Sarfaq-Ittuk-departing-Nuuk-sermitsiaq-mountain-1024x683.jpg

Sarfaq Ittuk – Day 3 – Nuuk

When I went to bed, we were sailing just north of Qeqertarsuatsiaat. When I woke up – We were arriving in Nuuk.

Sailing into Nuuk on Sarfaq Ittuk
Sailing into Nuuk

On the northbound journey, the Sarfaq Ittuk spends 14 hours in the capital city of Greenland. This is the longest stop it has anywhere during its week-long circuit – I imagine so that it can be cleaned thoroughly and any repairs can be made.

There is a large turnover of passengers here, but for those of us staying on board – there was plenty of time for one of the many day-trips available from Nuuk – either sailing up the incredible Nuuk Fjord, hiking Lille or Store Malene or simply exploring the city and its many attractions.

As for me – well I just hung out with friends the whole day, eating far too much food and catching up on all that had happened since I left at the end of April 🙂

At 21:00, once the ticketing booth had been reloaded, we continued on our journey north, heading towards Maniitsoq.

Departing Nuuk on board Sarfaq Ittuk
Until next time Nuuk!

Read more about the Sarfaq Ituuk journey

If this post has piqued your curiosity about travelling with Sarfaq Ittuk in Greenland, read about the rest of my adventure:

I also wrote the Sarfaq Ittuk Ferry – All you need to know page for Visit Greenland. Check it out for more of the logistical details.

Discover more about Greenland

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!
Sarfaq-Ittuk-approaching-arsuk-1024x683.jpg

Sarfaq Ittuk – Day 2 – Sailing along the south-west coast

I woke up to grey skies, low clouds, and a not insignificant ocean swell. Fortunately, it takes quite a lot to make me seasick!

Arsuk with Sarfaq Ittuk

Our first port for the day was the small settlement of Arsuk – population 77 (1 Jul 2019).

Approaching Arsuk settlement in South Greenland
Approaching Arsuk settlement in South Greenland

Our scheduled docking time here was 15 minutes, and it says a lot about the efficiency of the staff on Sarfaq Ittuk that they can normally complete the transfer of passengers in this amount of time. The harbour is too small for the ferry to enter so they must:

  1. Crane a zodiac off the top of the ship
  2. Load the passengers and gear that needs to be transported to the settlement
  3. Run the transfer to the harbour
  4. Offload the departing passengers etc and collect those who will join the ferry
  5. Run the return transfer
  6. Offload the passengers and gear to Sarfaq Ittuk
  7. Crane the zodiac back to the top of the ship and secure it

All in 15 minutes!

The passenger transfer at Arsuk requires the use of zodiacs
The passenger transfer at Arsuk requires the use of zodiacs

Ours was a very special port call as we had a large group of Danish ex-Navy on board who were in Greenland to visit the old bases they used to work at after more than 30 years.

It took 3 full shuttles and 45 minutes to complete the transfer, during which time I had plenty of opportunity to take in the surroundings.

Landscapes around Arsuk
Landscapes around Arsuk

Once we hoisted anchor again – my daily routine of rotating between my cabin, Café Sarfaq, the aft lounge, and hanging out on one of the outside decks to enjoy the scenery began.

Interior public spaces of Sarfaq Ittuk passenger Ferry
Interior public spaces of Sarfaq Ittuk: Cafe Sarfaq (top), aft lounge (bottom left), cinema (bottom right). Lars (bottom middle) was the Chief Purser for our voyage – a wonderful and helpful guy

Others chose to take a book up on deck to help pass the time – returning to the warm comfort of the ship when the cold became too much.

Person reading a book on the top deck of Sarfaq Ittuk, rugged up against the cold
A great spot for reading if you have enough clothes on!

Stopping in Paamiut on Sarfaq Ittuk

Despite leaving Arsuk 30 minutes late, we reached the next port of Paamiut right on time at 14:00. There is a significant amount of slack built into the schedule for the Sarfaq Ittuk ferry to accommodate the possibility of bad weather and other unexpected events.

The weather had cleared up significantly by the time we arrived, sailing into the harbour past the wreck of an old fishing trawler.

Wreck of fishing trawler on the way into Paamiut harbour
Wreck of fishing trawler on the way into Paamiut harbour

We had a 30 minute stop in Paamiut – population 1326. A small crowd was there to greet the ferry

Welcome crowd at Paamiut dock - South Greenland
Our welcome at Paamiut

and I calculated that I had just enough time for a quick sprint to see its ornate church and duck into the supermarket for a packet of chips, before I had to be back on board or be left behind.

