Iceland’s Highlands: Thórsmörk

Thórsmörk (Þórsmörk) is an area in the highlands of Iceland, in the Southeast of the country. It is the end point of a long trek that is very popular in summer months, the Laugavegur. It’s a long trek that takes several days, and after arriving at the valley where we stayed it is possible to continue on a trek that climbs 1000m over the mountains between two glaciers. Up to 80km walking is possible.

We only had a week and were pretty beat after working for a couple weeks without a full day off, so we opted to stay in the valley at Langidalur’s campground.

It was a little slice of paradise.

A very happy Leen, there.

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Happy Travel Face

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We spent our first full day in Thorsmok attempting a trail that turned out to be a little too hard for us. Here’s a preview!

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Iceland’s Westfjords: Látrabjarg, The Cliff At the End of Europe

Látrabjarg is a massive cliff that houses the nesting areas for thousands of birds. It also happens to be the farthest West point in Europe. Impressive as the cliffs are (and smelly!), I preferred to look out over the Atlantic in the direction of the Americas. They say that on a clear day, one might glimpse Greenland here. It was not a clear day.

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It was particularly impressive that someone may have well stood in that spot more than a thousand years ago, looking out over the gray waters, and thought:

“Yes, I will go out there into the unknown and have faith that something is there. Something has to lie beyond.” 

 

Not Leif Erikson himself, perhaps, but someone in the unrecorded 400-700 people in his Viking fleet that landed in Vinland (Nova Scotia). There is no indication that any continents lay across that great grey expanse. In the photo above, you can see that the sky and the horizon merge seamlessly, as if it is not particularly important which is which. Or as if they are one and the same.

Whenever I stand on shores like this one, in the footsteps of those who went into the great unknown hundreds of years ago (or thousands!) the thought of space comes to mind. I think of those who went in great discomfort and what must have been great tension across the wide seas that seemed to be infinite at the time, and how easily I now travel above them in what amounts to a flying living room in a metal tube.

I suppose I feel less intrepid than those who went before, and also those who will come after. Space travel, if it does become something that is much more commonplace than now, will probably not be much more comfortable nor more safe than those long seafaring journeys undertaken by our ancestors. I need to go stand on more Polynesian beaches, to feel the full force of the longest and most impressive of the sort of journeys I imagined on Látrabjarg. Those would be the best analog for long-term, untethered space flights that I hope will eventually come for humanity.

But back on Látrabjarg, there were Puffins! Having eaten them a day earlier, it was strange to see them on the cliffs, totally unimpressed with the tourists all over the place. They are so self-assured that we cannot fly that they just pose for picture after picture.

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Well worth the drive to visit this magical place.

Iceland’s Westfjords: Waterfall Day!

We spent five days in the Westfjords of Iceland recently, and spent a whole day chasing waterfalls! First we arrived at one on the side of the ‘Other Ring Road,’ which we called Fairy Falls due to all the tiny moths that took flight when you went up to the moss above it. It looked like fairies, but you can’t see them in the photos….

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Unfortunately.

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Then we continued through the roadworks (“shit shit shit shit shit shit shit…..” over the gravel and past the tractors on Iceland’s version of Death Road, to Dynjandi and it’s subsidiary falls. Amazing!

You can even drink from the side of the massive falls itself. Iceland’s waters are such a treat after my Year Without Tap Water in Shanghai.

It’s a very accessible trail up to the edge of the falls themselves, although it is important to bring good rain gear (or a change of clothes). You will get soaked, especially since the largest of the falls generates its own breeze.

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That night we stayed in Þingeyri, a small village with beautiful views of the fjords around. A few pictures will appear in the coming Landscapes of the Westfjords post I’ll be making tonight.

Up next, the great birds cliff at Látrabjarg (farthest Western point of Europe) and how to get to the Great Red Sand beach, Rauðasandur.

Iceland’s Westfjords: The 1300Km Week

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Our route

Last week, we had a bit of time off from volunteering and ended up renting a car to drive to the Westfjords in Iceland. We didn’t have much time to plan, since we arrived on the 31st of May in Iceland and almost immediately had one of our monthly weeks off. We work quite a lot at our volunteering gig for the summer, but there is a ton to learn.

Just yesterday we learned to lead rock wall climbing and abseiling for the kids. I learned how to tie a few hitches and knots, and less than 20 minutes later I climbed out of a 10-metre tower relying on my own handiwork to hold me up. Here I am, writing…so it worked!

But I digress.

The Westfjords are some of the most empty parts of the vast emptiness that is Iceland. In fact, when I just looked at the Wikipedia page to get some background information, I saw that the population has declined in the region in recent years. It was once a frontier-like fishing industrial region, but much of that is gone now.

It was indescribably beautiful. Empty. Quiet. Gorgeous. Perpetually twilight. Arctic. It is clear why the Icelandic Sagas often used these fjords as their backdrop. It is a breathtaking blend of dizzying heights of the mountains and the flat, gunmetal gray of the mercurial seas below.

On our first day, we hitched a ride with one of the folks who lives at our camp to Reykjavik, and picked up our car from Lagoon Cars (recommend!), and headed out of the city. We stopped periodically to catch the waterfalls and the clean air, but made great time anyway. Our goal was Súðavík, a small town of 150ish people on one of the fjords. The water outside was insanely clear and hurt my eyes with the blue it held.

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We pulled in around 19:00. The sun just never sets at the moment in Iceland, leading to some sort of time vertigo in me at least. I never have a clue what time it is. The next day we ended up stumbling upon a perfect view of the midnight sun, but that’s to come tomorrow.

Iceland is everything that I could have hoped for in the depths of my struggles in Shanghai this year, he sheer manifestation of the deepest wishes I swore to at least attempt to make true with my headphones in, blasting music at my desk in the office, with five minutes until my next class. The Westfjords in particular are wild and built like a perfect, supportive playground for the rare Nomadic Coleens of the world. Cold water, hot water pools to soak in, waterfalls to play near, hiking and nature and sheep and delicious foods.

Things that should be so natural and easy, like fresh water and air, were so far removed in our year in China. It is a personal miracle every time I can drink directly from a stream here, with the cold water filling my hands, crouched by the banks of the fast water in a gesture that would be familiar to my most ancient ancestors…which is always in my minds as some whiff of forgotten instinct when I’m hiking. Never enacted, never dared. Until now.

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Miraculous, after a year buying water in Shanghai

It is such a treat to be here, and even if the work is occasionally long or chaotic (No more sweet peppers to chop tonight, please! My arms are sore after the first ten!), it is so worth it to be here with my husband and live in this beautiful place. Shanghai seems a lifetime ago, even if I only stepped onto the plane 38 days ago. This week I should become certified in leading archery and taking kiddos on the lake in boats, and soon in First Aid. Boom, epic English Teachers who are super fun as well. Yes. I hope to be so.

It’s sunny out and 22:40, so I’m rambling a little. Time for the photos of the Westfjords that you came to see. Just click to make them bigger and inspect the beauty for yourselves.

Tomorrow: The Midnight Sun (!)