Monthly Archives: October 2018

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Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 4

On the last day of the In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides, we awoke to a cloudy morning with low fog hanging over the tops of the mountains. Quite a contrast to the brilliant finish to yesterday!

Múlaskáli Hut under grey skies - East Iceland

We made our final lunches out on the deck

Making lunch on an Icelandic Mountain Guides Trek

Part of the morning routine on an Icelandic Mountain Guides trek – making your own lunch

before heading across the river (thankfully with a footbridge!) and up the ropes at the start of our last day of trekking.

Crossing the bridge and climbing the rope on the last day of Shadow of Vatnajökull - East Iceland

Although the colours were muted by the clouds, the mountains were impressive,

Hiking trail on Day 4 of of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and the steep climb made for some fantastic views back over the river.

River view from ridge on Day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Can you see Múlaskáli Hut?

Once we’d climbed out of the river valley, our trail took us on an undulating route across green flats and down into rocky gullies with small streams at the bottom.

Scenery from last day of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

As we took a break at one of these gully crossings, Þorbjörg decided she’d teach us a simple Icelandic song.  I didn’t do too badly remembering the lyrics actually, but it helps that the word for Sun in Icelandic sounds the same as does in Spanish 🙂

 

The lyrics, translated into English are:

Sun outside

Sun inside

Sun in the heart, Sun in the mind

Nothing but Sun

Love it!  And how interesting the focus on the Sun 🙂  Perhaps because they see relatively little of it here in Iceland?  This was the first time anyone had sang on this hike, and it occurred to me that I’d been missing the singing that had been so much a part of my other hikes with Icelandic Mountain Guides.

The trail continued through numerous gullies and took us boulder-hopping along a stream 

Hiking along a stream on Day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

before descending into the biggest gully of them all!  I waited on one side of the gully for the others to have a 20 minute rest at the bottom, so I could get this shot of them walking up the steep slope on the other side.

Hiking up scree slopes on Day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

And it was actually very steep!  Especially when I was so far behind and “sprint-hiking” to catch up with them again 🙂

A little further along, we came to an amazing lookout over the delta of the river that would lead us to the ocean

Lookout over the delta leading to the ocean on Day 4 of Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and for the remainder of the hike we basically followed the river along the moss-lined trail.

Hiking along the river delta on day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Þorbjörg had told us at the start of the day that we would have one final river crossing right at the end of the hike.  But what she didn’t tell us was that this one had a suspension bridge over it 🙂 .

Final river crossing - with a bridge - Day 4 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Ironically, less than 1km from the end of the trek, 4 of us (me, Eric, Melinda and Martin) managed to lose the group in the small Icelandic forest on the other side of the bridge.   

Icelandic forest on Day 4 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Yes – there are forests in Iceland

We were not far behind the others, but by the time we’d finished taking photos and crossed the bridge they were nowhere to be seen.  Unfortunately, there was also a fork in the path. The obvious way forward was to keep following the yellow poles, which also went in the direction that Þorbjörg had indicated we were going.   So this we did.  But as we kept walking and failing to see the group (we even tried yelling and blowing the emergency whistle and still nothing), our confidence eroded to the point where we ended up turning back and waiting at the bridge.

Not a minute after arriving back at the bridge, Þorbjörg comes running along that same trail to find us.  Doh!  It turns out we were only about 100m shy of the group when we turned around!

Yes – it is possible to get lost in an Icelandic forest 🙁

Reunited with the group, it was only another 200m of hiking to reach the edge of the stony river delta where our “super-jeeps” were waiting to transfer us to Höfn.

Hiking towards the super-jeeps in the river delta - Shadow of Vatnajökull - East Iceland

The end of the journey

It was very slow going until we reached the main road (they basically drive up the river bed for several kilometres), and then it was all over far too quickly as we dropped people off at the hostel and said our goodbyes. 

Group photo taken at Tröllakrókar on Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Summary

In the Shadow of Vatnajökull is a beautiful, remote hike in East Iceland.  It is not particularly difficult, but you must be prepared for walking across stony ground without trails, wading across cold rivers, basic food and accommodation, weather of all kinds, and some short but moderately steep uphills and downhills.  All the while carrying a ~10kg backpack.

I particularly loved the variety of the landscapes that we hiked through in only 4 days, and hope that the other hikes I’m doing in Iceland have a similar diversity. 

Million thanks to Þorbjörg and my trekking companions for a wonderful trip!

