Friday, July 31, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

From Norðurfjorður...

My time in Norðurfjorður turned into a 3 day experience waiting out fog, rain, and wind. It was made all the better on Sunday, July 5 when in the early evening of my 2nd day, following a 5-10 minute conversation about kayaking, a complete stranger invited me to dinner at his aunt´s house. "Yes. I´d love to - Thank you. What´s your name?" "Geir." "Nice to meet you. I´m Margaret." "That´s my aunt´s name." (The second woman with whom I spend any decent time with in Iceland and they are both named Margaret.)

We had salmon they had personally caught in the fjord the day before! (and potatoes and salad) and then ice cream! (I swear the ice cream in Iceland is creamier than most of that in the States.) (Can you tell, for those of you who don´t know me, that I am a bit obsessed with food? This is true on a regular basis (Feel free to ask anyone who´s eaten more than two meals with me...), but of course this appreciation is enhanced when on a venture such as this and when my regular diet consists of pasta, pasta, and pasta. I also eat meticulously, extremely slowly, and a lot... Let me just say right now, thank you to all the Icelanders who have tolerated me continuing to sit at their kitchen/dining room table long after everyone else is done and for allowing me to nearly eat them out of house and home.)

Dinner was full of wonderful conversation and really my first in depth exchange about how life is and was in Iceland and what the possible future holds. Afterwards, Geir drove me around a little giving me a personal tour, including a rock that had traveled here from Greenland on ice flows, a site where witches were burned in a narrow passage between steep rocks leading out to sea, edible plants and flowers, and lots of personal family history as his extremely large extended family has very deep roots in the area. The next day I was invited to dinner again (Thank you!) and Gier and I played soccer (yay!) and again went driving, but this time on my first real 4x4 Icelandic jeep track experience. Road surfaces vary greatly in Iceland and the West Fjords have a reputation for particularly bad roads. Nearly everyone in Iceland that I´ve seen also has 4x4 capabilities and are fearless in where they go. There are no obstacles! Land, rivers, sidewalks... Iceland doesn´t need any amusement parks because a simple drive can turn into a roller coaster ride or, as this road was, one of those rides where they jerk you around, the seat moving in 8 different directions. And occassionally there are cliffs on one side and sea on the other and many, many waterfalls along the way, creating both scenery and drama. How do you turn around on a one lane track like this!?! Very, very carefully... And luckily we didn´t meet any cars coming from the opposite direction.

Tuesday, July 7, I once again set out by kayak, my sights set on the tip of the Skagi peninsula, a 40-50km crossing. There was hardly any wind and the sky was an ever changing Rennaisance painting. As I neared land, I somehow felt like I was in a different country. I had left the mountainous region of the West Fjords, found lower lying land, but a coastline of cliffs and rocky beaches that looked like they were nearly vertical. They looked like impossible places to land. The basalt formations and various rock gardens provided endless variation. It was along here that I had one of my more extensive encounters with animals. (They´ve been surprisingly and disappointingly very limited.) I saw as many as 7-8 seal heads peeking out at me at a time and they would follow me and pop up here and there, splashing as they went. Of course the camera failed! (It often simply decides to not turn on and most of the time that it does turn on (not very often), one touch of the zoom button and it turns off. Very, very frustrating, Pentax W60!)

I made it across approximately 10 miles of land at the tip of the peninsula and saw no good place to land. It had been a very full day of paddling and there was another crossing of 20+ miles ahead or the option of turning south into Skagafjorður. But would I have better landing opportunities in either direction, I could not tell from my map. I was for the first time in really unknown territory where nobody had told me anything about the land or what to expect. Luckily after I turned around the tip of lighthouse at Skagata, there was a small lagoon hiding behind some rocks and some flat greenery. Lots of rocks and a far reaching low tide required that I wade 60-80 meters to pull Tiger to land.

I awoke the next morning unable to see across the small lagoon, unable to see the lighthouse, unable to see much of anything because of... the dense fog. And here I had just waited 3 days in Njordurfjordur partly to avoid fog. Forget it! I´m paddling! (I also have more room for error because the Trollskagi peninsula juts further north.) Three minutes from launching and I cannot see land. I´m in a bubble with water on all sides and repeatedly find it incredible that I have no sense of direction whatsoever. With no reference point at all, I could look to my left or right, face forward in the direction which I thought I was headed and be 60 degrees off from where I thought I was. This is also where I learned how valuable it is to have a kayaking compass. I´m traveling with only a mountaineering compass which is 2 feet in front of me in my chart case. With a kayaking compass I can usually stay within 5 degrees easily. Here, I was all over the place, concentrating immensely, and finding it difficult to stay within 10 or even 20 degrees. It´s one thing to use this in an emergency situation, but if you choose to paddle in fog, it´s worth spending the extra money on a compass meant for kayaking!

