Friday, 18 October 2013

Iceland Video

This is a quick edit of a trip to Iceland. Trekking wise this trip was everything we had hoped for and occasionally a bit more than we bargained for.

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.

Thanks for watching

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Review - Walking and Trekking in Iceland by Paddy Dillon

Review - Walking and Trekking in Iceland by Paddy Dillon

Cicerone Press

ISBN: 978-1852846473

Price £17.95 (cheaper on places such as Amazon now)

01M-2633 Guidebook map and notebook used to plan a trip to Iceland.
Lots of info and useful for pre trip planning

There is a lot of information crammed into this guide, which runs to some 352 pages, covering 12 areas, 49 day walks and 10 multi-day treks. All in all something like 100 days worth of walking.

I used the book to help with planning for my recent trip to Iceland and found the descriptions to be concise, clear and accurate for the areas I have visited. The photography is good and the illustrations and maps are clear and easy to understand.

Walking guidebooks of course are not just about the walks and I found the historical, geological and wildlife information both useful and informative. The historical timeline was particularly interesting and really does highlight just how young Iceland as a country is.

For impoverished outdoor folk like me, information on public transport and things like budget accommodation and food were useful. I also found the section listing further sources of web based information handy during the planning stages

The section on river crossings is definitely also worth a read if you lack experience in this area, however you do need to recognise the limitations of the information provided.

When it comes to using guidebooks I am a definitely a visual person and in particular I do like to use overview maps with the different walking areas marked on them. Paddy helpfully does this however one element I certainly feel could be improved is the labelling on the overview map itself (Pages 10 &11.

There are a lot of numbered walks in the guide and at times I ended up flicking back and forth when I confused area 3 with trek 3, or trek 3 with stage 3.

For folk like me placing the relevant page numbers for each section in the actual section box of the overview map would have been ideal. For example in the box of " Area 2 - Fjallabak and Thorsmork". By adding "Pages 94 -133" in the box itself I could then have flicked straight to the start of that chapter without hunting. As I say it 's a personal thing and not a major issue.

The usual warning about the accuracy of route descriptions as they may change is an important point to remember and you really do need to take this seriously and recognise that the landscape is in constant flux, with paths and even tarns appearing and disappearing. For example on the Lagavegur trail there were several short sections that certainly varied on the route we took a couple of years ago. With this in mind the guide alone is not a substitute for a map. That said even the maps end up out of date quite quickly as we found out when the two large tarns the trail was supposed to pass between had actually disappeared.

You may of course think no one would simply rely on a guidebook, but in Iceland I was stopped by two guys and asked if the lake we were looking at was Alftavatn and how long would it take them to get there. All they had was some pages photocopied from a guidebook.

Talking of navigation. I do feel that the maps/walks descriptions would have benefited from having some key GPS information linked to them. For example hut locations. Nowadays the GPS does seem to be the norm for a lot of people, even if it is only as a backup. Perhaps this is one for consideration in a future edition?

As I said before guidebooks are not just about the walks and one minor inaccuracy I did note was the statement "Alcohol of any strength has to be bought from state liquor stores, rather than supermarkets". I found it possible to purchase cans of beer of up to 2.8% strength in several small supermarkets, including the mountain Mall bus at Landmannalaugar. Whether this rule has changed or some supermarkets are now licensed I cannot say, but if you enjoy a celebratory (if rather weak) beer or two at the end a long trek it's worth knowing.


· At £17.95 the guide is on the expensive side.

· Lacks GPS information.

· The overview map would benefit from having the page numbers in the area boxes to make finding sections quicker and easier.

· Photography is good and map illustrations are clear and accurate

· Descriptions are concise and easy to follow and were certainly accurate enough for the walks I did.

· There is some interesting background information relating to history, wildlife and geology. Getting around on a budget without a car, accommodation and personal safety were also useful sections.

· To help with planning there is an appendix containing useful web addresses

4.5 out of 5. I would be happy to recommend to a friend.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Autumn - the shortest season

Autumn starts in the north east of Scotland and over two to three weeks works it way to the southwest of England. By the time the trees of Cornwall are bejewelled with gold, those in northeastern Scotland are shedding them like tears.

01M-1690 Autumn Leaf on Fungi UK.

I always feel autumn is our shortest season and somehow between the vagaries of the weather, the patchy nature of local conditions and the need to be in the right place at the right time, I always try to manage at least a few days photography in our native woodlands. If the light is good I photograph the colours and the wider landscape, if poor I focus on the smaller details, if lucky I even get to photograph wildlife.

When George Eliot (Mary-Anne Evans) wrote:

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

I always like to think she was actually sitting in a woodland glade looking up at golden leaves trembling in the breeze when she wrote it.