Trekking Information

Distance = 14.25km

Time taken = 7 hours

Map

Basic Map of Day 4 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

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Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 3

Sunrise at Egilssel Hut.  Yes, once again I was up at about 2:30am to see this.  Totally worth it! 🙂

Sunrise at Egilssel Hut - Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Sunrise at Egilssel Hut

After another relaxed 8am breakfast, we retraced our steps from the day before around the lake and started to ascend towards a higher plateau. 

Climbing towards the ridge on day 3 of the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

There were fantastic views back down over the lake and hut, despite the weather being more than a little grey!

Panoramic view over lake in front of Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

The climb was not too steep for the most part, and delivered us to the edge of the cliffs lining the deep river valley that we had seen yesterday.

Tröllakrókar Cliffs on Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Do I need to say that the views were incredible?

Panoramic view valley below Tröllakrókar - Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

I loved the patterns in the landscape!

Abstract landscape - East Iceland

But even better was the surprise hidden within the Volcanic Tuff from which the cliffs were made.  Trolls! 

I’ll let Þorbjörg tell the story 🙂

This was Tröllakrókar – cliffs of the Trolls. And the pillars of stone and shapely rocks we were admiring were the petrified remains of party-goers according to Icelandic Folklore.  How cool is that?!  You can really see it too if you let your imagination run wild 🙂

I could have spent hours here giving each Troll my attention and looking for different angles to photograph.  But unfortunately, this is exactly the moment when my new Fujifilm XT-2 camera decided to break 🙁  The on/off switch on the top of the camera came off as I was pulling it out of the camera bag … which (as you can imagine) distracted me from the incredible place I was in and sent me into a bit of a fluster.  

After ascertaining that I couldn’t do anything to fix this problem while on the trek, I switched to my trusty Fujifilm XT-1 camera (which I’ve been using for the past 2 years) and carried on.   But I lost a lot of precious time at the Trolls, adding to my feeling that we didn’t stay here for nearly long enough.  It would have been great to have taken this part of the trek slower … even if I hadn’t had camera issues.

We took our lunch overlooking the river valley, glacier and last of the trolls

Tröllakrókar and its trolls on Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and then headed down towards the river and the start of the colourful rhyolite mountains.

Descending towards the river on day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Here we came across the first “trees” in several days, which had managed to grow to the height an adult person

Small Icelandic trees on Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and chains to help us “abseil” into a gully and back out the other side.

Abseiling - Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

By this time we were following a marked trail (actually, this started at our lunch spot on the southern end of Tröllakrókar), as we skirted the shale coming off the mountains along the edge of the river.

Hiking scenery - Day 4 - Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

We arrived at Múlaskáli Hut quite early (really wishing for more time at the Trolls!) and in bright sunshine.  This was the biggest and most luxurious hut of them all – it even had flush toilets (the others had extremely clean dry toilets) and hot showers if you wanted to pay 500ISK (~USD$4).

Interior of Múlaskáli Hut - East Iceland

Interior views of Múlaskáli Hut

Just before we reached the hut, Sabine had noticed wild mushrooms growing along the trail and asked whether they were edible.  Þorbjörg said that she thought so, and both Sabine and I thought they looked very similar to edible mushrooms we’d picked in Germany and Slovakia respectively.  So before Sabine and I settled in, we headed off mushroom picking 🙂   

As was the case at Filip’s family’s hut in Slovakia, I loved picking wild mushrooms!  You really have to slow down and take your time, as they are not the easiest things to spot under the trees.  But it is this slowing down that makes it such an enjoyable experience, and before you know it, you’ve been wandering around for over an hour – hopefully with a good haul to bring home and cook.

Mushrooms - East Iceland

I added my collection to Sabine’s and sat out on the deck in the hot Sun chatting as Sabine and Wolfgang cleaned and prepared the mushrooms.  We ended up with just enough for everyone in the group to have a taste … though were surprised that the majority of the group were highly suspicious about their edibility.

cleaning mushrooms outside Múlaskáli Hut - East Iceland

It never ceases to amaze me how little mushroom remains after you finish cleaning it!

Dinner was tomato soup, followed by sauteed mushrooms (in the end, almost everyone had a taste) which were delicious and not poisonous nor hallucinogenic, followed by pasta with a creamy pesto sauce and dried lamb sticks that were similar in texture to twiggies.  Dessert was McVities Hobnobs digestives, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate, but unfortunately we couldn’t monopolise the dining table as there were our 3 Icelandic ladies from the previous hut and another group of hikers who also needed to use the kitchen.

