A TRIP A AROUND ICELAND.
In MARCH 2017 I traveled to Iceland to drive the ring road around the entire coastline of Iceland and collect images to contribute to my double exposure project (still in process). Myself and my friend Mat spent a month driving around Iceland where we slept in a tent, in caves, in abandoned buildings and even a rescue hut.
The journey started in the capital city Reykjavik where we spent the weekend exploring the city by foot and bus. This is where I realized camping wasn’t going to be easy, even inside the city we struggled with the cold wind.
After exploring the city and realizing the Reykjavik nightlife was financially crippling we decided to pick up the little 4×4 and head out toward the mountains I spotted from the plane on the way in, the ones peering at us across the bay. This took us South into a national park where the snow was still thick and the dirt roads were dotted with Volcanos.
It was much colder than we expected and we were worried that we were unprepared to face the first night in the outdoors. It felt as if the sun never really went down but the temperature decided to drop quickly later into the night.
A call was made to take shelter in a rescue hut along a hiking trail in the mountains. These huts are dotted around Iceland, placed on remote hikes, on the coastline and on high mountain roads, anywhere where one would likely get into trouble. These huts were once maintained with beds, blankets, cooking utensils and heating equipment as they were vital for successful search and rescue situations. Today with wider cellphone coverage and online maps these are less maintained as problems have become less frequent. These are emergency huts and are only to be used in cases of emergency, we understood this and felt it to be a lot safer of an option then sleeping in our tent outside. We moved into the hut to get out of the cold, without a thermometer we realized it took around 25 minutes for a 2 litre water to completely freeze over inside the hut. A little panicky we got up and decided to move around outside the hut to get the blood flowing. Mat started a small fire inside a mobile camping container and tried to cook some chicken but to no avail due to the cold. We still ate it though. I was walking around trying to get some pictures when we noticed the aurora above us. We didn’t even take a picture as this was something we had never experienced before, we just stood and gazed up in complete quiet. It came and went, the rest of the night was spent second guessing if it was back or if it was just our imaginations.
We awoke to a world of white, the sun was shining through the failing snow. We walked back to the car and started our journey much wiser. It was right at the change of season when all the ice begins to melt causing thousands of waterfalls to form as the water runs toward the sea. After heading through the national park and dirt roads outside of Reykjavik we joined up with the main road and made some ground heading South where we detoured every chance we had.
Sleeping in a tent at the foot of one of the worlds most famous waterfalls was definitely a highlight. We spent the night drinking whiskey with one of our very few neighbors and exploring the waterfall by torch, where mat ended up spraining his ankle on a rock at the base of the waterfall. Captured in the photo below;
Mat walked through the pain and we walked up river to get some pictures in the morning.
Driving through Iceland made us realize that we had no idea about the landscape and there was always something to surprise us around every turn. The landscape had already changed from snow to green moss to fields of brown grass and now we were experiencing the black rocks and sand that made up a very desert like scene on the long windy walk to the DC3 Plane wreckage. The plane has been been resting in Solheimasandur since 1973 since a US Navy Pilot brought it down due to some severe icing or an issue with the fuel tank depending on who you speak to. Either way it makes for a pretty dramatic scene surrounded by nothing but a black desert.
Now this is where the weather started to turn on us. The over an hour walk back to the car was spent hiding our faces from sand that was being blown up at us. The clouds rolled in and the sun disappeared. We made our way along the ocean roads toward the viewpoint that made me want to photograph Iceland in the first place. I had seen pictures of people standing looking down onto a black beach that looked like it went on forever. The weather was really bad and we both debated leaving the safety of the car.
Eventually we tried. I chose some film out of the plastic dividers, loaded the camera in the front seat of the car as the rain started to belt down. We couldn’t even see through the windscreen anymore. But we had made up our minds. Mat got out and I followed and started to shoot quickly as I got up to the viewpoint, I then realized there was fog appearing in what i thought was my viewfinder. Not too concerned I carried on until I couldn’t see anymore. Mat had already gapped it back to the car. I returned to the car, dropped off my Mamiya film camera and picked up my Fuji digital to try capture the view I was hoping to see.