The church at Paamiut is very ornate
The wonderfully ornate church in Paamiut

Fortunately, my calculation proved correct 😀

North to Qeqertarsuatsiaat on Sarfaq Ittuk

It was a long stretch between Paamiut and our next settlement: Qeqertarsuatsiaat, which we would reach at 22:15pm. I had studied the maps in the corridors of the ship (and on Maps.Me) and discovered that we would pass an area where the great Greenland Ice Sheet reached almost to the ocean.

I was super-keen to see that, so I hung out up on deck chatting with whoever I could find. Most of the passengers on this part of the Sarfaq Ittuk journey (South of Sisimiut) were local Greenlanders. I tried out my conversation skills in Greenlandic (yes, I can say a few things – much to their surprise) before switching to English for the rest of the conversation. It never ceases to amaze me how many Greenlanders (particularly on the West coast) speak excellent English. For many of them, it is their third language behind Greenlandic and Danish.

Unfortunately, we were quite a long way out from shore and the light was not great when we finally sailed past the Ice Sheet (Frederikshabs Glacier). Indeed, it did almost reach the ocean and I would have *loved* to have been closer in to see it more clearly.

Distant view of the Greenland Icesheet stretching down to the water
Distant view of the great Greenland Ice Sheet (Frederikshabs Glacier) stretching down to the ocean

Determined not to miss a single call at port, I was out on the upper deck at 22:15pm for our arrival into Qeqertarsuatsiaat – another 15-minute stop. It was surprising to see the number of people who turned out to greet the ferry in the dark and the cold from this settlement of only 185 people!

Welcome at Qeqertarsuatsiaat
Welcome at Qeqertarsuatsiaat late at night

Read more about the Sarfaq Ituuk journey

If this post has piqued your curiosity about travelling with Sarfaq Ittuk in Greenland, read about the rest of my adventure:

I also wrote the Sarfaq Ittuk Ferry – All you need to know page for Visit Greenland. Check it out for more of the logistical details.

Discover more about Greenland

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!
Sarfaq-Ittuk-waving-goodbye-qaqortoq-South-Greenland-1024x683.jpg

Sarfaq Ittuk – Day 1 – Welcome Aboard in Qaqortoq!

The Sarfaq Ittuk passenger ferry operates between April and January each year on a weekly schedule that takes it along the west coast of Greenland. I love ferry journeys. And I’d been looking forward to making my way from Qaqortoq in the South to Ilulissat in the North by sea ever since I found out it was an option. Read on to discover more about this alternate and relaxing way to travel in Greenland that allows you to interact with local people and the time to truly appreciate where you are.

I had already spent a week in Qaqortoq, South Greenland, before sighting the Sarfaq Ittuk passenger ferry for the first time. I managed to spy it just as it was coming into dock, where it would spend 3 hours being cleaned and turned over before heading back the way it came on its north-bound journey to Ilulissat.

Sarfaq Ittuk docking at Qaqortoq harbour. The cruise ship in the background is much, much larger!

I had a ticket for the entire length of its voyage – a journey of ~4 days.

Although my ticket said that check-in was 30 minutes prior to departure, ever the early bird, I was down at the harbour with all my luggage an hour ahead of time. A portable cabin had been lowered from the top deck of the ferry and placed on the dock as a check-in booth, and with minimal fuss, boarding passes were handed out to the small queue of people as we boarded our home for the next few days.

The crane from onboard the Sarfaq Ittuk reloading the check-in booth after all passengers aboard  - Nuuk - West Greenland
OK – I cheat. This is actually in Nuuk – but you get the idea

Although I usually stay in dormitory accommodation and the ferry has plenty of that available (Sarfaq Ittuk calls them “Couchettes”), I was going up-market on this trip with a private cabin. On top of having my own space, this meant I had my own private bathroom, and tea and coffee making facilities available to me. Luxury when you enjoy several cups of tea every day.

My cabin on board the Sarfaq Ittuk Passenger Ferry - West Greenland
My cabin on board Sarfaq Ittuk. I had the whole thing to myself, even though it can sleep up to 4 people!

Heading North from Qaqortoq on Sarfaq Ittuk

It was a gloriously sunny evening as as we pulled away from the dock in Qaqortoq, locals waving to their loved ones until we were well beyond their ability to see.

