Last august, my girlfriend and I, along with friends, went on a trip to a place far north in Iceland that relatively few Icelanders have seen, Hornstrandir.
The reason for why so few have gone there (relative to the rest of the island) is in probably part due to the location. As Iceland’s northern most peninsula, Hornstrandir is not easy to get to. First you have to get your self to Ísafjörður (or neighbouring towns) which is either a 6 hour drive or an expensive 1 hour flight, away from the capital Reykjavík. Once there you will have to charter a boat to take you over the fjords since there are no roads on the peninsula and a big glacier sits in the way at it’s bottom.
Thankfully there are at least two companies that do regular trips from Ísafjörður. We chose Borea Adventures. They do however not stop at each drop off point every day, so you will have to schedule your hike according to their arrival schedule. The other reason that many don’t go to Hornstrandir is probably the fact that apart from a few campsites and lighthouses, there is no infrastructure there. You bring what you need on your back (like in most hikes), hiking between and camping in designated but underdeveloped campsites.
Now like most places in Iceland, Hornstrandir is not a difficult place to hike. Mountains can be steep in places, but overall those inclines are short to get over with so after the initial climb the walk is mostly horizontal or already going down. The weather is a different story (as in most places around the island). One minute you may be walking in sunshine and warmth and the next the clouds might have moved in and it is raining. And windy. Always windy here in Iceland. And as Hornstrandir is only about 10-15 km from the arctic circle, you can imagine that this is a place that can get really cold rather fast.
So it is good that the boats only go there during height of summer, June - August. But even then there is always the possibility for ice cold weather with accompanying rain.
We started our journey by taking a boat from Ísafjörður over to Veiðileysufjörður. The boat trip is fantastic, as you move between the steep kilometer high walls of the Westfjörds, seeing whales and dolphins all around (in our case at least). As we arrived past midday we decided to spend the night there on the small campsite by the shore. While there we had a member of Iceland’s only native land mammal species, the Arctic fox, say hi.
Hornstrandir is sadly one of their only sanctuaries as they are hunted elsewhere in the country due to an almost mythical status among farmers as creatures that savagely brutalize baby sheep. However, any person I have meet who has declared these animals a pest has so far not been able to show me any proof of the matter nor be able to say to have seen it them selves. Which has lead me to think this is just a myth to justify killing of these animals. Or at least a gross over estimation of the damage Arctic foxes do to farmer’s lifestock around the island.
We hiked the first day over a ridge and then down into a valley called Hornvík, where we made our second camp. While the walk only took around a few hours, some in the group had not done a backpack hike before so we decided to take our time with it. After all, the weather was good, a bit cloudy but dry and warm for the location, and we were in no hurry.
In Hornvík there is usually a warden stationed during the peak summer months and they are a good resource for weather forecasts, maps and local knowledge. So make sure to check them out when in the area. We for instance modified our plan a bit after having a chat with him. We had planned to hike on the next day around Horn, the unique curved edge of Hornvík that comes up when googling Hornstrandir, keeping on down to Látraviti and then coming back to Hornvík. Instead we decided to move camp the next day up towards Horn, then just do day pack hikes from there around Horn and to Látraviti on each day.
After setting up camp at the bottom of Innstidalur, we set off walking up the valley and through Almenningaskarð that leads then down to Látravík and its accompanying lighthouse Hornbjargsviti. It has a rather interesting history attached to it (so does the whole region in fact). The valley that the lighthouse was built in was the last unmeasured and unclaimed piece of property in Iceland by the time it was finally settled and claimed in 1872. The valley was lived in until 1909, when all the inhabitants were evicted and it stayed empty until 1930 when a government institution bought it and built the lighthouse. Until 1995 there were wardens in the lighthouse, making sure it was operational, but after that it was automated, requiring limited maintenance. Today the travel association of Iceland runs a guesthouse and a café there for 5 weeks during the peak of summer. It was a really nice place to sit down, have coffee and a waffle and just take in the remoteness of the whole thing.
While waiting for the waffles I started reading some of the books in the place, and according to them the last lighthouse warden was heavily influenced by communism. Inside the building you can still see indicators of that, such as a plaque on the wall bearing a silver star on red background. The books also mentioned, in a rather over exaggerated way, that communism had lived a rather strong life in this small insulated community (of only one person) up until 1995, and that the warden was always up for talking to travelers about the merits of communism.
We gobbled up the waffles as soon as they were ready, lathered in rhubarb jam and topped with whipped cream, accompanied with plenty of piping hot coffee. It was heaven. As we were leaving to head back to camp, one of the wardens was taking care of some of the fish that had just been caught earlier and we could see how the some Artic foxes stood by, waiting patiently for the innards that he would innevitably throw their way.
I could very well imagine living here, fishing straight from the ocean, hosting a travelers once in a while and having the foxes doing their thing all around.
The next day walked up towards Horn, the iconic cliff face that the whole region draws its name from. To say that they view was spectacular would be an understatement. On one side sheer vertical cliffs that at the peak drop down 534 meters, and play home to fantastic amount of birds of all shapes and sizes. And on the other, rolling green hills covered in green.
I would highly recommend travelling around Hornstrandir to anyone wanting to experience a relatively untouched part of Iceland. The foxes alone make it worth the trip.