Cooking wild mushrooms and eating dinner at Múlaskáli Hut - East Iceland

Sabine cooking wild mushrooms, and the group eating dinner at Múlaskáli Hut

No sunset again tonight as the Sun disappeared behind the mountains quite early. Instead it was upstairs for a relatively early night 🙂

Trekking Information

Distance = 10.22 km

Time taken = 5 hours 38 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

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Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 2

It is always a good idea to get up for sunrise … even when it occurs at 3am!  

Sunrise at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Sunrise at Geldingafell Hut

It is also a good idea to go back to bed afterwards, and when we finally crawled out for our 8am breakfast, we were greeted with bright blue skies and loads of sunshine.

Geldingafell Hut and its surroundings - East Iceland

Geldingafell Hut with its pyramid-shaped outhouse, and the snow-capped Mt Snæfell on the left.

We helped ourselves to a spread of muesli, crackers, jam, peanut butter, nutella, tea and coffee to fuel our day, and then made our lunches with the same ingredients plus Icelandic Flatbrauð (rye flat bread), other long-lasting breads, cheese (Brie, Gouda), capsicum cream cheese, and a variety of processed meats – including hangikjöt, Icelandic smoked lamb.  Plus a couple of chocolate bars for energy 😉

Making breakfast on an Icelandic Mountain Guides trek

After cleaning the hut, returning unused supplies to the “store”, closing the wooden shutters over the windows to protect against wild weather, and locking the door behind us, we headed off across country for Day 2 of our trek in the shadow of Vatnajökull.

Leaving Geldingafell Hut on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Leaving Geldingafell Hut for Day 2 of our hike

The awesome weather meant that we could take the route closest to the glacier, so this would be a long day of hiking.  There were no tracks at all, and we spent the whole day walking across ankle-turning shaley rock, or ankle-turning pumicey rock.  Ankle-turning either way, and I highly recommend you wear really good waterproof hiking boots with ankle support for this trek!

Different types of rocks on the In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Shale (top) and pumice (bottom)

For the first hour or so we had a perfect view of Mt Snæfell, if we looked behind us.  It often pays to turn around while you are hiking 🙂

View of Mt Snæfell on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Apparently our driver yesterday mentioned to Þorbjörg that he’d never seen the mountain this cloud-free for so many days during a Summer.  Apparently, while Reykjavik has been struggling under the cloudiest Summer in 100 years, the weather in the East of Iceland has been the opposite!

We hiked beside a series of lakes and through pockets of snow, before spying the next glacier tongue coming down from the Icefield.

Lakes and snow on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Our lunch-stop was on a high perch looking down onto the face of the glacier (does it look like the head of a fish to you too?) and the deep valley that its meltwater was carving out of the East Iceland landscape.

Glacier views on Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Given the sunshine and lack of wind, we had a very relaxed lunch while admiring the view, before setting off again in the direction of the mountains we could see in the distance.

Scenery on day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

We were able to cross most of the streams/rivers by stone hopping (I’m so glad I’ve started using trekking poles)

Rock hopping across another stream on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

but eventually came to one that defeated us.  Þorbjörg wasn’t sure how deep it was and whether we would be able to cross or whether we would have to walk around.  So she told us to hold off on changing our shoes while she “tested the waters” as it were.  I love guided treks 🙂

Testing the depth of the water on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Þorbjörg finding a route across the river

In the end, she decided we would cross the river, as it only came up to lower-thigh on her (at least mid-thigh for myself, Melinda and Maria).  She suggested that we take off our hiking pants and wade across in our undies, putting our waterproof pants on if we really felt the cold badly.

Wading across the river in underwear on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Eric and Maria making their way across the river

My second river crossing in my underwear since arriving in Iceland!

Obstacle overcome, we put our pants back on, dried our feet, re-shoed, and  continued our journey over the rocky terrain in the direction of our next hut.  BTW it turns out Martin and Wolf walked a little further around and crossed the river on a snow bridge.  But I reckon you haven’t really hiked in Iceland until you can say you’ve stripped to your underwear to ford a river 🙂

I was completely mesmerised by the colours and patterns in the cliff face on the opposite side of the valley, once again wishing I was hiking with a geologist.  And although Þorbjörg was great at explaining the basics of how the geology of the region formed, I’m absolutely fascinated by rocks and really want to dive more into the details.

Patterned geology of East Iceland on Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek

Eventually, Egilssel Hut appeared in the distance as a white spec overlooking a lake. 

Approaching Egilssel Hut on Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Can you see Egilssel Hut?

We passed some woolly locals and, unfortunately, the Icelandic flies also found us!  Not quite as bad as the flies I encountered in Greenland, but still annoying – especially after not having had to endure them for a long time.

