Friday, November 4, 2016

Iceland: Hellissandur to Stykkishólmur

After a fun night in our makeshift campground, I got an early start to the day before the run rose at 9am. Turns out, last night we actually camped out at the entrance to an ‘Open Forest Project’ for recreating and conservation in the village of Hellissandur. This meant early-morning hike was mandatory through this small patch of hilly forest, right behind our tents. Getting to see the sun rise over Snæfellsjökull Glacier was brilliant.

So I’m like immensely drawn to this part of the country, more particularly Snæfellsjökull National Park. Something about the broad coastlines, raging tall mountains, rough intense lava fields carpeted in moss and the mountains surrounding the huge ice capped active volcano that is Snæfellsjökull. I had such an amazing time hiking and exploring the park yesterday that I wanted to set aside a whole second day to continue doing it. Tent taken down, I hopped in the Suzuki and headed towards the park. (Last night we all camped out about five minutes outside of the boundaries). Referring to my guidebook, there were a few places along the coast of the peninsula I wanted to check out. First was the Ondveroarnes point, where there’s a lighthouse and also an old stone well dug into the side of a hill by the early Icelandic. Rumor has it you could get holy water, ale and fresh water from there. I crawled into the entrance way  found the mysterious well in the dark. What I like about Snæfellsjökull is that it preserves many historical sites and archaeological ruins inside the national park. For example. At a beach just down the road called Skarosvik, the remains of a Viking, his sword and shield were found there in the 1960s. That beach was gorgeous, different than most of the other black Iceland beaches I’ve tracked around in because this one had gold sand, calmer waves and cubes of basalt along the high edges of it. And the weather was so nice it was almost tempting to go for a swim in those trademark deep blue waters.

Just south of this unique beach was another lighthouse, this one much taller, slender and elaborate, as well as a row of cliffs that shoot straight down to the North Atlantic. Bigggggg drop offs. These cliffs called Svortuloft, are the home for tons of birds including Puffins, Brunnich’s Guillemot (the most common), Razorbills, Kittiwakes and the Great Black-backed Gull…to name just a few. The National Park is also home to Orcas (Killer Whales), Seals and the Arctic Fox. From this area, you can hike about 3 miles round-trip to a huge crater called Vatnsborg, which spilled loads of lava all over the nearby flatland. It’s a sweet hike, passing tons of holes in the ground now filled with soft moss and other vegetation in their shadows. When you reach the crater Vatnsborg, it’s a quick climb to the top and then you’re staring straight down into a 25-30ft deep, wide-open crater where ages ago lava exploded out of. The colors plastered on the wall are faded shades of red, yellow and orange. Super cool. Hidden away around a bend is another small crater, one that drops so far you can’t see the bottom. I dropped a rock and I’m guessing it’s probably 60ft deep. Before heading back towards the trail head, I continued off-trail a little further as my curiosity was just raging. The lava fields became even more rocky, with rocky arch, tunnel and shelves appearing out of the moss. Just unreal. Reminded me at times of hiking through Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in the western United States. That kind of landscape and geography that just puzzles you and plays tricks with your mind.

Next I headed out towards the main road and this happens….watch the video below:
Checking out the visitor center in Snæfellsjökull National Park is a must. It’s not only where you’ll pick up a trail map of this outdoor wonderland, but a whole array of displays and interpretative information. It’s like a museum inside the headquarters. Hours are limited during the off-season, 11am-4pm during the week and closed on weekends.  Plan accordingly.

So I bought a trail map and had about two, maybe three solid hours of daylight left and I was craving more hiking in the interior of the park near Snæfellsjökull. I swung a right onto an F road F575, threw the Suzuki in 4x4 and started the bumpy drive up towards the trail heads for two hikes I had in mind. The first was an easier, 20-minute hike to the top of an open crater called Sjonarholl with crazy-good views looking east and south over the mountain range. Next was the real thrill- to ascend Hreggnasi, a steep wild 469m peak near Snæfellsjökull. If you look in some of the photos below, you can see Hreggnasi’s jagged edge shooting upward towards the sky. The climb itself wasn’t hard, rather very steep in a short amount of time. It took me about 45 minutes to reach the top and it was AWESOME. There was a tiny metal box at the summit with a register so I scribbled my name on a wrinkled piece of paper and put a few stones over it. Looking east was a scary drop-off straight down, but behind me….behind me was this view of Snæfellsjökull's ice cap that was just the best.  I appreciated getting to see the glacier from the opposite side than I did the other day while hiking. The coastal shorelines and maze of lava fields below. Again this nature here just gives off this good positive energy. I love it. The descent took about half-an-hour, and I geeked out over literally every cool lava rock I found. Dusk fell over the National Park and I got down to the car just in time to make a PB&J and get off the F road with a few minutes of last lingering light.

I looked on the map and saw a campground in the town of Stykkishólmur, about an hour northwest of here so that’s where I set off to. I arrived in Stykkishólmur, much more developed than some of the other smaller towns I’ve stayed-in, around 8pm and found a place to grab a hot pulled-pork sandwich and beer. Exactly what I’d been craving after two full-days of ambitiously great hiking.

 The campground was just down the road and I was thankfully able to get my tent set up in the dark via headlamp, just before the wind became monsoon-fast. Fun fact- the entire town of Stykkishólmur is one big hot-spot, meaning there’s free WiFi everywhere.