Earlier this week sitting on a rock, camera cast aside, such were my idle thoughts. Photography done for the day, coffee in hand, I tried to find a form of words to describe the sights, sounds and smells of the first flush of autumn. The only trouble was I became preoccupied by the very things I was seeking to describe - the colour of leaves as the sun broke through, the sound of the river sliding by like silk at my feet, even the damp earthy smell of fallen leaves - all of them distractions which thankfully conspired against too much thinking. In the end just two words, ephemeral and spiritual, seemed the most appropriate.

01M-4639 Catrake Force Lower Falls Meeting the River Swale in Autumn Yorkshire Dales UK.
Catrake Force and the River Swale

01M-4344 Autumn Colours at Wain Wath Force on the River Swale Swaledale Yorkshire Dales UK
Wain Wath Force

The changing seasons also mark the start of another autumnal event and across the UK some woodlands, valleys and high mountain glens will reverberate with the roar of deer and the clash of antler as the annual rut begins.
03D-8783 Fallow Deer Stag Dama Dama Surrounded by Bracken in Autumn
Keep your eyes open you never know who is watching you.

Autumn really is a truly transient time and the next few weeks will be the last opportunity to experience the beauty of our woodlands before the trees return to their skeletal forms and winter winds roar through their tops.

Don't leave it too long before you head to the woods this autumn.

Text images copyright David Forster

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Iceland Trek Day 3 and 4 Alftavatn via Hoskuldsskali to Landmannalaugar

Before turning in last night I noticed a heavy mist forming across the far side of the lake, so when I woke to a muffled world and a wet tent, I knew before I stuck my head out of the door the clag was down

Fortunately by the time we had grabbed something to eat and taken down the still wet tents the cloud had rolled back across the lake revealing a blue sky. It looked like we were in for another hot day.

06D-0929 Camping Area at Alftavatn

06D-0953 Tent at Alftavatn with the Mountain of Bratthals Behind Laugavegur Hiking Trail Iceland.

Today we would be going against the flow of trekkers as we headed to the Hoskuldsskali hut, a bleak place of volcanic ash set below a small col.

After a short while we had an easy stream crossing on a rickety plank bridge that sagged into the water as we crossed, or at least it did when I stood on it.

01M-0461 Temp Crossing the Grashagakvisl River Iceland

This was followed by a gentle uphill stroll to the base of Jokultungur. Next it was a bit of a steep pull onto the top via a loose scree covered path. Going up here my sciatica began to cause problems. Having had three separate slipped discs and surgery to remove one of the discs years ago I knew this was a warning I was overdoing it. One of the problems with a heavy pack on steep loose ground is that I tend to lean forward and for me this means that scar tissue begins to limit blood flow to the nerves. After lengthening my poles to help adjust my posture and tightening the waist belt on my rucksack to make sure it sat on my hips fully, I moved cautiously on.

Despite feeling a bit sorry for myself the views opened up with every step and soon we could see down to last nights camp at Alftavantn and way beyond to the Myrdasjokull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers.

01M-0466 The Lake of Alftavatn Viewed From the Upper Slopes of Jokultungur on the Laugavegur Hiking Trail Iceland.
Last nights camp was next to the lake

Since the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010 people have been waiting for the much bigger Katla volcano to wake up. This sits under several hundred meters of ice and will be spectacular when it does so. Historically Katla has always erupted shortly after Eyjafjallajökull, but so far has only rumbled quietly under its icy blanket, sending out the odd flash flood to remind folk it's there.

Part way up I stopped to chat to a couple of guys coming down who asked if the big lake down there was Alftavatn and how long had it taken us to get here. I was surprised to see they were navigating with a few pages copied from a guidebook.

Once on top I dosed myself with painkillers and anti-inflammatory tablets and had a bit of a moan. The others, well used to my bleating, ignored me and went on about their various aches, pains and blisters instead.

Setting off again it was relatively easy going with much more gentle ups and downs until we came to some steam vents. This was followed by a series of ridges and hollows to where the trail eventually makes its way along the top of a cliff giving extensive views all the way to the hut. This was declared a good spot for lunch. As everyone was suffering from transient deafness when it came to placing someone in frame to give a sense of scale, I made do with a passer by who just happened to sit down for a break.

01M-0484 Temp View Towards the Hut
The hut sits just below the dip on the horizon

06D-1102 Temp Crossing below Haskeroingur Mountains Iceland
The view behind. These hills incidentally could be bagged as day walks from the Hoskuldsskali hut

Sometimes I find it hard to get my head around the actual colours these mountains are made up of. Some were made up of layer upon layer of pastel greens, blues and lighter browns. These contrasted sharply with the dark browns, jet-black ash and the white of snowfields.

01M-1094 Temp Colourful Hills Iceland

The last part of the walk to the camping area next to the hut was a fairly miserable experience for me. Hot, footsore and with serious backache the last couple of kilometres really seemed to drag. This was made worse by the fact the snow bridges where the path went were clearly too weak and we had to detour steeply up and down the sides of several gullies in order to reach the hut. They were really only minor detours but frustrating given how close we were.