Locals waving goodbye to loved ones from the top deck of Sarfaq Ittuk as we leave Qaqortoq
Locals waving goodbye to loved ones from the top deck of Sarfaq Ittuk as we leave Qaqortoq

Once we were well underway, I set about exploring the ship. It is not a large ferry (especially in comparison to some of the cruise ships we saw), so this didn’t take all that long. I then headed up on deck to enjoy the setting sun as we made our way towards the first port call on the northbound journey – Narsaq.

Sunset from the top deck of Sarfaq Ittuk Ferry - West Greenland
A beautiful sunset

Narsaq from Sarfaq Ittuk

I had visited Narsaq on my first trip to Greenland in 2017. In fact, it was the very first place I spent time on my exploration of this remarkable island. This time around – it was quite dark by the time we arrived at 9pm. In addition, our stop there was only 30 minutes, so I contented myself with simply watching from the decks as we docked and transferred passengers.

Approaching Narsaq on board the Sarfaq Ittuk Ferry
Approaching Narsaq. I love the mountains that stand behind the town

The thing about Sarfaq Ittuk is that it is a passenger ferry, not a cruise. Time spent in most ports is usually between 15 and 30 minutes – just enough time to offload/onload passengers and mail. That’s it. It is not about giving passengers the chance to explore each port. It is about transporting them from one place to another as an alternative to flying. Therefore I often found myself up on deck simply watching the greetings take place as families welcomed their loved ones off the ship.

Unloading passengers at the dock in Narsaq - Sarfaq Ittuk ferry - West Greenland
Welcoming people off the Sarfaq Ittuk ferry in Narsaq

I was really hoping to have the opportunity to see the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) from the ship. I figured it would be wonderful to experience this magical spectacle far from all sources of light pollution. But unfortunately I’d timed my journey to coincide with the full moon – one of the biggest sources of light “pollution” there is! No matter. Moon-rise was absolutely spectacular on our first night as we made our way north.

Moonrise surrounded by clouds
Dramatic moonrise from Sarfaq Ittuk

The (albeit small) icebergs that were barely visible in the water gave me a moment of pause

Passing small icebergs on the Sarfaq Ittuk ferry as the moon rises
We sailed past a lot of these small icebergs in the moonlight

but I decided to just enjoy and hope that they had good radar and other instrumentation up on the bridge to keep us safe!

Read more about the Sarfaq Ituuk journey

If this post has piqued your curiosity about travelling with Sarfaq Ittuk in Greenland, read about the rest of my adventure:

I also wrote the Sarfaq Ittuk Ferry – All you need to know page for Visit Greenland. Check it out for more of the logistical details.

Discover more about Greenland

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!
Great-snack-spot-on-the-way-to-the-pass-from-Hlöðuvík-over-to-Hesteyri-1024x683.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Hornstrandir Summary

When planning my solo multi-day hike in Hornstrandir, I found there was lots of conflicting information on the web and I was quite nervous about what to expect.   

Here are a few logistics and some thoughts based on the trails I took.

Transportation

The easiest way to book your transfers to and from Hornstrandir is with Westtours.  They have the timetables for the two boat companies operating out of Ísafjörður published on their website, and instructions about the information you need to send them to make the booking.  Note: if you are hiking for more than 1 day, you need to send them your hiking itinerary.

One of the transfer boats between Ísafjörður and Hornstrandir
One of the very comfortable transfer boats between Ísafjörður and Hornstrandir

Hiking Map, Gas and Supplies

Although Westtours sell a “hiking map” of Hornstrandir for 1500ISK, it is not really a proper topographical map.  It has no magnetic declination marking and the scale is too large to really constitute a proper hiking map. It also shows trails that either don’t exist or that the Park Rangers strongly advise against.  It is kind of useful … but kind of not at the same time.  Apparently they are working on a proper map.

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

The place to buy gas canisters is the N1 petrol station just as you come into the downtown part of Ísafjörður.

Although it is cheaper to bring food with you (I actually bought a lot of mine in the Czech Republic!), the Netto Discount Supermarket (right near the N1 petrol station) has a pretty good range of basics and is not too badly priced (for Iceland).

Trail conditions

Note: I believe I hiked the most popular parts of Hornstrandir on this trip.  Trail conditions in less-popular parts may be different.  

I thought the trails were pretty obvious for probably 98% of the hiking I did.  There is either a trodden track, and/or large stone cairns, and/or wooden poles to guide you, and I found it was rare to be wondering where to go next.

Hiking trails in Hornstrandir are indicated in different ways - Iceland
The hiking trails I followed in Hornstrandir ranged from non-existent (top), to sometimes visible (less so when it is just sticks in the ground (middle), to very clear when indicated with stone cairns (bottom)

The snowdrifts early in the season (I was there at the end of June) do obscure parts of the trails, but so long as you aren’t the first through (unlikely), it is a good bet to follow the boot prints made by others.