All in all, this was a very odd day. I had the fog with me the majority of the day, but I also had a patch of blue sky directly above me for most of the day. About an hour away from land, suddenly from 60-80 meters away, a black and white bird (unseen by me before) perpendicular to me comes sqauking and charging at me out of the fog, flapping it´s wings, nearly walking on the water. No other birds in sight. Then it continued to follow me and squak around. It would dive for 10-30 seconds and continue the harrassment upon surfacing. Very bizarre. I´m far from land, nowhere near eggs. Eider ducks and their young run away and "duck" into the water. And for the last few weeks I´ve been paddling by thousands of birds and most of them take no notice of me and let me get 5-10 feet away before diving or flying away. Not too long after this, I see my first dolphins! Two-three swim across my bow. Then I see my first dead bird just floating there fully intact in the water. And then less dramatic, but more of this black and white bird behavior, but now I am able to see more of them and it does look like they are concerned about their young. Another dead bird...

Then the wind started to pick up. But it remained foggy. Stronger wind and from the side. What!? Really difficult to keep my heading while I keep getting weather cocked despite my constant full sweep on one side and the tiring edge (no skeg help)... Then I finally see land. And the blue patch that´s been following above my head starts to grow. I realize the land is an island, Malmey, and I´m farther south than I want to be. The bay continues to clear, I can see the magnificent scenery, and it looks like it´s going to be a gorgeous afternoon and evening. I adjust my heading, set out for a new point and after an hour, things are disappearing again. Please point, don´t you too disappear... The endless tease... Everything but that point disappears again and I thankfully have more visibility than that morning to find a camping spot around the lighthouse at Sraumnes.

The next day was clear and a much shorter paddler to Siglufjorður. I stopped there because I was curious to see the place and I was greatly craving ice cream. When I arrived around 6:30pm, I hadn´t been paddling very long and there wasn´t much wind so I was in debate about whether I continue paddling that evening or wait till the morning. Within minutes of landing, a truck pulls up and an Icelander greets me. A paddler from Reykjavik with a summer/winter house in the fjord, he saw me paddle by his house and drove down to the beach to meet me. He says I can use the internet at his house and drives me to the supermarket. At his house I am introduced to his familly and invited to stay for pizza! A look at the forecast tells me the wind is not scheduled to pick up until Saturday so I decide I'll depart in the morning and enjoy wonderful company while eating pizza for hours on end.

I depart Friday morning in no wind and there is little throughout the day. My camping spot is Rauðunafir, meaning red bay, a beautiful beach with red cliffs on one side and a waterfall on the other. Saturday morning the wind has picked up and is an unfortunate north wind during my crossing straight east to Husavik. This bay has so many whales that many whale watching trips from Husavik guarantee you´ll see a whale. Someone I met later who went on one of these trips said he literally saw hundreds of whales. I had two sitings of one. And I saw another dolphin cross my bow. That´s it!! I haven´t seen anymore whales since (except the one that ended up on my plate - a different story...) It took me a surprisingly long time to get to the harbor at Husavik because of the cross wind, but I found a spot at the end of the sand beach where I hoped I could stash the kayak for a few days. A look around town, an ice cream cone, a shower and hottub dip at the pool, and I realize I´m eager to begin my inland journey. It´s also an absolutely beautiful day, the sun is shining, and it´s warm enough that I can wear a tank top. Yay for it being warmer and drier in the north! (The North and East are supposed to have the best weather in the country.) I pack up and that evening I´m walking the main road out of town north, hoping to catch a ride to Asbyrgi, the northern tip of Jokulsargljufur National Park.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

From Isafjordur...

pic: my sights on the most southwestern point of Hornstrandir (Grænahlið)