After struggling to keep the camera dry and walking around in the rain for about half an hour we came to our senses and carefully continued along some small roads toward a beach on the other side of the mountain and at that the sun came out! We were in one of the prettiest places I had ever seen in some of the best weather, even our clothes were starting to dry as we walked the beach.
This is where everything could of gone very wrong. This is where I had a taste of the Icelandic sea.
We got to the end of the beach and ended up running to beat the encroaching waves and climbing onto some rocks to get a good view around the corner of the beach where some alien looking pillars were pointing out of the ocean as the waves crashed violently against them. We had previously read a warning sign by where we had parked the car kilometers down the beach about ‘sneaker waves’, and thought nothing of it. Until now. Mat ran first and quickly climbed up onto the rocks, I followed quickly behind him and realized how fast the waves came in and disappeared again. This made me unsettled while taking pictures up on the rocks. After I was happy with a shot I decided I would wait for a opening between waves and climb down the rock and run back to the side of the beach we came from. I don’t think I waited long enough and as I got down to the bottom of the rock I ran and got hit by a wave from behind. The next thing I did was swim, with my Nikon D800 camera and a Nikon 24-70mm lens. When I got out the first thing I did was take out the battery and look at my camera, in the hopes the weather-seal. There was water pouring out of the lens mount. Mat then came around the corner very dry, looking like he’d taken a slow stroll from the rocks.
We drove through the bad weather for a few days and a few nights sleeping in the tent at any appropriate place we could find when we were tired of driving. We arrived at Skaftafell at night. Skaftafell was a camping area just before what looked like a giant glacier on the map. The next day was raining and we decided to go try walk on the glacier. We didn’t get very far. We ended up walking along the melting ice and tried climbing onto a few pieces.
Drove further East around the bottom of the glacier, visited many waterfalls, went on a few short hikes and camped.
We started getting used to the cold.
All of our clothes were eventually wet. Luckily a petrol station that sold hotdogs also sold bright orange water resistant overalls and gumboots which made us more weather resistant than ever, especially Mat.
There are roads in Iceland called F-roads which are 4×4 only accessible roads, sometimes not accessible at all. We hadn’t been on one yet, so tonight was the night. We looked at our map and decided we would try camp inland toward some mountain peaks we could see on the map. We were taking turns to drive day by day, today was my day. We turned down the F980. It seemed a fairly comfortable dirt road at first. We crossed one river, which wasn’t very deep and then another and another, with Mat occasionally getting out and guiding me in the rain. This went on for what felt like hours. After passing a few waterfalls and many rivers, we were in a riverbed where we were navigating in and around small rivers. Eventually arriving at a river where I said “there is no way we are going in there!”. Mat got out and contemplated it’s depth. Much to my relief, we turned around. This was good news, until we realized we had no idea where we had come from. It was raining and the clouds were thick, it was another very dark night. I started to panic and mat kept his cool and decided he would get us out of there. I gladly handed over the wheel to him. I couple meters into our journey back, we both heard a loud pop and woosh. Our tyre had popped.
Already panicky, I wanted to change the tyre and keep finding our way out of the riverbed. In my head, it was raining, the glacier was melting, the rivers were filling up and there we were stuck and lost between the rivers which surely became one big one when full. Mat thought it was better to hold tight and wait for morning. I was not happy with this, so I went for a walk. Mat started a fire and attempted to dry his feet. I walked and found where we had come from, but had no idea how to navigate the car there. So I had to join Mat at the fire. I even placed bottles on the rocks next to the water around us, so I could check how fast the water was rising. It never did.
