“Go where you feel most alive.”
After our first of two summer road trips, we settled into a fantastic Airbnb just one block over from the center of Reykjavik nightlife and restaurants. We were located at the end of Laugavegur Street.
During our three days in the city, we did laundry, replenished our hiking food supply, bought Crystal a new pair of hiking shoes, the Laugavegur Trail had destroyed her previous pair, and enjoyed wonderful restaurants, Sæta svínið became our favorite place from dining.
The food at Sæta Svínið was a welcome respite from the freeze-dried meals of the trail and the road trip hotdogs that had become part of our traveling menu.
Hornstrandir is in North-Western Iceland and is the Northernmost section of the Westfjords. There are no roads within the reserve, and aircraft need special permits to land there. Step one is to get to Ísafjörður. We are used to flying Dash 8 aircraft to our island home in Alaska, but if you have not been aboard one of these fantastic aircraft be prepared for loud, and if the weather is blowing it will be a slip-sliding approach to landing.
Booking a place to stay was a bit confusing. Using google maps I kept coming back to the same page. In the end, I ended up using Booking. com. I have had bad experiences with booking . com before so I was a bit gunshy, but everything worked out well. We stayed at a hotel annex before heading out, and at the hostel after the hike. What I discovered is that nearly all of the accommodations in Ísafjörður are run by the same company and the hotel at the center of town is where you check-in for at least three of the major accommodations.
Before catching our boat to the reserve we bought a fresh supply of stove fuel, you can't fly with it, rented an emergency beacon, stopped at the Hornstrandir Visitors Center for current trail conditions and a quality map, and then enjoy a flight of beer from the local microbrewery, Dokkan brugghús.
We opted to start the Journey at Veiðileysufjörður and finish at Hesteyri. There are a number of different options and routes. The advantage of ending at Hesteyri is that there are some limited services there, and there are more frequent ferry options for returning.
When we arrived at the end of the fjord we expected 4 other individuals to be getting off the boat with us. We explained this to the zodiac driver and he insisted it was just the two of us. After being dropped onshore we watched as the boat loaded the zodiac and began leaving the bay it was a strange sensation to be totally alone. As we considered the weight of that idea the boat circled back, put the zodiac back in, and brought the other travelers ashore. They had not understood that we were at their place of disembarkment. We set up camp for the night, had some diner, and settled in for the night.
Day 1 Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík Bay
The next morning the weather looked fair in the bay, but we could tell we would be hiking into the clouds. The first couple of miles were a muddy mess. Fortunately, the rain wasn't too bad until our descent on the other side. We headed out confidently for Hornvík Bay and the Höfn campsite where we would spend the next two nights.
Cairns make great trail markers except for those areas where the steep snowpack tears them down each year.
There is a cairn in the upper left of this photo.
Once we reached the clouds for the next two hours of climbing, I took very few pictures. We were focused on navigating. We used the Alltrails app and followed the trail markers the best we could. With visibility significantly less than 100 meters at times, we had to work slowly and methodically to stay on the path. As we approached the summit we encountered a snowfield that had evidence of a trail on both sides. We opted for the right and began our final push up the steep slope. In the places that the snowfield had recently receded from the soil was loose and the boulders and rocks were unstable. We had to make sure that at no time we were climbing below each other as the constant foot slides dislodged rocks and sent them tumbling down. As we neared the top of the snowfield the Alltrails app seemed to indicate that we needed to continue straight ahead, the problem was the hiker who had recorded this route had gone on the left side of the snowfield, and we were on the right. During the next ten minutes of disorientation, I shimmied onto a rock ledge seeking signs of the trail, and Crystal moved up and left finding herself on unstable ground. Virtually at the same time we both sad, "I'm stuck" I added, "I'm scared".
Our next step was to do what we should have done 10 minutes prior. Stop, and reorientate. We did, I slid off of the rock ledge, rejoined Crystal and we determined that we needed to follow the top of the snowfield to the left. Within minutes of this decision, we spotted the extra-large cairn that marked the pass.
When we reached the cairn we got our the Jet Boil, made some coffee, and enjoyed a Snickers bar. Both of us were really rattled from the predicament we had gotten into. Hornstrandir is true wilderness.
We were glad to see traditional trail markers again as we approached the campsite.
Day 2 The Horn
This was a fantastic day hike. It was so nice to come back to our tent already set up and to be just hiking with daypacks. This peninsula is what hooks most people into coming here, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook images of this place hook you in and get you saying I have to see that.
Now if you get to the horn on a day like that you will see this:
Our arrival at the horn however looked like this:
While we didn't see the horn, we did see sights like this, waterfowl, seals and wildflowers.
And experiences like this:
And before the night was through we were treated to this:
Day 3 Hornvík Bay to Hlöðuvík
This was a butt kicking day with some steep ascents, descents, unstable trails, and a rope-assisted beach head crossing.
Lunch stop, the sky was constantly changing.
There are a few emergency shelters located at campsites.
Day 4 Hlöðuvík Bay to Hesteyri
Our final day was glorious
For the hike out we could see the pass the whole way. This is a different route than our first day.
The final snowfield
The old doctor's house is available for lodging and offers some food options.
The boat ride back was about 4 hours. We were the first pick up of many remote locations that needed ferry service.
Hornstrandir is a unique place on the planet. If you do not have backcountry experience I would certainly recommend one of the guided trips. Be prepared for any weather conditions, have a good tent, and plan for the possibility of an extra day or two if the weather prevents your boat from arriving on time.