Author Archives: lgermany

View-towards-Hesteyri-from-the-pass-Hornstrandir-Iceland-1024x683.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Hlöðuvík to Hesteyri – Hornstrandir

I woke up to better-looking weather today for my hike from Hlöðuvík to Hesteyri.

View from Hlöðuvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
View from Hlöðuvík campsite

Unfortunately, however, still no feeling in the surface layer of my left outer thigh 🙁   It turns out I have developed Meralgia Paresthetica (thank you Dr Google).  Given that I’m not overweight nor wearing tight clothing, I suspect this was caused by the hip belt of my pack compressing the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve in my groin for the past few days.  The trick now is to find out how to adjust the pack so it doesn’t continue to do so!

Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt, it just feels really, really weird.  And if I press on the nerve I can feel sensations shooting down the leg, so I’m hoping no permanent damage has been done. Apparently, it can take several months to rectify…

From Hlöðuvík to the pass to Hesteyri

Loaded up again, I had walked less than 10 minutes when I came across my first river crossing.  The boots came off, the neoprene socks went on, and I waded through with nary a concern, as the three guys from the Czech Republic who were just ahead of me took photos and video.

River crossing at Hlöðuvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland

The trail to Kjaransvíkurskarð Pass was very obvious and climbed steadily up the green valley beside a river with multiple waterfalls.

The trail to the pass between Hlöðuvík and Hesteyri- Hornstrandir - Iceland
The trail to the pass between Hlöðuvík and Hesteyri is gorgeous!

But just in case you were feeling particularly nervous, there were plenty of stone cairns to keep you on the straight and narrow as well.

Looking back at Hlöðuvík on the way to the pass over to Hesteyri- Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking back at Hlöðuvík on the way to the pass over to Hesteyri

The sun came and went all morning, and I took the opportunity to sit and relax in its Vitamin D whenever the opportunity arose.

Great snack spot on the way to the pass from Hlöðuvík over to Hesteyri
Great place for a snack

Closer to the pass, the ground became rocky and the trail mostly disappeared (it’s hard to see a trail on rocks).  If you don’t like walking on unstable surfaces that are very good at turning ankles, I would not recommend hiking in Hornstrandir!

Rocky approach to the pass from Hlöðuvík over to Hesteyri
It’s up there somewhere…

From the pass to Hesteyri

Just over the top of the pass, I was confronted with yet another very steep snowdrift.  I couldn’t actually see the next cairn and had to trust the boot prints of others to guide me. 

More snowdrifts coming down from the pass from Hlöðuvík to Hesteyri
Still wary of snowdrifts

Fortunately, they didn’t lead me astray and the end of Hesteyrarfjörður appeared below me.

Over the pass from Hlöðuvík to Hesteyri - more incredible views- Hornstrandir - Iceland
Where I came from (top) and where I’m going to (bottom)

Once down off the pass, I was confronted with stone cairns stretching out into the distance along a long, flat traverse following the right-hand side of the inlet.

Stone cairns leading the way to Hesteryi - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Stone cairns…

The terrain switched between rocky patches and boggy patches, and the cairns went on forever…

So many stone cairns leading the way to Hesteryi - Hornstrandir - Iceland
… and more stone cairns

And ever…

The stone cairns leading the way to Hesteryi go on and on- Hornstrandir - Iceland
Will they never end?

To be honest, this was the most boring part of all the hiking I’d done for the past 5 days, and I was very relieved when I finally spied the “abandoned” village of Hesteyri below me.

Final stone cairns leading the way to Hesteryi - Hornstrandir - Iceland

I just had to figure out how to get there!  After hours following either a well-trodden trail or large stone cairns, in the final approach to Hesteyri there were two occasions when I could not figure out where to go next!

The first was yet another snowdrift, and once again I had to trust in the bootprints of others.

Snow drift between me and Hesteryi - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Where should I cross this?

The second was even more frustrating!  I hiked to what I considered to be the first stone cairn, then to a second stone cairn that was nearby.  But the trail was absolutely nowhere to be seen and no further cairns were visible.   I could see the trail below me – but how to get down there?

Final leg to Hesteryi - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The last stone cairn above Hesteryi

I wandered back and forth on the top of the cliff and eventually spied something that 1/2 looked like a track, back near the first cairn.  Turns out – that was it, and I finally arrived in Hesteryi.  

The old doctors house in Hesteryi is the heart of the village - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The old doctor’s house in Hesteryi is the heart of the village

The campsite is actually on the other side of town through some pretty lush rhubarb bushes, and much further than one suspects.  I was about to turn around and go ask back at the cafe, when I spied the top of the triangular toilet.  I set up my tent overlooking the inlet – my home for the next 3 nights!

Campsite at Hesteryi - Hornstrandir - Iceland
My campsite at Hesteryi

Trekking Information

Distance = 15.2 km

Time taken = 7 hours and 10 minutes.  About an hour or so of stops along the way.

Map

Basic Map of the route I took from Hloduvik to Hesteyri from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the route I took from Hloduvik to Hesteyri from Strava

Download track as .gpx

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

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

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Trekking Iceland – Hornvík to Hlöðuvík – Hornstrandir

I’ve said it before … it’s not a bad thing to need to get up and attend to a call of nature in the middle of the night during an Arctic summer.

Sunset at Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Beautiful

These are the views that greeted me at 1 am as I took a 1.5-hour stroll along the beach.  And I wasn’t the only photographer out and about 🙂  I found Sean walking back to camp, having spent all evening on The Horn shooting pictures.  Unfortunately, the cloud eventually killed the light and there wasn’t much point staying up any longer, so back to bed I went.

After midnight sunset at Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Hornvík is a stunning location

When I next awoke, it was overcast again.  Vésteinn convinced me that it was worthwhile taking the detour out to Kirfi and, after watching an Arctic Fox scamper through the campsite

Arctic fox visiting the  Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
A visitor!

I was on the trail to Hlöðuvík.

Leaving Hornvík

The first part of this skirted around the edge of a cliff, requiring careful footing on the smooth stones, and some rope-work to get up and over a particular section.

The first obstacle on the trail from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The first obstacle on the trail from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík

There were plenty of views of bird-filled rocky outcrops

beautiful scenery on the trail from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
So beautiful, even when cloudy

before a conveniently placed log allowed for a dry river crossing just before reaching Rekavík, and the patio of a summer home that had been blown away in a storm several years ago.  

Helpful log along the trail in Hornstrandir - Iceland
Perfect!

Vésteinn had told me to leave my backpack here and head out to Kirfi with just the minimum of equipment.  I have to say, it was such a joy to be hiking without all that weight! 

Platform where you can leave your pack if hiking to Kirfi - Hornstrandir - Iceland
This house would have had a lovely view of the Hornbjarg

A detour to Kirfi

The first part of the trail passed through quite boggy ground before rising up to a very narrow path cut into the side of the cliff, with a long and steep drop straight down to the ocean below.

Trail to Kirfi - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Trail to Kirfi

The views were OK but I was wondering what was so special about this detour when I finally rounded the corner and understood.  The final viewpoint has you standing in front of but below more of the vertical cliffs that drop hundreds of metres into the ocean below.

Bird cliffs at Kirfi near Hornvik - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Bird cliffs at Kirfi

This is quite a different view from the one you get up on The Horn, and I had to admit that Vésteinn was right – it did rival the view from above.  Especially since you could walk out onto a couple of promontories to get a great view back into the sheer rock wall covered in birds.

Thousands of birds nesting in the cliffs at Kirfi near Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
All those white spots on the cliffs are birds

I spent ages here taking pictures, then made my way back to my pack … just as the clouds started spitting rain at me again.  Bummer 🙁

The trail to Atlaskarð pass

From there, there was a pretty obvious track that climbed to the Atlaskarð pass

The trail to the Atlaskarð from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The trail to the Atlaskarð pass

and my biggest excitement was having an Arctic Fox with a mouthful of feathers run across the track not even 20 metres in front of me.   No, I have no idea how he could see where he was going, but he sure was moving quickly!

