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Holy Hornbjarg

A day on the Horrnstrandir Nature Reserve

sunny 60 °F

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Driving from Glymur to the West Fjords (named one of Lonely Planet's top 10 travel destinations in the world for 2011) took about 6 challenging hours--you feel like you're driving in circles as you enter a fjord and drive the entire length, only to loop at the bottom and continue back up the opposite side. We're not sure why they don't build bridges (it would turn a 6 hour trip into 4 or less) but I'm sure there's a good reason with cold temps, high winds and rough waters. If the region was more accessible, it probably wouldn't be as special--plus, the roads that are currently in use just recently got paved, which turned a previously 12 hour trip into today's 6 hours.

There is only one way to get to Hornstrandir and that's via a 2.5 hour boat trip, which we took on Saturday morning. The entire finger of fjords is a nature reserve and there are no roads whatsoever. Even hikers tackling the great trails in the region have to take this boat to get started. We planned our entire trip around this trip--which only runs one time per week in the summer--and is the most spectacular one in the country (or so we'd previously read and now wholeheartedly believe!). It's called the "King and Queen of Cliffs" and run by West Tours out of Isafjordur.

We're taken into a calm fjord in the 30-passenger boat we'd used to make the 2.5 hour journey, and then hop into a rubber dingy to head to shore. One family and other people/workers used to live in the area until the 1950's, but they were completely snowed in during winters. They earned their livings collecting bird eggs from the extreme cliffs by dropping down on ropes to the narrow ledges. The practice still exists today, though currently done by the Icelandic search and rescue teams--they earn their yearly budget from the sale of the eggs--but the one family still has rights to collect and sell the eggs, too. The grandchildren in the family who grew up there all live in Isafjordur and get the house for one week each summer. One of the grandkids is actually the ferry boat captain and never misses a trip out to the area once a week in the summer.

The hike itself was challenging, great hiking shoes are very important (ours were only so-so), and after about an hour of climbing we stopped for lunch at the edge of one of the cliffs. We'd thought the most challenging and scenic part was behind us, and then the guide pointed up. We were going to climb the highest cliff that looked like it was a straight vertical rock.

The path was amazingly narrow (one shoe-length wide) and was indeed straight up! Every step was semi-terrifying, especially with a light rain making the path even more slippery, but there was nowhere to go or look, except "up". Even a slight lean could have sent you tumbling down the hill. The top was spectacular--360 degrees of absolute beauty--but then came "down" which was more terrifying and even more beautiful.

Once back on the other side--and on more even ground--the rest of the hike ended with spectacular vistas, warm sunlight, extremely rare arctic foxes, and a rainbow across the North Atlantic Ocean. Was truly the highlight of the trip and one of the best experiences of my life.

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Posted by Maltags 14:51 Archived in Iceland Tagged isafjordur hornstrandir hornbjarg bird_cliffs bird_watching

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