Iceland – Let’s talk about it

The expedition to Iceland has finished a while ago, and finaly, recently we shared online our video from the trip. The clip is made to complement our talk about our adventures around the coast of Iceland. And even, if you won’t have a chance to listen to us talking about our experinces, it will tell enough.

Currently we are sorting out dates for talks in London and in Gent in Belgium. Our closest event is going to be at an outdoor festival Obzory in Prague on the weekend of 11-12 of November 2017. We will be presenting on Sunday.

Advertisements

Iceland – Summary of the expedition

The return to normal life after our expedition to Iceland could not have been faster for me. Having landed in London on Tuesday at lunch time, I was back at work the following morning. That was ok, only meaning, that I haven’t had much time to think through some of our trip experiences. However snippets of memories have been steadily coming back almost every day. And finally four weeks after landing I started to write down some summary.
When I looked back into the calendar and counted the days of our trip some interesting numbers came out. The whole expedition lasted 70 days from the first paddling day to the last one, when we arrived back to Reykjavik. Out of which we had 38 days paddling days and 32 non paddling days. The longest we waited for the weather was the 9 days at the end, the weather never improved and we finally decided to finish.
The distance we covered was approximately 1500 kilometres, and we were short of reaching Reykjavik, our starting point, by 300-350km. 

As we have been waiting for suitable paddling weather a lot, very often we would ask ourselves if we should have pushed harder, paddle longer, launch sooner. And every single time, as we paddled the stretch, for which we waited, we were really glad we didn’t attempt it earlier in bigger conditions. The risks we would expose ourselves to would be too great.

If I compare this trip to others we have done before, this was by far our hardest trip. Most days we would have fairly strong headwind for significant part of the paddling day. To make the most of the weather we started to paddle any time of the day or night. Actually, more accurate numbers would be 26 paddling days and 12 paddling nights. At one point we paddled 52Nm within a 24 hour period with 4 hrs of sleep. I don’t recall any significant weight loss during any of our previous trips and expeditions. Here I lost 10 kilos in 8 weeks.
Our boats were quite heavy, we had been carrying provisions for 4 weeks most of the time. We never knew when we would reach the next shop. In the end, due to careful planing, decision making and sometimes pure luck, we were able to restock every 10 days, the longest time between shops was 16 days.
When on expedition like this, number of things is a must. The really obvious ones are kayak, tent, paddle, sleeping bag and so on. Yet, there were few small things which made unexpectedly big impact on our wellbeing. I will name three of them.
We always struggled with latex neck seal and salt water combination. Every time we come back to work after a weekend of paddling, people would be asking if someone tried to strangle us. Therefore the prospect of wearing drysuit day after day wasn’t something we were looking forward to. Fortunately I managed to find 1mm neoprene collar that could be worn between our neck and latex seal. It worked magic! Now it lives permanently in a drysuit pocket ready to be used any time.

It is always easy to focus on paddling gear while preparing for long journey and overlook land based stuff. To select only one pair of land shoes which would do everything for two and half months proved to be difficult. In the last possible moment we found high ankle boots which were also incredibly soft to pack small to fit into the kayak. At the same time they provided comfort in rain, snow, sand and survived abuse on lava fields.

For years we had been sleeping on our trusty self inflatable mats, however as we are getting older, it was time to get something more comfortable. In the end we bought large dawn sleeping mats, incredibly expensive, but worth every single pound we paid for them. They were wide enough to take over most of our three man tent. They were high to give enough comfort to our backs, and provided amazing insulation on cold Icelandic nights, that the fleecy onesie never made it out of its dry bag. They packed small into the hatch, but in an emergency could be used as lilos to float us around. Natalie was convinced of that.

Of course this expedition would not happen without the constant support from Tiderace Seakayaks. We have been paddling Pace Tour for last four years and we knew that it was the best kayak to take on such a journey. Its capacity, comfort and efficiency makes it an incredibly well balanced kayak. It’s also fun to paddle fully loaded and is really reliable in big and messy conditions. We knew that our kayaks would have to go through lots of abuse, therefore we chose the strongest layup, thatTiderace offers. I remember being particularly glad to choose this layup when I had to seal launch fully loaded kayak from boulders through dumping surf. In the end of our trip we each had just one chip in gelcoat.

We expected to endure very complex and ever changing weather so went for the best and chose Kokatat wanting to stay dry, warm and comfortable. The expedition drysuits worked magic but our favourite piece of kit became their salopettes.  For years I believed it wasn’t possible to have just one PFD that would work in any environment and for any paddling. On this trip I discovered Maximus Centurion pfd, it gave me plenty of pocket space for all the gear and vhf, and offered the best freedom of movement compared to any BA’s I’ve ever tried before. It works perfectly on the sea and as it’s primarily designed for whitewater it works there well too.

