular hiking area on the most northern part of the West Fjords. In contrast to Hornstrandir, however, some people still have houses in Aðalvík and region, but usually the houses are owned by the families of those who lived there previously and are only used in the summer. Anyway. We hiked from Aðalvík across a heath to a tiny village called Hesteyri, and MY GOD that was a beautiful hike!! Seriously, I have seen some beautiful places in Iceland, and this is definitely one of the most stunning. Coming to the top of that heath, looking into all those blue fjords in the distance, with the Drangajökull glacier on the other side and the shimmering sea all around … simply amazing. No less amazing was coming down into Hesteyri and finding a cafe there that served Icelandic crepes [called pönnukökur here, or pancakes] and coffee to weary travellers like us. If those waffles on the first day tasted good, the pönnukökur at Hesteyri were divine.

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The full set of photos from the trip is here.

Hiking excursions in previous years:

Eyjafjörður, 2009
Skagafjörður, 2008
Southern West Fjords, 2007
Hítardalur and Snæfellsnes, 2005

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  • idunn August 1, 2010, 8:30 am

    Hiking. It is so much work sometimes, and so rewarding.

    Great tale.

  • Joerg August 1, 2010, 9:40 am

    Very interesting post. I am glad that there are still many places in Iceland, which I don’t know yet. So, there is plenty of motivation to return.

    I did the hike from Látrar/Aðalvik to Hesteyri just 4 weeks ago. But your weather was definitely better than mine. The boat, which brought us to Látrar, sailed out of Isafjörður just at the moment, when a storm was strengthening. Usually I don’t get seasick but this time I had to concentrate very hard, in order not to have to ask for a barf bag. And the worst thing came at the end, when the passengers had to disembark by means of a small rubber dinghy. Everybody, who wasn’t prepared for this, got completely wet, when this small boat struggled its way through the waves. And putting up my tent in this storm was another challenge.

    But Aðalvik and Hesteyri are really wonderful places with all kind of colorful vegetation. You instantly notice that there are no sheep around.

    Another snow avalanche in the mid-1990s destroyed the little village of Flateyri in Önundafjörður with even more casualties (I think, it was the same year as Súðavík but some months later). Those avalanches are definitely a major threat in the West Fjords.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland August 1, 2010, 5:54 pm

    Quite a shutterbug looking at all those photos that you have, like my mother she’s the same, I myself am not really into photography, would not know a focal length from an aperture, until now I have recently installed google earth and they have these amazing panorama shots that are 360 degrees all the way round and top to bottom, for instance check out the Perlan building which has the saga museum (check 360cities,in layers,gallery) its almost like you are really there, whats the story with the woman looking a bit sad, exhibit 10 the resolution is just not good enough to read the writing otherwise I would be able to chuck it in google translate and get the low down on it.Now I am interested in photography planning to do one myself !!( Just need to gen up on everything I have a 4mp camera, the idea is you stitch all the piccies together in your pc to build the bubble 360 cities website has all the info and links for the program which is freebie called hugin,they even claim that you can get royalties for you photo’s hmmmm, well anyway looks like fun, its a bit techno techno, so there you have it Alda fresh horizons for your photography career. 🙂

  • kevin oconnor,waterford,ireland August 1, 2010, 6:16 pm

    Oh yeah the cafe, conversation goes whats that building over there in the middle of nowhere, why of course its cafe silly!!

  • Tómas August 1, 2010, 8:04 pm

    Súðavík avalanche: January 1995.
    Flateyri snjóflóð: Október 1995, casualties 20, so, no, the village (more like hamlet, or, in archaic English, “thorp,” cognate to “þorp”) was not destroyed.
    The day prior, the storm had knocked out some electric transmission lines, and our homestead was without power or heat. One of my uncles was staying there while his brother (another uncle), the actual bondi (farmer, homesteader,) was away on business. This uncle had been invited to stay with friends in the village who had electricity, but declined, wrapping himself in a snowmobile suit and blankets, in order to nurse a sick kitten. The house he would have stayed in ended up in the fjord.
    I now have three rescued cats.

  • Joerg August 1, 2010, 9:19 pm

    I’ve just seen that you have a foto of the memorial and the church in Flateyri included in your set of pictures. So, of course, the avalanche there happened in October, 1995. In the place next to the memorial is now a void, where formerly some of the destroyed buildings were.

    Flateyri and its neighbourhood came to my attention in 2007, when it featured on a series of documentaries on Arte TV called “Treffpunkt Tankstelle”. The subject in each episode was a fuel station in some remote place of the world, its role as meeting point and the daily life around it.

  • Luna_Sea August 1, 2010, 10:42 pm

    @kevin oconnor – thanks for posting about the 360 cities on google earth…another Sunday shot to hell.

  • hildigunnur August 1, 2010, 11:51 pm

    Did you go swimming in Suðureyri at all? my favourite pool in that area.

    We sailed to Breiðavík last summer, there’s also a café basically in the middle of nowhere. Lovely.

  • alda August 2, 2010, 12:25 am

    Hildigunnur — nope, not this time! But I heard it was good.