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Iceland - May/June 2015

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Another year, another visit to Iceland. This time for the last week of May and first week of June - a bit later than our previous trips. Once again, a great trip. Once again, Arctic Heli delivered. 

 

One of the things I love about going to Iceland to ski is that  so much super-cool non-skiing stuff is so accessible. This time we decided to get to Arctic Heli the long way by driving the Ring Road around Iceland. We gave ourselves a week. It turns out that was long enough to enjoy some pretty cool things. But not quite enough time to do the trip true justice. I view that as an excuse to do it again. :)

 

This was the coldest, and seemingly stormiest, May in nearly forty years. This was mentioned everywhere we stopped.  We frequently joked to one another that it is called "ice" land. But this year really was colder than the norm. Despite the weather, it was a totally great trip. Iceland just has so much cool stuff to do and see. And there's the skiing...

 

Because I happen to think that the non-skiing part of the trip is a big complement to the skiing part, I'm including the whole shebang from this year's trip. Which is a whole lotta trip report. If you want to skip the Ring Road stuff and head right for the skiing - click here.

 

We headed for the town of Vik directly after arriving in Keflavik (the international airport about an hour outside of Reykjavik). It was a big day for waterfalls. There were others, but here are two of the name brand roadside waterfall attractions.

 

Seljalandsfoss

 

Skagafoss

 

Our next destination was Hofn. The day did not lack for scenery. Here's the black sand beach and sea arch at Dryholaey.

 

The landscape was just fantastic everywhere.

 

Jökulsárlón - the glacier lagoon.

 

Here's a pano from the deck of our room near Hofn - just a short drive past the glacier lagoon. The landscape is huge. If you can make it out, the glacier in the middle is just massive. And it is just a tiny baby tongue of Vatnajökull - the largest glacier in Europe. 

 

The next day, the landscape continued to impress. 

 

The Ring Road along the south side of Iceland.

 

Should you find yourself in Breiðdalsvík, stop here. We almost passed it by.  It is a historic market building that is currently home to a combo grocery store and coffee shop. Like so many places in Iceland, the folks there were super friendly.  Order a cup of coffee and a waffle. If, for some reason,  they don't offer it, ask for some birch syrup with your waffle. You can thank me later.

 

Petra's stone collection is definitely worth a stop. Both inside and outside are full of amazing minerals. Most were collected in the immediate area.

 

The East Fjords are super scenic.  We stayed in Fáskrúðsfjörður. It was a french fishing outpost. Street signs are still in both Icelandic and French. Here's the view from near the Fosshotel Eastfjords.  It was originally a French hospital facility. Besides being a hotel, it now contains a rather cool historical museum. It deserves its high ratings.

 

The next day was a fun combo. We started with a hike up to Litlanesfoss (foreground) and Hengifoss (background)

 

Hengifoss.

 

That evening we drove to the town of  Borgarfjörður Eystri for...wait for it... puffins! The town has a seriously wonderful puffin watching area with a viewing deck next to the harbor. It is as good as it gets for easy access puffin watching. Unless you've spent hours freezing your ass off on some stormy cliff waiting to see a puffin, you can't fully appreciate just how awesome this setup is. It is donation supported. So be sure to throw a few kronur in the donation jar. The road to Borgarfjörður Eystri is often described by guidebooks in somewhat terrifying terms. If you are used to driving to skis areas and have a decent rental vehicle, it should not present any major challenge.

 

And...on to the Lake Myvatn area the next day. It is a short hike up the tuff ring volcano Hverfjall. The scale was challenging for photography. Raging wind added to the that challenge. There is a good trail around the rim, but we had a full schedule for the day, so back down we went... The rest of the day was spent sightseeing and birdwatching around the lake. Having two days for this would have been even better.

 

The guidebooks promise good odds of seeing harlequin ducks at the outflow of the lake to the Laxa river this time of year. Yup. (photo courtesy of cloudpeak).

