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: Hike Day

Last week we went on a hike in Hnífsdalur, in Iceland’s Westfjords region. It is a hike that is advertised as a guided one from the local tour companies, but we didn’t feel the need to pay the money for it. We went on our own and avoided paying, and we were able to go our own pace up the large glacial valley behind the village.

Before the hike, we stopped by the Melrakkasetur / The Arctic Fox Center in Súðavík. The Centre spreads information about the only native mammalian species in Iceland, a holdover from the great glacial maxima that spread in Earth’s history over the whole of the Northern parts of the world. I learned, for example, that the Arctic Fox may have originated in Tibet!

It’s well worth the visit, especially if one is lucky enough to be there for the feeding time of their two yearling foxes. They give them food at 10:00 and 16:00 daily, and it is sooooooooo cute.

After that, we headed out in the car to the trailhead. It’s easy to see the one we took, which is really more of a road than a trail. It was easy going for the first 4km, and then a bit harder as we walked toward the top of the mountains.

There is a trail, but once you get up to the glacial bits the trail is harder to find. It would probably be better to walk on the opposite side of the valley if you intend to go up and over the top, since there are marked trails there.

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The biggest of the many waterfalls of the day. 

Be very careful on the snows themselves if you do go the way that we did. You could easily wander onto a hollow part and fall through to the meltwaters below. Stay on the parts that are obviously shallow and cross the snow via a quick route.

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Glacial Snows near the top

Since it was such a gorgeous day, we also decided to go into a natural swimming hole that can be found at the bottom of one of the waterfalls on the trail itself. The day we went the water was not particularly deep, but it was COLD.

As evidenced by my ridiculous face in the middle picture above. Should probably add it to the Super Unflattering Photos post from recently. It was so cold as the be painful, but the isolation of the place meant that we could change into and out of our swimsuits in the open without fear of being seen. Few things are as fun as being briefly nude in nature, especially if it’s so sunny and gorgeous out!

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Our trip in the Westfjords was full of cold and hot water dips. Into the hots spring on the side of the road. Into the freezing river to get to another hot spring. Into the freezing fjord at low tide and the kelpy forest therein, and into the bath water of the natural pool draining into the sea. And finally, most hilariously, into the Greenland Sea itself at the Red Sand beach. If you haven’t seen the video of that one, you really really should. 

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The hike was about 12km in total, and not too difficult. It should be easily manageable if you have some experience hiking. If you don’t have outdoors experience, consider stopping at the end of the road section. The waterfalls there are spectacular and the trail is easy. It would be a real achievement to get lost on that section in the summertime.

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The last of the Westfjords posts should be up today or tonight, and then we’ll move on to new Iceland Adventures!

Our next week off is in early July. Have you been somewhere amazing in Iceland, that we really shouldn’t miss? How about some awesome hidden hot pots, or the best ice cream, or new experiences that we could have while we call this country home for a summer? Send them my way, and I’ll put you in the post once we’ve done it. 

Iceland’s Westfjords: The Road Less Taken

Many tourists come to Iceland with the goal of ‘doing the Ring Road.’ They want to drive around Route 1 all the way, starting and ending in Reykjavik. Unfortunately for many of them, this does not include the Westfjords. The place is remote, and even some Icelanders have not visited.

The upper lefthand corner of Iceland holds its own ‘ring road,’ a network of highways, tunnels, and gravel that makes a full loop if driven from Búðardalur. We went North on the first day, ending up in Súðavík. On the we stayed there two nights, and then moved on through to Þingeyri . On the last day we drove to Bjarkarholt Guesthouse, which isn’t even on Google’s maps most of the time. We completed the loop the next day, 1300km later. 

The Road Less Taken is one of my favorite poems, and one which I used this year to say ‘bye-bye’ to my Chinese students. It makes a lot of sense in terms of my life and how I choose to travel, but also in terms of those five days in the Westfjords.

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Here are the pictures I got of this second Ring Road in Iceland. It’s well worth a visit. We went to many hot springs, ate smoked Puffin, and dipped three times in the freezing sea.

The Road Not Taken — Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Beer In Situ: 300 Suns Brewing

In a sad day, Mark Lusher, the founder and brewer for 300 Suns Brewing Company, passed away on 12 April 2015. He had a brief and brave battle with cancer, and left a beautiful community brewery as a legacy. Please visit this link for more information about this fantastic brewer and donate to help his family with medical costs. Live the life you love. 