Successful Arctic Fox on the trail from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Lucky sighting!

It was steadily drizzling by the time I reached the top of the pass and the view of the wide bowl I had to walk around to get to the Skálarkambur ridge.

The first pass on trail from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
View from the first pass on the trail from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík. I’m heading over to the left

River mishap

The trail actually descended into the bowl, at the bottom of which was a fairly wide river that I needed to cross.  I walked up and down a bit looking for a suitable crossing point where I didn’t have to take my shoes off and found one that certainly looked doable.

A fairly major river to cross on trail from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The river. Totally doable without taking off my shoes, right?

I was doing really well and only 2 rocks away from the other side when disaster struck! 

Although hiking poles are critical for negotiating these types of obstacles, they can bring you unstuck if the lugs that extend them happen to catch on something and open unexpectedly.  This is exactly what happened to me here.  I positioned my poles either side of the rock I was wanted to step on, but when I placed my weight on them to make the move, the right-hand one collapsed underneath me.  I couldn’t catch myself so into the river I went 🙁

Fortunately, I was able to right myself very quickly, but it required me to put my feet and hands in the river to do so.  My Lowa boots are good … by they aren’t that good!  No amount of GoreTex will keep your feet dry if the water runs in through the top of a fully submerged boot!

Crap!

I finished the crossing and could feel my feet squelching, so sat down to try to wring as much water as possible out of my wool socks before continuing.  My waterproof gloves were also not so waterproof after having been submerged, but I know that one of the best ways to dry something is to wear it so on I marched, following the rocky cairns that marked the trail through the snowdrifts up the other side of the bowl.  I wasn’t too cold if I kept moving…

Rocky cairns mark the trail from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Follow the rocky cairns

The trail to Hlöðuvík

I eventually reached the final pass over the lower reaches of Skál and had my first view of Hlöðuvík, Búðir farm and the “heart” of Hornstrandir.

Looking down to Hlöðuvík from the last pass coming from Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking down at Hlöðuvík from the last pass

All that stood between me and my warm sleeping bag now, was a 100m vertical drop from where I was standing!

Descent down to Hlöðuvík from the last pass coming from Hornvík is very steep - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The descent down to Hlöðuvík is very steep

I forced myself to take it slowly to avoid any other mishaps and then chose my own adventure through the marshy ground that led to the farmhouses.

There I met Ludvig, the owner, who was on site preparing the cottages for the Summer.  He explained that the farm had been in his family for a couple of generations and that each year members of the family come to spend time there.  He also explained that when no family is visiting, he rents it out to others who are craving peace and solitude.  He had come early to make sure that everything was in order in preparation for these visits.

Hlöðuvík farm - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Hlöðuvík farm

We stood out in the drizzle for about 25 minutes chatting about the farm (he is collecting and documenting stories of the history of the Hlöðuvík area), what on Earth I was doing hiking alone in Hornstrandir, and this amazing life I’m now leading.  It was a fun conversation and I would have loved to have stayed longer, but I was rapidly cooling down (wet feet really don’t help) and I wanted to set up camp before the rain became heavier.  So with a promise to look him up on Facebook, I bid my leave and hiked the remaining 15 minutes to the campsite.

Campsite at Hlöðuvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
My campsite at Hlöðuvík. The pyramid is the toilet.

Well, actually, there was one last obstacle between me and my dry sleeping bag.  Yet another river.  Even though the campsite was literally 20 metres the other side of it, there was no question about the need to change into my neoprene socks to make this crossing.  I really have no fear of these rivers now I’m armed with neoprene 🙂

Trekking Information

Distance = 14.8 km

Time taken = 8 hours and 30 minutes. 

Map

Basic map of the route I took from Hornvik to Hloduvik from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Download track as .gpx

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

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

View-over-Hornbjargsviti-Lighthouse-from-the-south-at-slightly-higher-elevation-Hornstrandir-Iceland-1024x683.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Hornbjargsviti to Hornvík – Hornstrandir

The wind kept up for most of the night but had died down significantly by morning.  The drizzle had also mostly stopped so I headed out to explore more of the area around the lighthouse at Hornbjargsviti

View looking North from Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse - Hornstrandir -Iceland
View looking North from Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse

I don’t know if it was because I had it all to myself, but this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  I could easily have stayed a week, relaxing and drinking in the views.  But I had told Vésteinn that I would be back in Hornvík tonight, and figured that if I didn’t show he might send out the rescue service!  Especially after the crazy winds last night.

So after taking some images of the driftwood sculptures in the backyard of the lighthouse (no, I have no idea why),

One of the driftwood sculptures at Hornbjargsviti lighthouse
One of the driftwood sculptures at Hornbjargsviti lighthouse

The trail from Hornbjargsviti to the pass

I set off towards the ridge to the South of the lighthouse that would ultimately lead me to the pass I would take over to Hornvík.

Bridge over a river leading from Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse towards Hornvik - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Bridge over the river near Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse

Wow!  And I thought the views from the Northern side of the lighthouse were incredible!

View over Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse from the south - Hornstrandir -Iceland
View over Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse from the south

As I climbed the ridge, the vista over the lighthouse revealed the two large waterfalls, and the cliffs and pinnacles of rock to the North plunging into the ocean. 

View over Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse from the south at slightly higher elevation - Hornstrandir -Iceland
View over Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse from the south at a slightly higher elevation

The brightly painted lighthouse sitting in the middle of this scene adds to its picturesque beauty rather than detracting from it, and it took a great deal of effort to distract myself enough to look South and then leave the cliff edges to start the hike towards the pass.

View to the south of the ridge on the southern side of Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse - Hornstrandir -Iceland
View to the South of the ridge on the southern side of Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse

I felt this even more keenly because the trail itself is not terribly interesting.  The muddy path comes and goes depending on whether you are hiking on moss or rock, but a line of skinny, natural wood poles keeps you moving forward.

I definitely wouldn’t want to be doing this trail without a GPS if there was fog, as more often than not you must follow the poles rather than a track, and they can be quite difficult to spot against the background of rocks which is almost the same colour.

Trail towards the pass from Hornbjargsviti to Hornvik - Hornstrandir -Iceland
The trail towards the pass from Hornbjargsviti to Hornvík. In this case, you can see a clear trail, but often this disappeared

This was the first day where I was truly alone as I hiked – just me in a wide-open landscape with not another soul to be seen.  It was completely silent, apart from the calls of alarm from unseen birds, and I found myself falling into a steady stroll, rather than racing against some unseen clock.  I can definitely get into this!

As always, there were plenty of streams to negotiate (there is a lot of water in Hornstrandir!),

A stream on the way from Hornbjargsviti to Hornvik - Hornstrandir - Iceland
A stream on the trail from Hornbjargsviti to Hornvík

and a very steep, rocky ascent to the pass.

Final climb to the pass between Hornbjargsviti and Hornvik - Hornstrandir -Iceland
The final climb to the pass between Hornbjargsviti and Hornvík

The trail from the pass to Hornvík

But eventually, the familiar view of Hornvík came into sight, with yet another snowdrift between me and where I needed to go.

View towards Horvik on top of the pass from Hornbjargsviti - Hornstrandir -Iceland
View towards Hornvík on top of the pass from Hornbjargsviti

This time I was heading down the almost vertical slope, so ended up having to stamp snow steps in with the heel of my boot while supporting myself on my trekking poles to make sure I didn’t just slide the whole way.

Steep Snowdrift - Hornstrandir -Iceland
Can you see my bootprints?

Once off the snow, the trail didn’t get any less steep for quite a while, and some rock climbing prowess also came to the fore as I negotiated my way down with my backpack.

Steep sections descending from the pass from Hornbjargsviti to Horvik  - Hornstrandir -Iceland
Rock scrambling skills required

The great thing was that the weather had vastly improved (even though the sun was still not out) and so I took my time descending, stopping at several places to sit and eat and admire the views.

