Today was another rainy day, and we didn't really have anything planned on our "must see" list. After a visit to the visitor information center in the West Fjords largest town, Ísafjörður, we came up with sort of a plan.
We drove up a mountain, had a wonderful buffet lunch, did another waterfall hike, and then camped at a remote farm.
Today was another day of overcast skies, on and off rain, and temperatures in the 50s (F). Our daytime temperatures thus far on our trip had ranged from about 8° - 13° Celsius which is about 46° - 55° Fahrenheit.
Here was our conclusion on the temperatures. If it was sunny out with little or no wind, 50°F felt like 60° - 65°F, but if it was sunny and windy, it felt more like 50° - 55°F. If it was cloudy, it felt like 40° - 50°, and if it was cloudy and windy, it felt more like 35° - 40°F. We always had on layers and were prepared for anything.
A tip we read (that was echoed by many) before our trip was to leave denim and cotton clothing at home. Rain gear, fleece, synthetic base layers and/or thermal underwear, wool socks, good hiking boots, gloves, knit or wool hat, and quick-drying pants and shirts were highly recommended and those recommendations were spot on.
Layers and quick-drying are key. Outside of Reykjavik, there are no laundromats. Some campgrounds have one washer and one dryer for 100 - 400 people, and the quality of the appliances was usually pretty low. Plus it cost anywhere from $4 - $8 per load to wash AND another $4 - $8 to dry. Yep, we paid $16 for one load of laundry at one campground.
You can hand wash your clothes, but then there is no place to hang them to dry. Campers used every available indoor space (very limited) in campgrounds to hang clothes, but they rarely got dry before they had to move on to another stop. If there were clotheslines outside, often it was raining or the clothes were just too wet to dry in a cold, damp breeze.
If you are packing light with limited clothes, keeping everything dry can be a challenge. But if you have two or three changes of clothes and are staying a week or less, it's not that big of a deal. We basically had three changes of clothes for a month, so laundry turned out to be much more of a pain than we expected.
Okay, enough of that. We drove the short distance into the town of Ísafjörður, and went to the visitor information center by the harbor. A small cruise ship was in port, so cruise passengers were also gathering information.
We waited until almost everyone was gone, and then asked questions. My primary focus was finding out more about Hornstrandir, the isolated nature reserve that is only accessible by boat.
Its isolation is what drew me in, and it was one of the reasons we schlepped our backpacking gear on this trip. To really do it right, a three to four night backpacking trip would be best.
You can do day-trips to Hornstrandir, but they are very expensive. Actually, all boat trips to and from Hornstrandir are pretty expensive. A guided day-tour runs about $350 - $450 per person, and just being dropped off runs $100 - $150 per person each way (depending on your drop-off and pick-up points).
And, after August 15, coordinating boat pick-up points becomes a bit of a logistical problem. Also, if you are backpacking, you have to be prepared for all kinds of weather and take more gear than you probably would on a normal summer weekend outing.
In the end, we straight-up asked "Can we see anything over there that we haven't already seen or will see in the West Fjords?" The nice fellow, looked around cautiously, because there is also a tour company housed in the same building, and whispered "Not really."
So, we decided to save our money on an excursion to Hornstrandir. I'd still like to do a multi-night backpacking trip there someday, but that will have to wait.
I also had the island of Vigur on my agenda, but I couldn't remember why. With the iffy weather, the cost of the boat ride over (around $200 for the two of us), and the fact that the population of puffins was already gone, we scratched that off our list as well. It seemed like perhaps the tour companies were over-selling Vigur with vigor (e.g. Iceland's only windmill, Europe's smallest post office, etc.).
Our helpful advisor (who also agreed with us regarding Vigur) gave us a few suggestions including Bolafjall Mountain (already in my plans) in the next village over, and the Valagil waterfall hike (not in my plans).
He also provided us three options for a meal. We decided to allow for one meal in a restaurant per week, and Ísafjörður seemed like a good place to do that for our first week.
So, off we went. We headed north out of town to the village of Bolungarvík and followed the signs to Bolafjall. We took a steep, curvy, gravel road (again, not for the faint-hearted) up the side of the mountain where we parked.
There is an old U.S. naval radar station on the mountain that has been turned over to the Icelandic Coast Guard.
Unfortunately, it was very cold and windy, and the fog rolled in so we had no view out to sea and across the fjord to Hornstrandir.
Undeterred, we walked a rougher gravel road around the other side of the radar station where we had this view down to Bolungarvík.
Bolafjall mountain sort of "caught" the fog on the north side so we had some good views on the south side.
After a few minutes up there, we went back down the scary, guardrail-less road as the rain began again.
The above photo was taken out my passenger side window with the edge of the cliff a little too close for comfort.
We proceeded back through a tunnel (two-lane) toward Ísafjörður.