We find ourselves spending a lot of time in brewpubs, brew places, breweries, and tap rooms now that we are doing the visa waiting game for our next move abroad. It’s amazing to have so many places available to us in the Front Range of Colorado. Every time I come back from living abroad, new places have opened and new beer is waiting to be discovered. We happened upon a handcrafted brewery in Longmont.

The Pertinents

  • 300 Suns Brewing
  • 335 1st Ave., Unit C · Longmont, Colorado, USA
  • Founded in 2014 (I believe!)
Their beautiful coin bar.

Their beautiful coin bar.

Their Self-Description

“300 Suns Brewing was really just an idea brought up years ago, that kept surfacing every time a brewery was toured, a GABF was attended, a new craft beer was tasted, a bottle of homebrew was shared on the back deck in the cool summer evening air. It was just a dream and one day (gulp), we worked up the nerve to make it a reality. We wanted to put our time and our work into something that brought joy to others the way those moments brought joy to us. And we wanted to give our community very meaningful ways that they could become part of the shaping of our brewery.”300sunsbrewing.com

Gorgeous and unpretentious.

Gorgeous and unpretentious.

The Space

It’s open, light, welcoming, and above all beautifully handmade. The tasting room is large and has garage doors that can open if it’s warm enough. To me, it appears that everything in the room was made by hand with a cohesive aesthetic. The back wall is beautiful, with blue pine beetle boards and a great display of the beers. The bar itself has been covered in coins and pennies, and matches the colour scheme perfectly. There are hop sculptures made of shovels on one end of the room. There is a mason jar chandelier. There is original (and breathtaking) artwork on the walls.

More than all that, the place has a true sense of community about it. The brewery supports local artists and songwriters with showcases, and there is a ‘Pour It Forward’ poster at the end of the bar. Using their system, one can buy a beer for a friend who isn’t currently able to join you in the brewery. Next to that, a donation collection and Get Well Soon poster for everyone to sign for the brewer, who is currently battling cancer. 300 Suns runs a lot of activities; game leagues, home brewing clubs, food and beer classes, and a painting group.

If I lived closer, this would be my place. I loved the sense of community. The pride in the work that the brewery does was palpable.

Presented in custom-made lunch tins!

Presented in custom-made lunch tins!

The Beers

Clean and distinctive. The beers were clearly made with an eye to balancing flavours, and the many years of home brewing experience for the owners show through. Some of the beers were really surprising; the pale ale tastes a bit like an orange creamsicle!

We tried everything on draft that day, and not a single one was off-kilter. My personal favourite was the smoked porter, served on cask. It was sublime! Some smoked beers get a Barbecue of Death taste to them, and I expected the flavour to really come out on the cask pump. Instead, it was just a touch a smoke and otherwise perfectly balanced.

I couldn’t get over how good the beers were. There must be something in Longmont’s water.

Hops sculptures.

Hops sculptures.

Tasting Notes

A selection of the beers, lest this get too long.

Colorado Sunday Smash 3.0

  • Style: Single Hop, Single Malt Ale
  • Geekery: 4.5% ABV, 33 IBUs, SRM = Light and Sunny
  • I’m not always a fan of Willamette hops, so I was a little bit skeptical of this beer. I was wrong to be. It’s balanced, creamy, clean, and low on the malt scale. The only beer for a Sunday. Hits session ale right on the noggin.
  • Overall Rating: 4.6 pints (out of five pints)

1st Avenue River 

  • Style: Pale Ale
  • Geekery: 5.0% ABV, 31 IBUs, SRM = Slightly Golden
  • I said that the smoked porter was my favourite earlier, but it’s really a tie. This beer is freaking amazing. It’s pale, with hop haze and just a hint of toasty malts. Gorgeous creamy initial taste that blends through orange creamsicle and finishes on tasteful bitterness. Definitely needs to be served in a pint, because it only gets better as it warms up.
  • Overall Rating: 4.8 pints

    It's like they took what I want to make on Pintrest and made it all giant and perfect.

    It’s like they took what I want to make on Pintrest and made it all giant and perfect.

Sun Worshipper 

  • Style: Brown Ale
  • Geekery: 5.5% ABV, 35 IBUs, SRM = Toast
  • Not a typical Colorado brown ale, and that’s just fine! The aromas are full of roast and smokey notes, and their combination with a strong malt backbone reminds me of a mini-porter or a German raucchbier. Tastes of dark chocolate, and even manages to capture that slight sourness a 70% cacao bar can have.
  • Overall Rating: 4.5 pints

Sunscorched 

  • Style: Smoked, Cask Porter
  • Geekery: 5.3% ABV, 35 IBUs, SRM = S’more Chocolate
  • Initially, aromas of woodsmoke and lapsing souchung (not overdone). Seriously, seriously tasty beer. It’s complex; the tastes are slightly sour, leafy, smokey, and BBQ wood chips. There is a sudden middle taste of unidentifiable spices, which then smoothes into chocolate and creamy roast dinner flavours. That’s right. Roast dinner with cream on it. A unique and remarkable beer.
  • Overall Rating: 4.9 pints

 The Munchies

We didn’t sample any food, but the parking lot is huge and could definitely accommodate a few food trucks. There is also a cheesemaking course in the near future.

