Explore other-worldly landscapes.
By Hans Egefalk
My mum always ranked Iceland as her dream destination. When she turned 50, more than 30 years ago now, a group of seven friends including my mum and dad took the boat from Sweden to Iceland then drove around the island in a small mini bus.
Now it was my turn to see it.
Orienteering competitions take place around Reykjavik every year and I decided to go this past June. I went with an orienteering friend from Örebro, Sweden; Fredrik and I flew to Iceland the day before the competitions. While walking through the airport after arrival I spotted a creative ad for a local outdoor clothing company: Below a huge photo of a woman in a red jacket against a barren landscape is the unforgettable caption: “Waiting for summer since 1926.”
The landscape seems like another planet. Barren plains, strange rocks, desolate views, cold, wind and rain.
We arrived the day after the longest day of the year, so it never really got dark. It was summer, yet people wore scarves, mittens and beanies. The temperature had trouble passing 15 degrees, the wind always blew. We camped on the floor in a scout hall in a Reykjavik suburb along with about a dozen others including a couple of Finns, a bunch of cheery young orienteers from Yukon, Canada, Ceasare the Italian who was there to scout and draw new orienteering maps, plus local orienteers from Hekla Orienteering Club. Fredrik and I were the only Swedes in the group.
It was a small competition with only about 80 participants, making it about the size of a small local orienteering competition in Sweden. We spent part of the first two days exploring Reykjavik. It is a windswept small town in the high Artic, with mostly small houses and an ambiance reminiscent of the 1950s. There are some exceptions including a few high rises and the spectacular, new, inviting Harpa Opera House located down by the harbor.
Everywhere there are smaller or bigger patches of lupins, tall blue flowers that have gone wild and taken over big areas. They are related to Texas blue bonnets and the landscape could pass as a colder, wetter, version of West Texas or Broken Hill in New South Wales, Australia—both also harsh and wild.
In Reykjavik we walked one of the small main shopping streets, which surprisingly offered several well-stocked, inviting bookshops. Icelanders are some of the most avid book readers and the selection of books and authors available in bookshops is truly amazing, given that the total population in Iceland is only about 330 000 people.
Each of the three days of orienteering differed. The first day, on a map called Raudholar was a lunar landscape filled with volcano craters, red and black colors, holes and cliffs (sometimes on the outside of the craters, sometimes on the inside). I’ve never seen such a map before and it was exciting just to get at the starting point in a field of shoulder-high purple lupin flowers.
The next day, Heidmörk (Field Darkness) was another something I’d never seen before. There were patches of planted spruce and pine forest, mixed with open plains and then, right in the middle of the map, a big old lava field. A jumble of rocks stacked on top of each other, often black and sharp, often with lots of moss growing on and in between them. You never knew when you stepped somewhere if there was a knife-sharp rock underneath or if the moss covered a hole in which your foot might disappear. Navigation was difficult. The forested areas also had mountain birch interwoven with the spruce and pine, plus the purple lupin flowers in any spare inch. It was wonderfully difficult and exciting.
The third day was a bit like mountain orienteering with an open landscape and great views towards different parts of Reykjavik. It was blue sky and spectacular.
After three days of orienteering, Fredrik and I spent the next day driving around the Snaefellsnes peninsula, which sticks out west a couple of hours north of Reykjavik. It’s filled with a volcanic wonderland and barren landscapes, ending with a full stop in Snaefellsjökull, a beautiful volcano covered in snow. It’s the place featured as the entrance to the center of the earth in the Jules Verne novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Small towns sprawled along the northern shores: charming, barren, with a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, with waterfalls tumbling down and then the ocean in front. The feeling was a bit like Texas or Australia, but much colder, wetter and sometimes greener.
– Photos by Hans Egefalk