Icelandic Sheep along our path

Icelandic sheep roam free in East Iceland

Egilssel Hut is much larger than Geldingafell, and it turned out we were to share it with 3 Icelandic ladies this night. 

Inside Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Inside Egilssel Hut

While our Icelandic companions finished preparing their evening meal and some of our group went for a quick and cold wash in the lake, I wandered around taking photos of an amazing basaltic outcrop with columnar jointing (I remember that much from 1st year Geology).  I love these structures! The last one I went to see was at Los Tercios near Suchitoto in El Salvador.

Columnar Jointing along the river at Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Dinner was a thick, delicious cauliflower soup followed by couscous and canned ham.  This latter brought back all sorts of memories from when I was a little girl and my family would buy ham in this way since it was cheap and would last in the cupboard. I don’t know how cheap it is in Iceland (is anything cheap in Iceland?) but the fact it will last in the food cache at the hut is the important thing for Icelandic Mountain Guides.  

Eating dinner at Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

We finished our meal with a dessert of chocolate biscuits and then sat around chatting and drinking tea, coffee and hot chocolate until bed. 

I did wait up again for sunset … but unfortunately it was disappointing this night 🙁   Ah well, maybe tomorrow!

Trekking Information

Distance = 17.13km

Time taken = 8 hours 25 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

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Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 1

My trip to East Iceland started out a little too early in the morning and I’m thankful for 2 things:

  1. the fact that it never gets dark here in the summer makes it easier to drag oneself out of bed at 5:30am
  2. I’m staying very close to Reykjavik domestic airport and didn’t have to get up even earlier

Daniel, the Icelandic Mountain Guides representative, met myself, Eric and Melinda (from the US) at the airport to ensure we had everything and there were no issues, and I promptly fell back to sleep for the 50 minute Air Iceland Connect flight to Egilsstaðir as soon as I was clipped into seat 1C.  I’ve never sat in the first row in a plane before!

We arrived on time and were met off the plane by Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir.   I’m terrible with names in the first place, and Icelandic place and people names are really challenging me!  But thankfully she explained “just think of Thor and then the famous Icelandic singer, Björk, and put them together”.   Ah!  That made it very easy 🙂   And I learned that the Icelandic letter “Þ” is pronounced essentially like “th” in English!

The airport was actually the meeting place for the whole group, and we soon met Wolfgang and Sabine (a couple from Germany), Martin and Wolf (father and son from Germany), and Maria (from France).  Introductions done, we did a pitstop at the local Nettó supermarket for fresh supplies for the next 4 days, made our lunch on the picnic table near the carpark, dropped off some luggage that would be transferred to the end of the hike for us, and then were on our way to the start point of our trek.

We had all signed up for the 4-day lightweight-backpacking trek: “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” in East Iceland.  The name aptly describes the trek, which travels down the remote eastern edge of  Europe’s largest glacier – Vatnajökull.  The “lightweight backpacking” part meant that although we would be staying in huts where sleeping bags and mats were provided and where Icelandic Mountain Guides had food caches, we would need to carry our clothing, sleeping bag liner, anything else we deemed essential, and a portion of the fresh food for the 4 day trek.   

It was a pretty grey old day with low clouds, so there were not many views as we traveled firstly along the edge of a fjord and then up to a higher plateau in the direction of Mt Snæfell (“The Snow Mountain”), the highest mountain in Iceland outside of a glacier region. 

Driving to the trailhead - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Driving to the trailhead in our minivan. No. That is not Mt Snæfell. It is still in the distance, its peak covered in snow. Note the the lack of fences – Icelandic sheep roam free in the East.

After about an hour, our driver pulled off to the side of the road and stopped.  Once we’d all piled out with our gear, he promptly took off back the way we’d come, leaving us standing in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.  Þorbjörg quickly assured us that it was all good, and pulled out the map to show us the plan for today and the next 3 days.

Getting dropped at the trailhead of - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

We then set off across rocky, unmarked land (there was no trail to follow) as we hiked along the edge of one of Iceland’s many water storage dams.  

Hikers walking past wildflowers in front of a water storage dam - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

One of the most impressive features we came across in this rather flat terrain was a rocky outcrop that allowed us a slightly elevated view of the landscape.  We managed to find a spot that was more-or-less protected from the wind to have lunch, and Þorbjörg surprised us with a snack of Kleiner – yummy Icelandic donuts.

Lunch spot and Kleinur - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

I’m not a huge fan of doughnuts, but these were delicious! Even cold!

Despite our relatively sheltered position, it was quite cold.  So after I hurriedly ate my sandwich, I kept myself moving by taking photos of the surroundings

View from lunch spot - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The view from our slightly elevated lunch spot

and all the nearby wildflowers.  There were quite a few!

