Island – Auto und Sand

Despite all our efforts to plan and take precautions, sometimes things go awry. Yesterday our plan was to explore Iceland’s south coast. We drove past many pretty sights on our way to the glacier a few days ago, and wanted to double back to explore during daylight.

Around 10AM, having driven for about 1.5 hours, we arrived at our first destination, Hjörleifshöfði. Fun fact: Hollywood does a fair bit of filming out in Iceland. The opening scene for Star Wars: Rogue One was shot at Hjörleifshöfði, and the water planet from Interstellar was shot near our glacier hike the other day. It’s not surprising when you see the landscapes here why it gets chosen to depict alien planets.

There was a “road” which led to the trailhead which was covered in snow. A lot of the roads off of the main ring-road are snowed over this time of year in Iceland, so we didn’t think much of it as we pulled off to begin our day. Before we knew it we were stuck in deep snow, with the car’s frame being supported by hard compacted snow, reducing the downforce on the tires until they could no longer make traction, leaving our vehicle stuck. Without a shovel or a way to call someone, Ben and I split up; he tried to flag someone down for help while I worked with a jack crank as an improvised shovel to try and dig the vehicle’s frame out.

Eventually a kind British couple stopped, let us use their phone, and gave me a ride back to Vik, approximately 12km west. In town I went to a local tourist shop which was open where I hung out for a few hours trying to call someone to tow us out. The rental company was less than helpful – the employee explained to me that they were unable to wake up their normal towing guy. We had unfortunate timing with needing assistance on a holiday which was also a Sunday. I tried 4 or 5 telephone numbers given to me by the local shopkeepers in Vik, none of whom answered.

I ended up having to dial the emergency service, 112 (Iceland’s 911). Thankfully, they didn’t send out a response team but rather put me in touch with local police, who were able to provide me with a different phone number of someone to call. This man did answer and was able to pick me up about half an hour later in a massive Dodge truck with studded winter tires.

He brought along two dogs and his wife, who worked with me to correct my butchered pronunciation of Hjörleifshöfði. I rode back with them to our car where Ben Tyke had been waiting and we got pulled out. Perhaps not our best use of money and 3 hours, but at least no one was injured and we were able to get the help we needed. If not ideal, for me it was an experience which forced us to work with the locals and I got a better sense of Vik as a town.

Determined despite our rough start, we headed out with what daylight we had left to try and see a few other sights. We *carefully* drove to Reynisfjara and Hálsanefshellir, a Black sand beach with a neat-looking cave and basalt column formation nearby. I’m not sure whether it was the beauty of the landscape or just the relief to be done with this morning’s mishap, but I felt very peaceful checking out the waves and observing the scenery. There were a lot of signs warning about “sneaker” waves which come up above the tide line unexpectedly, and we had to dodge a few.

Black volcanic sand and the basalt columns


Tyke had been to a black sand beach before in Hawaii, but he said the sand here was much finer and that the beach he had been to before was more granular and really more like black pebbles on the shoreline. I bottled up a bit of sand to take with me as we went to our next destination, Skógafoss waterfall. When we got to Skógafoss, I decided I would not need the ice spikes I had brought along for my boots. Almost immediately, I was met with a totally frozen path to walk up to the waterfall with tourists slipping and sliding, and several using crampons. Eventually we slipped our way all the way up to the waterfall, which had made a very pretty ice formation due to the spray from the falls. There was also a metal staircase to an overlook where you could see the Skógá River and a pretty panoramic view of the south coast.

Skogafoss from the bottom
Overlooking Skogafoss

After coming down from the overlook, we slipped back to our vehicle and drove to our next stop, Seljalandsfoss. We had seen this waterfall several times as we had driven past as it is lit up and visible from the main ring road. This waterfall has a path you can take to walk behind the falls. Having learned my lesson at Skógafoss I brought my ice spikes, and I used them to try and get behind the falls to explore. The stairs on both sides of the path circling the waterfall were completely iced over with a thick, smooth coating. Trying to walk up them without spikes would have been a dangerous waste of time but thanks to my footwear I was able to make it up. Directly behind the waterfall the path got fairly steep, so with the whole path coated in thick ice I decided not to try my luck with my small spikes and turned around.

An icy bridge on the path behind the falls

After we finished up at the small falls, we drive back to our lodging near Selfoss and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Exhausted after the long days of driving and sightseeing and the restless night, we headed to bed early.

It’s unfortunate that our plan for today didn’t fully work out, but we were lucky – the situation could have been far worse. We did our best to work past the problem and take it in stride, and I think we were successful in that. I’m glad we got to see some of what we had anticipated for today and had a cultural experience, albeit not one we had been hoping for.

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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