So I did end up in Isafjordur... It was a beautiful, easy, early evening paddle there Saturday, June 27 from Sudureyri. There is a quite fascinating naturally existing L shaped sandspit in Skutulsfjordur on which the town of Isafjordur sits. It is extremely sheltered (making it nearly an ideal place to learn to kayak.) And the place, although the largest settlement in the West Fjords, is quite charming and intimate and feels full of history and culture. I spent my day off on Sunday meandering (and eating lots of ice cream.) It was a rare warm, beautiful day with a shining sun and blue skies! Dori, the kayaker I was hoping to meet, was scheduled to return from his sailing weekend around 8pm. I met him at the sailboat docks and saw three sailboats (all with kayaks on their decks) return from their weekend together and was greatly amused when they rearranged other 40-50ft sailboats by pulling on lines so that they could double dock. What a beautiful small community, everyone knowing everyone, that you can simply crawl over others' boats and move them around and that's okay.
Dori is one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met and seems to have good reason to be so with the life he has in Isafjordur. The place is a little magical haven of sorts. There´s hiking and sailing and waterskiing and pool time galore for kayakers, the beauty of paddling in the West Fjords and along Hornstrandir, and a challenging tidal race a 1-2 hours drive away. In the winter, there´s great skiing right in their back yard. The kayaking club is quite large for a town of under 3000 people, is full of beautiful boats, and is in the process of renovating their large space after an unfortunate fire that happened last? year.

Dori invited me to join them all for dinner and this was where I had one of the best meals I´ve had in Iceland, one I will never forget. There was one group pan of catfish and one group pan of haddock?.. Both were delicious, but I was blown away by the catfish. And of course, as I did my standard - MUST GET EVERY LAST BITE - cleanup of the pan, they made amused comments in Icelandic and said that they would bring me some more. I didn´t think they were serious or maybe I thought they would just bring a small piece of fish, but they brought a very full individualized pan of catfish with all the fixings to me. These words escape my mouth at very few moments throughout my life, but I was full. All this beautiful food and I am full to the brim! I ask if I can take it to go. They shake their heads. Can i take the pan with me to my tent 400 meters away, eat the food for breakfast and return the pan? They found a plastic salad container. So thank you, thank you to Orn for the most fabulous dinner and breakfast combination I´ve had in my life. The company all around was great as well, I got some information about caves and rivers and landing spots, and Dori made sure I got the weather and a proper send off on Monday morning.

My crossing to Hornstrandir had very little wind, but once I made it past the first point it was clear I wasn´t going to make it as far as I intended. I ended up in Fljotavik for the night and camped in Hornvik the next night. Tuesday´s paddling was in some rain and quite a bit of cloud cover so I wasn´t able to see much scenery.

On Wednesday, I hiked above the also famous bird cliffs of Hornbjarg and the weather began to clear allowing me to see across the bay and creating an enjoyable day.
(Yes - this picture --> is the
I also was finally able to start a fire that evening with some of the abundant driftwood from Siberia that can be found on much of the north coast. (I had tried the night before and failed miserably, probably a combination of my poor fire making skills, damp wood, and too much wind.) It was particularly appreciated this evening because it was a little windy, making it just a bit chillier, and I was packing for my first night paddle (the paddlers of Isafjordur insisted this was the best time to paddle, especially around the cliffs, because of the light) with a scheduled launch of 11pm. The 24 hours of daylight are fantastic and allows one to easily extend a day of kayaking or hiking without the concern of dark descending, but... The sun does dip a bit and there is a few degrees change in temperature. Not a big deal for most Icelanders, but for me... it´s significant. So I added a layer of clothing, soaked in some heat from the fire, and set off on an absolutely gorgeous, calm paddle where I was warm the entire time. Around 5am I was in Reykjarfjorður with a warm rising sun, I slept very well, and by 2:30 I was headed towards Drangajokull, the glacier that I previously mentioned.

The next night, I arrived in Krossnes/Nordurfjorður, about which I´ve previously written.


Since I last posted, I have passed the northern most point of mainland Iceland, 1.5 miles from the Arctic Circle, completed the north coast and am now in Iceland´s most eastern town, Neskaupstaður. So much to say... where to start...? and once again I am finding it difficult to make time to blog, not due to limited internet access for once, but due to an extremely welcoming and hospitable community with whom I am very much enjoying socializing.

I am in a bit of heaven right now. Upon my arrival on Sunday, Ari, head of the kayaking club here in the east, opened the clubhouse for me to sleep with a roof over my head and within minutes, another club member stopped by (not knowing of my arrival) and brought me to his house for a shower and abundant food (dinner with his family of 7.) Then Ari invited me on a family vacation day for a drive through the mountains and past Lögurinn, Iceland´s most wooded area, and Egilsstaðir, a major town in the crossroads of the East Fjords, to a newly built incredibly impressive dam and reservoir. It is great fun driving on these rollercoaster roads and seeing a little bit of the sights inland. It´s been unusually cold here and indeed, we encountered falling snow in the highlands.
Back in Neskaupstaður and the unending rain I seemed to have brought with me, Ari was concerned about the clubhouse (which is somewhat of a construction site at present) roof leaking and suggested I stay in their guesthouse. I said I would first check inside to see if I would in fact be rained on through the night, and within a few minutes, Ari´s parents came walking by and invited me to sleep in their home. Hence the 5 star accomodation! since Monday night - a warm bed (with a down comforter!), bathrooms with heated floors, a beautiful warm cozy home with huge windows looking out onto the fjord and a very green landscaped backyard and garden. (There seem to be a lot of trees all over Neskaupstaður - a very uncommon sight in my Icelandic travels.) I am also treated to endless delicious food (I think I´m beginning to gain back some of the weight I´ve lost), warm tea, and wonderful company. And then - further practicalities... I´ve done laundry!!! I´m wearing clean clothes and have easy access to showers, drying space for gear, and internet. I truly feel like I´m living in luxury and am incredibly greatful.