Waterfall and view on the descent from the pass from Hornbjargsviti to Horvik  - Hornstrandir -Iceland
A nice place to stop for lunch

Crossing the river at Hornvík

Eventually, I had to confront the thing I’d pushed to the back of my mind … re-crossing the freezing river.  This was made even more daunting because it was high tide, and when I finally got a good look at it – boy was it ever wide!

I arrived at its shores and wandered up and down trying to ascertain whether the tide influenced the depth this far upstream, and exactly where it was that I was supposed to cross.  I decided to shelter behind a rock and eat some more snacks as I pondered my situation.

Stopped for lunch on the way to Horvik  - Hornstrandir -Iceland
Stopped for snacks as I ponder the river that lies between me and Hornvík

Eventually, it got too cold to sit there and so I wandered back up to the point where I first hit the river … to find a marker clearly indicating the crossing point!  The problem is that it faces away from the approach when coming over the pass, it is designed to help people coming from downstream.

River crossing near Horvik  - Hornstrandir -Iceland
Marker for the river crossing. It’s obvious from this angle! Note the sandstorm on the other side of the river

I could see that it was reasonably shallow at this crossing point, but it wasn’t clear to me just how far the water might reach up to on my short legs.  So I stripped down to my underpants and, this time, decided to try out my new neoprene socks – the BPS Storm ‘Smart Sock’.

Preparing for river crossing near Horvik  with neoprene socks - Hornstrandir -Iceland
Getting ready to brave the river in my untested neoprene socks

It took all my willpower to take that first step into the frigid water, only to find … NEOPRENE SOCKS ARE MAGIC!!!  Truly!  Yes, the water was still cold, but it was nothing approaching the almost unbearable, tear-inducing frozen-ness of crossing a river in the arctic with bare feet!  WTF??!! 

And even though the neoprene socks only came to my ankles but at its deepest, the river reached my upper thighs, I was not cold!   I was so impressed that I finished crossing the river, fished my camera out of my backpack, and waded back into the middle of the river to take some pictures!  I would NEVER have done that with bare feet!

View down the river at the crossing near Horvik - Hornstrandir -Iceland
Standing in the middle of the river for several minutes taking pictures. Impossible without neoprene socks!

Seriously.  If you are hiking in the Arctic – bring neoprene socks!  I’ll never cross another river without them!

At home in Hornvík campground

The rest of the hike back to the campground was an uneventful slog along the river and then along the beach.  I checked in with Vésteinn who asked how I fared last night in the wind. Apparently, 2 tents (including Sean’s) were destroyed at Hornvík.  I said that I suspected mine would have made a third, except that I had found the perfect sheltered spot at the lighthouse.  He agreed that Hornbjargsviti is an extremely beautiful spot.

After chatting a little more about my hiking plans for the coming days, it was time to set up camp again.  I chose the same spot as last time, made myself dinner, chatted with a few of the other campers, and made it another relatively early night.

Campsite at Hornvik - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Amazing sunset from my campsite at Hornvík

Trekking Information

Distance = 9.8 km

Time taken = 7 hours and 13 minutes.  At least 1.5 hours of this was spent chilling and taking photos.

Map

Basic map of the route I took from H The Horn in Hornstrandir from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Basic map of the route I took from Hornbjargsviti to Hornvik from Movescount

Download track as .gpx

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

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

hornbjarg-cliffs-hornstrandir-1024x683.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Hornbjarg – Hornstrandir

21 June. The longest day of the year. I was almost on the Arctic Circle, and I never saw the Sun 🙁  In true Icelandic fashion we went from perfectly clear skies yesterday to completely overcast today – this being the view after I’d packed up camp and set off towards Hornbjarg along the beach. 

Beach at Hornvík on a very overcast day - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Weather doesn’t look great!

Given it was low tide, I was able to cross the river where it entered the sea rather than hiking up the valley to wade through at its shallowest point.  My first river crossing in Iceland!  And let me tell you – it is no better than a Greenlandic river crossing as far as temperature and pain goes!

Tidal river crossing at Hornvík and my poor suffering from the cold feet - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking back at the tidal river that needed to be crossed (top) and my poor cold feet (bottom)

After booting up again on the other side, I stopped to explore a beautiful waterfall

Waterfall with driftwood logs - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Iceland is the land of waterfalls

and started to pick my way through the rocks as the trail stopped and started along the Eastern edge of Hornvík.

Beach with large rocks - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland

Once past the farmhouse where day-trippers arrive, the trail became more obvious and eventually started climbing up to the ridge.

Trail from the ocean to the ridge is just visible - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
You can just see the trail curving up to the ridge. If you look closely, you can also see 2 hikers at the top of the trail

Exploring Hornbjarg

It was steep and tough going carrying a full backpack. But one foot after the next I eventually reached the top, and still ahead of the day-tripping group that started just after me.  Competitive?  Who me?!

Views of the trail and the ocean as I hike the ridge to Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Views from the trail as I climb to the ridge

The trail stopped very, very suddenly at a sheer, several-hundred-metre drop straight into the ocean.  It was a good thing I was paying attention!

Looking straight down at the ocean from the Hornbjarg Cliffs - Hornstrandir - Iceland
It drops straight down!

I had reached the famous bird cliffs of the Hornbjarg.

Here, thousands of Arctic Terns and Black Guillemots nest in the sheer rocky cliff walls – their eggs an important source of food for the people who lived in Hornstrandir over 70 years ago (there have been no permanent residents since the 1950s).  During these times, men and boys would abseil down the cliffs to collect one egg from each nest, leaving the others to hatch in order to maintain the population.

Looking along the Hornbjarg cliffs at the birds nesting there - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Birds nesting in the Hornbjarg cliffs

I spent about 20 minutes lying on my stomach in the wet grass holding tightly to my camera and peering over the edge to watch the birds circle and sit.  Unfortunately, 20 minutes was all I could bear before the cold drizzle that had started about 1/2 way up the ridge forced me to start moving again.  

I let the day-trippers go ahead of me as I constantly wiped water droplets from the front of my camera lens (not always successfully), trying to capture the majesty of this incredible place!

Group of hikers making their way towards the higher portion of Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Next section of the trail

The views of the cliffs became more and more spectacular as I traversed a relatively flat section of the trail

Looking back down on the flat section of trail - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking back down on the flat section

before facing the second steep uphill of the day.

The higher cliffs of Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
I love this view!

The muddy trail eventually guided me to a narrow spit of a ridge with panoramic views back down over Hornvík.

Panorama over Hornvik - Hornstrandir-Iceland

move cursor over image to see full panorama

If only it hadn’t been windy and raining (quite a strong wind had also picked up by this stage), this would have been an incredible spot to hang out for quite a while enjoying the view!

A promonotory with views back towards Hornvik - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Amazing view from here!

Looking the other direction was just as dramatic,

Trail on Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Really, incredible views no matter which direction you look

and the view to the next stage of the trail was again – in a word – incredible.  There really aren’t enough superlatives in the English language!

Hornbjarg view including lake - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Yes, those are rain spots on the lens

From there, the trail itself dropped very steeply off the ridge and ran along the edge of the cliff with more great views of the birds (this is not a good hike if heights are a concern), before curving inward and around a small lake. 

Views of Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The trail closely follows the cliff edge (top-left), me taking a break in the rain watching the birds (top-right), the day-trippers near a small lake around which the trail skirts (bottom)

I watched as the day-tripping group headed back down to the farmhouse and their waiting boat, while I headed up another incredibly steep hill in my quest to camp at the lighthouse at Hornbjargsviti. That sharp peak at around the 11km mark in the altitude profile below is not a mistake!

The way to Hornbjargsviti

According to my map (which I was growing to trust less and less), there should have been a high trail off to my left once I reached the top.  I could see a trail going that way, ending in a vertical rock wall about 50m distant.  And while I may have investigated it a little closer had I only had a daypack, there was no way I was going to risk it carrying an 18kg backpack!

