As I look back on this collection of photos from the summer of 2014, I wonder if I was really there, or if these places were just part of a dream. (disclaimer: the location place names and spellings are the best I can do, but I’m sure there are errors) My husband, Chip, & I joined 6 other photographers on a photo tour of the Highlands of Iceland. We camped, mostly in tents, but spent a few days in a “hut”. The hut, if you are familiar with the 10th Mountain Division Huts in Colorado, was similar, but had running water and hot showers. Or, sometimes they had hot showers. Sometimes they had tepid showers, and sometimes the running water, which was very cold, ran out. It was by no means “roughing it”. For those not familiar with the 10th Mountain Division Huts, this one was a 2-storied building with a large kitchen with several gas burners, sinks, plates, cups, silverware, pots & pans and several large rooms lined by 2 tiers of bunks. Each bunk was large enough for 2 people. The toilets and showers were in a separate building and there was a small cabin nearby for the warden. There was a large entry room for boots and coats. Sometimes tent campers would gather there to get out of the wind as use of the hut is reserved for those staying in the hut. There was a designated area outside for tents.
Our first stop in the Highlands was at Fjallabak Nature Reserve. The camping at the trailhead for Landmannalaugar was a tent ghetto in a boulderfield with the big commercial operators’ tents pitched one on top of another and weighted down with rocks, diesel fumes from the constant comings & goings of buses, trucks and other 4WD vehicles perfuming the camp, saved only by a hot spring in back. Instead, we camped 25 minutes away in a grassy meadow. Among the locations we went to were Rauofossar, Graenagil, Rauofossafjoll, Ljotipolli (Ugly Pool) & Grakolla. One day, we went to the Jokulheimer research station and the lakes/pools of Vatnaoldu. We saw a lot of spectacular water-filled craters, so many in fact, that at Laki, I chose a composition of a line of craters marching towards the glacier instead of yet another beautiful pool and missed the fantastic sunset colors as I was facing 90 degrees the other direction. After that, we were on the move, stopping at Fagrifoss and Laki before returning to our new camp by Kirkjubaejarklaustur aka Klaustur. then Svartifoss, the obligatory stop at Jokulsarlon (a paucity of icebergs and ice compared to winter time), and some lava fields covered in thick moss.
Daniel had said he’d awaken us at 4am to get sunrise pictures. I awoke shortly after 4, saw this sunrise and immediately panicked, thinking that I’d slept through the wake-up. I quickly dressed & went out, not knowing which of the look-alike tents was his. The van was still there. My rushing around awakened Chip, who, upon seeing I was gone from the tent also panicked, thinking we’d all left him behind. Nobody was stirring. Daniel had gotten up at 3am, seen it was all cloudy & went back to sleep, thinking there wouldn’t be a worthwhile sunrise. Chip & I hiked up the cliffs behind camp & watched the sunrise. It was a steep and soft enough cliff that I was glad to not have my heavy camera pack, but still wishing I knew where the lava fields were and that I could get to my camera gear that was locked away in the van. The next morning, Daniel got us up early to go to the lava fields and we were able to photograph the trolls who had turned to stone in the sunlight, then became covered in thick moss.
Finally, after numerous river crossings, we were in the Southern Highlands. One of the more amazing things about this place is that as remote & wild as it feels (only specialized 4WD vehicles are allowed on the roads), there is still cell phone reception of 3 bars to full coverage! And the moss: ranging from chartreuse to lime green, covering just about everything and providing shelter for other life. It seems strange, back home now, to see mountains that aren’t bright green.
We stayed in a hut at Hvanngil, which is along the popular hiking route Laugavegurinn stretching from Landmannalaugar to Thórsmörk. This picture is from up the valley above the hut. We went to a basalt gorge with waterfalls down iron oxide streaks called Markarfjotsgljufur, then stopped at the glacially carved valley Utigonguhofoar for sunset, returning to our bunks for a short sleep before arising to catch the next sunrise. Our last sunset was at a peak above the next camp down, where we were treated to long-lasting spectacular skies. As I was scouting for my perch, some Americans warned me, “oh, you don’t want to go over there, there’s nothing there”. “There” was where I found a great spot with compositions on 3 sides.
Many thanks to Daniel for making this trip possible. Though he repeatedly said, “I’m just the bus driver”, he was was much more than that, though he did put in many long hours on gravel and paved roads. He was our guide, taking us to these special places, meteorologist, cook and shepherd. He loves the backcountry and is a responsible steward for the land. He educated us to some of the problems Iceland is facing with the increased tourism, but decrease in funds going to the infrastructure to support it, the problems with tourists driving across the fragile landscape as that’s their idea of the highly promoted “off-road driving”. He assists hapless drivers, stuck in the snow in winter, or broken down on the “F’ roads without a second thought. Daniel is a very special person and I count myself very fortunate to have been able to travel with him.