Friday, June 26, 2015

Hornstrandir Reserve Circumnavigation

Since a friend is in Iceland right now, I was reminded that I never blogged about the second portion of my trip to Iceland last summer. You can read about the first portion, where I walked from North to South across the island with Nano, here.

Day 1-July 20, 2014 [blog entry]
I flew from Reykjavik to Isafjurder. I walked from the airport into town, stocked up at the Bonus grocery store, and made my travel plans with West Tours, which is right in the same building as the information office. To take the ferry to Hornstrandir, you have to book a ferry, and you have to tell West Tours your exact itinerary. They were nice, and didn't put up a fight when I told them I hiked 50km a day, so that was fine. I really wanted to walk all the way around Hornstrandir, and then all the way down the Strandir coast to Holmavik, and then catch a bus back to Reykjavik, but I was worried I wouldn't be able to pull it off in time for my flight home. (In retrospect, I should have gone for it, but everything worked out fine.) It was Sunday, so everything closed early, but I was lucky to get everything taken care of for a ferry departing the next morning.

In the afternoon I walked the road to Bolungarvik (there are multiple Bolungarviks in Westfjords, but this was an easy few miles. There's a new tunnel through the mountains that you can't walk, but the old road that goes around is intact, and the weather was gorgeous, the sunniest day of my entire trip, so it was enjoyable. I finally got divebombed by territorial terns, which everyone seems to talk about, but it wasn't all that special, to be honest. Camped in the public campsite in Bolungarvik.
Sunny day in Isafjurder

The old road

Lighthouse just outside Bolungarvik
Day 2-July 21
Managed to buy a new pair of hiking socks at the hardware store in Bolungarvik (there isn't much other than fishing in the way of commerce) but I also got a nice breakfast at a B&B across from the ferry departure. Caught the ferry to Hesteyri, where the ranger station is, and started my hike clockwise. Up and over to Saebol, but then there was a tidal crux near Hvarfnupur and I didn't want to wait, so I climbed back up to a pass and down a different marshy but beautiful valley. I enjoyed the midnight sunset due north, and kept hiking until 1 or 2am, when I had to cross a tidal estuary that was at most knee deep and felt a mile wide. It was a little creepy when the wind picked up, but it wasn't actually dangerous.
My Ride

Other people's guided kayak tour

Hornstrandir isn't uninhabited, it's just not inhabited year-round by anyone

Midnight northern sunset

Here's me walking across the estuary.

Day 3-July 22
I hiked  up and over a few more fjords today, and camped just shy of Hjornbjarg, a famous vertical cliff full of bird's nests. I was tired from having hiked until 2AM, but still got in a good day of hiking. 
Day 4-July 23
I hiked up to the sheer dropoff overlooking Hjornbjarg, and stared off into the arctic north on a spectacularly beautiful sunny day. Then I got some excellent waffles at the Latravik lighthouse, lost count of how many waterfalls I saw pouring directly into the ocean (with rainbows!) Then I slept on the porch of an unoccupied house from 8pm-11pm or so to wait for the tide to go out.  When rounding the lowtide-only point between Bolungarvik and Furufjordur, I saw three arctic fox!
OK, sometimes Iceland is gross.

But mostly it's beautiful. Staring off a sheer cliff into the Arctic.


Watch the playlist of my arctic fox videos. So damn cute.

Day 5-July 24
Finished today. From Furufjordur, I crossed west over a pass, and crossed my third and final tidal estuary, this one with freezing glacial flow that was briefly waste deep (Leirufjorudur). After doing so a local family in their vacation home who had watched me doing the crossing invited me in for snacks. At the very end of the day it started to rain, but I'd quite a stretch of amazing weather. I set up camp near the ferry landing in Grunnavik and saw another gorgeous north-facing sunset.

Day 6-July 25
Today was a zero day in my tent in Grunnavik. My phone battery died, the weather was gray and rainy, and the bridge over the river had been removed, so I couldn't explore very easily, but I wasn't much in the mood anyway.
Day 7-July 26
The ferry took its sweet time getting to us, and actually had an engine failure on the way back, but I made it back to Isafjurder. I walked around town, and camped up in the hills outside town.
Then I flew back to Reykjavik, mostly wasted a day shopping for gifts that I should have spent bike riding (instead I waited till just before the downpour to start riding), caught an evening showing of the disappointing Icelandic film 101 Reykjavik, and flew home to the US.

Back in Isafjurdur

Camping above town

Westfjords. Hornstrandir is the very top part.

The best vegan restaurant in Iceland

Books. My kind of hoarder.

Back in Reykjavik

Biking around Reykjavik
The Hornstrandir reserve was definitely my favorite part of the trip to Iceland. The Fjallaback trek and a half day on either side of Nyidalur had similarly spectacular views, but Hornstrandir was the only place that felt remotely like wilderness. I saw essentially all of the actual reserve in four full days of hiking, but I could definitely go back and do a longer trip.
As with the rest of Iceland, I recommend against the Ferdakort brand of maps. You'll definitely want a 1:100K map, though. I used one that I bought from the ladies in the West Tours office. I can't really tell the brand name, but it's #1 Vestfirdir & Dalir, Utivera/Outdoor Recreation, and it has brief trail descriptions as well as distances. It's 1 of 7 in a series that cover all of Westfjords.  

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