Wildflowers - East Iceland

We were slowly making our way towards one of the glacier tongues of Vatnajökull, at the base of which sat our home for the evening – Geldingafell Hut.

Hikers walking towards Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Can you spot the little yellow hut?

But before we arrived, we started to come across swathes of bright green moss growing in the wetter areas of the lava field.  Its vividness amidst the almost monochrome volcanic rock was startling and I loved how it held the water droplets so carefully in its embrace.

Bright green moss holding drops of water - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Unfortunately, not all was well with parts of this green carpet, and Þorbjörg also pointed out some “witches circles” caused by a fungus that attacks the moss in a circular pattern.

Our guide explaining how "witches circles" are formed

Those who have been following my hiking adventures in Patagonia, Iceland and Greenland know how much I “love” cold river crossings.  Day 1 placed two of these in our path.  But now I have my neoprene socks – I have no fear!  🙂

Crossing a river - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Thank goodness for neoprene socks!

There were a few small snow drifts to navigate (nothing compared to what we had on the Icefjords and Remote Villages trek in East Greenland) on the final uphill to the hut, and Þorbjörg welcomed us to our home for the night by tasking us with opening all the shutters that protect the windows from wild weather.

Approaching, and arriving at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Approaching (top) and arriving at (bottom) the Geldingafell Hut. You can see the glacier tongue above the hut in the top image.

Geldingafell Hut is very small and cosy inside – especially for 9 people.  There is nowhere really to sit except for on the bunks, which is why we were all very happy that the skies finally cleared and the Sun started shining brightly just after we arrived!

View of hut and river valley from behind - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The Geldingafell Hut has an amazing view over a beautiful river valley. The pyramid-shaped building at bottom left is the outhouse

I decided to go for a short hike up the hill behind the hut before dinner to get a clearer view of the glacier and epic views back down over the hut and the valley below it.

View behind the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The hills behind the Geldingafell Hut. I hiked up to where that little plateau juts out at the top left

And arrived back just in time for our al fresco dining for the evening – minestrone soup and spaghetti bolognaise 🙂  We all enjoyed sitting outside in the warm sunshine, but eventually had to retreat inside as the Sun approached the horizon and the temperature dropped.

Hiking companions sitting on the ground outside the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

For dessert, Þorbjörg “went shopping” for us in the Icelandic Mountain Guides “store” out the back of the hut.  Because of the remoteness of this hut, the company estimates how many trekkers they will have during the summer and caches enough dry/tinned food during the winter (when they can access the hut by snowmobile) to cover their estimate.  The logistics for some of their treks are really impressive!

Icelandic Mountain Guides store at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The “store”. A food cache set up by Icelandic Mountain Guides during the winter when they can access the hut by snow mobile

Sitting on our beds, we downed chocolate cake, Jägermeister (thanks to Wolfgang and Sabine – no Wolfgang – half a glass does not constitute “the smallest amount possible just for a taste”), and hot chocolate before most people turned in for the night.  I stayed up a little longer to catch a beautiful sunset at around 11:30pm, and then followed suit.

Sunset at hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Worth waiting up for!

Trekking Information

Distance = 11.39km

Time taken = 5 hours 07 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day 1 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 1 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

 

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Greenland – Sisimiut Sea Safari

I was on my third cup of tea over breakfast at the Hotel Sisimiut when Jan from Sisimiut Private Boat Safari called.  Yes, it was unbelievably foggy outside, but some of the calmest waters occur after a heavy fog lifts he told me – so could I be ready in 15 minutes?

Absolutely!

bacon, eggs and coffee for breakfast at the Hotel Sisimiut, West Greenland

I loved the breakfasts at the Hotel Sisimiut!

We’d been waiting a couple of days for the waters to be calm enough to set out on a “Sea Safari” around Sisimiut.  As the name suggests, the goal is to spot and observe the marine animals that are so plentiful in the fjords and off the coast of Greenland.  Seals and whales in particular are very common but, as with any safari, there are no guarantees…

Down at the harbour I once again donned the freezer suit that I’d worn on the trip to the abandoned settlement of Assaqutaq the day before, and off we set.

Me in a freezer suit on the boat with Jan - Sisimiut - West Greenland

I was rugged up – nice and warm!

Heading out of Sisimiut you pass several small islands which are used by locals as “holiday islands” for their Greenlandic sled dogs.  The name stems from the fact that the dogs are free to roam the island as they please, a welcome change from being chained up all summer!