We woke up in the car, which was a lot colder than the tent we were used to. The weather was still horrible but we could see exactly where we had come from and getting back was easy. The spare tyre was on the car and we were on the road again. We stopped briefly to admire where we had slept the night.
Today we reached the East of Iceland and started heading North. Something we had spoken about a lot in our many days together. We didn’t know what to expect from the North. Was it colder? Was it campable at this time of year? We hadn’t seen any campers since Skogafoss in the South.
The roads were quiet and we were racing up the East Coast without a spare.
Still stopping and hiking up as many waterfalls as we could.
There was now snow surrounding the roads. We even got stuck for about an hour having to dig ourselves out with our breakfast bowls. We tried to stick to the coastline but unfortunately bad weather had caused snow to block a piece of road. Detouring inland wasn’t much better.
The weather got worse and it got a lot colder. It was now snowing and visibility was bad. We were crawling North and things were looking bleak. Then as we summited the sun came out for the first time in days.
Exploring the snow in sunlight was a very different experience, we built snowmen, rolled giant balls of snow down the hill and even walked over frozen rivers and waterfalls. We boiled hotdogs in the snow and headed back toward the East Coast.
It was Sunday and we were in a small fishing town looking for a spare winter tyre for our ride or die. The first person we asked said there was nothing open on a Sunday but two minutes later he was back, on the phone with his friend. We followed him to his friends workshop where a man not speaking much English fitted another second hand tyre and we were off on the road again.
We were finally in the North and it was nothing like what we had been afraid of. The weather was the best we had experienced, the roads were great and it was the most secluded we had felt on the whole trip so far. It was nearing sunset at 1:20am when we passed a waterfall leading into the ocean. After taking some photos we walked down a black beach where we found a long cave.
This is where we decided to spend the night.
The North quickly became a favorite for views and short walks by ourselves, especially since we had been in the car together and sleeping in the same tent for the better half of the month.
The winding mountain roads slowed us down and we often ended up driving well into the next day. With the good weather it never got that dark, so our sleeping patterns were abnormal.
At this stage into the journey my film camera was living in a plastic bag and would make an appearance once in a while as there was still water in it. My digital Nikon D800 that took a swim with me was still sitting in rice but I realized it was never coming back.
The weather would turn on every hike and I started shooting less and less. Once in a while there was something that I couldn’t believe was real and I would be walking through the rain with my little Fuji x100 camera.
Iceland is dotted with volcanos that dwarf you as you drive between them. The rich colours of the volcanic rock range between dark black to red, to even purple. We were lucky enough to hike up one where we could see our car scaled between another red giant.
Typical Iceland, around the next bend everything changes. The red volcanic rocks have turned to fields of vibrant green spongy moss that cover jagged rocks for the next few kilometers.
We hadn’t bathed for a while since the hot springs were scarce this side of the island. This is when a great swimming opportunity came about. We came across what looked like a volcano crater, we were unsure of what it really was but the water was crystal clear. It felt hot in the sun, so there we were stripping to our underwear. Mat counted us in and we both dived in. As I came up I screamed and turned back. Mat made it about half way before swimming back as fast as he could. I was in shock that something could be that cold and was starting to think that there was something in the water that was making my delicates hurt. It was just that cold. We lay on the rocks and soaked up the scenery for a short while before changing back into our thermals.
The best part of the journey was we hadn’t planned anything. So when we arrived at popular photographic locations we were always excited and shocked we had just stumbled across them.
The black church was one of these locations. We had seen many churches throughout Iceland with some of the most breathtaking backdrops. The black church was the one I really wanted to see and photograph, there it was about two days before the end of our journey.
The last night before heading back to Reykjavik we treated ourselves to a night in an abandoned house near some hot water springs. The morning was spent enjoying the springs and washing the long trip off of us with hot sulphur water straight from the ground.
Seeing Iceland like this will always be one of the most life changing experiences I have ever had. I wouldn’t change a thing and long the day I am back there.