Photo Highlights: A Summer of Riding in Iceland

the calm before the storm - an empty sheep coral waits for the round up to arrive in Oxafjordur, Iceland

the calm before the storm – an empty sheep coral waits for the round up to arrive in Oxafjordur, Iceland

After 7 week-long tours and 2 sheep round up weekends, my summer of riding in Iceland has come to an end. It’s a bittersweet moment, since my butt and back are surely happy to not spend another hour in the saddle, but as soon as the last ride is over, I already start to miss the horses.

the lose herd is one of Iceland's signature horse tour characteristics

the lose herd is one of Iceland’s signature horse tour characteristics

Here are a few photos from a summer of riding Kjölur, Mývatn, The Golden Circle, Þveráhlíð and Melrakkasletta.

a rider poses over Jökulsá á fjöllum glacier river

a rider poses over Jökulsá á fjöllum glacier river

If you´re looking to book a riding tour in Iceland next summer, check out Ishestar´s long list of short and long tours on offer (some are even available all year round!).

Heading into Mývatnssveit

Heading into Mývatnssveit

Other operators that I´d also highly recommend are Exploring Iceland, Riding Iceland, and Hestasport in Skagafjordur, North Iceland.

my second Kjölur group

my second Kjölur group under Langjökull glacier

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Photo Highlight: the Lonely Trails of Melrakkasletta

The north-eastern most part of Iceland is an isolated peninsula called Melrakkasletta. It doesn’t have mountains or fjords, but it has a lonely Heath full of moss and sheep and not much else. It seems as if more farms there are abandoned than inhabited, and riding there felt like we had risen into the clouds.  

the lonely trails of Melrakkasletta


If you’d like to ride here next year, check out Halldór’s tours with Ishestar

 

Ishestar: Kjölur

Kjolur is old and often traveled route across Iceland. Its a highland pass between two glaciers that makes it possibly to go from the south to the north in a couple hundred kilometres. It´s always fun to take the first Kjolur ride of the season, because sometimes the road hasn´t opened yet since its a dirt road only open during the summer. In the winter it gets buried under metres of snow, and the only way across is by snowmobile. We had our first tour start June 21 this year, and there was still metres of snow.

so much snow

so much snow

There were just a few sections that were impassable, but it wasn´t such a problem to take 20 riders and our herd of 100 horses accross or around the snow. The real problem was our chef who had to follow in the jeep with our trailer full of luggage and food. By the second day into the trip, the tractors working 24/7 had managed to clear some snow. But by the fourth day when we really had to keep going, we passed the tractors, still shoveling away, and somehow so did the keep.

It was a 6 day ride across Kjolur with 19 happy Europeans and not a drop of rain, and we all came home with sun-kissed noses and suitcases full of warm clothes we didnt have to use since it hit 20°c almost every day. Hopefully that luck carries on in the next weeks, and some of that snow might finally be gone in time for trip number two.

Power of Creation

riding past the Unicorn mountain

riding past the Unicorn mountain

Fjallabak

Fjallabak

There’s an area of Iceland between the glaciers called ‘Fjallabak,’ or ‘the mountainside,’ which may or may not be the most beautiful trail I’ve ever ridden in Iceland. It rides past the infamous Eyjafjallajokull and the Laki craters, a volcanic lava field created in an eruption 250 years ago. I may be a bit biased, since we had perfect, sunny weather the entire 6 days, but any or all visibility you could have were stunning, breath-taking views. There are glaciers and mountains in all directions, sand deserts, lava rock fields, yellow mountains, green moss and water galore. We saw beautiful waterfalls on our first day, rode over grassy fields at sunset on our second day, and through volcanic canyons on our third day.

Hundafoss

Hundafoss

The fourth day we went exploring some vegetated valleys, and found an old sheep-round up hut built of turf and stone. Then we went to the top of a mountain, for a 360 degree view of countless mountain peaks and 3 big glaciers. We could see all the way from Eyjafjallajokull to Landmanalaugar, sitting just above the Thorsmork nature park. Our last 2 days rode us past a unicorn mountain and back into the farm lands, to Birna and Kiddi’s horse breeding farm at Eyvindarmuli. We went up to the mountains behind his house to look for some foals, but instead got stuck with the only rain and fog we had seen all week. It passed in just a few minutes though, so we clambered back down the slippery steep slope and saw some more beautiful waterfalls.

feeling like we're on top of the world

feeling like we’re on top of the world

This was my first time riding this trail, which we took from Lakagigar west back to Eyvindarmuli. There were only 7 guests in the group and it eventually felt like we were just a group of friends riding the same wonderful horses we came to know and love. We rode one of the longest days I’ve ever ridden, 53km, but it went by nice and easy with our small herd and young staff. I can’t wait to ride this trail again next year, perhaps from west to east, and see what kind of weather and riders we’ll get then. Take a peek at the tour description here, and maybe get tempted to come too 😉

one of many stunning waterfalls

one of many stunning waterfalls

Egilsstaðir Riding Tour

If I had to name my favourite tour, the one I could do over and over without getting tired of it, it would be the Egilsstadir ride in the east. It’s basically 6 days of roaming the highlands, the same highlands wild reindeer and foxes live, which is the largest uninhabited area in all of Europe. There are almost no fences to open, or roads to cross, only a handful of interactions with civilization as we dip in and out of the valleys between the heaths to feed the horses and charge the riders batteries – literally, and figuratively. Some of the huts area really primitive, no running water or electricity, just a big shelter to squeeze 20 riders and all their luggage into for a cozy night of eating, drinking, singing and sleeping.

riding past snow towards Snaefell

riding past snow towards Snaefell

There were only 2 tours this summer, but I was happy to take both, one with Ishestar and one with my old friends Denni and Arna. I’ve taken this tour more than 10 times now, and its the one area of Iceland I’ve started to know like the back of my hand. Every fall I go to the same area, Fljotsdalsheidi, and ride with 10 or 12 other farmers to look for sheep. There are a couple thousand sheep that roam this area freely each summer, and they come home each fall with their lambs all fat and fluffy. There are hundred-year-old horse and sheep trails all over the place, but its still tricky to find your way when thick fog rolls in and your visibility gets reduced to about 2 or 3 meters. It happened to us on the first tour of the season, when we climbed up a few hundred meters into the clouds and had to keep avoiding snowbanks that still hadn’t melted in July.

the valley of rainbows and waterfalls

the valley of rainbows and waterfalls

Even though the highlands can be like one big marsh, waterlogged from the late snow-melt, the rivers run cold and clean enough to fill our waterbottles on the way. There’s no need for running water either if you’re gutsy enough to dip into the icy rivers for an all-natural bath – me and a crazy Norwegian managed to do it on night 3, sitting beside Saudarkofi mountain hut under Icelands largest mountain Snaefell. We could have waited til night 4, when we reach Laugafell and the natural hot-water baths there, but then we wouldn’t have appreciated the hottubs as much after trying the other extreme.

Egilsstadir usually has repeat guests, the same riders who come back twice, sometimes thrice or more, and ride the same trail. Its different every year, depending on the weather and the difference between the highlands in July or August, and even the way can change a bit to avoid the really wet lands or washed out trails. Two of the mountain huts have also changed over the past few years, upgraded to include electricity and water. Ill be back next year to ride it again and see what else is new, and those who want to do the same can make a booking with Ishestar or Denni and Arna.