 

 

The next day we headed to Dettifoss and Selfoss. As previously noted, it was a cold stormy spring. The parking lot was mostly underwater and the walking paths were not yet ready for primetime. And it was storming. Well worth it nonetheless.

 

cloudpeak taking some pics at Dettifoss, claimed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. No alien ships were spotted.

 

 Selfoss was a short snowy walk away (courtesy of cloudpeak).

 

Two of the roads we'd considered using to go north were still closed (pro tip:  be smarter than I was as that day's navigator - check spring road conditions here before driving for an hour or two to discover a road closed sign, and then another...). After detouring several hours from our original route plan (OK, my original route plan), we made it to Asbyrgi. Legend has it that the horseshoe shaped valley was formed by a cataclysmic glacial flood. Scientific evidence, however, indicates it is actually the hoofprint of Sleipnir, Odin's eight legged horse.

post #2 of 12
Thread Starter 

The day of our planned arrival at Arctic Heli did not dawn clear in Husavik. Winds were raging. Whale watching trips were canceled. Our mood was not optimistic. Nonetheless, off we went to our meetup in Akureyri with Arctic Heli.

 

 

One thing about Iceland in late spring  - the days are long and the weather can turn quickly, So even though arrival day was not originally scheduled for skiing, after dinner we got an opportunity to take a run under the light of the midnight sun. Admittedly the snow got a bit funky as things cooled, and we did ski into that cloud - but it rocked.Just magic. "It's all about the light"

 

We had a couple pretty good days...

 

cloudpeak, the corn hunter.

 

Hitting the harvest....

 

The weather gods give, and they take. We got hit with a couple down days. As I have noted before, you just never know for sure about the weather or snow anywhere. You get what you get. In my opinion, it is good to be someplace where you can make good use of down days. We took the opportunity to do some birdwatching and take a cool ferry ride. If you are birdwatching type - we saw 42  species on our birding day. 

 

The golden plover is quite a special bird in Iceland. The Heidloa, or loa for short, is considered the harbinger of spring.  You'll find it pictured in many forms. This one was a bit ruffled, 'cause it was.....you guessed it...storming

 

The Hrisey island ferry. A cool boat ride. We spotted a range of gulls and seabirds. Highlights included puffins, razor bills and a gannet. On Hrisey, we visited the shark fishing museum. And stopped at the municipal hot pool and soaked away the cold while overlooking the fjord. Pretty much every town has a hot pool. So be prepared - always carry a towel. And be sure to take your shoes off in the right place.

 

Turns out JB, Mr. Arctic Heli and UIAGM certified Mountain Guide, is also a world class birder and naturalist. Who knew? We closed out the day with a red necked loon. It may not have been skiing, but I was super stoked.

 

I was afraid we'd be skunked for a third day. But the crew in the guide cave was monitoring the weather and we were counseled, with some optimism,  to hang tight. Late in the day the weather broke and we made a run to the Gold Coast. Did I mention long days and their advantages?

 

About to hit some legit Gold Coast fresh powder under the midnight sun in June. Normally it'd be all corn this time of year - but we were not arguing with powder being added to the mix.

 

About 2/3 down. 

 

Not powder anymore - but it was still super sweet snow at the bottom.

 

 

Here's a short video from cloudpeak from one of our runs that night.

 

 

We landed at 11:30 PM - after a late apres stop on the beach. At about 65.9 degrees north, the lodge is just a tad south of the Arctic circle. The sun barely dipped below the horizon for a bit each "night". But it never really got dark. Here is the view from our cabin deck at 12:30 AM.

 

 

Our last day was spent dodging clouds. But we still got in some great runs. Including some steep-ish pitches and some really nice glacier cruising. Pre-lunch we hit a long one. Starting up high...

 

We skied way down into the valley where I had the chance to do my first bog traverse. The skis really do keep you from sinking in. :D

 

Looking back at the run. We started way far back out of sight. And ended here. I officially declare this run dedicated to @dookey67 

 

Coming into Klængshóll Lodge - Arctic Heli's home base - after our last run. 