My main concern on Tuesday was the boat. I´ve tolerated slow, small leaks in the front and back hatches and the cockpit more or less since the beginning of the trip, but the last week of paddling took discomforts to another level. My day hatch started to leak and for the last 3-4 paddling days, the cockpit was collecting 3-4 inches every hour. Very good air conditioning. Not so fun in this climate.
Boat repair is not my strong point. I filled the boat with water to try and find the leaks, the main one being an obvious hole about the diameter of the wire of a standard metal hanger. The rain made any other leaks impossible for me to detect. I was a little in dismay to find that the hole was under the seat and the seat is fiberglassed into the boat. It seemed like the best repair would be from the inside, but removing and possibly replacing the seat is beyond me. I decided I would try 2-3 layers of fiberglass on the outside and lots of gelcoat to try to make it as smooth as possible.. As I was sanding, Ari came by and arranged for another club member, their main repair guy, 40-50km away, to come and take a look.
Oskar to the rescue! 4pm Tuesday afternoon, a full assessment of work on the entire boat, "you want to leave Thursday?", full of smiles, "No problem!" A brief stop at Ari´s for coffee and Oskar was off to get supplies. By 11pm we were back at Ari´s for homemade cake, Oskar having dremeled out spider cracks in the gelcoat of the deck of the boat as well as conducting a careful search (by headlamp) for other weaknesses in the boat, prepared and dried all problem areas, and filled them with P40, a compound with which I was unfamiliar. Perhaps this is a common filler in the U.S., as it if often used on cars, but it is a thick paste/gel (the consistency of skyr as Icelanders would say) with bits of fiber in it. Oskar used no fiberglass cloth on the boat. The epoxy in my repair kit would never have been sufficient alone and it would have taken 2-3 days for my layers of fiberglass and gelcoat to cure enough to be suitable to paddle. The P40 was nearly dry last night and by noon today, Oskar had sanded all spots and covered a significant portion of the boat in gelcoat. Throughout it all, Ari was helping and addressing skeg problems (removing a lodged stone that had defeated me, and realligning/supporting the skeg cable which had slightly kinked, etc.) The boat is going to be in better condition than when I left Reykjavik! I am eternally indebted.

And now of course, I don´t think I´ll be ready to leave on Thursday. Tiger will be ready! (Thank you!) But I still have small bits here and there, and lots of blog to catch up on, and I am very tired, having slept little in the past few days due to all the excitement. Thursday will be 4 weeks from my scheduled return flight to New York and there´s so much to see and do on the south coast! Time´s a tickin´... I am once again getting jazzed for the rest of the journey. The last couple weeks got much more difficult, whether it be the weather, the specific places I was traveling, the accumulation of time, or simply my own psychology. I will try to blog in sections as I know my passages tend to get wordy and very long.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Leaving Husavik

I arrived in Husavik on Saturday, July 11 and left to travel inland for a few days, thinking when I returned I would take a day to update the blog, etc. Well, the day turned into an unfortunate, but necessary attention to practical matters at home and I am confronted with a very narrow window to avoid some wind. Thus, my plan is to leave at 3 or 4am Friday, July 17. My next major stop will be Neskauptadur where I promise I will take time to catch you up (from Isafjordur!), hopefully download some pictures (I´ve been having some camera problems, folks! I apologize.), and take a much needed rest. (This hiking thing gets tiring!) I anticipate that that will be in 7-10 days. Generally, things continue to go well and this country never ceases to fascinate. Soon...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A beautiful day waiting out wind

Hello from Nordurfjordur!