View up to
Follow the boot prints

The main concern I would have for finding my way in Hornstrandir would be if it were foggy.  I didn’t experience this at all, but I don’t doubt the veracity of the many stories of it being difficult to navigate in foggy conditions.  You really need to be able to see the next cairn/pole as the trail does disappear depending on the terrain you are walking on! 

On a different note – these hikes are not suitable if you are at all concerned about heights or very steep uphills/downhills.  Although the maximum altitude I reached was less than 500m, there are sheer drops beside many of the trails, and some tricky descents because of their steepness.

One of many steep descents

I highly recommend that if you find a Park Ranger (e.g. at Hornvík), have a chat with them about your hiking plans and ask about trail conditions.  Vésteinn was very helpful and full of information and suggestions that really helped me get the most out of my hiking.

Weather

It is Iceland. 

You need to be prepared for anything and everything.  In my 8 days in Hornstrandir, I had blue skies and sunshine, rain, loads of drizzle, and very strong winds. 

It can look like this. But often it doesn’t.

Make sure that you have:

  • a very good tent.  The night of the high winds (70km/hr) saw 2 of the 5 tents pitched at Hornvík destroyed
  • a very good waterproof shell.  Jacket, pants, and gloves.  You are going to need them so keep them easily accessible!
  • very good waterproof boots with ankle support.  The waterproofness because of the weather, but also because there is quite a lot of boggy/marshy ground that you hike through.  Wet feet are the worst!  The ankle support because you are often walking across stony ground which is a killer on the ankles
Me in all my gear - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina
OK – this was actually taken in Patagonia, but I used the same outfit in Iceland.  Just the pack was different.
  • plenty of warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag.  It was nowhere near as cold as I was expecting (it only got down to about 1 degree during the night), but having warm clothes to change into after being in the rain/drizzle all day is a luxury on a long hiking trip.
Listenting to music in my tent
Love my Enlightened Equipment sleeping quilt!

Other Recommended Gear

  • Hiking poles.  I am only a recent adopter of these things, and now I really couldn’t do without them.  They take some of the weight while you are hiking uphill, they are critical for steep descents (of which there are many in Hornstrandir), and they provide 3rd and 4th points of contact when rock-hopping across rivers (another thing you’ll be doing a lot of while hiking in Hornstrandir)
Hiker struggling up a steep snowdrift on the trail from Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel leaning heavily on his hiking pole to get up a steep snowdrift on the way from Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík
  • Neoprene socks.  Having frozen my feet off in Greenland last year and Patagonia this year, I finally invested the $15 in a pair of neoprene socks for river crossings.  I was skeptical – until I used them.  I don’t know how … but they are absolutely magic!  Crossing freezing rivers (which you will be also doing in Hornstrandir) holds no fear for me now 🙂
I love my neoprene socks!

Favourite Scenery

Definitely Hornbjarg, Hornbjargsviti and Kirfi!  The scenery in this area is absolutely spectacular, and if I return to Hornstrandir, this is where I will start.  I could easily spend several days just exploring this small region.

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

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.

Sailing-boat-visiting-the-old-whaling-station-at-Sekkeyri-near-Hesteyri-Hornstrandir-Iceland-1024x683.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Around Hesteyri – Hornstrandir

Yesterday while hiking from Hlöðuvík to Hesteyri, I managed to convince myself to change my plan for the 3rd time and just stay in Hesteyri and do day hikes for my last 3 days in Hornstrandir.  This was to take the weight off my lateral femoral cutaneous nerve to see whether that would help with the numbness I was feeling in my outer left thigh (at this point, I hadn’t been able to consult Dr. Google to determine that this was a condition known as Meralgia Paresthetica and that it will likely take months to rectify). 

And even though it was the sensible and obvious thing to do, particularly as I still have 4 months of trekking ahead of me, it took the majority of the hike to convince my ego to let it go!  I’m a huge fan of Ryan Holiday, and clearly I need to re-read his book “Ego is the Enemy” for the third time! It’s a great book – read it if you haven’t already.

It turned out that hanging out in Hesteyri was a great idea for another reason as well … the weather was crap! 

So what did I get up to?

