Kjolur: Riding across Iceland

100 horses in line

100 horses in line

One of oldest trails in Iceland is the one that goes from the north of Iceland to the southwest, where the national Assembly was held every year just outside of Reykjavik. It was the trip hundreds of powerful rulers, sheepherders, tradesmen and post men traveled across over the last 1000 years, with the help of their faithful horses, and it took them atleast 3 days to cross, sometimes a whole week. There were many unbridged rivers, icy glaciers, and stormy weather to deal with, but the journey was always made. Nowadays there’s a gravel road, passable even by little 2-wheel-drive hatchbacks, a lot of bridges, and heated huts along the way, and Ishester does the trip north and south in 6 days on horse back.

Kjolur

Kjolur

We follow the road sometimes, since there’s alot of wet lands, lava fields and rivers we also need to use bridges to cross. But then we also follow the thousand-year old trails that have been worn down and multiplied all along the way. We stay at the mountain huts, sometimes alone without electricity or showers, and sometimes we share the popular huts with dozens of other hikers and jeep-riders. We try to not run into another horse group, even though there are others that do the same trail, since sorting out two herds of 100+ horses each is hard to do if we cross paths on the way.

big river crossing

big river crossing

Ironically enough, it was my first time riding Kjolur too, even though I was the guide for the 2 biggest groups Ive ever ridden with. The group north was 21 guests and 10 staff, so we crammed 32 and a half people (there was also a 1 year old baby with the cook) into each and every hut for dinner, sleeping and breakfast every day. The group south was even bigger, but between all those people, we were lucky enough to have great riders and one heck of a party both ways.

trails and trails

trails and trails

The trip starts at Kjoastadir farm, with some 100 horses, and makes its way up between two glaciers. The third day is the longest, and we ride through a famous green-valley oasis that used to house many-a outlaws, and is still home to some sheep, elves and trolls. One of the biggest highlights of the tour is the third night, when we stay at Hveravellir, a natural geothermal area with a pool-sized hottub surrounded by steaming pools and more green valleys. We managed to fit more than 30 people inside at once, and it does wonders to your body after 3 days of riding. The trip continues north towards Maelifell mountain, and we finally wind our way down into Skagafjordur valley, also known as the horse capital of Iceland.

Hveravellir pool

Hveravellir pool

If you want to join us next year, check out the tour on Ishestar’s website.

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Northern Exposure around Mývatn

There is a lake in Iceland affectionately called Mývatn, which literally translates to ´lake of the midges,´or a.k.a annoying-fly-lake. But, if its rainy and windy, the midges have a hard time flying, and we actually looked forward to cold and wet weather. It was storming like crazy all around the rest of Iceland, especially the south coast where the national horse competition Landsmót had been cancelled for 2 and a half days out of 6… But somehow, we managed to get the best weather in Iceland, with mostly sun and clear skies, and of course a few midges.

good weather over the desert highland

good weather over the desert highland

We were riding with Halldór and his horses from Bjarnastaðir, and most of the staff were related to him except me. It was his first time operating the tour and my first time guiding the tour, so we had a blast going back and forth trying to decide who had to decide what and when and where and how. We couldn´t have asked for a better group of guests, they were all great riders and super patient, so even though they were riding a herd of horses still kicking with spring fever, and we weren´t getting home until late every evening but waking up early every morning, they never stopped smiling and laughing.

Jarðböðin, the Mývatn nature baths

Jarðböðin, the Mývatn nature baths

The trip wasn´t just a riding trip, but also a sight-seeing trip of the area around Mývatn. We soaked in the luxurious Mývatn Nature baths, the blue lagoon of the north, and also some local swimming pools. We checked out the funny lava formations at Dimmuborgir and the caves at Grjotagja, the waterfalls Dettifoss and Hafragilsfoss, the red cliffs at Hljodaklettar and the horse-shoe shaped Asbyrgi canyon.

Halldór infront of Hljóðklettar

Halldór infront of Hljóðklettar

We learned lots about birdlife and wanted to go whale watching, but our luck with good weather finally ran out on the last day as our whale-watching tour from Husavik got cancelled due to stormy seas. We opted to go to the Whale Museum instead, so atleast we got to see some pictures and bones of whales, but then our flight also got cancelled and we have to take an impromptu roadtrip to Akureyri to catch another flight out that afternoon.

the horses liked playing in the puddles

the horses liked playing in the puddles

In the end we all made it back to Reykjavik in one piece, except for one poor guest who had her collar bone in two pieces. We tried to expand our group by picking up the two captains, but they didnt fall for it so me and a couple girls capped the night off with a drink together before saying goodbye.