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.
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!
After booting up again on the other side, I stopped to explore a beautiful waterfall
and started to pick my way through the rocks as the trail stopped and started along the Eastern edge of Hornvík.
Once past the farmhouse where day-trippers arrive, the trail became more obvious and eventually started climbing up to the ridge.
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?!
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!
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.
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!
The views of the cliffs became more and more spectacular as I traversed a relatively flat section of the trail
before facing the second steep uphill of the day.
The muddy trail eventually guided me to a narrow spit of a ridge with panoramic views back down over Hornvík.
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!
Looking the other direction was just as dramatic,
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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).
Distance = 17.3km
Time taken = 9 hours and 53 minutes. Several short breaks taken.
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:
- Prelude – leading up to departure
- Day 1 – from Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík
- Day 2 – from Hornvík, around Hornbjarg to Hornbjargsviti
- Day 3 – from Hornbjargsviti to Hornvík
- Day 4 – from Hornvík to Hlöðuvík
- Day 5 – from Hlöðuvík to Hesteyri
- Day 6 – around Hesteyri