We have been struggling for years to find kayak shoes which would work and mainly, last. I have been told few times that I expect too much from my paddling shoes and I should be more realistic. During last few weeks of our UK circumnavigation my shoes resembled more a roll of duck tape than shoes. Natalie’s shoes disintegrated completely on our Northern Four expedition. So this time we wanted shoes which would actually last. Astral shoes did more than just that. They have sticky rubber to stop them slipping on shore. They are just high enough to stay on even when trying to walk through horrible terrain, and mud, and most importantly they are nicely wide and comfy when paddling.

For most paddling trips, weather is the one factor with biggest impact on them. Having good and reliable forecast is an essential part of an expedition. We were lucky to be receiving very accurate weather forecast twice a day from Karel. It was making it easier for us to know when it was a good time to commit and when it was better to stay on shore.

We undertake long expeditions not only to explore places and enjoy the everyday satisfaction of miles covered. What we like most, is the various chance encounters with people. Paddling around Iceland has become memorable due to meeting people at the right time.
Firstly it was Gisli and Gudni, who helped us with logistics at the start and finish of the trip. Maggi in Isafjordur, who led us his SPOT, when ours started to play up.

Then is was all the people who shared their homes and food with us. Hefdis and Thor in Arnarstapi were the first, who took us in for few days, looked after us and showed us their area. Maggi’s mum invited us for lunch on a Sunday. In West Fjords, of which we were warned they would be deserted at the that time of the year, we met three brothers Frederic, Gudnar and Inky. Thanks to them we could stay in warmth and under a roof during a week of storms. Their distant cousin in Fljotavik invited us to stay for two nights after we helped him to unload of the delivery boat. Jon and his wife in Reykjanes let us to thaw in their living room after a particularly freezing couple of days. The farm lady on Skaggi peninsula not only invited us for coffee and snack, but gave us butter, which we used as butterometer ever since. Liney from Thorshofn invited us for great breakfast and gave us us books as ours were finished. Ari from Neskaupastadur kayak club waited for us and let us stay in the club house for two nights. Then, there were Kidda and Siggi we met on the south coast. Because of their openness, and them lending us their car and letting us help them on the farm, we could keep sane during the long wait for the weather. When the time came to make the sad decision to finish before completing the full circle, Kidda drove us all the way to Gisli’s in Reykjavik.

The expedition is now finished, and while we are still reminiscing in the moments and memories, many people seem to need to ask us what next. The answer is the same, next, we go back to work. And only when the right time comes and we come up with new plan and save enough money we will know where to next.

In the shade of Katla

The first two nights we spent in the vicinity of the Alvidruhamrar lighthouse had two things in common, we wanted to leave as soon as possible, and we were not impressed by the black sand and landscape covered in low clouds of rain, and wind.
Before we started to paddle in Iceland and before we tackled the south coast, we were looking at the maps a lot trying to picture how the area would look like and what might be like to live there. The reality completely overwhelmed us. Despite the fact that we never resumed our kayaking from the Alvidruhamrar lighthouse, we feel very fortunate to be able to spent so many days in this region and explore it with the help of Kidda and Siggi.

We were in the land of ice and fire. The glacier, Mýrdalsjökull, could be seen clearly in a distance. Underneath is the volcano, Katla. Together they have been shaping the landscape into a mixture of lakes, meadows, powerful glacial rivers, lava fields, waterfalls, and black sandy beaches.

The day after we arrived to the farm and hostel Nona and Brynjuhus at Kirkjubaejarklaustur, Kidda took us to a nearby town, then gave us her car so we could explore further. We went to a canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur. It’s 100 metres deep and 2 kilometres long created by water erosion. 

In a strong contrast to the green rocky landscape is Myrdarsandur, where most glacial rivers of this area reach the sea. It is an ever changing landscape, in the past, the rivers formed large estuaries, and ocean going vessels could sail up the rivers further inland. The little church in Þykkvabæjarklaustur in Álftaver stands on the former location of a monastery founded in 1168 close to which the ships could sail. 