So I bush bashed straight down the other side in the hope that I would connect with the lower trail marked on my map. In doing so, I startled one of Hornstrandir’s many Arctic Foxes (they are protected in this area) making him very concerned indeed.  This one started walking straight towards me with intent while making hissing and whooping noises.  Meanwhile, I was wondering whether they carried the rabies virus and what would happen if it bit me!  Yes, I’ve had the full course of rabies shots, but still…  In the end, he approached to about 20 metres and then circled around behind me from that distance. I continued my wet descent through calf-deep vegetation. 

Bush bashing to try to find the trail (top) and a sprinting Arctic Fox (bottom) - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Bush bashing to try to find the trail (top) and a very unhappy (and very blurry) Arctic Fox (bottom)

Eventually I spied what I thought looked suspiciously like a trail heading off in the direction of Hornbjargsviti.  Yes! I had finally found the lower trail.

Glimpse of the lower trail to Hornbjargsviti - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Can you see it?

Which of course meant that I had one more interminable climb before reaching my destination for the night.  I have to admit, I was tired and more than a little over (fed up with) the constant drizzle and stiff wind by this point.  But I’d seen pictures of the lighthouse and I really, really, really wanted to camp there… 

So big girl pants on – off I set.

The lower trail to Hornbjargviti - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Yes, it was the trail I was looking for. I would have preferred the high trail, but no matter. The blurry parts of the images are where I simply can’t keep up with getting rain off my lens anymore

Arctic Fox Research

About 3/4 of the way to the next pass, I came across a bloke sitting on a rock.  Mike ran an ecological charity in the UK and was here volunteering with an Icelandic Institute that monitors the behaviour of Arctic Foxes each Summer.  In particular, they look for changes in behaviour that may have been brought about by contact with humans.  He couldn’t have found a better spot from which to observe, as it was the only place I’d come across in the past several hours that was not subject to the strong, biting wind, and it happened to be located right above a snow drift with a den of foxes in it!  He was telling me that the day before was wonderful as all the cubs were out in the sunshine playing for hours.

Arctic Fox research volunteer monitoring a den of foxes - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Arctic Fox research volunteer monitoring a den

I ended up chatting with him for about 20 minutes, and then finally made it over the last pass of the day.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to spy the lighthouse, even though it was still quite far away!

View of Hornbjargsviti and its lighthouse from top of the pass from Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Finally! Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse and my campsite for the night.

Hornbjargsviti

The last few kms were spent watching the lighthouse get closer and closer with each step and, despite being incredibly tired and cursing the wind and the rain, taking more photos.  I know, I know.  I kept telling myself I was an idiot as well.  But it was impossible to predict what the weather would do tomorrow, and it was just so beautiful.

Views around the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking one way, and then the other, as I near the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse

By the time I’d reached the lighthouse, the winds were up around the 70km/hr mark.  The lighthouse was not open yet for the Summer and I was the only one around, so I dumped my pack and scouted for the best place to pitch my tent out of the wind.  This turned out to be right in front of the door to the toilet – so that’s where I camped 🙂  It was also quite convenient for going to the loo, getting water out of the tap, storing my pack out of the rain, and drying my rain gear as well!

My strategically placed tent at the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse - Hornstrandir - Iceland
My strategically placed tent at the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse. The wind was howling a gale!

I made myself dinner, heated up my Coke-hot-water-bottle, and settled in listening to the wind howl outside and the wind gauge spin manically on the top of the lighthouse.  No, it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep!

The Hornbjarg as a Day Trip

If you are not keen on hiking alone, or don’t have as much time as I did, Westtours offers a day trip to explore hornbjarg.  This is what the group I saw were doing.  It costs 43,900ISK (USD$416, AUD$564) per person (minimum age = 12).

Trekking Information

Distance = 17.3km

Time taken = 9 hours and 53 minutes.  Several short breaks taken.

Map

Basic map of the route I took to explore The Horn in Hornstrandir from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the route I took to explore the Horn in Hornstrandir from Strava

Download track as .gpx

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

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

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Trekking Iceland – Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík – Hornstrandir

When you are a little nervous about something, it always makes you feel better when the sun is shining 🙂   

boats in Ísafjörður harbour
Glorious morning!

I arrived early at the Borea Adventures dock to catch my boat transfer from Ísafjörður to Veiðileysufjörður and was beginning to think I may have been the only passenger.  However, with 5 minutes to go, 2 guys from the US (Sean and Daniel) and a group of about 15 people on a day tour showed up and we set out on the ~1 hour journey to Hornstrandir.

Views from the Borea Adventures boat transfer from Ísafjörður to Veiðileysufjörður - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Great journey, but unfortunately no whales

Boat transfer to Veiðileysufjörður

It was a very calm crossing in glorious weather, so I sat on the back deck enjoying the views and chatting with some of the other passengers.  We dropped the group of day-hikers off as we entered the Veiðileysufjörður inlet, and then continued on to a triangular structure (which turned out to be a pit toilet) that identifies the locations of campgrounds in Hornstrandir.

The crew launched the small zodiac off the back of the boat to deposit myself, Sean and Daniel on dry land, and then headed back to Ísafjörður.  There was no turning back now and I had 8 days to get to my pickup point in Hesteyri.

Images of the zodiac transfer to Veiðileysufjörður campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Lowering the zodiac (top-left), en route to Veiðileysufjörður campsite (top-right), and there is no turning back now! (bottom)

It turns out Sean is an award-winning professional wildlife photographer (a give-away being the enormous lens that was permanently attached to his camera) who had come to Hornstrandir to photograph a personal project on Arctic Foxes.  He and Daniel (also an amazing wildlife photographer) had met the year before in Alaska and were spending the next 5 days in the Hornvík area (my destination for the day) to capture the images.  Given we were heading the same direction and had similar interests we decided to hike together. 

Although there was a sign pointing in the direction of Hornvík, there was no obvious trail to follow.  So we simply set out across country in the general direction of the waterfall that we could see at the end of the inlet – the direction we should head according to the map. 

Veiðileysufjörður campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Veiðileysufjörður campsite. The pyramid-shaped building is the dry toilet

From Veiðileysufjörður to Hafnarskard Pass

After wading through knee-high shrubbery for much of it (very reminiscent of several of the hikes I did in South Greenland last year), we arrived at the waterfall, and found our first marker and the trail.

Views heading from Veiðileysufjörður campsite to the waterfall - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Bush bashing towards the waterfall from Veiðileysufjörður campsite

From there, the route to the Hafnarskard Pass was obvious and marked by large stone cairns stretching off into the distance.  It was also clear to us looking ahead that there was going to be snow in our very near future!

Large stone cairn - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Nice and obvious cairn, finally

As we climbed higher, the views behind us down to the inlet became more and more spectacular

Cairn and view back down to Veiðileysufjörður - Hornstrandir - Iceland

and indeed, we started to hit patches of snow that we had to cross.  This wasn’t entirely unexpected given how early it was in the season (the boats had only start running a couple of weeks earlier at the beginning of June), and this was one of the things I’d read about online that was adding to my concerns about hiking alone.  However, we weren’t the first people to pass this way and there were boot prints that seemed to be a few days old marking the trail across each of the snowy patches.

Following other people's bootprints in snow drifts - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel leading the way through the snow, following in the boot prints of others

The fun really started towards the top of the pass, where we could see we would have to conquer a very steep snow slope to gain our destination.  