Pack of 5 Greenlandic Sled Dogs on and island off Sisimiut, West Greenland

Greenlandic Sled Dogs racing down the island to say “aluu” to us

It was stunningly beautiful out on the almost mirror-like water as we set about looking for wildlife.

Jan with binoculars scanning the ocean for wildlife from his boat - Sisimiut - West Greenland

Jan on the lookout for marine mammals

Though I was also captivated by the low fog that lay across the water, at times completely obscuring the horizon line.

Image of fog over water where it difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins - Sisimiut Sea Safari - West Greenland

Fog and water – where does one end and the other begin?

Unfortunately, despite the calm seas and our best efforts – there were simply no animals to be seen!  The chatter on the radio told us we weren’t the only ones having problems.  The local hunters were checking in with each other and reporting their unanimous bad luck in Greenlandic.  In almost 4 hours on the water, we managed to spot only a handful of individual seals that promptly disappeared as soon as we approached.

head of a seal poking out of the ocean - Sisimiut - West Greenland

Hello! One of the handful of lone seals we saw

That was it.

Well, apart from the sea birds that is 😊

The two main types of sea birds we saw on the safari out of Sisimiut, West Greenland

The two main types of sea birds we saw on the Sea Safari

Although this was disappointing, it is the nature of animal safaris the world over.  Sometimes you are unlucky when the animals don’t play the game!

We decided to abandon the search for animals for a while and Jan took me over to Nipisat Island – home to one of the most well-studied archaeological sites in this part of Greenland.  Extensively excavated between 1989 and 1994, the dig uncovered more than 70,000 bone fragments and 1,000 artefacts (including 314 tools) from the Saqqaq culture (~2500 – 1500BC).  If you are keen to learn more – you can read the full report by Anne Birgitte Gotfredsen and Tinna Møbjerg online 😊 

What remains now is a low, rectangular stone wall, partially covered in vegetation, that stands watch over the sea.

Two views of what remains of the Saqqaq Culture archaeological site on Nipisat Island near Sisimiut, West Greenland

Views of the archaeological remains left by the Saqqaq culture on Nipisat Island

After hiking up to the top of the island for an amazing view

Panorama from the top of Nipisat Island near Sisimiut in West Greenland

[move mouse over image to see the full panorama]

it was back in the boat for more tea

my gloved hand holding a cup of hot tea on the boat - Sisimiut - West Greenland

Hot tea was a very welcome part of our Sea Safari

while we made out way around to a beautiful white shell beach

 
View of the white shell beach near Sisimiut, West Greenland

The white shell beach was very isolated and hidden

and past the abandoned settlement of Uummannaarsuk, where Jan used to have a summer home.

Derelict buildings in the abandoned settlement of Uummannaarsuk near Sisimiut, West Greenland

The abandoned settlement of Uummannaarsuk

Unfortunately, we still had no luck with the animals on the way back to Sisimiut, though Jan never stopped searching!

Recommendation

One of the best ways to get close views of marine animals is on a sea safari in a small boat.  Unfortunately, I was very unlucky on this occasion (apparently there were seals everywhere 2 days later!) but it was still an amazing experience to be out on the water for an extended period of time. 

The freezer suit that Jan provides kept me warm for the whole 4 hours (and trust me, I feel the cold!) so you just have to make sure you have a good beanie, gloves and warm shoes to guarantee your comfort.

Cost:  Depends on the amount of time spent.  Have a look at the Sisimiut Private Boat Safari website for details.

Time: 4 hours

Discover more about Greenland

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences and adventures here on my blog.  

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Greenland-Assaqutaq-from-above.jpg

Hiking Greenland – Abandoned Settlement of Assaqutaq

When you start researching things to do around Sisimiut you very quickly come across excursions to Assaqutaq – an abandoned settlement about 10km away.  The Hotel Sisimiut offers a boat tour to and from the settlement, but what I really wanted to do was take a boat out and then hike back.  I contacted Jan from Sisimiut Private Boat Safari to arrange and, with instructions to bring gloves and a beanie, was down at the harbour at the agreed meeting time.

The ramp down to where Jan's boat was docked in Sisimiut Harbour - West Greenland

The ramp down to where Jan’s boat was docked in Sisimiut Harbour

Jan’s boat is small – equipped to carry only 4 people at a time.  It is also open which means we were bundled up in freezer suits to combat the chill in the air (gloves and beanie not included). 

My friend and I in freezer suits ready for out boat outing - Sisimiut, West Greenland

All rugged up!

Jan, made of sturdier stuff, just wore a normal jacket and beanie!