 

After leaving Klængshóll, we checked out Karlsa Lodge down by the fjord near Dalvik. This is the new base for Arctic Heli's sister touring operation. It is a super cool historic building on an amazing property. This is the view out the back.

 

Here's the view looking at the lodge from out near the fjord. The lodge is a bit toward the right. The main easy access touring terrain is up the valley to the left. You can literally walk out the front door, cross the road, and start skinning. I'm pretty addicted to the heli thing - but this is actually kind of tempting.

 

Leaving Dalvik on our way to Reykjavik, we stopped at the corner coffee shop. Another great place. A latte served in a jar, and a waffle. Yes please. Folk tales of the three stupid brothers are free. Apparently the coffee shop is becoming apres touring central during the main season -  the area is being discovered. 

 

On our last morning in Iceland, on our way to grab a cup of coffee,  we discovered it was Color Run day in Reykjavik. As far as I could tell, a meaningful percentage of the country was there for it. 

 

Greenland as seen from our return flight. Gets the imagination going... The polar route makes for a pretty easy trip. From Seattle, it takes us maybe 1.5 hours more to get to Reykjavik than it would take to get to New York or Boston.


Edited by spindrift - 7/11/15 at 1:33pm
post #3 of 12

Wow. That looks like an amazing trip.  Thanks for posting the pics.  I have never really been interested in visiting Iceland before but now ... Yeah!

post #4 of 12
Beautiful!
Iceland is on my to-do list and now it has moved up much higher on the list.
post #5 of 12

Lordy lord, how far are ya from Raleigh?

post #6 of 12
Great report - thanks for sharing!
post #7 of 12

very nice!

post #8 of 12

@spindrift: thanks for dedicating a run to me!

 

i'm way down for all the easy access stuff I saw in the pix of the views from your lodge (I'm a proverbial ski bum, so spending $$ for the heli ain't too much in my budget, but skinning out the front door would be sublime).

 

not much of a birder, but love the pix of all the aerial once-dinosaurs (I am remiss that on my visit to Iceland I didn't see a single bird, let alone any puffins).

 

cool pix, sweet TR. danke gracias for sharing. 

post #9 of 12

Nice to see Ring Road pics from someone with more time.  We got our car rental after Arctic Heli in Akureyri at 3:30PM March 28, needing to be all the way around to Selfoss by end of the next day.  So we were on the road 13 hours March 29, with stops at Jokulsarlon, a 45 minute hike to Svartifoss and the impressive rock formations near Vik.  We spent 3 days around Myvatn and Husavik on our guided tour and drove to Asbyrgi after that and before Arctic Heli. No time to detour to Dettifoss, and Skagafoss was a drive-by on the road after 8PM.  We still needed to find a hotel and dinner in Selfoss and be ready for scuba diving the next morning at Silfra.  We did have lengthy stops at Gullfoss and Godafoss earlier on the guided tour.   I have not posted any non-ski pics from the trip yet (this TR is motivation to get on that).   The Ring Road was still in winter mode in March, with snow on those rocky beaches and sometimes blowing across the road.

Quote:
At about 55.9 degrees north, the lodge is just a tad south of the Arctic circle.

That's 65.9 degrees north.

 

As you have had multiple trips now, do you have an opinion when the best time is for Arctic Heli?  On March 26 we stopped about 4:30PM for flat light when it became overcast.  If it had remained clear we could have skied until maybe 7PM at that time of year.  The weather is always a crapshoot, but perhaps later on it's a little easier to see on a cloudy day.   Snow was generally better for us.  It was powder even on south exposures until we hit a prior rain/snow line at ~2,000 feet.   Below that was difficult but I could tell that stronger direct sun would have turned it to corn.   My guess is in between our trips, say late April, might have a balance of generally decent snow conditions with some quite extended daylight hours.
 