View of bootprints in the snow we would have to conquer leading up to Hafnarskard Pass - Hornstrandir - Iceland
A trail of boot prints leads to Hafnarskard Pass – it was going to be quite a climb

It was every bit as steep as it looked and, given I was in the lead, I ended up having to kick snow-stairs into the slope with my boots in order to make progress.  Good thing that I’d seen Maxime do this last year in East Greenland!  It seemed that trekkers coming from the other direction had had much more fun – bum-sliding down the slope rather than hiking it!

bum trail and bootprints in the snow leading to the pass - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Boot prints and what I took to be the imprint of a bum-slide on the climb to the pass

But I made it eventually

Me at Hafnarskard pass looking back towards Veiðileysufjörður - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Me at Hafnarskard pass looking back towards Veiðileysufjörður

and watched as the others struggled their way up.  I had no idea how Sean was going to manage carrying that enormous lens of his, but he eventually joined us and explained that he basically used it as a trekking pole all the way up!

Trekking companions making their way up to Hafnarskard pass through the snow - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel (top) and Sean (bottom) struggling up the snow towards Hafnarskard pass

The view back to Veiðileysufjörður was amazing of course

View of Veiðileysufjörður from Hafnarskard pass - Hornstrandir-Iceland
Final view of Veiðileysufjörður from Hafnarskard pass

but it was also very exciting to see what lay ahead of us.  No surprises – it was another beautiful vista!

Me looking towards Hornvik from Hafnarsgard Pass - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking towards Hornvík, our destination, from Hafnasgard Pass

Hafnarskard Pass to Hornvík

We tucked ourselves behind a rocky ridge out of the wind to eat lunch, relax, soak up the sunshine (after all, it’s not often you get weather like this in Iceland!) and admire the views.  Then it was time to continue on to Hornvík through the snow that lay on the northern side of the pass.

Trekking companions heading across the snow in the direction of Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel and Sean leading the way to Hornvík through the snow

My guess is that we were walking in snow for about 1/4 of the hike from Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík.  It wasn’t terribly deep for the most part but it was a little slushy, and again I’m very happy with my Lowa boots that kept my feet blissfully dry and warm 🙂

slushy snow and great hiking boots
So happy with my waterproof boots!

We stopped for another rest much further down the slope, though really it was just an excuse to get the packs off and lie in the sun for a while.

Taking a break on the way to Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Taking a break on the way to Hornvík

Not too long after, we reached a steep drop-off that revealed the river valley leading down to Hornvík.

Amazing view of the bright green  river delta at Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Amazingly green!

Wow!  We were not expecting such a verdantly green reveal, made even more so by the bright sunshine and blue skies!  Being photographers, we had a great time here playing with the composition of the river and small lakes as they punctuated this vibrancy.  

Water patterns in the green of the Hornvík river delta - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Nature is an artist

We could also see our home for the night – the Hornvík campsite – which was located just past the yellow house on the edge of the inlet.

View of Hornvík campsite and the Horn - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The campsite is located just past the yellow house

The path became a little boggy as we descended into the valley, but we finally arrived.

Path and signs on the final stretch to Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The final stretch…

Hornvík Campsite

Given that Hornvík is the most popular destination in Hornstrandir, the campground is large and really well set up.  There is a bright orange emergency shelter (you don’t want to have to go hunting for it in an emergency), a sink, flush toilets, and a permanent Ranger station. When the Icelandic flag is flying, the Ranger is in 🙂  

Images of infrastructure at Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The rangers station with flush toilets (top), fresh water (bottom-left) and the emergency shelter (bottom-right) at Hornvík campsite

It was here that I met the extremely helpful and lovely Vésteinn Már Rúnarsson and talked him through my hiking plan for the next week.  He gave me updates on the status of the trails (especially pertaining to bogginess) and made several suggestions given I was wearing hiking boots and not gumboots 😀   He also had the latest best guess as to what the weather would do tomorrow…

Ranger at the rangers station at Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The ranger is in!

Armed with this information, I found a place to pitch my tent with an awesome view (it wasn’t difficult as there were only 7 people camping here this night), and went for a walk along the beach admiring “The Horn” where I would be heading tomorrow on my hike.

view of the horn from my tent - Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
My view 🙂

Million thanks to Sean and Daniel for hiking with me today!  Loved hanging out with you guys and I hope you have a ton of luck with your Arctic Fox photography!

My trekking companions for the day
Sean (left), Daniel (centre) and myself at Hornvík campsite

Trekking Information

Distance = 9.9km

Time taken = 7 hours and 20 minutes.  But probably 2 hours of that was spent chilling in the sunshine and taking photos 🙂

Map

Basic map of the route from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the route from Strava

Download track as .gpx

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

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

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My first solo multi-day trek – Hornstrandir in Iceland

Although I have now done several long-distance treks

all of them have been guided. 

Trekking group descending towards Karale Fjord with Knud Rasmussen Glacier and mountains in the background
Views over the Knud Rasmussen Glacier in East Greenland as the group descends to the Karale Fjord

My first solo trek

I had never really considered doing a solo, unguided multi-day trek, and 8 months ago when I decided I wanted to hike the Arctic Circle Trail in West Greenland, I was desperate to find trekking companions (turns out Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forums are pretty good for that 🙂 )

However, I’ve discovered that a lot can change over the course of half a year, which is how I now find myself about to embark on an 8-day solo hike in the most remote part of Iceland – the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords region.

Map of Iceland showing Hornstrandir location, and map of Hornstrandir
Top: Map of Iceland with Hornstrandir highlighted. Bottom: Map of Hornstrandir with main hiking trails indicated

Could I have chosen an easier place to start?  Most definitely!  But I do tend to dive into these things head first…

Why I’m nervous about Hornstrandir

I had two main concerns going in:

  1. The weather.  Iceland is notorious for its changeable weather (even in Summer) and several of the accounts I’d read online about hiking in Hornstrandir talked of the cold (a constant fear of mine, despite spending most of my time in cold places), rain and fog.  
  2. Whether the trails are well marked.  There is conflicting information online that mentions everything from an obvious track, through to stone cairns (which can often be obscured by fog) through to nothing at all.  What would I find?

In order to address the first concern (of the cold and rain at least), while home in Australia I spent a small fortune upgrading all my camping gear except for my tent.  Given how much camping I’m doing between now and the end of the year (and probably into the future), it was a strategic investment and I now have an Enlightened Equipment -18 degree down sleeping quilt, mittens, hood and booties, the Thermarest NeoAir XTherm sleeping mat, 260gsm thermals, Smartwool socks, plus all the gear I talk about in my summary for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

Almost all the gear I took on my hike in Hornstrandir, Iceland
Almost all the gear that had to fit into my 65L backpack for my 8 day hike in Hornstrandir. Love how small all my down gear from Enlightened Equipment packs (white compression dry-bag) and how small my sleeping mat is (green dry-bag). But even with that, the tent (brown bag) had to be strapped to the outside. I also had a separate chest bag for my camera, with the second lens and other accessories stored in the main pack.

To mitigate the second concern (and for their own sanity as well), my mum and dad bought me the Garmin InReach SE+ personal emergency beacon which, in addition to calling the emergency services if you really get into trouble, allows you to program GPS waypoints, track your route, and send and receive messages (I could check in each day saying I was OK).  I also had my flash new Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch (yes, I have all the gadgets!) which again allows you to set GPS waypoints and track your route, as well as an old fashioned Suunto global compass and map.

Navigation aids - Garmin InReach SE+, Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch, map and Suunto M3 compass
Navigation aids – Garmin InReach SE+, Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch, map and Suunto M3 compass

But it wasn’t just mum and dad that were concerned about safety. 

You need to book boat transfers to and from Hornstrandir in advance (Westtours and Borea Adventure).  In order to do so, you must provide your planned itinerary so that if you are not at your scheduled pickup, emergency services can be alerted and they have some idea of where to start searching for you. You are also strongly encouraged to register your hiking itinerary with Safetravel.is. Iceland really tries to take care of its visitors!

So, with both watch and personal emergency beacon programmed, I am as prepared as I can be!  Let’s see what the reality is like…

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

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

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Flying into Ísafjörður – an amazing approach

Reykjavik domestic airport borders the southern edge of the city’s downtown area.  It is literally a 2km walk to the terminal from City Hall.