01M-1107 Temp Snow Gullies and Bridges to Cross Iceland
You were never quite sure just how thick the snow was underfoot

Moira went off to pay the warden while I downed yet more painkillers and fretted about whether I would be ok to keep going. Once the tents were up we had some food and a couple of brews and chilled until around 8.30pm.

01M-0528 Temp Tents at the Hoskuldsskali Camping Area Iceland
Graham's Vango Force Ten Nitro 200+ Loads of room and only around 1.8kg

Despite being a bit of a bleak place of obsidian boulders and ash blackened snow patches the views were magnificent. Eventually G&S headed to their tent, but we hung around for an hour hoping to catch a sunset.

01M-0539 Temp Obsidian Boulder
Volcanic glass (Obsidian) boulders lay all around

Despite looking promising a couple of times we weren't treated to a colourful sky and as a grey veil of high cloud moved in and the temperature fell we also headed for the comfort of our sleeping bags.

01M-0547 Temp Camping Area Below Hut

01M-0540 TEMP The View South from the hut over this afternoons route at 9.30pm.
No sunset, but just being here was enough

Day 4 Hoskuldsskali Hut to Landmannalaugar
Despite being woken several times during the night with backache I did not feel too bad. In fact in contrast to yesterday afternoon, I was fair skipping along once I got going. Mind you I only had to manage 12k today and most of that was gentle.

Taking one last look at the Hoskuldsskali Mountain Hut and the view beyond to the the Myrdasjokull icecap we were soon crossing the snowfields of the Sooull plateaux area. In 2011 when we came this way it was cold and windy, but today under a warm sun with far reaching views, it really was an absolute pleasure.

01M-0557 temp The Hoskuldsskali Mountain Hut Iceland

06D-1194 temp Crossing the Snowfields of Sooull just after leaving the hut Iceland

Yet again we were treated to some wonderful rock colouration where volcanic deposits had leached out of the earth, staining the ground turquoise and giving the landscape a strangely industrial appearance.
01M-0563 Temp Colourful Hills Near the Storihver Geothermal Area Iceland

After a while we reached the Storihver geothermal area and left the path to have a look at the hot springs. These turquoise pools appear to be a wonderful place to soak away a few aches and pains, but as you get closer and the heat and sulphurous smell hits, you soon realise you would cook like a lobster in seconds. These are certainly not the friendly welcoming pools experienced in Landmannalaugar, instead these springs combine beauty with menace, as they hiss sulphurous gas, gurgle angrily and spit boiling water.

06D-1266 Temp The Storihver Geothermal Area Iceland

06D-1272 temp The Storihver Geothermal Area Iceland.

06D-1283 Temp The Storihver Geothermal Area Iceland.

Moving on, the trail initially cut across the grain of the land and we were forced up and down a series of short steep ravines with broad ridge like tops. In the heat of the sun they could have become hard work, but fortunately they petered out in a small plateaux that marked a change from an east west watershed to a northerly one in which the streams drained towards Landmannalaugar. In this area there was no vegetation to speak of and I was again struck by how quickly the landscape of Iceland can go from lush green to completely barren.

The going was now easy as we made our way along series of ridges that were now aligned with our direction of travel. Ahead lay the colourful and still active Stratovolcano Brennisteinsalda with its distinctive finger like pinnacle of lava. When it erupted in around 1480 it produced the lava wall that sits above the campsite at Landmannalaugar, some forty five minutes walk away. It also provides some nice hot springs for the weary trekker to relax and soak away a few aches and pains.

01M-0584 temp Walking Towards the Lava Outflow of the Brennisteinsalda Volcano (left) and the Ash Mountain of Blahnukur (right) Laugarvegur Hiking Trail Iceland
Brennisteinsalda on the left. The dark mountain on the right is Blahnuker

06D-1333 The Brennisteinsalda Volcano Viewed from the Laugavegur Hiking Trail Near Landmannalaugar Iceland.
Looking back to Brennisteinsalda. Its name means "Sulphur Wave" in English

Once past Brennisteinsalda the trail takes you towards the mountain of Blahnuker, the blackened ash slopes of which dominate the view east.

06D-1309 Temp Walking in Front of the Mountain of Blahnukur on the Laugavegur Trail Fjallabak National Park Iceland
Sandra heading towards Blahnuker

Half an hour later we were among the obsidian boulders and tortured lava shapes of Brennisteinsalda's old lava field and in meeting increasing numbers of day trippers we knew the campsite would soon come into view.

01M-0608 Temp Landmannalaugar Iceland
Landmannalaugar from the lava field

The campsite here is not the nicest of places to be as it's pretty crowded and noisy, but as wild camping is discouraged in the Fjallabak nature reserve there is little choice. Fortunately the setting makes up for this and it does have a small shop, toilets, showers and hot springs to bathe in. The plan was to spend a couple of days here peak bagging before heading back to Reykjavik, hiring a car and heading up to Skaftafell to explore that area a little.

01M-0611 temp Camping at Landmannalaugar Iceland.j
Boots off, a beer and RELAX