Quote:

i'm way down for all the easy access stuff I saw in the pix of the views from your lodge (I'm a proverbial ski bum, so spending $$ for the heli ain't too much in my budget, but skinning out the front door would be sublime).

 

 

If you look out that front door, the snow was gone from the lower elevations on spindrift's trip.  On my trip it was rain crust up to 2,000 feet.  I think the way to go for touring is to take one heli drop to high elevation, then ski and skin laps within the range of the best snow, coming down to the lodge or a van pickup at the end of the day.

post #10 of 12

Looks like a really great trip

post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Crocker View Post
 

Nice to see Ring Road pics from someone with more time.  We got our car rental after Arctic Heli in Akureyri at 3:30PM March 28, needing to be all the way around to Selfoss by end of the next day.  So we were on the road 13 hours March 29, with stops at Jokulsarlon, a 45 minute hike to Svartifoss and the impressive rock formations near Vik.  We spent 3 days around Myvatn and Husavik on our guided tour and drove to Asbyrgi after that and before Arctic Heli. No time to detour to Dettifoss, and Skagafoss was a drive-by on the road after 8PM.  We still needed to find a hotel and dinner in Selfoss and be ready for scuba diving the next morning at Silfra.  We did have lengthy stops at Gullfoss and Godafoss earlier on the guided tour.   I have not posted any non-ski pics from the trip yet (this TR is motivation to get on that).   The Ring Road was still in winter mode in March, with snow on those rocky beaches and sometimes blowing across the road.

That's 65.9 degrees north.

 

As you have had multiple trips now, do you have an opinion when the best time is for Arctic Heli?  On March 26 we stopped about 4:30PM for flat light when it became overcast.  If it had remained clear we could have skied until maybe 7PM at that time of year.  The weather is always a crapshoot, but perhaps later on it's a little easier to see on a cloudy day.   Snow was generally better for us.  It was powder even on south exposures until we hit a prior rain/snow line at ~2,000 feet.   Below that was difficult but I could tell that stronger direct sun would have turned it to corn.   My guess is in between our trips, say late April, might have a balance of generally decent snow conditions with some quite extended daylight hours.
 

If you look out that front door, the snow was gone from the lower elevations on spindrift's trip.  On my trip it was rain crust up to 2,000 feet.  I think the way to go for touring is to take one heli drop to high elevation, then ski and skin laps within the range of the best snow, coming down to the lodge or a van pickup at the end of the day.


Thanks for noting my typo wrt latitude. I have corrected it.

 

Yeah, between us, cloudpeak and I have 4 trips to Arctic Heli - two of them together (we each missed a year due to injury...). Regarding timing - I think that's just a bet on the seasonal weather & snow - and personal preference. Broadly speaking, early season is stormier and snowier. And obviously with shorter days. Later season is more settled weather & more corn cycle. With super long days.   As a rule, the mid-May through June timeframes are apparently pretty consistent corn. This year the late wintery weather got in the way of that - every time a corn cycle would set up, it would snow. Which led to some good powder days. But then there was a transition cycle. That said, we did get some pretty perfect corn runs along with some solid powder runs and a bit of everything in-between..

 

I think your rain crust experience was atypical. This year they had some unusual lower elevation rain events. Last year I was there mid April and snow was piled up to the 2nd floor of the barn (almost yoga studio floor level). You could easily ski right to the barn. Here's a shot of JB firing up the hot tub on that trip (taken on 4/17).

 

 

 

The first time I was there (TR here) was also mid-April. It was a lower snow year, but we had lots of nightly wind deposition with nice days -- so while you could not ski as low into the valley (or you could, but not so nicely) - almost all our runs were powdery or pretty perfect wind buff.

