20 Jun 2015

Westfjords, Iceland by adamandheather

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A hanging glacial valley stands high above the ocean. Its edges rise sharply before ending in sheer cliffs up to 400 meters tall. They look like the world's boldest bicycle ramps.

Inhabiting the cliffs are thousands and thousands of nesting sea birds in a constant swarm of activity. They hover over the waves by the hundreds, fishing for their next meals. They squawk and chatter in packs on the cliffs.

The peninsula is extremely remote, a tough 1.5-hour drive from our campground over rutted mountain roads, and we pass only a handful of other cars. We arrive early enough to have the area to ourselves for the better part of two hours. The views are stunning and the birdwatching is incredible.

Heather can't resist a selfie session with a puffin.

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Never believe what an Icelander from the Westfjords tells you about travel time.

The next phase of our trip was due to begin in Ísafjörður at 5pm, with a boat ride to the remote Hornstrandir peninsula for a week of wilderness camping. The folks at our campsite told us that Ísafjörður was a 1.5-hour drive. It took us nearly twice that long, at 3 hours.

The roads of the Westfjords are insane. This particular stretch started with a long, steady climb into the mountains, where we passed miles of snowfields and roaring waterfalls, bounced through innumerable potholes, and passed more than a few cargo trucks. A guard-rail-free descent into a fjord followed and the entire process repeated several times.

When you need to cover a lot of ground, you sometimes have to skip things along the way. We regrettably didn't get much time with the massive waterfall Dynjandi, but we stopped long enough to dance for it, and could see it clearly for the following half-hour of driving.

Seriously, people standing near the foot of the falls looked like ants standing under a shower.

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"Where are you planning to go?" our Austrian shipmate asked us once we were ashore in Veiðileysufjörður, 4 lone humans on a remote fjord in the middle of nowhere.

"To Hornvik tomorrow for a couple nights, then to Hlöðuvík..."

"No, you cannot cross there," she interjected. "It's impassible with ice and snow. Did you talk with the information office in Ísafjörður?"

The ferry boat sailed into the distance.

Crap.

We had barely arrived in Ísafjörður in time to catch the 5pm ferry at all, much less visit the information office. Now we wondered if we'd gotten ourselves in over our heads. The mountains were already taller and more snow-covered than we'd expected. Now this news.

After sharing the alternate route they had planned, which included two extra mountain crossings (one of which hadn't been crossed yet this year), our Austrian friends marched off to Hafnarskarð Pass, which was not just completely covered in clouds, but actually had clouds billowing down its slopes.

So they think they'll be okay with their new plan, but they're from AUSTRIA. Austria is all MOUNTAINS.

We set up our campsite, start making dinner, and try to enjoy the view. And begin working on a strategy.