This area has been affected by many eruptions, mainly of Katla, which so far erupted 21 times, last one in 1918. The story of Katla says that in the time of the monastery Katla was a kitchen maid, and a witch. She had magic breeches, which allowed her to run very fast without getting tired. Most people, including the abbot, were afraid of her temper and powers. One day Katla and abbot went away to a market, and Bardi, a shepherd at the monastery was meant to herd all the sheep. Unfortunately he was quite lazy, so decided to use Katla’s breeches. Of course, when Katla came back, she wasn’t impressed and angrily killed Bardi by drowning him in a barrel of whey standing by the main door and leaving him there. Towards the end of the winter, when the level of whey in the barrel was getting low, Katla realised that she may be found out.
She run away, north west in the direction of the glacier and threw herself into it. Later, an eruption came out of the glacial and headed towards the monastery.

People living in the area are aware of the powers of nature. When the volcanos erupt, the one thing that everyone is aware of, are floods that would come. Kidda told us a story of her grandfather witnessing the 1918 eruption. With his friend they were up in the mountains rounding sheep, when it started, they managed to escape on horses and hide on the highest mount in the area. Evacuation plans are made for the region, but still the locals say, they won’t be driving away crossing glacial rivers, when it happens, they will go to the same higher points like their accentors. 

After each eruption flowing lava and tephra covered large areas changing the landscape causing many farms to disappear. We went to see a farm from 11th century which was covered after an eruption, and is now being excavated by archeologists. And also had a look at some old farm buildings dating from 15th century. 

We were offered even a closer look at what it means living under volcanos. When the Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, as always everything was covered by volcanic dust. The hay that was made in 2010 after the eruption was deemed uneatable by the farm animals. And it was only this summer, that it was being dispose off, with our help. 
The hay was being taken out to the areas of sand to help the grass to grow and prevent further erosion of the landscape. The area is also covered by the so called rootless cones, which make interesting formation, where one’s fantasy can just wonder.

SO, HAVE YOU GIVEN UP? 

This is the question, which already popped up. Have we given up? We landed by the lighthouse Alvidruhamrar in Alftaver on Wednesday. After a very windy night on the sand and with very little drinking water left, the shelter and falling rain seemed like the best place on the earth. 
We knew that the coming weather won’t be great and that we won’t be paddling for few days. We decided not to look at the weather till the following evening. 

The forecast did not look good, but it promised, after some high winds, that it will calm down and we will get a chance to continue from Monday onwards. 

After the second night in the shelter we decided to walk towards the farms, which we could see in the distance. The forecast was very unsettled, and we wanted to know our options. And this is how we started to live at the Nona and Brynjuhus at Kirkjubaejarklaustur. On the way we stopped at the first farm and explained who we were, what we were doing, and what we would possibly need. We found some amazing people, who helped us to move our kayaks off the beach, and all our stuff to the farm. We won’t be paddling for a while. 

Sometimes one may think that it is the paddling or the day to day work of landing, launching, packing, and camping, that is hard on an expedition. In our experience, it is the waiting, the sitting on land and waiting for the wind and sea to become such to allow paddling. The hardest is to keep spirits up, when the weather does everything to bring them down. 
Here, the weather forecast changed all the time. Or rather, it was the same, showing a period of possible paddling weather in few days, only day after day this window was moving further into the future. 

We decided to wait. We really wanted to finish our circumnavigation. We wanted to finish the south coast, go to Westman Isles, and continue along the Reykjanes peninsula. We wanted to paddle into Reykjavik. At some point we considered to move via a road west, and continue paddling from there. Then we decided to wait, paddle off where we were, and maybe finish at the Westerman isles. 

To take our mind off the waiting we started to help on the farm. It was great. And the weather showed that we may be able to go on Friday, more than a week after our arrival. We went to shop, stocked up on food, as we hoped for long days on the water to cover the distance left. 

Friday came, we checked the weather. It changed again, paddling that day was no longer an option. Actually, there wasn’t any prospect of paddling for at least the following five days. It was 21st of July. After nine days of waiting, knowing that we only have nine left, we had to make a decision. And so that day, with heavy heart, our paddling around Iceland finished. 

Things change fast here in Iceland. We were wanting to paddle that morning, we were on the way to Reykjavik that evening. 
It was hard not to feel low and like we failed. We have not. We could finish earlier in Seydisfjordur and take a ferry, or in Höfn to avoid south coast, we would finish on the high after paddling. We didn’t need to finish because we were not able to paddle, it wasn’t due to injury or loss of equipment. We just run out of time. 

It was when I was watching Siggi building roof rack for his car to take us to Reykjavik, that I realised how fortunate we were. We have seen amazing things, we lived through some deep experiences, we met many interesting people, who helped us in often unexpected ways. We know one thing for certain, we definitely want to paddle in Iceland again. 

