Hornstrandir

Hornstrandir has been on my bucket list ever since I moved back to Iceland, and one overnight visit to Hesteyri a few summers ago didn´t really cut it. I wanted to hike Hornstrandir, with everything I needed on my back, sleep in a tent, meet some arctic foxes, and see the green cliffs rise straight out of the sea. My friend Gudny was down too, had a week off, and the weather forecast was perfect, so we set off in the plumber car to the westfjords, where we´d take 2 days to get to Isafjordur town.

Hellulaug

From highway 1, we turned towards Budardalur and picked up an Icelandic hitchhiker, and his dog Saga. We stopped for a bathe in Hellulaug, close to the Bjarnslaekur ferry port, before ending our day of driving at Reykjafjardalaug. There, we had another dip, made more Icelandic friends, and camped for the night in the plumber car.

Dynjandi waterfall

The following morning we stopped at Dynjandi waterfall, did some grocery shopping and ran some errands in Isafjordur town, and boarded the 17:00 shuttle boat to Aðalvík. Gúðny chatted up the captain while I napped, until we arrived at Sæbol and decided to jump off there and walk to Látrar (you can be dropped off there since both stops are considered part Adalvik). We expected 7 or 9 km of hiking along the shore, plenty of time when the sun doesn´t set til 11pm, but it was more like 16km, since hightide means you have to take the up-and-over route along one of the sea cliffs, and detour into the valley around one of the rivers thats only 2m wide at the coast but much too deep to wade (or swim). We camped at midnight, met the neighbourhood fox, after running into a local summer house family, who told us where best to wade the river inland, and slept like babies in our tiny Decathlon tent.

starting in Adalvik

Day 2 brought us from Látrar to Fljótavík, over a highland pass covered in fog. The visibility was barely enough to get us from signpost to signpost, or between piles of rocks in a field of rocks, so even though it was also a 16km day, it took us all day to finally arrive in the right fjord. Once we were down from the pass, we ran into another summerhouse tenant, who told us where we should wade if we wanted to get to the Atlastadir campground, but we decided to go inland to the more private Glúmsstadir campground. The ground was damp but the view was gorgeous, and we had the place to ourselves.

helping out the ranger with signposts

Day 3 was slightly longer, more than 17km, from Fljótavík to Hlöðuvík, and the highland pass was wet foggy this time. We got damp thru our clothes and used the emergency shelter to dry our shoes and socks whiles we played games of cards and drank our rations of alcohol. We saw another fox, atleast 5 other hikers, and slept on the beach in a sanddune with two other tents pitched.

bays like this were an everyday sight

Day 4 was another 17km roughly, from Hlöðuvík to Hornvík, the main show, but the low clouds didn´t show us much of the seacliffs when we first arrived. Instead, we were greeted by a welcoming committee of baby foxes, still too young and playful to even notice us, and remained completely distracted by them and their antics.

baby Arctic foxes

We did, however, notice that the one and only ranger of the whole Hornstrandir reserve park system was not in, which was incredibly unfortunate, or unlucky rather, since we would only be spending a night there and her house was connected to the only flushing toilets we´d see all week, which were also locked. The door on the outhouse had broken, and with atleast 14 other people there, it got weird real fast. But we still had running water, and our cards, so we could cook, eat and play, and by the time we were ready for bed after a short hike around the fjord, the clouds miraculously parted and Hornvík mountain appeared before us, in all its glory.

the breathtaking colours of the moss in the highland pass

Our last full day of hiking would be the highest climb, getting over the 519m pass between Hornvík and Veiðileysufjörður. It was approximately 16km, in scorching sunshine, and though there were patches of snow at the top, there wasn´t a breeze or a cloud in the sky, and we probably got even more burnt from the snow reflection. We were to meet the shuttle boat between 5 and 7 pm at the bottom of Veiðileysufjörður, which sailed us into Hesteyri and Grunavík before returning us to civilisation in Isafjorður. There we went straight to the house “Husid” and ordered something hot and freshly cooked – I think I got fish and chips – and green and healthy (vegetarian Gudny got some amazing greens and vegetables) and a pint of beer. Such basic food and alcohol has never tasted so good, but we filled our bellies and gorged the whole while thinking, “the weather is still so nice… shouldn’t we go back to Hornstrandir and stay there a bit longer?”

Checking out Hornstrandir

Spending an entire summer in Iceland on horseback is always fun, but its still work. During my vacation days, its fun to roadtrip or boattrip and camp in the highlands or fjords or by the seaside.

black sand beaches are a common sight in Hornstrandir

black sand beaches are a common sight in Hornstrandir

The Westfjords are a common destination in Iceland, especially for roadtrippers, hitchikers, and campers, but you’ve got to drop the car if you want to get to Hornstrandir.

the old whaling station at Hesteyri

the old whaling station at Hesteyri

Hornstrandir is one of the most remote parts of Iceland, the furthest north-western part of the country, uninhabited and road-less. You can only get there by ferry boats – most of them leave from Isafjörður and depending on the day of the week, can shuttle you to one 7 or 8 fjords in Hornstrandir. Some of them leave on you on the beach or just the side of a mountain, but other places with a little more infrastructure have boat docks, a few local summer houses owned by family descendants (from the days before 1960’s when Hornstrandir was still populated), campsites and outhouses.

Hesteyri fjord

Hesteyri fjord

We went to Hesteyri, which used to be a village of 80 Icelanders in the 1930’s complete with a mini-hospital and shop, but now the doctors house is a small hostel/hotel and cafe, and the shop has been turned into a private summerhouse. A few other remaining houses are also used by vacationing Icelanders, but the majority of backpackers and tourists that come set up in the camp site among the ruins of once-upon-a-time homes and yards. Fishing off the boat dock proved there’s still plenty to eat in the sea, and a sea-swim skinny dip brought the attention of at least one curious seal.

the boat dock at Hesteyri

the boat dock at Hesteyri

On the ferry rides between Isafjörður, we were lucky enough to sail in and out of 3 other fjords to pick up other hikers, and saw dozens of seals and even a pod of whales. We were on one of the last boats of the season, August 26, but the season doesn´t even start til early June.

camping without roughing it

camping without roughing it

To plan your own trip to Hornstrandir, check out West Tours for ferry boat schedules, or Borea Adventures for guided day trips (hiking, kayaking, or even skiing in the winter season!).