Darts!

Darts!

Russell’s One-Line Review

“THIS IS SPARTA!” 

Check out all the Beer In Situ posts in one place! This is where travel and beer intersect. 

Iceland’s Ring Road: A Winter Drive From Skaftafell to Selfoss

Iceland has a main road that stretches all the way around the outer rim of the country. It was completed in 1974, and the last section of it featured heavily in our drive back from three nights in the middle of nowhere. The road is remarkably well-maintained and easy to travel even in the dead of winter, and you can even check the conditions in real time online.

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After our amazing trip to the ice caves and a stop-off to walk toward glaciers in the nearby national park, we had to head back toward civilisation. We began the trip in mild weather, which changed to gale force winds around the village of Vik, and calmed again on our way to the western part of the country. One of the most peculiar things about the Ring Road is that there are marked picnic areas every kilometre or so. Everywhere. Even on the sand flats, where the wind never seems to stop.

They must really love their picnics in Iceland.

Up to the glacier

Up to the glacier

Skaftafell, Iceland

Skaftafell, Iceland

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Car Advert.

Car Advert.

The drive was intense; at times the road was covered in more than two inches of ice. At times, the sun was strong and beautiful, shining off the road with moss-covered, other-worldly lava fields flying by at 80 kph.

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Russell took the opportunity to shake his fist at a giant rock. Geology. Reminding us how tiny and flash-in-the-pan-y we puny humans are since the beginning of time. The road turned even more icy shortly after this, as if the fist shaking had brought down a bit more challenge for us as we hurtled toward Vik. IMG_6724 IMG_6722 IMG_6715 IMG_6720

When we pulled up to the village, the wind was howling intermittently. We tried to get out and walk up the black sand dunes, but we were immediately turned back by the blowing sand. It was like a hurricane, but with tiny black pieces of rock being thrown everywhere. It was exhilarating.

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Picnic in the gale!

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Gale-force winds in Vik covered us in loose volcanic sand. It was black in our teeth!

Gale-force winds in Vik covered us in loose volcanic sand. It was black in our teeth!

We had opted out of the package tours that take people around the island, creating our own Russleen tour. We didn’t mis out on much of anything on our drive, including a visit to Skógafoss. This is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland, and flows heavily even in winter. It’s not particularly well-marked. There is a tiny village built up around it, and several horse farms. IMG_6808 IMG_6751

There is a stairwell-hiking path up the side of the waterfall. It’s not far, but the wind was coming and going like a breathing giant and the snow was stinging our faces.  IMG_6753 IMG_6756 IMG_6757 IMG_6758

From the top

From the top

Skogarfoss Waterfall

Skogarfoss Waterfall

The mini-hike in the howling wind and rainsnow was worth it. We vowed to come back in the summertime to do the trek that begins here and leads to some volcanic areas. When we came down, we ventured closer to the fall itself and ended up in a colossal amount of water.

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I was wearing GorTex and my slightly ripped underlayer. Russell was dressed in Death Pants (cotton jeans). He was drenched!

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So. Cold. Can’t. Face. Waterfall.

A quick change in the back of the car and we were back on our way, coming closer and closer to the ‘big city’ of Selfoss, where we would be staying the night. We pulled up to our brand-spanking-new hotel, which was geothermally heated from top to toe! It’s not uncommon for showers to smell of eggy farts in Iceland, because you are usually bathing in hot spring water. So good for the skin. So bad for the nostrils.

Geothermal heated!

Geothermal heated!

At Hotel Selfoss, we managed to glimpse the Northern Lights. We had been peeking out windows for days, with the weather not cooperating. Late at night, between snow squalls, I spotted something out our window.

Selfoss

Selfoss

“Hey, that’s a weird cloud…”

“Oh….it’s a bit green!”

“YAY”

And we tried to put on our shoes to go outside, but the Icelandic weather had changed yet again and two-inch wide snowflakes were blowing by in blizzard conditions by the time we tied our laces. But we saw them. Iceland’s little gift for us.

Next time: The City 

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