ICELANDIC SUMMER

Ever since we have arrived to Iceland, we heard: “The weather can be really warm, in the summer”, “We go on holidays, in the summer”, “We wear shorts in the summer”, and lots of other statements to do with the summer.
We were also asked lot, why are we kayaking now (then), and not in the summer. Mind you, since we were paddling in May, June, and July, we started to question about when the summer actually is. The answers altered depending on the month, in May it was in June, in June it was in July. Then in July, we finally found the Icelandic summer. And now we know what it means.

It started when we reached the south coast. The flowers peeked out of the black sand. The sun became so hot, that we could not only remove our hats, and some of the layers, but go as far as short sleeved T-shirt. Our butter started to melt. And we started to see farmers working on hay making. And soon, the summer was all around us, and we became part of it. 

It was warm, it was lovely, just one little detail about the summer was kept away from us by Icelandic people. That is, that it becomes windy and stays windy for many days.

Fortunately at that point we were able to find something to occupy ourselves with while waiting for the wind to calm, and for few days we became farm hands. 

Wicked South Coast

We heard a lot about the south coast. Most, of what one hears, does not provide great references for why it should be paddled. It is viewed as something that has to be done if a circumnavigation is to be successful. Some choose to do it at the start, to be done with it before enjoying the rest. Some do it at the end, when they feel strong enough to sustain it. We chose the second option as we felt that first we needed to become familiar with the environment and specifics of paddling in Icelandic waters, get stronger, and build up our stamina to make good progress along the endless stretch of this coast without ports and safe landings. South coast is a place where the sea and rivers are constantly fighting over glacial and volcanic deposits. Rivers are creating ledges and shallows in the sea where the surf violently breaks. The sea is pushing everything back onto the shore creating huge sand bars and barriers that force inland water into lagoons of water, mud and sinking sands. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous stretches of coast by Icelanders themselves. We left Höfn to continue west with the forecast promising up to six days of ok weather, with the first three being good. We had about 240 kilometres ahead of us to Vik, the next place with a chance of better landing and protection from conditions. However, even Vik does not have a harbour, just a wall. 

Least is to say that we were a little bit apprehensive of it all. Yet, once we left the safety of Höfn, we had to go. Our strategy was to minimise our presence in the danger zone, where the sea and the land meet and only approach it twice a day, at the start and at the end. We decided that if possible, the landing places need to meet the following criteria: relative safety in landing, access to water, ideally shelter if we become stuck, and possibility to walk away to civilisation if needed. A dirt track would be a bonus as distances here are really huge. We definitely wanted to avoid stopping in the areas where we would be cut off from everything by rivers and sea should the weather change. 

And this is how the first three days in south coast went. 

DAY ONE: 

We were aiming to Jokulsarlón, an ice lagoon, right on the ring road and very popular. At first, after two days of high winds, the sea was still bouncy and lively with a promise of it calming down later. We were following a long wall of steep shingles. This is it, we thought, long boring stretches are here. Fortunately as it was early in the morning the sun was behind us shining on the glacial mountains in the distance. As we continued, the individual small glaciers leading down into the valleys uncovered giving us an ever changing image of peaks, valleys, ice, green grass, and scattered houses. We were wondering which valleys were inhabited by farmers in the past, how remote they must have been, and how far have the glaciers receded. In the breaks between we watched cars on the Highway 1, and had many meaningful conversations about their performance and journeys. Once we approached Breidamerjökul, part of the main glacier Vatnajökul, a black beach started, fortunately bordered by pylons. It was three and half minutes between them, they went on for miles bringing us closer to the lagoon. Then, just when it started to be a bit too repetitive, a piece of something appeared in the water. A piece of ice! We were here. Time to look at the landing places. It looked intimidating, waves rising and crushing onto shore from a bit of hight, but was actually alright. White ice on black beach turned us into kids and we took many happy photos. 
DAY TWO: 

We woke up early and timed our departure with the opening of the cafe. Not much for the coffee, but to refill our water bags. We spent half hour paddling and posing between pieces of floating ice coming out from the river mouth. Then the next stretch started. The Öræfajökull was sitting hight above us watching us with small eyes and reminding us of octopus spreading its tentacles into the valleys. Once we were out of his eyesight, the black beach started again, this time with scattered remains of shipwrecks. Not really something I want to see when paddling here, but they made interesting structures to pass by. The headland of Ingólfshöfði was long visible ahead of us. As we approached it, it looked more and more like a paradise sticking out of the surrounding black desert. Höfði means headland, this one was 75 metres high formed by cliffs with nesting birds. We knew that on top is an emergency shelter and decided to stay there for a night, as we don’t like camping on sand. It also creates a corner providing a sheltered landing between cliffs and beach. 