My friend in a freezer suit sitting in front of Jan with just a normal jacket on - Sisimiut Boat Safari - West Greenland

Tyson in a freezer suit and Jan … not

As we made our way around to the entrance of the Amerloq fjord in which Assaqutaq is located, we had wonderful views of the colourful buildings of Sisimiut.  This, despite the very low cloud that didn’t look like it would be clearing off anytime soon 🙁

The colourful houses of Sisimiut as seen from the water - West Greenland

The colourful houses of Sisimiut as seen from the water

Jan kept a keen eye out for whales, seals and other wildlife as we motored along but, unfortunately on this day, the waters were very quiet.  We did see some fishermen with a lot of winged friends

Fisherman being swarmed by seagulls as he attempts to check his nets from his boat - near Sisimiut - West Greenland

and Jan made a brief stop at an historical site with the remains of round stone houses

stone ruins of old houses on the way to Assaqutaq

Ruins of old stone houses on the way to Assaqutaq

before arriving at Assaqutaq half an hour after setting out.

front of the boat with the buildings of Assaqutaq in front of us - Sisimiut - West Greenland

Arriving in Assaqutaq

The settlement is an interesting mix of derelict buildings and ones that have been refurbished to accommodate primarily school and scout groups.  Jan explained that hunters, fishermen and other people who follow more traditional Greenlandic practices are often brought in to teach the kids some of these skills and about their heritage – an awesome idea if ever there was one! 

As we tied up to the dock, we were greeted by 5 kids on a school camp.  While 4 of them endeavoured to manipulate a canoe and catch fish (no supervision at all, they had to figure it all out for themselves), the 5th one started peppering us with questions in very good English!  “I’m feeling lazy”, he sighed when we asked him why he wasn’t in the canoe.  And his response when we asked him where he learned his English: “YouTube”!

School kids fishing and maneuvering a canoe in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

Being a native English speaker, I’ve often lamented that it is much easier for a motivated person to learn English from anywhere in the world than to learn any another language – simply because English is so ubiquitous and so dominant in popular culture.  Certainly, many of the people I’ve met who have learned English have cited YouTube or TV or Hollywood movies as one of their key reference sources.  The other: having the opportunity to talk to English-speaking tourists they encounter – something that is very much put into practice in Uzbekistan.  And while I acknowledge that most languages have a web presence these days, try teaching yourself Greenlandic via YouTube … it is not so easy to find material, nor is it easy to find a Greenlander outside of Greenland and Denmark (yes, I’ve started learning a little Greenlandic – thanks Memrise)!

After hot tea and biscuits at the dock, Tyson and I set off to explore the crumbling structures of Assaqutaq. 

My friend looking in the window of one of the derelict buildings at Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

It was absolutely beautiful! 

The faded paint that is slowly being stripped off the walls by the harsh Greenlandic weather,

Several photos of the faded exterior of derelict houses in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

the almost empty, half-collapsed but still brightly painted interiors,

Several images of the interiors of the abandoned houses in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

the overgrown cemetery,

Wooden crosses and paling fences around the graves at Assaqutaq cemetery near Sisimiut - West Greenland

Assaqutaq cemetery

and the complete silence

Panorama over Assaqutaq from one of the highest points on the island - Sisimiut - West Greenland

[move mouse over image to see the full panorama]

made for a fascinating, if slightly eerie exploration of this settlement that was abandoned in 1968.  In fact, Jan’s wife was the second-last child born in the settlement – her family home now slowly falling into ruin.

Derelict porch of a house in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut - West Greenland

The derelict remnants of the house that Jan’s wife grew up in.

We poked our heads into the refurbished building the school group was occupying, walked through the old fish processing plant, and checked out the church as well (you can get married here if you wish!)

Images of the exterior and interior of the refurbished church at Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

before Jan pointed us in the direction of where to start the hike and gave us some instructions on how to find the trail.

Assaqutaq is actually located on an island, separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water.  There is now a bridge spanning the gap, and it is one of the coolest bridges I’ve ever crossed!

My friend making his way across the footbridge with Assaqutaq in the background, near Sisimiut, West Greenland

Tyson braving the footbridge

It is made of wooden planks tied together and to the bridge supports by rope, but there appears to be some missing and the experience of crossing this bridge can be described as “unstable” at best.  It was so much fun – we did it twice!

detail of the wooden planks and ropes tying the footbridge from Assaqutaq to the mainland together - near Sisimiut, West Greenland

The wooden planks of the footbridge are tied together with rope

The next obstacle was a scramble up an almost vertical cliff

My friend climbing the almost vertical slope to get to the trail - Assaqutaq, West Greenland

and then some bush-bashing until we finally stumbled upon the foot-width trail heading towards Sisimiut.  The views back over Assaqutaq were stunning!

