Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Iceland 2016: Borgarnes to Hellissandur

Can I just say really quickly how nice it is to wake up to Bob Marley on the radio?

So yeah, last night was a late one. I got into the town of Borgarnes at around midnight and found the town's campsite, where a few other travelers also had called it home for the night.While I was eating breakfast in the back of the Jimny "Is This Love” came on one of the local radio stations, 98.9 Bycglan FM. I immediately blasted it, smiled, and got way excited. After Nirvana, Bob Marley Is my second favorite music artist to listen to. Speaking of music, last night I did a victory drive, where I loaded up on coffee and drove deep into the night until I was too tired to shift gears anymore. For about ten minutes, one of the radio stations played what sounded like this chilling, absurdly scary soundtrack to either a gory slasher horror movie or a nightmare ridden haunted house. It was soooo freaky, especially driving alone at night with no other headlights in sight. Speaking of which, happy Halloween! It’s my favorite holiday. It’s not really celebrate much here in Iceland, apart from one grocery store near the airport having a crate of pumpkins, but fear not I carved a pumpkin before I left and overdosed on candy corn.

Today’s plan was to head west to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to explore that part of the country I had yet to see. Snæfellsjökull National Park was also there and being the national park geek that I am, I had to go hiking there. And what an afternoon of hiking it was. I couldn’t even make it to the park without pulling over several times to take photos of the western shoreline of the chilly North Atlantic and lofty mountains everywhere.

The first hiking adventure was through this slot canyon Rauofeldsgja, which when hiking up to you appear to walk into the side of a mountain and then there’s an opening with water streaming out of it. Venture deeper into this damp, mossy cavern and it gets narrower, and traversing it requires straddling both sides of the canyon walls to move upward. Stare straight up and you can see the blue sky way up there, somewhere. So cool.

Snæfellsjökull was once a volcano and when it exploded, a massive ice cap filled it. It’s now a blizzardy wonderland way up there at 1446m. I saw it from down at sea-level and decided I had to hike as far up to the glacial summit as I can. What better way to ring in your favorite holiday than with some legendary hiking? I took Route F570, a designated F Road into the national park’s interior that's permitted for 4x4 high-ground clearance vehicle-only. I saw the ice cap, parked, suited up in winter hiking gear and set out. It took me about 90-minutes to reach the base of Snæfellsjökull and it was just stunning.

Hiking in alpine terrain is both beautiful and a bit dangerous. I could look straight up and see snow blowing off the top of Snæfellsjökull's peak. I decided to not continue going any more vertical as the slope started getting past the 45 degree mark for a few reasons. There was visible avalanche-prone terrain, glacier crevasses and deep snow pits up above, I was by myself and even with my Spot SOS beacon on me, it wouldn’t be a smart move without proper mountaineering gear or someone to dig me out had I slipped into a pit. Plus, the sun was already slowly starting to set. Sure I had gear with me for a worst-case-scenario situation where I probably could tough it out for a night, but a wall of clouds meant a snow front was approaching pretty fast. Risk mitigation and management, folks. Live by it and practice it.

Views all-around were breathtaking, it was like a dream. I just wanted to stay up there. I started heading back down to where I parked the Jimny and like any kind of alpine elevation, once the sun goes down, that soft snowy traction you relied on turns to hard dangerous ice. Further reading in my guidebook back in the tent later that night revealed that Snæfellsjökull is summer hike. Hahaha, alrighty then.

Pumped from that amazing hike, I drove back down to sea-level and got on Route 574 towards the village of Hellissandur where I’d be camping tonight. I filled up my water supply at the gas station. Fun fact- Iceland has some of the cleanest water in the world. It’s like addicting. The campground I had mapped out was closed for the year so I drove through town seeking out other options. Do I just park in a dark corner by the gas station and sleep it out? Do I drive to the next town of Ólafsvík? Then I saw what appeared to be tents glowing yellow and green by flashlights in the middle of a field. Yes! Fellow campers!

I turned down a gravel road and found two other tents set-up. Two people from Canada and a backpacking newly-wed couple from Seoul, South Korea on their honeymoon. Everyone was preaching the fact that you can in Iceland, camp anywhere for free where it isn’t posted prohibited otherwise. Perfect. I pitched the tent and went to talk with the Koreans. Their hospitality was beyond generous, I still can’t believe how friendly and welcoming they were. They cooked me a meal of South Korean soup and rice over a travel stove and poured me a drink of popular Korean whiskey. Turns out Park, was a professional videographer who films movies in South Korea AND the Korean version of BBC’s Top Gear. Win. I chatted with Park and his wife Yeung about Korea, trying to learn as much as I can. The Canadians soon joined and all five of us sat bundled-up warm underneath the Park’s tarp shelter sipping hot Korean tea, drinking cans of Icelandic beer (thanks Canadians) and laughing the night away. Heck yes, I live for moments like this.

And now my fingers are getting too cold to type. Enjoy a few photos from today's adventures below. Goodnight.