It took three quarters of an hour to get our stuff to the shelter, walking on the beach, then up a sandy hill, then across small lava field on the top. At the bottom of the hill was a place that had lots of old skiing poles tied together. Straight away we knew what it meant, however could not take any as we had both hands full. We were just hoping it won’t be that bad. 

It was, the skuas protecting their young ones and eggs do fly rather low and with high intensity.

It wasn’t just the comfort of the hut we were after, we wanted to see the landscape from the top. 

We thought we were alone at the end of the world, but once we went for walk and looked down to where our kayaks were, we noticed a fresh traces circling our kayaks, that looked like being left by a group of horse riders, but now long gone. 

DAY THREE: 

We launched, and once we left the cliffs behind, we settled into a pace which we were happy to keep for the next many hours. The glacial mountains became a distant sight and just as we were getting used to the view of the black beach, the fog came. Oh no, we thought, that will be a hard day navigating just by the sound of the surf crashing into the shore. Fortunately it lasted just few minutes and for the rest of the day our biggest worry was not to burn. I do suffer with sun blisters, soon my skin became prickly despite using strong sun cream and it was time to find some cover. Pogies are too warm under hot summer sun, so a little improvisation was needed. Here I go, my hands covered in headscarf, and a pair of underwear, the only two things that could be found while afloat.

We were paddling along an area called Skeirðarsandur, there is nothing but dozens and dozens of rivers flowing into the sea. Each river mouth announced itself by a change in water colour from blue to chocolate. Surprisingly the boundaries were very clear, looks like glacial and sea water don’t want to mix. 
The monotony of our paddling was there and now interrupted by a need to go further out to avoid breaking zones. Also we passed eleven orange buoys lying high on the sand. 

Here is picture of Michal and the sixth one, which gave us a slight feeling of deja vu. 

We were aiming to land by the lighthouse and shelter at the Skaftarós estuary. We were paddling against the sun at this point, which was playing effects with our sight making the lighthouse and hut to float in the air and a car driving on water. What we observed here in Iceland was, how difficult it was to get a real scale of things or distances. We thought we got used to it, but here, it was really hard to predict the size of the crushing waves. They covered a wast area of the river mouth and at some point it almost looked like we won’t be landing here. 
We stopped for a while, had a snack and contemplated what next. The wind pushed us slightly towards the shore, and we realised that it might not be as bad as it seemed at first sight. With our helmets on, we hopped through the breakers on the first sand bar and continued paddling in a surf zone, which was actually fun. I never thought I would be saying that. 

By the time we made it to the shore the lighthouse and hut were back firmly on land and the car was on the shore with two people going to fish in the river. 

As we really really don’t like camping on sand, we once again aimed for the shelter. The walk was only half hour this time, and the shelter was a lovely surprise. According to the display on the wall it was built as a store in 1920 when a motorised ship was being used to deliver goods to east coast.the store worked for twenty years before part of it was dismantled and moved somewhere else. Then it looked like it was serving as a life boat station. Nowadays it is still used as an emergency shelter, but also as a museum, so it had a flushing toilet. Marvellous. Only, we could get water into the toilet cistern but not in the tap, so no possibility for refilling our bags. 

DAY FOUR: 
We were aiming to the next lighthouse with a shelter, a last one before Vik. Blue sky, white clouds and grass covered dunes provided a fitting background for the calm sea. Not even the brown water coming out of yet another river could spoil this idyllic picture. This lasted exactly three hours, first the landscape changed to black sand and nothing else, then the head wind started. Now, crossing the river flows became more challenging, we couldn’t wait for the lighthouse to appear. It did at last, still, we were far away. The wind got stronger, we pushed harder. Yet, it kept staying some distance away. We crossed what we thought to be the last river mouth just before the lighthouse, and thought, that within an hour we would there. Half hour later, when we started to reverse rather than move forward and the sea was picking up threatening to make later landing more difficult, we gave up. And that was the night when we had to camp on the sand. Although we didn’t give up without the fight, as I wrote in the previous blog post.

BLACKEST BLACK SOUTH COAST

We have started our journey along the south coast few days ago. It has been a very interesting experience about which I will write later, as at the moment battery life in our devices is very limited. 
However it would be selfish not to share the latest experiences. We left Skaftarós, where we spent a night to continue west along the coast. The morning has been pleasant, green dunes and blue sky made the landscape look great. Three hours into the paddling the headwind started, as always a bit earlier than forecasted. We were aiming for the Stadarbót lighthouse, hoping to make it before the even stronger wind. Just as the lighthouse came into view the wind picked up more and the sea started to become lively. We had to cross the Mýmatangi point, a place where a huge river hits the sea. This changed the colour to brown and steepened the waves. We pushed on.   
Once we cleared the river flow, it became clear that we won’t make it to the lighthouse, which wasn’t getting any closer. It was time to land. We hopped through the surf and landed in some dumpers, but all good. With grassy dunes long gone, everything around was black, the sea, the sand.  

