Return of the Viking (Iceland Part III)

Remember how I went to Iceland?  Well, finally, here is the highly anticipated conclusion.  If you missed them, check out Part I and Part II.

         Sunrise in Kirklubaejarklaustur

Day three started in Kirkjubaejarklaustur with an extensice complimentary breakfast at the hotel followed by a couple of quick stops on the way out of town to look at some promising rock formations.  The volcanic tuff-lined Fladrargljufur gorge had some beautiful towers and buttresses, but unfortunately the rock was some of the worst I saw on our trip. 

The sheered off basalt column “floor” of Kirkjugolf

The wind was raging all day, and it really showed how fickle the weather is in Iceland.  The wind made the differnce between T-shirt climbing in the sun, to completely unbearable even in a hooded puffy, and it went form to the other almost instantly.  The penetrating chill kept us in the car almost the entire day, but we were able to find a few sheltered spots to enjoy the amazing scenery.

Fladrargljufur

We also got a chance to inspect a herd of Icelandic sheep up close along the drive.  These sheep are considered the most pure breed in the world, and their wool is one of Iceland’s key exports.  Everywhere you go wool sweaters, gloves and hats are for sale, but a regular wool sweater will set you back $180!  The sheep are really fun to watch, with a hilarious waddle-like gate and enormous fluffy coats of wool.

The massive Dyrholaey (“Hole in the Door”) sea arch

The next major destination was the coastal town of Vik and the nearby Dyrholaey sea arch.  I’ve seen quite a few sea arches around the globe and this was easily the most massive I’ve ever seen.  You could sail a decent sized ship under the thing, and that is in fact one of the primary industries in Vik (shuttling tourists under the arch).  That isn’t really our kind of thing so we admired the arch from the lookout.

The day before while browsing in a gift shop I saw a postcard that showed a promising escarpment of basalt columns on a black sand beach with the arch behind.  I made a point to find this beach and explore the climbing potential.  I either failed to find the correct beach, or the postcard was heavily photo-shopped, because I never found the idyllic view pictured in the post card, but I did find a beautiful sheltered cove of impeccable basalt. 

                            Bouldering near Dyrholaey, with the arch behind

Most of the seaside cliffs I’ve seen are decomposed garbage due to the harsh weather conditions, but this rock was completely flawless, and even featured some aesthetic marble green swirls in the stone.  There was a nice sized cave with some intriguing horizontal potential, but most of that stone was dripping wet, so I focused on the nice cliff to the left.  The cliff is at least 40′ high, and interesting enough to warrant atleast a toprope if not a rack.  The bouldering was excellent with perfect sandy landings.

Skogafoss

Next on the agenda was a pair of outstanding waterfalls famous waterfalls.  It was pretty amazing how much the landscape had changed in only 24 hours.  When we blew by these falls the day before they were falling straight down and surrounded by lush green moss.  Now they were falling sideways and all everything was plastered with ice for 50 yards in every direction.

Skogafoss was the first and we stopped in the gift shop for lunch where I enjoyed the most hilarious “sandwich” I’ve ever had.  This feat consisted of two slices of white bread with a single slice of lamb, literally 1/16″ thick.  It was actually really tasty thanks to a healthy serving of honey mustard but I’m skeptical of its nutritional value.  We were beginning to get the feeling we may not see the Northern Lights on this trip so we took some photos of the dramatic posters in the gift shop just in case.

Seljalandfoss

After a brief and bone-chilling stop at the dramatic Seljalandfoss we continued on to Hveragerdi to search for some of the delicious pastries we had heard about and check out the nearby Reykjadalir geothermal site.  There was an impressively large boiling mud pit and a convenient “hot pot” that wasn’t really warm enough to compensate for the incessant wind.

Smoldering craters at Reykjadalir

We headed to Reykjavik to finally check out some of the city sights, get some dinner and hopefully some rest before heading out again in search of the Aurora Borealis.  Reykjavik was quite “quaint” for a capital city, and has some interesting architecture.  The best way to describe the urban areas is “punk”, with lots of graffiti and murals coating the alleyways.  The centerpiece of town is the Hallsgrimkirkja church, situated at the top of the hills, with streets plunging steeply down the hill in every direction like a miniature San Fransisco.

Leif Erickson statue in front Hallsgrimkirkja. In 1930 this statue was given to the people of Iceland by the US on the 1000th anniversy of the first Althing

After dinner we returned to our hotel to get some rest and finalize our plans for Northern Lights hunting.  We planned to head out around 8pm and head straight east.  We initally stopped about 20 miles east of Reykjavik in the middle of a large snow-covered lava field.  There were some faint glows on the horizon that gave us hope, but it was clear we were still too close to the city, so we continued east on Highyway 1 with the plan to eventually head northeast towards Thingvellir National Park. 

Reykjavik

We headed east on Highway 1 for nearly an hour, then turned north towards the park.  Almost as soon as we were clear of the lights of Selfoss we began to see the characteristic green streaks…

                                                                        At last!!!

You need a tripod and a camera that does long exposures to shoot the Northern Lights

We stayed until the lights began to fade and then slowly made our way back to Reykjavik, stopping from time to time to get another look.  We arrived just before midnight exhausted but satisfied. 

These are all 15 second exposure with heavy post-editing. Longer exposures would be better, but that is the most my camera would do.

By day number four we were pretty much tapped out as far as tourism was considered, so we headed a bit north of town for a nice scenic hike.  Next we headed to the Reykjanes Peninsula to explore the dramatic volcanic landscape and see a few sights on the way to the airport.  The peninsula has some tempting mountains that would be casual dayhikes.   

We stopped at the Gunnuhver geothermal area which produced overwhelming amounts of steam and fueled a nearby geothermal energy plant.  The final stop was the “Bridge Between Two Continents”, a cheesy metal footbridge that spans an exposed section of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The comical Bridge Between Two Continents, a monument to Industrial Tourism

The airport experience was typical, with a fun diversion at the duty-free shop attempting to calculate the maximum amount of cholcolate and alcohol we could get with our few remaining Krona.  It was an exhausting trip, but completely amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone, but I might suggest  visiting in the summer 😉

Northeastern Canada from the plane.

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