Map showing Reykjavik domestic airport compared with downtown
It is an easy walk to the domestic airport from downtown Reykjavik

As you might imagine, only small propeller planes take off from here (the rest depart from Keflavik International Airport, 45km away) and the terminal itself is very small.

Being the eternal early-bird, I arrived for my Air Iceland Connect flight to Ísafjörður about 1.5 hours ahead of time, only to find that I couldn’t get rid of my checked luggage until about ½ hour before the flight. They check each flight in in turn, you can’t jump the queue!

Check-in Notification at Reykjavik domestic airport.
They only check in one flight at a time. You have to wait until yours is displayed here

But eventually it all happened and I was winging my way to Ísafjörður in Iceland’s Westfjords region.

Air Iceland Connect plane to Isafjordur
Small planes for domestic flights within Iceland

The approach to Ísafjörður 

To be honest, there was not much to look at out the window of the Air Iceland Connect Bombardier Q200 propeller plane (clouds!) until we were on our final approach to the airport.  And then I kinda wished I couldn’t see anything! 

At least one aviation website considers Ísafjörður to be one of the most scenic and challenging approaches in the world, and I have to say “I concur!”

Flying up a valley with the right wingtip almost touching the mountain just outside my window, we pulled a hard 180 degree turn within the valley itself before landing on the tarmac runway.  Here is what it looks like from the cockpit of a plane (not my flight) – though I’m not convinced it gives you a good feel for exactly how close you get to that mountain!

Skip the first minute and play at 2x if you are in a hurry 🙂

All I will say is thank goodness we had a calm day!  I would hate to be doing that in rough weather!  

We touched down without incident (thank goodness!), and I spent the rest of the day wandering around town, and sorting final logistics for my week long solo-hike in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve.  I really hope the weather remains like this!

move mouse over image to see full panorama

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Helicopter Summit Flight – Sermitsiaq – Nuuk

Sitting in a helicopter flying towards the iconic Sermitsiaq Mountain at sunset is by far one of the most amazing things you can do in Nuuk. The only thing that could make it better – actually land near the summit and have time to explore!

An interesting fact about Greenland is that flying in a helicopter is a relatively common way of getting around. Greenland has no roads between its towns, which means that the only year-round option to get from place to place is by air (you can’t sail in winter).

Although helicopters provide a vital cog in the transportation infrastructure for Greenland, it is also possible to take some tourism-oriented flights. The main options are in Ilulissat, Kangerlussuaq, Qaqortoq and Nuuk – with the HelicopterSummit Flight being the pinnacle in Greenland’s capital city.

Safety briefing

My 4 fellow passengers and I met our pilot at Nuuk’s small airport at 5pm. Geir led us out to the helicopter, gave us a safety briefing and asked who wanted the front seat. While everyone else was being nice and pausing before putting their hand up – I just jumped right in 🙂

pilot giving safety briefing before we board the helicopter for the Nuuk Summit flight to Sermitsiaq - West Greenland
Geir pointing out all the important bits

With the others squeezed into the back of the helicopter (there’s not much space when you get 4 adults in there) and our headsets on, we took off in the direction of Sermitsiaq.

Taking off in the helicopter for the Nuuk Summit Flight. The runway at Nuuk airport and Sermitsiaq - West Greenland
Taking off towards Sermitsiaq

Flying around Sermitisaq

It is a short flight from Nuuk to Sermitsiaq mountain – but absolutely stunning!

Aerial view as we approach Sermitisiaq on the helicopter summit flight from Nuuk - West Greenland
Love the different perspective on this mountain when seen from the air

On a day like this – the views go on forever – and you really can appreciate the spectacular beauty of the Nuuk Fjord.

Looking beyond Sermitsiaq's peak further into the Nuuk Fjord - West Greenland
Looking over the top of the peak of Sermitsiaq further into the Nuuk Fjord
Other peaks in the Nuuk Fjord that are very close to the city - West Greenland
The Nuuk Fjord is stunningly beautiful. This is the doorstop of Greenland’s capital city

I had actually done this helicopter summit flight earlier in the year during Winter.  Back then, the entire mountain was covered in snow and you couldn’t see any of the details. Those of you who have been following for a while know how much I am in love with rocks in Greenland – and being able to see the rock coming through the dusting of snow on the peak was a highlight for me.

Rock detail of sermitisiaq mountain - Nuuk - West Greenland

As was discovering unexpectedly that there is a large lake between the ridge and the summit!  I had absolutely no idea that was there as it was completely covered in snow and ice the last time I visited.

Hidden lake between the ridge and the peak of Sermitsiaq mountain - Nuuk - West Greenland
I had no idea this was here!

To ensure that everyone ended up with a fantastic view of the mountain, Geir took us on 2 circuits of the summit – first one direction and then the other. Both the amazing views and the slightly disorienting feeling of manoeuvring in a circle in a helicopter brought a massive smile to my face.

Summit landing on Sermitsiaq

After we’d all taken about a million photos of the mountain, Geir bought us in to land on the ridge below the peak of Sermitsiaq.

Really – it doesn’t get any better than this!

helicopter and people on the ridge in front of the summit of Sermitsiaq - Nuuk - West Greenland
Our landing spot. You can see the actual summit of Sermitsiaq in the background

There was not a breath of wind (the wind was coming from directly behind the peak so we were sheltered) and we had the next 25 minutes to explore our incredible surroundings and try to take in where we were and what we were experiencing.

Contemplating the experience on top of Sermitsiaq - Nuuk - West Greenland
Contemplating the experience

I couldn’t get over the existence of the hidden lake! And the fact that there was an almost perfect reflection of the golden peak in its waters was just the icing on the cake.

panorama from the landing site on Sermitsiaq including the hidden lake - West Greenland - Nuuk

move mouse over image to see full panorama

The light was spectacular, and becoming more so by the minute as the sun headed towards the horizon. 

Glimpse of Nuuk Fjord and mountains- West Greenland
The Nuuk Fjord is amazing

It didn’t matter which direction I looked – the view in front of me was one of the most beautiful I’d ever seen.

sun setting behind the helicopter on the summit flight - nuuk - West Greenland
Sun setting behind the helicopter – Nuuk is down below

Yes – I know there are a lot of superlatives in this post – but it really was beyond incredible!

me standing on Sermitsiaq mountain with the Nuuk fjord behind - West Greenland
So happy!

Flight back to Nuuk

I used every second of my 25 minutes exploring the ridge and taking photos in all directions. But eventually we had to leave.  This time I sat in the back of the helicopter – which still offers awesome views as you fly.

looking out the front window between the pilot and passenger on Nuuk helicopter summit flight - West Greenland
Even from the middle-back seat the views are amazing
pastel light view looking out the side window of the helicopter summit flight - Nuuk - West Greenland
Looking out the side window

Our return flight took us past the airport

view of airport and store malene from helicopter summit flight - Nuuk - West Greenland
Nuuk airport with Store Malene in the background

and over the city of Nuuk itself

Passenger taking photo as we circle over Nuuk center on helicopter summit flight - West Greenland

before circling around

view of private harbour, airport and sermitsiaq from helicopter - Nuuk - West Greenland

to land back at Nuuk airport.

Nuuk airport terminal from the tarmac - West Greenland
Nuuk airport terminal

A must-do helicopter scenic flight

If you are looking for something really special to round out your trip to Nuuk, doing a remote helicopter landing on an iconic mountain peak has to be right up there. I highly recommend the Helicopter Summit Flight from Nuuk – and it is even more spectacular if you time it for about an hour before sunset.  You won’t be disappointed!

Discover more about Greenland

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Nuuk is the most comprehensive online guide for planning your vacation to Greenland’s capital. Definitely a must-read for anyone thinking of visiting.

You can read more about my experiences in Greenland both here and on my Greenland-specific blog at Guide to Greenland.

For more information about Greenland, the best websites are Guide to Greenland (which is also a one-stop-shop for many of the tours available), and Visit Greenland, the Government tourism site.