We checked our options, according to the weather forecast there didn’t seem to be any window long enough until next night. We decided to put the kayaks on some inland water and pull them along towards the lighthouse and the emergency shelter, sometimes we could walk on the shore and sometimes we had to wade in the water, some places it was up to our waist. The wind and current were making paddling impossible. We were hoping to be able to avoid camping in the sand storm like conditions. After about an hour we run aground, so took the kayaks out and decided to walk and see if we can make it to the lighthouse on foot. After another hour we saw that between us and the lighthouse is another big river, which isn’t on the map. We realised that we were on an island between two muddy glacial rivers and sea. Unfortunately no drinking water, and we only had few litres left. 

We returned to the kayaks and pitched the tent, in the wind everything including us was slowly turning black.

We were woken up by calmness in the morning. We had two forecasts both predicting strong winds in the early afternoon, one sooner than the other. We decided to wait for the night window. After late breakfast, is was still calm, we checked forecast again, the night window was gone. What now? 

After a while listening to the calm, we made a snap decision to go, to leave, to hopefully reach the lighthouse. This is very unusual for us, for we need time to plan, proceed and to commit, especially when conditions are difficult. But here, we were on the water, launched through the surf in one and half hour since making the decision. Kayaks were one hundred metres from the water serving as shelter for the tent, tent was up, stuff everywhere, everything covered in black. 

We marvelled at ourselves. 

It was calm on the sea, and we were toying with the idea of going beyond the lighthouse and committing ourselves for the push towards Vik. It took one hour to reach the lighthouse and paddle across the river mouth. In that time the waves coming from the sea got bigger suggesting it being windy somewhere close. We contemplated for a bit. What would we gain by continuing to paddle, what would we loose, and what would we be risking. We decided that if we continue, we may make it to civilisation, drinking water, comfort, but also we could loose a lot. If we were to land it would be somewhere nowhere in bigger conditions and no drinking water, and no escape option, and that only if we managed to land. If we land now here, we could get shelter, hopefully drinking water, and potential escape route via a dirt track. 

We landed through a surf again, already quite interesting. It took about three hours to get our stuff from kayaks to the shelter across a stream and lava field, we both had to go twice. 

The forecast for the next few days looks very unsettled. We have food for the next six days. After that, we will see what next. 

Höfn

We visited Höfn twice. First time as day tourists taking the courtesy of hitched cars. The second time we arrived at two in the morning after eight hours of hard paddling in soame challenging conditions. Those were not dangerous on their own. However the combination of swell from side, strong tail wind, low to no visibility and rain, and shore where landing wasn’t possible made the last two hours a slightly anxious ones. Nevertheless we reached the harbour and proceeded to paddle to the campsite. Our first visit was filled with sunshine, sightseeing, and visits to shop and pool. When we had enough we just simply walked away. The second visit proved to be more complicated. We could not reach the campsite being halted by shallow waters some half a mile before the site. Poof, went our dream of flat grass, dry toilets and access to washing machine. Where to now?

We decided to land in the harbour on a slipway as most of the Höfn natural areas have large non-camping signs. Then we pitched a tent across the road, behind an empty boat trailer, among the tire tracks hoping that no one would object, for we will be staying here more than one night. 

The rest of the night was rainy and windy, and full of hooting cars. They thought it was a great idea to beeb a horn when passing a tent at five in morning.

We got up with the idea that since it is a bit miserable and we were not in the most convenient spot maybe we could find ourselves a roof and a bed. As we began our search, we slowly realised where we are compare to where we have been. Everything was fully booked, including hotels with rooms for over 40 000 ISK (over £300). Wow, we were used to being almost the only guests so far. True, we had some signs of what’s going on on our first visit here, the shop was very well stocked, and full of people. People, who jump out of their cars quickly grab what they need and speed off. People on mission to see everything and take pictures of everything in the very limited time they have for it. We reached the tourist hive.
Sadly it looks like there are more tourists than Höfn is prepared to deal with. The tourist centre is glamorous, but to get information, e.g. accommodation, from the guys there, resulted in us being pointed to computer with internet. No public laundry, only wash machine was in the campsite, where they were only offering the service to customers. I have to say, in the end, after our insistent persuasion, and maybe because we stayed long enough, they kindly agreed. The pool was great, but no longer can one get complimentary coffee or have it by the hot tub.