By then, it was time for a nice, late lunch. We went to the highly recommended Tjöruhúsið.
It resembles a barn, and it's not fancy - our kind of place. The surprisingly small interior looks like a room where Viking sagas have been passed down for centuries.
Grab a seat cushion as you enter as those wooden benches get a little uncomfortable after a couple hours or so of enjoying your dining experience.
Inside, we found Daniel & Javier from Connecticut, who we had randomly met at the Reykjafjarðarlaug hot springs yesterday. They graciously allowed us to join them.
We had the lunch buffet which included a delicious fish soup (langoustine & halibut base), assorted side dishes, five different locally-sourced fish dishes, and homemade bread.
Dining out in Iceland is pricey, and this lunch cost us about $70, but it was the one restaurant meal in Iceland that was totally worth it.
If you don't like fish, go somewhere else, but if you are a fan of local, fresh fish prepared in a variety of ways, we can recommend Tjöruhúsið.
Oh, and for some light reading and insight into the Icelandic sense of humor, check out their Frequently Asked Questions. It's a hoot.
We said goodbye to our new friends, and left Ísafjörður to continue our journey around the West Fjords.
There was another tunnel (two-lane) between Ísafjörður and the village of Súðavík.
Súðavík is home to the Arctic Fox Centre where you are guaranteed to see Iceland's only native terrestrial mammal. The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is touted as the best place to maybe see them in the wild, but we had already resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably weren't going to observe a fox outside captivity.
Now, it seems every village and town has some little museum or attraction clawing for your tourist dollars, and some of them are really bizarre. But, those types of places just aren't our thing, so we won't be any help if you are looking for that type of information.
Past Súðavík, with a little sun peeking through, we drove toward a valley at the end of the fjord Álftafjörður.
We proceeded to a parking area with a sign we would interpret as a picnic site but which is referred to as a "lay-by". They weren't "picnic areas" by our definition, but they were a place to pull over and perhaps have a bite to eat at the single picnic table provided.
This was the parking area for the Valagil waterfall hike. Although there is no signage to that effect on the road, there is a small sign pointing the general direction once you have parked.
Valagil is a hidden waterfall in the gorge you can sort of see in the upper left of the photo above. According to the sign, it's 2k (1.2 miles) to get there.
Now, at the end of the valley, there is a huge, beautiful waterfall with a glacier above it.
That's NOT Valagil, and it's a LOT farther than 2k.
As you walk, it's really easy to get off the path as there are several foot paths and sheep paths that go through the soggy marshland. Some good waterproof boots are helpful.
If you keep your eyes open, you can find blue stakes that lead the way, although some have been broken or are missing. If you can follow them, your feet will stay a bit dryer.
There is also a small bridge in the middle of the field that provides a hint to the trail.
They wouldn't just put a wooden bridge out there for no reason, but did we go over it on our way out? No, we scrambled and hopped and backtracked through the mud until we eventually ran into some blue stakes.
You know you are in the right place when you come to a register with "Valagil" on it.
From there, we followed the river to a foot bridge, and the view of the hidden waterfall was just on the other side.
There were just a couple of others on this little hike, and it was well worth the jaunt, especially since the rain held off.
Here is a look over the foot bridge and the meadow out to the fjord in the distance.
Following the proper trail back made the walk quicker and a bit more enjoyable.
Back in the camper van, we continued on around Álftafjörður where there was an overlook on the point where the land separates Álftafjörður and Seyðisfjörður. We certainly had some nice views from there, and they would have been even more beautiful had there been less clouds and more sunshine.
Shortly after that stop, the rains came as we drove in and out and around three more fjords before heading back a gravel road to Heydalur, a farm, guesthouse, campground, and restaurant.
The grassy campground was soggy and there were numerous deep ruts, but we found a fairly dry spot to park.
Heydalur has three options for soaking. There is a natural hot springs pool, a man-made but natural-looking pool, and an indoor pool surrounded by tropical plants.
The natural pool, was a long walk and fully exposed to the elements - not good on the cold, rainy evening. We also heard reports that it was too hot to sit in for long. The temperatures of the natural hot springs tend to vary from day to day.
We elected to sit in this more convenient outdoor pool, which was perfect.
There was a little algae giving our skin that smooth feel, and the sandy bottom and clear water were nice for sitting and chatting with the three Swedish ladies that joined us.
But then it started raining again and our towels and clothes were getting wet, so we vacated and headed to the showers. The showers were not occupied (we were the only ones in the campground), so we were able to take our time. But, they were also a long way from our van, so we got pretty wet making that slippery little trek.
Thus ended Day 5 in Iceland. It wasn't as spectacular as the prior days, but we certainly enjoyed the day, and it was still beautiful even in less than ideal weather.
Day 5 Driving - 185k (115 miles)