 

As much as I love powder - I have also heliskied  corn in AK out of Tordrillo a few years back, and at Arctic Heli. The corn thing is sweet IMO. Typically the snow is settled and the big transition slides have happened. This allows some steeper or exposed terrain to become more approachable. And I love it.  I mean a really long sustained pitch with BB or corn kernel sized grains sheeting off on every turn is right on up there.... Especially with long days to play with - ski some runs, sit in the sun and have a snack, repeat... 

 

We are shooting for a corn trip next time. I know of one regular at Arctic Heli whose big annual trip is a June corn trip each year (used to do interior BC trips). But yeah - I think the mid-April zone is good too.  Certainly the quickly lengthening days are a plus. So pick your poison :)

 

Regarding touring - I'm sure a heli drop would be nice. But even in early June there was a tongue of snow down to the road at Karlsa. Though the day we left it looked like that was about the end of it due to a snow bridge not looking so great. But at least through late may most years I think you could just hop on some nice snow 40-50 feet from the door and just go.  Folks with legs seems to be fine heading up the valley from there. FWIW, the other thing that is big there is sailboat based touring (see the Bergmenn Mountaineering site). 

post #12 of 12

A few Ring Road and other pics, contrasting our March vs. your June.

 

Asbyrgi March 23:

 

 

Later that day we rode the Icelandic horses near Grenevik.


We were out there an hour and a half in full-on blizzard conditions.  The horses have evolved to live outside 24/7/365 so the weather does not bother them.   They are also noted for intelligence and have learned a unique gait, the tolt, that is the speed of a trot but much smoother ride.  Liz has a riding background so this was on her checklist for Iceland.  Our guide kept a careful eye on me but let Liz hang back and then gallop her horse a few times.

 

On March 28 we did not get out of Akureyri with our car rental until 3:30PM.  The road across the interior of northern Iceland is fast and it took only 3 hours to get to Egilsstadir.  Then we decided to be clever and try to get our rental car into the East Fjords via the most direct but unpaved and unplowed Route 1.  This did not work out.


Fortunately cell service worked, but it still took 2 hours to get a tow truck out there and we had to backtrack to Egilsstadir to spend the night. 

 

We thus had a 13 hour driving day for the East Fjords and south side of Iceland but managed a few highlight stops.  I'm guessing Breiðdalsvík is where we saw some interesting murals painted on buildings.

 

 

Jokulsarlon glacial iceberg lagoon:

 

 

 

Skaftafell National Park is noted for its summer hiking to impressive glacier overlooks.  In March we were able to hike ~30 minutes to an overlook of Svartifoss.


There are basalt columns on either side of the falls, but we did not have time to hike down the icy trail for a closer look.

 

 

We drove through a whiteout of blowing snow for awhile and finally reached Iceland's southern tip at Vik.

 

The famous basalt column cave is on the other side of the point.  With some trepidation we drove 6km down a snowpacked road to the beach at Halsanefshellir.   Even though it was past 7PM on Sunday with brisk winds, there were quite a few people there.

 

We spent that night in Selfoss and drove to Silfra for scuba diving between the tectonic plates.  Sorry, no underwater pics of us because both our and the guide's camera had battery failures from the cold.   Here we are getting geared up.


Some snorkelers are preparing to enter the water where we did earlier.

 

Here's an underwater pic from the dive website:

For those of you who dive, buoyancy control in a dry suit is quite challenging if you have not taken a specialized course in advance.

 

Quote:
As much as I love powder - I have also heliskied  corn in AK out of Tordrillo a few years back, and at Arctic Heli. The corn thing is sweet IMO.

Yes it is, but spring corn is usually fairly accessible by lift service at Mammoth and even more so at Mt. Bachelor for PNW skiers.   Still, I have had impressive corn at Mt. Bailey snowcat and one afternoon at Points North in Alaska.  Living where I do, powder is definitely the rare commodity.

 

I would not be disappointed if I got corn in Iceland, but my guess is that late April probably has a good shot at winter snow on north aspects and corn on south aspects.


Edited by Tony Crocker - 7/30/15 at 6:56pm
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