We may look like tourists in our land clothes, but our time zone is even slower than local one. Slowly we realised how lucky we were so far, either it was due to the remoteness of places or pre tourist season, not sure.

East fjords

For one and half days have we enjoyed what the town of Neskaupstadur had to offer. For our needs it was more than enough. Firstly we were welcomed by Ari from local kayak club and were offered to stay in their building. It was an important stop for us, as Gudni kindly sent here a box with the few things that we could not fit in the boat in Reykjavik, mainly our last bottle, of whisky, the Laphroig. Once that is finished, we will be on our own. Other facilities in the town were the pool, the shop, the Vinbudin and a two cafes. In one short sentence: electricity, wifi, warm water, entertainment. Once the weather allowed us to paddle again we were off, the east fjords this time. We paddled for three days, and watched the road go by. It reminded me of someone having traced a hand on paper. Each headland being a finger. Only this hand had more than five fingers. I imagined the cars going up around and inside to go up and around again. Every time a car appeared at the corner of the headland, I sympathised with them for they must have looked what’s next and see the road on the other side of the fjord knowing that sooner of later, they would have to go on the other side. They had our sympathy, as every time we crossed a fjord and reached a headland, there was another one or two sticking out waiting for us. 

In the same time, we enjoyed the east fjords, we had all weather: rain, sun, fog, wind. The hills, peaks, and mountains looked different, colours ranged from green to grey, brown, cream, white and black. We paddled past islands and skerries, and landed on some. The swell was playfully breaking over the reefs around us making it harder to land, but inviting Michal to play. Sadly with fully loaded expedition boat he could not really. We’re hoping to be back one day. 

Although the headlands may have merged into one in our memory, one was more important than the others. The Gerpir has been the most eastern point of Iceland, and we have stayed in the bay of Sandvik in its shadow, in a very cosy emergency hut. 

The other outstanding memory would be, that we also got to use our VHF, well only me, but in a situation! We were crossing Rayðarfjord and could hear a boat from a distance. It was a rather large boat and was approaching fast. We thought is would be going straight out between the two island, one of each side of the fjord. We stopped with one of them behind us thinking that it would not go through that island. The boat was turning slightly, then it was aiming right at us approaching, as they do, quite fast. Feeling like the rabbit in front of headlights I reached for my radio hoping that it is working. Fortunately they heard us, said they could see us, and are only turning to go between the island and mainland. We calmed, and resumed our paddling further south. 

Paddling close to road has its benefits, as we landed close to a lighthouse on the east side of Lónsvík next to the Hvalnes lighthouse. Its proximity makes it probably one of the most visited here in Iceland by most of those circumnavigating via the Highway no. 1. 

For us it meant that since it was blowing strongly against us today, we could hitch hike to Höfn to go shopping, to the pool, and for electricity and coffee. As now, we have to be more strategic in our paddling in order to make it along the south coast safely. 

Norðausterland

It will be almost a week since we could finally leave Þorthöfn and start our journey along the Langanes peninsula. These past few days could be called the Five lighthouses challenge. The first one we had to negotiate was Fontur, situated at the tip of Langanes, some forty kilometres away. With not many places to land until the Skalar on the other side, we were facing a sixty five kilometres paddle. Most of it went as uneventful as it could be. The west side of the peninsula is one long shingle wall with occasional bouldery beach, which attracts big swell. The land did not look very inspiring to us, yet it used to be quite well populated with farms. We decided to deal with it as best as we could and crossed most of the bays until we reached Storkarl.
Here, the cliffs start and this place is one of the most significant nesting places for gannets in Iceland. We were very lucky to be able to visit this place some days earlier on our lang hitch hike sightseeing trip. I was ready to have photos taken by tourist on the viewing platform. Sadly there were none and us instead of posing we had to engage in bullet dodging. Gannets take no mercy. 

Fontur lighthouse is known to oversee a race called Langanesröst (overfalls). Yet again, we did not have much information apart from advice of taking it closer to the shore.

We approached the tip quite fast helped by tide and soon we could see a line of breaking waves on the outside and big wonderful green and white breaking waves on the inside at the foot of the cliff. Her we go, we thought, what will be going on, now. We approached with caution and tried to spot the best line through. Luckily there was no wind and so we could stay between the two places. The swell going over the race with clappoties generated by the cliffs made the sea to elevate us up rock us from side to side, drop us a little bit only to raise us higher and make us to descent right at the foot of the next hill. The light and foam created interesting patterns, but sadly, this was no place to faff with cameras. 

