90 Days: Iceland The First Campaign

Pre trip: I have been driving myself crazy trying to plan for all the things I will need for the next three months, and nothing more. This is what I came up with:

Everything I am planning to wear, carry, and use during the next three months.

Everything I am planning to wear, carry, and use during the next three months.

Including camera gear, clothes, and personal items it all packs down into one backpack, and a camera holster I strap to my chest. 

Expect nothing!
— Peter Mattiessen

Day One: We land in Keflavik the airport that is twenty minutes outside the capital of Reykjavik. I sleep maybe one hour on the plane. After landing we pick up a rental car, it is a manual and I haven't driven stick in ten years. It's a little rough but I get through the whole trip without incident. After picking up some supplies we drive onto Glymurfoss, the second tallest waterfall in Iceland. The names are amazingly convoluted, but are very logical. Example any word ending in -foss is a waterfall, so despite some of the twenty consonant words with sounds that sound like hiccups and the wind. Icelandic has an elegance to it.

We make plans to camp at the top, but fortunately find out before hand that we bought the wrong fuel canisters. I welcome any mistakes that we can learn from, it would have been miserable to carry all our gear to the top only to find that we can't cook any of our dried food. Despite my sleep deprivation I enjoy the hike, and find the scenery unbelievably majestic. 

The trail to the top goes over a river, which normally includes a log bridge. Due to the ice flows, the log is removed during the winter. At the time of our visit it had not been replaced. This left the option of wading through the glacial melt water, or climb like a sloth across the wire. 


Glymurfoss: 198m tall, looking over the edge is both breathtaking and terrifying. 

Despite my assorted travels I am not a natural adventurer, proof of this can be seen in how I approach the edge of the falls in a dignified crawl.

Trying to look dignified while crawling.

After spending a few hours hiking, and exploring and eventually drove onto Akranes. Exhausted we setup camp, and go to sleep. I wake up at 11:30 to check the sky and I see a faint moving green glow across the sky. This is the first time I have ever seen the Aurora Borealis, it was hard to see, but on the first night I saw what we went to see. I stayed out watching the dull green blobs make their way across the sky until I started shivering. It took me a good half hour to warm up back inside the tent, I was not looking forward to going out until after sunrise. About 1am I woke up again, finally warm and comfortable. I lay in bed for a good ten minutes debating whether I would take my arm out of my sleeping bag to unzip the tent flap just to look outside. I almost went back to sleep, finally I reasoned that this may be the one time in my life I get to see the Northern Lights like this. So finally I told myself there may be something I have only one chance in my life to see on the otherside of  my tent flap, all I have to do is unzip the side to look out.

That did it I finally looked outside and the sky had totally changed, the lights were alive, brightly snaking across the sky. I scrambled out of bed and set up my cameras. I spent a good half hour watching the lights, and shooting time lapse series of the sky. It was amazing, just like I had seen in pictures. Looking back that was the only night where I could see the lights. Every night it had any chance of being clear I woke up a couple times to check the sky during the darkest parts of the night. I look back thinking how mad I would have been at myself for staying inside my sleeping bag. I did go outside until I shivered, and I did see one of the most amazing natural phenomenon. When given the chance to leave your comfort zone, but stay in your safety zone I can only say do it. My experience was momentary cold, I literally stepped out of my comfort zone to see the Northern Lights. During the whole experience I was completely in my safety zone, uncomfortable but safe can be a good sign. It shows your are striving.

Northern Lights: If I chose the momentary comfort of my warm sleeping bag I would have missed my one chance to see the Lights on my trip. It literally required me to step out of my comfort zone.

Northern Lights: If I chose the momentary comfort of my warm sleeping bag I would have missed my one chance to see the Lights on my trip. It literally required me to step out of my comfort zone.

Day 2: Had to drive back to Reykjavik to buy the right fuel canisters so we could cook. Took up a good part of the day,, but the drive was beautiful. We ended up camping at Olafsvik Og Naerumhverfi, these name are getting rediculously complex.

Day 3: Spending 24/7 together can be trying, but we are really enjoying our time together. We wake up and go on a random hike up the cliff around the town of Olafsvik Og Naerumhverfi. The town is literally surrounded by waterfalls, and rainbows. This hike was not even on our to do list, but it was absolutely beautiful. Our philosophy of planning as we go is working well, we miss hiking the mountain Jules Verne made famous in Journey to the Center of the Earth, mount Snaelfels, 

Day 4: We stay in tent waiting for the early rain to stop, later in the morning we drive down a dirt road looking for seals, but only find Icelandic horses. Amazingly hearty animals, by time we reached them the rain had turned to snow, and the wind was cold and painful. The horses didn't have a care in the world. 

Waterfall near Klugljufur. The wind is picking up, but it is still amazing to see. It is too windy for a tripod to be useful so I make due getting what I can.

