June 5, 2011

Iceland - 14 miles across the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in a storm

This is an edited excerpt from a journal I kept. This post is from the section on Iceland, where I lived and taught for about two months. The story here is from a trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on a long weekend.

September, Actual Dates Unknown

While I was teaching at the NATO base in Keflavik I took a trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It is a mountainous peninsula that juts westward into the sea. At the tip is Snæfellsjökull. Actually this is Mt. Snæfells, but to distinguish it from two others with the same name it’s referred to by the glacier on it (jökull means glacier in Icelandic). This is the mountain that was used by Jules Verne in "Journey to the Center of the Earth". There was a little fresh snow on the mountains, and it was a very beautiful day when I arrived.





The trip began with a bus ride to the town of Stykkishólmur on the northern shore of the peninsula. It is a center for commerce and services for the area, which is why there was a bus to it. Despite being a commerce center most people make a living fishing.

After looking around Stykkishólmur I hitch-hiked west along the northern shore of the peninsula to Ólafsvík, a smaller fishing village north of Snæfellsjökull. All the roads were gravel and dirt, even the main ones. The country’s main road going around the perimeter of Iceland is almost entirely unpaved.

The next day I wanted to climb the glacier, but it was very windy. I decided to walk up the road which crosses the mountains east of the glacier- a 4wd jeep road. I got a ride up and out of town a ways and started walking from there. The gentleman who gave me a ride emphasized that it was ill advised to go any further, but being a stubborn and determined person I figured I start out and see how it went.

The winds were from north to south, which was to my back. As I started up it wasn't too bad, but as I continued towards the pass it got more and more windy, with lots of blowing snow. There wasn't a lot of snow, but what there was drifted onto the road.

At some point it became evident that I could no longer return to Ólafsvík because the wind was too strong to travel into, and I could only follow the road by going marker to marker (posts). Fortunately I had adequate clothing and food for the journey, although whether I had enough for any problems or emergencies is debatable.

I was going to stop at an emergency shelter that was marked on a map just to get out of the wind and eat some food. There was no vegetation of any kind or any natural shelter, it was all very bleak and harsh. The marked shelter was off toward the glacier's edge, and in these conditions it ended up being too hard to look for it since it required walking across the wind. At this point the only option was to travel with the wind, so I continued toward Arnarstapi (sometimes just called Stapi) on the south shore with it to my back.

As the route approaches the southern side of the peninsula it descends along a mountain called Stapafell. The wind is channeled right through this area. The wind was really howling as it wrapped around Stapafell - it was quite a sound! At one point I had a hat in my pocket with only its very top protruding and the wind ripped it out of the pocket and carried it away before I fully realized what happened.

There was a stretch in this area where I could hardly stand, but then I was out of the worst of the wind. I arrived at the main road none the worse for wear.

Upon reaching the main road I encountered what may have been the worst part - I had to walk along the road into the wind. After a while, I got a ride from a couple with a baby in a jeep. They took me down the road to a farmhouse which rents unmade beds - a "sleepingbag place". These are the best deal in Iceland. An older couple lived there.

The man at the farmhouse was supposed to go out that day with some others to round up sheep but they didn't because of the wind. They ended up losing some sheep which were blown right off the steep slopes. The couple was surprised, and perhaps just a bit impressed, that I had just walked over from Ólafsvík. As far as I can tell in retrospect it’s a journey of about 14 miles.

I stayed at the farmhouse 2 nights. The next day was still very windy and I read and rested, and on the following day I walked down to the coast, which was very nice. In the evening I sat up talking or watching TV with the woman, who had a bottomless thermos of coffee. It may be the most coffee I’ve ever had at one sitting in my life. I guess it’s the long winters with long nights.

The second afternoon I waited by the road to flag down the daily bus to Reykjavik. I’m pretty sure I did what you’re supposed to, and why else would I be by the road? But the driver didn't stop. In fact he didn't even slow down! I ended up hitchhiking and the second car stopped and gave me a ride all the way to Reykjavik. Given the remoteness and the very limited traffic most drivers are willing to stop and give somebody a ride. (Unless they’re driving a bus I guess!)

Posted 8 years, 2 months ago on June 5, 2011
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