It took about twenty minutes to get through into the calmer waters round the corner. I could stop holding my breath, and try to prevent my muscles to turn into jelly, the tide was slightly against us now, and the last thing we wanted was to do it again.

We arrived to Skalar, a former fishing village, at midnight, exactly twelve hours after departure. The orange space ship like shaped emergency hut was a welcomed sight standing among the many ruins of this once very busy place. 

The next day, at six in the afternoon we left Skalar to pass on the next lighthouse, the Svartnes, on the east side of Bakkafloi and to continue towards Gullborg on the east of Vopnafjordur. As the evening approached everything went quiet, and soon we could hear something breathing and thumping, yet, we could not see anything. Sun hiding behind the wall of clouds over the peninsula behind us was heightening our senses more and more. Then, finally in among the waves we could see them, the dolphins a big pot of them. Soon they were everywhere around us, circling, changing directions, disappearing into distance, coming back again. Later they decided to show off some more, and started to jump up high for us to see them even better. The only hiccup was, they never stayed out of water long enough to get the best shot of them. Never mind. 

As we reached the beginning of Vopnafjordur my back made it clear to me that rather than crossing for another five hours, it’s time to land. Unfortunately the long wall of cliffs meant that could paddle almost the same distance looking for safe place to land as across, with only a chance to find something earlier. The pain won this time, and we decided that even if we land an hour earlier than if having crossed, it was worth the try. The first bay we found was opened to swell, and what looked like possibility of landing, quickly turned into fast paddle out to sea beyond the big breakers. However, here exactly in the moment of high alert and emotions, a whale appeared. It’s amazing that a situation, which until then, has been on a borderline of disaster with high effects on our well being, was suddenly turned. We have seen a whale!

We also found a place to land in a small break in the lower cliffs, sheltered from swell, and went to sleep at four in the morning.

The following afternoon we launched to reach the Gullborg lighthouse on Bjarnarey island between Vopnafjordur and Heradsfloi. We arrived at nine in the evening, the sun just lit the orange walls of the lighthouse for us. The sky was full of birds, the sea full of jumping fish. Then, we spotted it again, the whale. Gently sashaying through the water. We spent two hours in the sound watching the birds and the whale. It did not disappoint us and jumped higher twice to show of its huge white mouth. 

Then we had Herads’ bay to cross, six hours with fog on the land. It could get as inspiring as it sounds. The only distraction was provided by different waves patterns and water colour as we crossed over individual river flows from the giant glacier river Jokulsa á Brú. The next camp we found was just beyond the next lighthouse, Brimnes. 

This time we changed our routine and habit, instead of leaving at six in the afternoon having slept and a bit of rest, we left at four. Right after getting up and eating. We’re planning for a shorter leg with finish in six hours and maybe even sleeping during the night rather than in the morning. The headwind, that wasn’t meant to be that day, was there, ten minutes into paddling, and happily kept us company for the next six hours. We pushed until Glettingsnes lighthouse, which was still some ten kilometres before our intended destination. We decided to stop, to have a little rest in its shelter. The wind was buzzing in the tower as we ate, cold and tired, some snack among the dead flies on the floor. Then just as we contemplated whether we have enough energy and willpower to push or whether we will pitch a tent, the noise stopped. 

There was no wind as we emerged out of the building, the wind must have lost us. And so we decided to continue. At least to the next bay, which has an emergency shelter.

The fog descended as we rounded the lighthouse. What now? Well, it wasn’t windy, so we decided to practice some none visibility paddling. We knew that there are two places to land within the next ten kilometres, so were ok to take the risk. It was fine. We passed the first bay with the now non visible shelter, we approached the second bay, our original destination. We could now see the cliff, but not inside the bay, so we decided to carry on a little bit. Now we were out of the map, still in fog. 

The responsibility took over us, and we landed at the first possible place on the next headland. Beautiful place. We got the new map out of the hatch. Yes, we had a discussion in the morning whether to keep it handy and ready or not. We decided not to as we really only wanted to paddle to the previous bay of Húsavik, we wanted to finish by ten in the evening and have a night sleep.

The sea was calm, there was no wind, we had a map, the forecast for the next day was headwind. The fog was getting thinner, we could see outline of the next headland across Seyðisfjordur bay, it was only fourteen kilometres away. The decision of doing it now, in the calm or next day in the forecasted headwind was an easy one to make. With our speed we should be there by four in the morning. 

Fortunately east coast seems to have more significant tides than the north and so in two hours, we added another lighthouse, the Dalatangi, to our Five Lighthouse challenge, making it the sixth one. But when we came closer, there were two of them, a smaller white old one and a huge newer orange one. We, of course, have photos of none.