View from on high back down over the abandoned settlement of Assaqutaq - near Sisimiut, West Greenland

View of Assaqutaq from the trail

and the trail, once found, was pretty obvious through to unmissable – especially once the red-or-blue-paint-on-rocks trail markers began.  I later found out that the trail markers had just been renewed the previous weekend.

Images of the trail leading from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut, West Greenland

The trail and its red markers (painted on the rocks) were usually very visible.

After about a kilometre, we came across a grave that was the most obvious visible sign of the old whaler’s station of Qerrortusoq,

Old grave at the site of Qerrortusoq - on the trail from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut, West Greenland

and a little further along, a group of students and teachers from Arctic DTU camped by the trail.  They invited us to have tea and explained how in their program (which is focused on construction engineering in Arctic environments), the Danish and Greenlandic students spend their first 3 semesters in Sisimiut, and then finish their studies in Denmark.  We had come across the group during the very first activity at the start of their commencing semester, where they get to know each other by spending 3 days camping near Sisimiut working on a project together. 

The awesome footbridge we’d just crossed was a project from 2 years ago (apparently the wooden planks were originally evenly spaced, but the knots holding everything in place had moved), and for the past two years, students have been working on building a small cabin for their own use when they need a break from study.  They were more than enthusiastic to show us around and explain what they were doing and, after waiting a couple of minutes for the finishing touches to go on, I even got to be the first person to walk up the newly constructed stairs to the hut 😊

Images of the hut being fitted out by the students of DTU

The hut being built by the students from DTU. I love the use of the shape of Greenland to secure the large windows (middle), and in the bottom left image we are learning about the special stove they are installing which also provides hot water.

We spent quite a while chatting about the unique features of the hut and how to construct a cabin that is completely isolated from everything, before wishing them well in their studies and heading further along the trail.

Despite the less-than-spectacular weather, with the fjord on one side and the mountains (their tops admittedly lost in cloud) on the other, it was a really stunning hike.  We stopped to enjoy the mist and light playing out over the fjord

Light playing on the fog and fjord between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut, West Greenland

I love abstract scenes!

while keeping a wary eye on how low the cloud was reaching on the mountains.  Although the trail was well marked, we didn’t want to be walking in fog.

My friend hiking towards a mountain obscured in the fog between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut - West Greenland

Keeping a wary eye…

In fact, the only time we temporarily “lost” the trail was when it descended into a mini-forest of Dwarf Arctic Birch that had managed to grow as tall as Tyson!  It is amazing what can happen with abundant water and a sheltered position.

My friend almost completely covered by the dwarf Arctic Birch forest between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut - West Greenland

For reference, Tyson is around 2m tall

Yes, there are boulder fields to negotiate, and rocks to scramble over and climb, but the hike between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut is not overly technical and these kinds of obstacles just make it even more fun and interesting 😊

Images of some of the trickier parts of the trail between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut, West Greenland

There were quite a few rocky obstacles to overcome between Assaqutaq and Sismiut

We were almost all the way back to Sisimiut when the cloud started to lift and the sun finally put in an appearance.

Images of the final parts of the trail between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut - once the sun had come out. West Greenland

Blue skies!

When this happened, the whole feeling of the hike was transformed from one of mystery to one of joy and I look forward to returning one day to hike the whole thing under blue skies. 

I’m super-keen to see what those mountains look like from the trail!

Recommendation

If you like hiking, I highly recommend taking a boat transfer from Sisimiut to Assaqutaq and then walking back to town.  It is stunning to experience the area from both the sea and the land, and the trail is only moderately difficult with quite a few boulder scrambles and small rock climbs.

Cost: Have a look at the Sisimiut Boat Safari website for details.

Time:

  • Boat transfer: ~1/2 hour (though it depends on how much wildlife is around)
  • Assaqutaq: as long as you like. We spent about an hour here but could easily have spent longer
  • Hike back to Sisimiut: 3-4 hours

Hiking Information

Distance = 9.8km

Time taken = 4 hours 30 minutes (includes stopping and chatting with DTI students for almost an hour)

Map

Basic Map the hike from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut - from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Basic altitude profile of the hike from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut - from Strava

Download trail as .gpx or .kml

Discover more about Greenland

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences and adventures here on my blog.  

Or, if this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland in general, learn more about this amazing country by:

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
Like what you have read? Please follow and like me: