Thursday, 22 August 2013

Summer at Summerhill Force

It's been a lovely summer in the Northeast of England. Its a shame we are down to the last couple of weeks of the summer holidays though - or then again perhaps not if you enjoy a bit of solitude.

This shot is of Summerhill Force (Gibson's Cave) near Bowlees in Upper Teesdale from earlier this week. It's certainly worth a visit and if your hungry the nearby newly refurbished Bowlees Visitor Centre Cafe is now open. I have no connection with them btw.
01M-1503 Summerhill Force Bowlees Upper Teesdale County Durham UK
Summerhill Force.

This summer has been wonderful in contrast to last year when I shot footage for this video. As you can see rain played a big part in it and Summerhill Force and High Force were certainly impressive.

Text/Images/Video - Copyright David Forster

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Iceland 2013 Part 1

After completing the Laugavegur Hiking Trail from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork and then a walk to the initial eruption site of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano by trekking over the Fimmvorhuhals Pass to Skogar in 2011, we knew we would be back.

For this trip we wanted get off the beaten track a bit more and came up with the plan of a walk from the Halaskjol Hut to Landmannalaugar via lake Alftavatn. This would mean we would actually walk part of the Laugavegur Hiking Trail in reverse during the last two days, but as we enjoyed the walk so much in 2011 this was not an issue. The main attraction however was the fact that in the early stages of the walk we would pass through some truly wild landscapes, seeing few other hikers.

Once the trek was completed we would then spend a few days in Landmannalaugar hill bagging, before hiring a vehicle for the last four days and headed up to the Skaftafell area to explore and climb a few hills there.

The bus ride to Landmannalaugar passing the volcano Hekla was again an enjoyable if somewhat bumpy ride. Once in Landmannalaugar we had a three hour wait to catch the next bus to the Holaskjol hut.

06D-1396 Landmannalaugar and the Laugahraun Lava Field Surrounded by the Colourful Rhyolite Mountains Fjallabak Area of Iceland
The Landmannalaugar campsite is in a wonderful setting. We caught a bus from here to Holaskjol

The fact we could not get a direct bus to Holaskjol and had to wait in Landmannalaugar was quite handy. Not wanting to carry nine days food all in one go we left four days worth in the container near the campsite. This storage container is certainly worth knowing about and currently anyone is able to leave spare food or kit there. We took the precaution of padlocking the food bag to one of the steel beams, but others simply left parcels or bags with names on and there did not seem to be any issues. You can also buy some basic if somewhat expensive supplies from the little Mountain Mall bus that lives on site during the summer. It even sells beer!

Like last time we booked our bus tickets via the Rykjavik City campsite. The campsite reception will do this for you and it is the same price whether you book via them or directly with the bus company. The reception staffed 24 hours a day and they are extremely helpful and friendly. You can also buy your gas here.

Once on the bus to Holaskjol we soon found out there was a bit of a problem with our planning because the bus stopped off at the Elgja canyon to give travellers the opportunity to walk a couple of Ks down to a scenic waterfall. Unfortunately I had not noticed this was a scheduled stop when planning the trip at home and it meant that we would not reach the Holaskjol hut camping area until well after 7.00 pm. As we had planned to walk to the next hut along the trail this evening it affected our plans somewhat. Despite being a dull grey day the waterfall was worth seeing though.

06D-0370 temp The Ofaerufoss Waterfall in the Eldgja Canyon Iceland.
The Ofaerufoss Waterfall in the Eldgja Canyon

After getting dropped of at the Holaskjol campsite/hut we all felt pretty knackered after the last two days travelling and coupled with the nice welcome by the warden decided to spend the night there. This meant that we would be adding an extra 6.5 km to the already long 24km day we had planned to the Strutor hut. On the other hand it was not too much of an issue as we were outside of the National Park for the first part of the trek and could wild camp when we felt we had done enough.
Holaskjol camping area

Holaskjol to Holmsarbotnar
Next morning I was up just after 6.00am photographing the waterfall about ten minutes away above the campsite.

With the sound of the waterfall reverberating in the narrow canyon and the low dawn light casting long shadows across the moss covered rocks it was a lovely place to be at this hour. On the walls of the canyon water droplets hung like pearls and I wished I had woken Moira to come up here with me. I knew of course we would be walking this way later, but the light of a rising sun is so transient the scene would be lost long before we returned.

01M-0283 The River Syori-Ofaera Flowing Over the Waterfall Near the Hlaskjol Mountain Hut At Sunrise Iceland.
Waterfall a short walk from the hut just after sunrise

By the time I got back to the tents everyone was already up grabbing a brew and packing the kit ready for the off. Once away we headed past the waterfall again and then onto an old lava field alongside the Syori-Ofaera river. This undulating trail would eventually take us to a river crossing before swinging away from the river and leading us to the small lake of Alftovotn.
06D-0530 Hiker Using With Solar Panel on Rucksac in Iceland
Pleasant walking. Graham incidentally used a solar panel to charge his phone and camera batteries

Weather wise despite the heavy rain of previous days things were looking pretty good and it was warm and sunny for the most part. Occasionally a damp sluggish mist would drift along the valley, veiling the mountains and giving the landscape a silent and somewhat eerie feel.
06D-0522 Hiker Using Smartphone in Iceland
Mist starting to return

It wasn't a problem though and we soon reached a place where the river cut across our path.

The river at the crossing point was fairly wide and while it only looked to be thigh deep at most, it was running very fast. Worryingly some thirty metres or so downstream the sound of a pretty substantial waterfall could be heard. Graham had a walk along the riverbank and confirmed it would probably be the end of anyone who lost their footing and got swept away. If the fall didn't finish you the narrow canyon the river was forced through certainly would.

06D-0312 temp Waterfall below the crossing on the Syori-Ofaera River Iceland
Waterfall just downstream

Looking upstream the river was hemmed in by steep cliffs so the choices were limited. Having recovered more bodies than I care to remember from various rivers and streams in the UK, I have to admit that crossing rivers in situations such as this makes me somewhat apprehensive.

A thigh deep river may not look much, but anything fast flowing above mid-calf height carries a fair bit of risk and I certainly don't subscribe to any of the macho crap I hear about people crossing chest deep glacial rivers, getting swept away and then battling their way to the other side. The fact is once you lose your footing with a backpack on in fast flowing cold, or glacial water you are unlikely to recover and get back on your feet. Even once the pack is jettisoned the pressure of the water will soon carry you away and with water this cold you will within a few seconds be in serious trouble.

01M-0305 temp Crossing the the Syori-Ofaera River Iceland
Crossing the Syori-Ofaera

These concerns aside we made the judgement that we could get over safely and with backpack straps loosened and poles lengthened we set off. As expected the water was bitterly cold and the current strong, but with minds focussed by the nearby rumble of falling water we all soon reached the other side. Despite only taking a few minutes my feet and calf muscles were extremely painful and within a few minutes I felt physically sick ,dizzy and very cold. Nobody else seemed to suffer as bad as this and I wondered if I was just being a wimp. Later in the day Graham would also suffer with this problem, which we thought might be as a result of peripheral shutdown in the lower legs. On the other hand apart from the pain the ladies did not experience anything like as bad, I put this down to their already icy hearts ;o) Moving on it took the better part of twenty minutes walking before I warmed up and felt ok.

06D-0543 temp Looking back along the way we had come alongside the Syori-Ofaera.
The trail continued alongside the river

Fortunately by this time the mist had lifted again and we enjoyed a pleasant walk to the small lake of Altavotn (not to be confused with the lake of Alftavatn) where there is a small mountain hut.

06D-0563 The Utivist Alftavotn Hut Alftavatnakrokur Iceland
Altavotn Hut

The hut is in a wonderful setting somewhat reminiscent of the North Pennines and has only recently been refurbished. The similarity with a UK mountain hut it has to be said ends with the setting. In contrast you have to pay a charge for using this hut which had all the mod cons of outside flushing toilet, cooker, stove, fire extinguisher, wine glasses and crockery. It was also clean and tidy and although we never saw them, the guitar on the table coupled with the fresh food and beer suggested someone was currently staying there.

06D-0567 The Interior of the Utivist Alftavotn Hut Alftavatnakrokur Iceland

After a short break we set off and just as the mist started to creep down the hillsides we came to a 4x4 track. This was followed until we met a wide flood plain surrounded by green steep sided mountains and dotted with a few sheep. Here we left the track at right angles and it was at this point we started having problems in trying to locate two tarns the route was supposed to pass between. Typically at the worst possible moment the mist came down completely and we were forced to use a compass bearing. We paced out five hundred metres and eventually met another river to cross. The river fitted the map, but even with the mist we should have spotted the tarns by now. Worried we were off course we were loath to cross the river and decided to carry out a reccy upstream. Nothing found we used the GPS to double check our position. This showed we were definitely where we thought we were and clearing visibility saw Graham doing a Merekat impression on the only bit of high ground - a ten-foot high lava hillock. No tarns were visible, but on the far side of the floodplain we could see the stream we needed to get to entering from the higher ground. This fitted with the map and we took another bearing just in case the mist came in again. It did not help of course that we have had a lifetime of working with 1:50 maps and using the Icelandic 1:100 maps meant that everything was, as you would expect, twice as far away and took twice as long to get to. This caught us out several times especially when we were able to make the map fit when it really didn't.

The river crossing was cold, but fortunately not too deep or fast flowing and once we got dried we were soon striding out across the flood plain under a clearing sky. The sky to the south it has to be said still looked threatening, but by the time the clouds got to our valley they seemed to dissipate. Enjoying the increasingly far-reaching views we were soon able to see where the path left the valley next to the stream.

Time was flying by and after a short rest and a bite to eat we started the climb out of the valley. With the increase in elevation we could now see why we had problems finding the tarns. Winter floods had swept over the braided floodplain and had filled in the hollows where the tarns were with stones and volcanic debris. Close into the edge of the floodplain where it met the lower part of the mountain we could now see another track that was not marked on the map. Had we know it existed it would have been an easy wander. As it was we had wasted the better part of an hour in trying to find the tarns and in negotiating a trackless way across. Still at least we knew our navigation was up to it.

06D-0606 temp Winter Floods of the Syori-Ofaera River had filled in the tarns
The floodplain and missing tarns

Despite the minor difficulties we were in good spirits and happy the sun was shining. Later this became something of a mixed blessing and as we made our way up the hill the sun beat down relentlessly forcing us to stop regularly for a breather and to take on fluids. As the hill flattened out and with jagged peaks blocking our way, the path soon swung away from the Syori-Ofaera River. As the sound of the river receded the heat seemed to multiply even more and after an increasingly hot and sweaty slog over ground that offered absolutely no shade whatsoever, we eventually came to a col.

The view ahead was affected by heat haze, but we stood for a while in the breeze trying to take in the scale of it all. It is not enough to say it was wild, breathtaking, or awe inspiring - or for that matter, any of a number of words one might be tempted to use. It was of course all those things, but it was also desolate, unforgiving and intimidating. It made us feel small and insignificant and reinforced the fact that this landscape needs respect.

We loved it though and were soon heading into a long steep sided valley where the Syori-Ofaera River reappeared on our right. To the left an undulating wall of snow braided black mountains rose and fell for several kilometres, their lower slopes littered with large black boulders. Ahead the Torfajokull volcano and its satellites blocked the view. It was hard to make progress there was so much to see.

The faint path initially stayed well above the river but after several kilometres the mountains on the left forced us down into the valley bottom. At times it was wet and boggy especially where melting snow from the mountains flowed into the river. A couple of these streams had to be waded, but eventually the river turned north and we peeled away heading towards another low col we assumed would lead us onto the Holmsarbotnar flood plain.

We never reached the col and instead the terrain forced us rightwards and we drifted up and down a series of low energy sapping hills. There was no true path as such, but the line of least resistance eventually led us to a signpost. This was the first one we had seen all day and we spent a few minutes hovering around it like moths to a light.

06D-0620 temp Sign Posts

The place names all pointed pretty much in the directions we expected them to and heading in the direction of Struttsskali we made our way across the hillside to where the ground dropped away.

Here we were rewarded with an elevated view of the Holmsarbotnar floodplain. Clearly there was much more water than normal with over a third of it being taken up by a large lake into which a multi braided wide glacial river flowed. There was no clear sign of a track but at the base of Torfajokull we could see steam rising from the hot springs at Strutslaug. Keeping high to avoid the flooded bits we made our way towards them. It was just after 7.00 pm and our spirits were lifted somewhat by the thought of something to eat and a soak in the hot springs. We even entertained the thought of camping if it was possible.

The springs were a lot farther away than we appreciated (that scale thing again) but as we got nearer we noticed someone had already pitched a tent. Getting to within a hundred metres or so, a low rumble could be heard and as we got closer we realised a substantial fast flowing milky white glacial river blocked our path. It had eroded a deep channel, which would explain why we had not seen it from a distance.  It was impossible to cross at this point and we stared forlornly at the other side conscious of the fact the whole area on our side of the river was made up of boulders and there was certainly nowhere comfortable to get the tents up. In contrast the other side of the river was lush grass and soft moss.

To say we were disappointed is an understatement. It was now after 8.00pm and thinking we would soon be setting up tents I had not bothered having anything to eat or drink for ages. It was a daft thing to do in hindsight but at least this could be put right easily so we had a decent break.  Working our way downstream for several hundred metres Graham spotted a likely crossing point. It was not ideal being around 75m wide but it at least offered the respite of several gravel banks where we could get the feeling back into our feet.

Again within a few paces of setting off I was gasping with pain in my feet and cramp in my calf muscles. It was agony and sad as it may sound I was heartened by the fact the others were complaining too - even the ice ladies. We had to make several detours and backtrack on one bit where the water was too deep, but eventually we all made it across. This time it was Graham's turn to suffer and as the cold blood was released from frozen legs he sat there grey faced, feeling sick and shivering with cold.

The temperature had also dropped significantly and as we were now so far downstream it was not worth turning back to the hot springs, instead continued heading across the plain towards the track which would we hoped would lead us more easily towards the Strutor mountain hut.

Despite going at a steady pace and having regular breaks it was clear that the long day had taken its toll and we were moving at a snails pace. It was time to find a camping spot. Another river crossing made the decision for us and despite being an easy one there was nowhere to camp on the black volcanic slope on other side. Instead we pitched close to the river with a crossing first thing in the morning to look forward to.

Gopro Pic of Campsite ©Graham Brown

Looking at our watches after setting up the tents we were shocked to discover it was actually 10.00pm. We had been on the go for nearly 14 hours.

Text/images copyright unless stated otherwise

Friday, 16 August 2013

Ashgill Force.

When anyone mentions Cumbria, most people think of the Lake District. Many folk don't realise that Cumbria reaches into the North Pennines as well. I had a short walk down to this hidden gem of a waterfall a few miles from Garrigill, near Alston the other day.

06D-2917 Ashgill Force Near Alston in Summer Cumbria UK

It's a popular spot with outdoor education providers who set up abseils down the edge of the waterfall so it's best to get there early if you want purely landscape shots. I did and had the place to myself for a while. You can even walk behind the waterfall and look out.

06D-2955 Ashgill Force Near Alston Cumbria UK

It would be a great place to capture in spate and I will have to make an effort and head up there again.

Images/text Copyright David Forster/

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Another visit from the Sparrowhawk

This morning as I walked out the front door I heard the unmistakable sound that Swallows make when there is a predator nearby. Glancing around I was surprised to see this Sparrowhawk perched less than 10 feet away on the garden fence. What surprised me even more was the fact that despite being in full view it did not seem at all bothered about me.

06D-2708 Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus in Garden Environment England UK.

I retreated back inside to grab my camera but typically it had a landscape lens on. A frantic scrabble ensued and half expecting it to have flown off I went back outside. It had moved but only a few yards into next doors garden where it perched on an ornamental deer. I rattled off a few shots but the light was pretty low and overcast and at 320th sec I knew I was pushing it to get sharp images.

06D-2691a Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus in Garden Environment England UK

Back inside I had another frantic scrabble to grab the tripod, add the base plate to the camera and then extend the legs. I thought surely it will have flown off by now, but no it was still perched happily on the stags nose.
06D-2716 Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus Perched on Garden Fence England UK.

In full view I set the tripod and grabbed a few more images. The hawk then surprised me even more by flying towards me and perching back on the fence. It then spent a little while sideling back and forth until it decided to jump down and go under the corkscrew hazel bush. At this point it was too close to focus so it was just a case of watching. I can only assume it had chased a bird in there and was determined to catch it. After a minute or so it walked out and flew off without its prey. I could not see any remains or feathers so assume it had been unsuccessful.

When it comes to photography sometimes you just get lucky.

Text/images copyright David Forster/

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Back from Iceland

I know its been a been quiet on here this month but I do have a good excuse.

These are the first four random images from my recent trip to Iceland. This was meant to be a walking holiday with my wife M and friends G&S and certainly not a business-based photography trip, so spending hours waiting around for the right light, setting up shots carefully and searching out the best vantage points was not really possible. Instead I simply had to grab whatever opportunity arose for photography as we walked.

06D-1209 Hiker Looking Towards Volcanic Steam Vents in the Starihver Geothermal Area on the Laugavegur Hiking Trail Fjallabak Iceland.
Graham Looking Towards Volcanic Steam Vents in the Starihver Geothermal Area on the Laugavegur Hiking Trail Fjallabak Iceland

With that in mind it has to be said that from a photography point of view it could be pretty frustrating at times. There were occasions when I could see so much photographic potential but having to consider others meant I sometimes had to walk away from a shot that given some improved light, or an opportunity to spend more time composing an image would have produced better results.

This is not a moan by the way and it has to be said my wife M and friends G& S are incredibly patient when I stop for yet another photo session. They do have a limit as to how much standing around they are prepared to do though. Especially so at the end of a 14-hour day when all they want to do is get the tent up and have a brew and a meal. There were a few sighs and the onset of transient deafness now and again, but nobody shouted at me in frustration, or threatened to throw my camera in a river.

Trekking wise this trip was everything we had hoped for and occasionally a bit more than we bargained for. We had fun, solitude and adventure contrasting with dangerous river crossings, equipment failures, pain and exhaustion - importantly there was also a great deal of laughter.

01M-1055a Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon Vatnajokull National Park Iceland.
Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon Vatnajokull National Park Iceland

There were sights that left us speechless as we stood on mountain peaks, or above snaking glaciers and milky white rivers. We walked through dust storms, clouds of sulphurous steam, past bubbling mud pools and boiling streams. We crossed snowfields, desert moonscapes and miles of ankle breaking lava fields. Got scared crossing rivers, fretted about snow bridges and had to detour around volcanic quick sand. We got burned by the sun and rubbed raw by the dust. Surprisingly we hardly had any rain.

06D-2155Split Rock and Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon Vatnajokull National Park Iceland
Split Rock and Icebergs in the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon Vatnajokull National Park Iceland

We wild camped and set our tents up on flat grass and soft and bouncy beds of moss with wonderful views. In contrast we also set them up on bleak volcanic ash fields and among the stones and boulders that pass for campsites at Landmannalaugar and the mountain hut Hoskuldskali.

We stood in awe at the scale of it all and on the days we hardly saw a soul felt that wonderful feeling of wildness and isolation.

06D-2205 Enjoying the View over the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon Vatnajokull National Park Iceland
The View over the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon Vatnajokull National Park Iceland.

The word WOW was certainly used a lot, as was "mmmm I don't think we are quite where we thought we were".

In short it was BRILLIANT

We walked from Halaskjol to Alftavatn then followed the Laugavegur Hiking Trail to Landmannalaugar where we spent a few days hill bagging. Next we headed up to the Skaftafell area to climb a few hills there and do a bit sightseeing.  Once I get the shots processed I will do a more detailed write up and possibly a video.

All images and text copyright David Forster/