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!
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Sletten//Narsarsuaq – Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival 2019

Sletten//Narsarsuaq is the most powerful piece of theatre I have ever seen. The highlight of the Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival in 2019 for me, I am still deeply affected by these stories and the remarkable performances I experienced.

The Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival (also known as Nuuk Nordisk) is a biannual week-long festival that brings together artists from throughout Nordic countries.  As soon as the early-bird tickets were released back in April, I bought mine – allowing me unlimited access to almost everything that would happen during the festival week.

I had no idea what to expect. But when the program came out several months later, my eyes were immediately drawn to a series of performances that would be held in the “Blocks” – old, run-down apartment buildings that still occupy prime real-estate in central Nuuk.

The official poster for Narsarsuaq // Sletten

Nuuk’s Apartment Blocks

I have a strange fascination with the Blocks. Particularly Block P, which was the largest and has become the most famous of them. It was demolished in 2012, 5 years before I visited Greenland for the first time. But that has not stopped me from seeking out information and pouring over the display about it in Nuutoqaq – the Nuuk Local Museum, which features photographs and other items rescued during the demolition. I even found and bought a book about Block P in the Nuuk Art Museum during the week of the festival!

Part of the exhibition about Block P in Nuutoqaq - Nuuk's local museum
Part of the exhibition about Block P in Nuutoqaq

The Blocks were built in the 1960s/70s as part of the Danish Government’s G60 program to urbanize Greenland and move people from the small settlements into larger towns and cities. The aim was to give the Greenlanders the same standard of living as that which existed in Denmark – an admirable aim to be sure. However, having to transition from an Inuit hunter to an apartment-dwelling city worker essentially overnight was too much for many of the displaced locals, and the social ramifications are still felt throughout Greenland.

Some of the Blocks in downtown Nuuk
Some of the Blocks in downtown Nuuk.

Narsarsuaq//Sletten

This is exactly what the Narsarsuaq//Sletten multi-performance theatre was about. The description of this large production was essentially as follows:

Narsarsuaq//Sletten. The Blocks 1-10. This area tells the newer story of Nuuk, and of Greenland.

In the 70’s the urbanization of Greenland took place and many small settlements were forced to close. Fishermen and hunters came with their families from beautiful areas along the coast, and were suddenly put into small apartments. What happened? How was it. How is it?

Some were happy (they had all the modern conveniences) and were able to build good strong families. Others lost themselves and their identities.

The Narsarsuaq//Sletten today is full of memories and stories – beautiful, hard, fulfilled, unfulfilled, warm and devastating stories. Stories of the lives that have been lived over the past 30 years and continue to be lived.

Nuuk Nordisk Program 2019

Pink handprints adorn one of the walls of an apartment in Block 1 - currently being demolished in Nuuk
Pink hand-prints adorn one of the walls of an apartment in Block 1. This Block is currently being torn down – erasing more stories of the lives that have been lived there.

The 5 performances making up this epic show each touched on different aspects of this urbanization project. A production by Teater FreezeProductions, directed by Hanne Trap Friis and featuring some of Greenland’s best actors, dancers, writers and storytellers, I couldn’t wait until they played in English during the last 3 days of the festival (they were in Greenlandic during the first 3 days).

“The View”

“Out this window I have a view of one of the Blocks. Out my other window, I have a view of another of the Blocks. Where I used to live, my views went on forever…”

The View

So begins the monologue of an old Greenlandic lady sitting at her kitchen table in her apartment in Block 2. Makka Kleist delivered an extraordinary solo performance, drawing us in with her storytelling as she reminisced about her life in the settlement with her beloved Kali. At intervals, these happy memories were interrupted by noises from neighbouring apartments, and both she and the audience would abruptly return to the new reality. That of city life in a small apartment.  

The way she tells it, there certainly were advantages to moving into the Blocks (it was warm, there was running water, everything worked at the press of a button), but it is clear that her heart still longed to be out in the fjord living the harder life.

“Sletten”

This was the most powerful piece of theatre I have ever seen! Kudos to Kim Leine who wrote it, and Helene Kvint, Karina Møller and Thomas Knuth who performed it.

The story is about a Danish nurse and his wife who come to Greenland for a 2-year stint in the hospital in Nuuk.  It is a no-hold-barred look at the relationship between Greenland and Denmark that is played out in the interpersonal relationships of this couple and a Greenlandic woman who has an affair with the husband.

A scene from Sletten

What made it so powerful were the subjects that it broached and the way in which it broached them – head on, in your face, with no holds barred. But also, the fact that it was performed in such a small space. The audience was sat along the two long walls of what I imagine was the living room/kitchen in one of the apartments. The room was about 6m wide and perhaps 15m long (probably an over-estimation), and most of the action took place in the middle of the room. The actors were so close to the audience that you couldn’t help but feel as if you were in the middle of what was going on. And the fact that the actors actually acknowledged the audience as part of the play when they entered the room for the first time, cemented the fact that we were all in this together.

Scene from "Sletten" showing how close the audience is to the performance - part of Sletten//Narsarsuaq
You can’t help but feel like you are part of the scene when the stage is this small and you are sat in the thick of the action

I have never been so affected by a performance in my entire life!

And I have no connection with the history between Greenland and Denmark.  I cannot imagine what it must have felt like as a Dane or Greenlander to have your relationship portrayed in such a raw manner. Certainly, there were many eyes that glistened with tears (my own included) by the end of the performance, and the standing ovation the actors received could only begin to express how much we had been all been affected.

In Zombieland

This was another powerful experience based on stories from the collection of novels written by Sørine Steenholdt. Through poetry, dance and music, three young people explored the dreams, fears and hopes of Greenland’s youth while raising to the fore many of the social issues that affect them. Amazing performances by all three actors (Amisuna Berthelsen, Hans-Henrik Suersaq Poulsen and Nukakkuluk Kreutzman), touching on suicide (Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world), drunkenness and child abuse. No photographs were allowed during this performance.

Boy meets Concrete

I have to admit, I’m a very literal person and not really into interpretive dance. However, I did go to see this performance which apparently explored how “the soft human soul and flesh meet the challenge of the concrete, of the city”. No photographs were allowed during this performance.

Remembering Lisa

The final performance in the series told the story of “Lisa” – a Greenlandic woman who was murdered in Block 6 back in 1985. How many of the current residents of Nuuk remember that this happened? The answer: not many.

And this was the point of the performance. Showing how we should never forget people’s lives, no matter how “ordinary” they may have been.

"Lisa" serving tea in her kitchen to welcome us to the performance "Remembering Lisa", part of Narsarsuaq//Sletten
Lisa serves us tea as she welcomes us to her kitchen in “Remembering Lisa’

The story was told through a re-enactment of what may have taken place on that fateful day. Amidst the certainty of the football game happening at the stadium, the fact that kids would have been playing outside between the blocks, and the knowledge of the weather on the day and who the Prime Minister of Greenland was at the time, it is still unknown who killed Lisa. Possible scenarios for the 3 suspects were played out, with two of them rooted once again in the social issues that are still found in Greenland. 

A light-hearted moment arises about two-thirds of the way through when Lisa decides that she wants to change the outcome of the story and not end up dead. She forces a re-work of each of the scenarios, interacting with each of the potential suspects in a more generous manner to see if that could make a difference.  In two of the scenarios – the outcome was different. But the third…

Lisa consoling one of her suspected murderers in order to try to effect a different outcome in "Remembering Lisa", part of Sletten//Narsarsuaq
Trying to rewrite history in “Remembering Lisa”

Final thoughts on Narsarsuaq//Sletten

I have no idea whether this amazing epic will ever be shown elsewhere or ever again. I am so thankful I was able to experience it.

Staging it in the Blocks themselves was absolutely inspired, and I heard the director discuss this as a conscious (and necessary) choice at an Artist Talk during the Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival.  The performances would still be amazing in another venue, but to be couped up in the heart of where these stories took place was particularly powerful.