I am using someone´s personal computer to write this, so I do not feel like I have the luxury of time with a computer. He runs the one and only cafe here in this very small place that as far as I can tell consists of a small harbour, 2 gas pumps outside a small store selling various items, including random food items (a pineapple!... a COSTCO sized Cheerios box...), and would be the one place I could post a letter, Kaffi Nordurfjordur (where I now sit), and literally a handful of unidentified, boxy buildings where rumor has it there´s a guest house and probably people live. I am camped 4km to the north (Krossnes) where there is an outdoor swimming pool (with nothing else) meters above the ocean. This is my second day here as the fog yesterday was so intense that for the majority of the day I could not see more than 100-200 meters in front of me. Yesterday was also very wet and I spent nearly 5 hours in this cafe sampling the menu and writing letters. Now the sun is shining (yay!) and I can see to the other side of the fjord!, but wind predictions for my 40km crossing include possibly 50mph winds... something I do not wish to encounter. Thank goodness for weather forecasts (Thank you Karel!) because otherwise I would certainly be paddling right now. So this is me playing conservatively.
On Friday, it was very foggy as well. Of course the good thing about fog is typically no wind. This may be a bit confusing if you look at a map because there are two (at least) Reykjafjordurs (There are several repeated names around Iceland and many of them are not very far from each other.) On Friday afternoon, I was at the Reykjafordur just above Drangajokull (the glacier to which I hiked on Thursday), and set out in some fog that I was hoping would clear. It lifted a little for a bit, enought to get around the first major headland, but then descended for good. As it was evening, there was no cahnce a hot sun was going to burn this off (like it did this morning, early afternoon.) I made it around Drangaskord and was confronted with either following the shore line and adding quite a bit of paddling to my trip or cutting across blindly to Veturmyrarnes, the next point, a mini'crossing of 10-12 km. I decided to try out my navigational skills. Of course, I knew that a sharp right ('Keep Iceland On Your Right') would bring me sooner or later to land. So I set my course and made time predictions about when I may see things (like possibly the island in the middle of the crossing.) An hour passes and no sign of the island. Hmnnn.... About half an hour to an hour before I expected to hit land (the mainland), out of nowhere I see land and see that it has a lighthouse on it. I erred! Several degrees too far to the east which brought me to an island (Saelusker) north (and slightly east) of Veturmyrarnes. Lucky, lucky that island/lighthouse was/is there! Otherwise I would have been paddling for a MUCH longer time and possibly MUCH farther into Hunafloi than I hoped to go. - not so conservative (but still playing it very safe I promise you all.)

Wind doesn´t look so great for paddling for awhile. I don´t think I will launch again until tomorrow (Monday evening), which sets me back from my plans of being in Husavik by Wednesday. So be it. Husavik is my next big destination that I expect to catch up on laundry, email, and then go off for several days a little into the interior. I am very much looking forward to visiting Jokulsargljufur National Park, the canyon there and Dettifoss, Europe´s largest waterfall.

So what´s this about hiking to a glacier! (I cannot find the question mark on this keyboard.)
Utterly thrilling I say (about the hike to the glacier.) Much of the hike was along the flow and debris from the galcier river, flat and fairly easy going. As some of this is swamp area though, I kept heading to rockier areas and ended up doing quite a bit of scrambling over and across rock... and waterfalls! There were so many water outlets from melting snow above in the surrounding mountains and there were some particularly stunning ones from the rock formations underneath them. (My favorite traveled down several stone steps.) When I reached the mouth of the galcier I found it a bit mesmerizing staring at the river pouring out from underneath this massive ice. Imaginings of how this got here and created this surrounding earth... Imaginings of what was happening in and underneath that ice... It´s power...!
Of course I wanted to climb on to the galcier, so I took a turn to the right to create some distance from the unstable mouth and headed for the deep snow covering to the side. This involved quite a bit of rock scrambling, which I enjoyed immensely and soon I found myself on the snow. And there in the snow were more waterfalls coming out from under the snow and disappearing again into the snow. Incredible!
I always have a strong inner draw to see what´s around the corner or over the next peak. Just a little further to see what´s there... So I climbed the snow hoping to see over the next bit and across the miles of glacier. I found myself losing sense of distance and thinking things were much closer than they were. It´s very tempting to cross the whole glacier. I got to a point where I could see I had crested the bit what I thought was a top of sorts, saw a little down into a valley on the side, but soon realized that the top was an illusion I would not reach quickly or easily. (Regardless, as a side note... though there were higher peaks around me, there was still some wild sensation of being on top of the world...!) When I decided to turn around, instead of scrambling down all that rock that I climbed earlier, I decided to stick with the snow for a bit. When I got what seemed close enough to the mouth, I found myself in a fairly steep incline back to bare land. Oh if only I had a sled!! I slid/skidded standing on my feet for 200-300 meters. Exhilerating!! What a unique experience... I cannot say that this was the most stunning or beautiful scenery I have encountered in my life, but there was something very special about this hike that will make it something I will always remember.