It is supposed to be the end of the Icelandic winter, so at first we only think the snow is going to be some passing flurries. It proceeds to worsen throughout the day, I am regretting out limited access to weather reports when we find ourselves in whiteout conditions going through the mountains. Living in upstate NY has served me well. We drive on for 4-5 hours crawling along through the mountains. The good news is since we are unable to camp tonight we get to have a hot shower! It helps me relax after my white knuckle driving through the mountains. The worst part is there are hardly any guard rails in Iceland, but we make it without incident. I started writing down things I am grateful for in my journal at night. Tonight I am grateful for making it through the storm, arriving safe at our hotel.

Day 5: Drive onto Krafla, an amazingly surreal landscape set in the middle of a lava field covered in snow covered moss. We arrive I am exhausted, but we still manage to go for a hike up a nearby slope. Almost no one around it feels like being north of the wall in Game of Thrones. It is such a pristine pure landscape. Due to lack of maps we do not find the lava fields that Lindsey wants to find. I promise here we will come back some day when there is no snow.

Being quite chilled, and stressed from the journey in the renewed winter we head to a geothermal spa, at Jarobodin Nature Baths. From what we hear it is just as great an experience as the famous Blue Lagoon, but without the tourist hordes. Despite the pungent sulfur aroma, the water is amazingly soothing. While in the pool we watch the thermometer drop form -4 degrees Celsius to -5. It only added to the experience. Highly recommended.

Day 6: We wake up in Krafla, a few minutes drive is the Grjotagja Cave. Made famous by the John Snow, and Ygritte sex scene. The pictures do not do it justice, it was an experience climbing through. Being the off season we are the only ones there for a good half hour giving us time to explore and take pictures without interference.

Grjotagja Cave: Made famous in Game of Thrones by John Snow and Ygritte

All over during our drive we see geothermal power plants, and weird little stations like the dome below. It looks like what the future was supposed to look like imagined 50 years ago.

Geothermal power is everywhere

Day 7: Snow finally subsides, we hike to Hengifoss, and see some happy animals. In particular we manage to see a small herd of reindeer. For the first time I wish I had one of those bazooka wildlife lenses, I just can't get close enough to them. I had fun watching them. 

Day 8: Woke up in Hofn, went on to see two glacial lagoons, Jokusarlon and Fiallsjokul. Owing to it being the off season our experience was amazing. There were so few people around, we could enjoy the view undisturbed. 

Jokusarlon Glacial Lagoon: The tour guides call the pieces of glacial ice "Ice Sculptures", much of it is clear as glass. 

Jokusarlon Glacial Lagoon: The tour guides call the pieces of glacial ice "Ice Sculptures", much of it is clear as glass. 

Fiallsjokul Glacial Lagoon: We were the only two people there for over an hour. We could not believe how lucky we were to see this without being surrounded by tourists.

Day 9: Woke up at a campsite in Kirkjubaejarklaustur. We had it all to ourselves, it was nice and quiet. The waterfall in the back of the campsite was amazing. I couldn't believe no one else was there. The off season is the best season... unless there is a blizzard. 

Camping at Kirkjubaejarklaustur: We had it all to ourselves.

Camping at Kirkjubaejarklaustur: We had it all to ourselves.

This was the backdrop to our campsite!

In search of puffins we hiked up to the top of the cliffs at Reynisdrangar. The top was covered in rolling grass fields. There was nothing in particular that stood out as photogenic about the top, but the experience of walking across it was unique. Lindsey thought it felt like one of her video games. The wind was ridiculous on the top, and we literally crawled to look over the edge so we wouldn't lose our balance. We saw no puffins, only seagulls.

The Cliffs of Reynisdrangar

Top of the Cliffs at Reynisdrangar overlooking the sea stacks

Day 10: We are exhausted, waking up at Skogafoss one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. I checked for the Northern lights last night, but no luck. Quite a few of us were hoping to see the lights over the falls. But no luck. We drive back to Reykjavik stopping to see the original geyser called Geysir. Supposedly all other geysers are named after this one. It was really cool to see. We have seen so much we are lacking the same enthusiasm that we started with. We are planning a rest day in Manchester to prepare for our trip to the Lake District. I am looking forward to being in the same place for two nights.

Geysir: The original geyser, supposedly this is where the name of all other geysers come from.

Reflecting on Iceland: The whole trip I kept thinking of a quote I read in The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, His Zen teacher after telling him how amazing a journey to Tibet would be, he instructed Matthiessen to "Expect nothing". This was our mantra on our trip, focusing on all the things we didn't get to see would have made the trip feel like a failure, repeating "Expect nothing" would remind us to stay in the moment, and let life happen. Every time we started planning what the future had in store for us we would tell each other "Expect nothing". I am trying to figure out what the correct phrase to balance this is. I have tried accept everything, embrace this moment, and other variations trying to say this is where you are right now, you can be no where else so enjoy this moment for all it has for you. I just can't sum that up in a concise phrase. As we leave Iceland I have the feeling that it is time to head home, but our journey is just starting. I went through a sufficient digital detox, my mind feels clearer than it has in quite some time. It is still hard for me to believe that this is only the beginning. 

P.S. I am working on some simple immersive VR experiences captured from our trip. If you would like to be among the first to know be sure to sign up for the mailing list. I will send out 1 email a week maximum, and from time to time give out a few goodies for only the mailing list people. More to come soon!