I cannot thank Teater FreezeProductions and all the people involved enough for such an incredible experience. The absolute highlight of Nuuk Nordisk for me.

Recommendation

If you are interested in experiencing a wide range of Nordic culture and art, you should time your visit to Greenland to coincide with the bi-annual Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival. Read more about the festival itself in this article about Nuuk Nordisk, and discover more of what there is to see and do in Greenland’s capital city in the Ultimate Guide to Nuuk.

Discover more about Greenland

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Nuuk provides a complete list of festivals that take place throughout the year in Greenland’s capital. It also has loads of practical information on how to get to Nuuk, how to get around, where to stay, where to eat, and what to do once you arrive.

You can read more about my experiences in Greenland both here and on my Greenland-specific blog at Guide to Greenland.

For more information about Greenland, the best websites are Guide to Greenland (which is also a one-stop-shop for many of the tours available), and Visit Greenland, the Government tourism site.

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!
Nuuk-Akisuanerit-Festival-2019-concert-Nanook-1024x683.jpg

2019 Akisuanerit Festival – Nuuk

After 2 long years of waiting, I finally got to see my absolute favourite band in all the world – Nanook – play as part of the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk. Featuring both domestic and international artists and a wide range of musical styles, this 3-day music festival is one of the biggest in Greenland and a great place to discover musicians from the world’s largest island.

My favourite band – Nanook

Nanook were one of the first acts to be announced for this year’s festival, and I think I may have been first in line to buy a ticket to the Saturday night when they were released. There was no way I was going to miss them this time! The added bonus was that another of my favourite Greenlandic performers – Kimmernaq – was also scheduled to play the same night, as was the headline performer – Danish artist, MØ.

Akisuanerit Festival – arriving at Katuaq

Months after buying the ticket, the big night finally arrived.  Determined to reclaim “the spot” I had occupied for the Ole Kristiansen concert in the Katuaq Foyer earlier in the year (one of the best places for short people like me), I rushed my friends through dinner and out the door so that we would arrive early.

Lineup poster for the Akisuanerit Festival 2019 in Nuuk, Greenland
Program for Akisuanerit 2019

Unfortunately, I had not read the schedule very closely and we found the doors still firmly locked when we arrived at 8:30pm. I thought the first act was scheduled for 9pm, but it turned out that was when the doors would be opened.

Oops! 

I wasn’t the only one to be making my friends stand out in the cold, however. Elaine – a 68 year old lady from Florida and another enormous Nanook fan – was also stranded outside.  When we were finally let in, I headed straight for “the spot” and claimed it with no worries at all. But I think my friends will double-check anything written in Danish next time before taking my word for it 🙂

Akisuanerit Festival – Kimmernaq and Adam

The first performers of the night were Greenlandic singer Kimmernaq and her brother Adam. I’d come across Kimmernaq about a year ago and immediately fell in love with her amazing voice and many of the songs off her two albums. Perhaps this isn’t surprising given her second album was written by Frederik Elsner from Nanook!

Covers of Kimmernaq's 2 album

I had heard her songs performed by many local musicians in towns and settlements around Greenland, but I was really excited to actually hear her in person. She was fab!

Kimmernaq and her brother Adam playing at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk 2019
Kimmernaq and Adam

She sang a mixture of songs during her performance, including many of her own as well as a few Radiohead covers that allowed her and her brother to harmonize gloriously. Adam turned out to be an incredible singer in his own right, performing a solo, melancholic folk-style song that aligned exactly with the type of music I love. What an incredible start to the night!

Adam, Kimmernaq and Nathan performing at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk, 2019
Adam, Kimmernaq and Nathan

Their set culminated in an amazing hip-hop collaboration with several other Greenlandic artists, including Nina Kreutzmann Jørgensen, Pilu Lynge and Da Bartali Crew. Something very different to her usual stuff – and seriously, seriously awesome! Yes, even for someone who is not into hip-hop music.

Adam, Kimmernaq, Nina, Pilu and Da Bartali Crew performing a hip-hop collaboration at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk, 2019
Adam, Kimmernaq, Da Bartali Crew (back), Nina and Pilu performing their hip-hop collaboration

Buy music from Kimmernaq at: Atlantic Music Shop, iTunes


Akisuanerit Festival – Nanook

Next up was the band I had come to see – Nanook. I discovered their music about 2 years ago when I was living in Ecuador and have listened to almost nothing else ever since! If you’ve been following me for a while, you will have seen my blog posts about them both here and on Guide to Greenland 🙂  I had been trying to see them play live since 2017 (I missed them by less than 12 hours in Sisimiut in 2018) and I finally got the chance here in Nuuk.

Nanook official image

The wait was totally worth it!

They started out with the amazing soundscape of Minguitsuugami – one of my favourite tracks off their latest album, Ataasiusutut Misigissuseq – and played a mixture of old and new songs from their 11-year career.

Greenlandic band - Nanook - performing at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk, 2019
Nanook

There is something really special about seeing your favourite musicians play live, and it can only be surpassed when they actually give you a shout-out/name-drop in the middle of their performance 🙂  One of the highlights of my year!

I love these guys!

Buy music from Nanook at:  Atlantic Music, Amazon (Pissaaneqaqisut, Ataasiusutut Misigissuseq), iTunes, Spotify


Akisuanerit Festival – Tarrak

A surprise addition to the program was Greenlandic rapper, Tarrak. Performing with KimoJax, they sang his controversial hit “Tupilak” – a song that highlights some of the difficult aspects of the relationship between Greenland and Denmark.

Tarrak and KimoJax performing Tupilak at the Akisuanerit Festival, Nuuk 2019
Tarrak (left) and KimoJax (right) performing “Tupilak”

The linked YouTube clip includes an English translation of the lyrics, and although I am not a fan of rap, I think this song is amazing.

Akisuanerit Festival – Julie

Julie Berthelsen is one of the biggest Greenlandic pop singers, and insanely popular judging by the reaction of the masses who had packed into the foyer of the Katuaq Cultural Center by this time.

Julie singing her very popular songs at Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk, 2019
Julie

Personally, her music is not my cup of tea. But I have to admit to liking the song “League of Light” which she sang with Nina Kreutzmann Jørgensen as Greenland’s entry to the Danish qualifier for Eurovision 2019. Nina joined her on stage again at the Akisuanerit Festival to finish off her set with this number.

Akisuanerit Festival –

The headline act for the 2019 festival was internationally famous Danish singer, . To be honest, I had no idea who MØ was or what her music sounded like (yes, I can be a little behind the times), but given I was there I figured I should stay awake, stick around and give her a go.

She. Was. Amazing!

MØ performing at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk 2019
MØ was fabulous

She didn’t appear until about 1:20am, but when she did, her energy and stage presence were amazing and her vocals were flawless. I’m now a massive fan!

MØ and her band playing in Katuaq, Nuuk

Summary

For a person who normally goes to bed around 10pm, this was a huge night! MØ finished at 2:30am and I had a 30-minute walk to get home afterwards. Even then, I found it difficult to fall asleep. Between the ringing in my ears and the high of finally seeing Nanook play live – my brain would not let go of the awesome night.

If you are a music lover and also interested in visiting Greenland – perhaps try to plan your trip for end-September/start-October so you can catch the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk. Like the festival’s Facebook page to stay up to date with the latest news, and check out the Ultimate Guide to Nuuk to discover what else there is to see and do while you visit Greenland’s capital.

Discover more about Greenland

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Nuuk provides a complete list of festivals that take place throughout the year in Greenland’s capital. It also has loads of practical information on how to get to Nuuk, how to get around, where to stay, where to eat, and what to do once you arrive.

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences here on my blog or on my Greenland-specific blog at Guide to Greenland.

For more information about Greenland, the best websites are Guide to Greenland (which is also a one-stop-shop for many of the tours available), and Visit Greenland, the Government tourism site.

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!