Listening to Music

I’m very careful with battery management and so still had heaps of charge on my phone.  I spent many hours curled up under my sleeping quilt listening to my favourite band in all the world – Nanook from Greenland (of course 🙂 )

Listenting to music in my tent
Rugged up and listening to Greenlandic music

Reading Books

I used to use my travels to catch up on reading books.  I would churn through them like there was no tomorrow, and it was how I spent every spare second on vacation. 

Then I started this blog…   

Given I didn’t have my computer with me, it was a great opportunity to break out the Kindle (one of my favourite inventions ever) and read “The Greenland Trilogy“, three action-packed fiction books set in Greenland by author Christoffer Peterson.

Reading my kindle in my tent

I’d been wanting to read these for a while, and certainly before I headed back to Greenland. So perfect timing, as I arrive in Kulusuk (East Greenland) next Monday!  They are a fun read and I recommend them for a bit of light entertainment set in a really cool place 🙂

Eating

One of the things that Hesteyri is famous for is the Cafe at the old Doctor’s House that operates during the Summer months. 

The old doctors house in Hesteryi is the heart of the village - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The Old Doctor’s House in Hesteyri is the heart of the village

After eating trekking food for 5 days, I was super-keen to have a proper home-cooked meal, and so headed there for dinner on my first night.  Honey Rye Bread, Icelandic Lamb Soup, and Rhubarb Crumble … soooooo good!  In fact, I ended up having 2 enormous bowls of the soup, and I most definitely would have had two portions of dessert and eaten a whole loaf of the bread, if there had been the opportunity!

The chimney of the old whaling station at Sekkeyri  is visible from near Hesteyri - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Amazing dinner!

The next day, after some strenuous reading in my tent, I wandered over during a break in the rain to sample the Cafe’s famous Icelandic pancakes.  Light and fluffy and full of sugar … just what you need on a grey, wet day!

Icelandic pancakes t
Icelandic pancakes at the Old Doctor’s House cafe – Hesteyri

And I might have also returned for more of the tart-but-oh-so-sweet Rhubarb Crumble (this time with custard) just before catching the boat back to Ísafjörður😉

Rhubarb Crumble and journaling at the Old Doctor's House cafe - Hesteyri
How I spent my last few hours on Hornstrandir – eating Rhubarb Crumble and journaling

Thank you Michael Wolf for the awesome food!

Chatting

Those who have met me during the past 15 years have a hard time believing that I used to be very shy.  I can talk to anyone and (like the donkey in Shrek) it’s often getting me to shut up that’s a problem. 

So I spent a lot of time at the Cafe chatting with Matt Taylor – a fellow Aussie who was helping out there for 6 weeks on a break from his studies in Neuroscience (as you do), and Hrólfur Vagnsson who was managing the place for the summer.  Thanks for the great conversation guys!   It’s a pity we didn’t have more time!

Exploring the village of Hesteyri

After 2 days of rain, the weather improved for my last day in Hesteyri and I finally ventured beyond my tent and the cafe 😀

I went for a bit of a wander around the town, which has been abandoned since 1952 but is now used by the original families for summer vacations. 

Some of the buildings of Hesteyri - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Some of the buildings of Hesteyri

It would have been great to learn more about the history of this isolated place, and I did half think about sneaking along on one of the guided tours but resisted the temptation.

Hike to the old Whaling Station at Sekkeyri

I saw the remains of the chimney as I hiked down into Hesteyri from Hlöðuvík the other day, and it is also visible from Hesteyri itself. 

The chimney of the old whaling station at Sekkeyri  is visible from near Hesteyri - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The chimney of the old whaling station at Sekkeyri

Turns out it is a very flat, ~3km hike out to the old whaling station at Sekkeyri along the edge of the inlet.  I even managed to see seals along the way! Almost every rock had one flopped upon it.

Seals resting on the rocks near the trail to the old whaling station at Sekkeyri near Hesteyri - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Hello!

I spent quite a lot of time exploring and wandering around the ruins of the whaling station, but again, it would have been great to have a guided tour to know exactly what I was looking at.  I had to turn to my imagination instead and make up my own stories 🙂

The old whaling station at Sekkeyri near Hesteyri - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The old whaling station at Sekkeyri

Really nice for the “Ye Olde” sailing boat to visit at the same time … more fuel for my imaginings of the whalers actually using the station back in the day.

Sailing boat visiting the old whaling station at Sekkeyri near Hesteyri - Hornstrandir - Iceland

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-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.

Looking-down-to-Hlöðuvík-from-the-last-pass-coming-from-Hornvík-Hornstrandir-Iceland-1024x683.jpg

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.

view-towards-hornvik-from-pass-hornstrandir-1024x683.jpg

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.