Ten Days in Iceland - Harlan Doherty

Ten Days In Iceland

The Green Moss

Iceland is a magical place that has so much to see. I traveled to Iceland in August on a ten day trip with a group  of friends who liked to hike and explore the outdoors. We had many memorable bright spots, challenging moments, and learning opportunities.  We launched our journey from Reyjkavik and explored in a counterclockwise circle around Iceland.


Rejykavik was an awesome city to experience. We stayed in an Airbnb in the city for the first two nights and were walking distance to the city’s features like restaurants, bars and clubs. The beers were super expensive everywhere but definitely worth it. The landscape near reyjkavik didn’t disappoint and became more mind blowing as we drove further into more remote areas of the country.


We checked out the Móskarðshnjúkar Hike on day two, which was about 20 minutes outside of Rejykavik.  It was a four hour warm up hike that was off the beaten path and had awesome views of the city.  One of the things we appreciated about Iceland was how long the days were.  It could be 9pm and it felt like middle of the afternoon because the sun was still going strong.


After finding our bearings in Rejykavik, we departed on a six day counter clockwise road trip of the country where we photographed incredible waterfalls, dangerous hikes that blurred our comfort zone, lots of camping, too many sheep to count and a renewed appreciation for the outdoors. Some of our most memorable moments included interesting geological features, relaxing geothermal pools, volcanoes, beautiful glaciers, long rides in the 4x4, and of course coffee breaks.


As we were leaving Rejykavik on day 3, we had a problem with the rental car because we went to get in the 4x4 and realized that one of the tires was flat.  We had to call up the  rental car company and they brought us a new 4x4 in less than an hour.  It wasn't the ideal way to start our road trip but it happened, and we got through it.  In fact, we were lucky it happened while still close to the city where the car rental company had a local office.  After the car situation was resolved we got on the road.  We hit Þingvellir National Park, the Haukadalur geothermal valley, Gullfoss Waterfall, Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, and camped at the Skogar campsite.  Skogar was a wide open field of grass at the foot of a huge waterfall.  


The following morning we woke up super early and started the Fimmvörðuháls Mountain Pass Hike from Skogar, which is a famous hike in Iceland that terminates in Þórsmörk Nature Reserve.  The hike is thirteen miles one way and takes about ten hours to complete.  This was the most challenging hike of the trip with intense weather, a few sketchy sections and 26 waterfalls.  The rain started about an hour in and lasted for the duration of the hike.  We basically hiked into a cloud with lots of rain and fog that added a degree of difficulty to the hike.  The rain would continue for about 7 hours until we hiked down on the other side of the mountain.  Everything was wet including our rain coats, hiking pants, and our shoes.  It actually felt like there was a lake in our shoes. Midway we stopped at a house on the mountain side to warm up and eat lunch.  We saw tents outside the house so I imagine you could tent there if you needed to. After leaving the house we got on our way and hiked to the caldera of a volcano and then hiked across a glacier.  The reaction from the cold glacial ice and the warmer air created a fog that was surreal.  


After we passed the glacier the we started to hike down a steep grade with loose metamorphic  rocks.  We were trying to time out a bus ride at the other end of the hike so we had to balance out hiking for speed and hiking for safety.  At the end of the day, our legs were pretty much Jello so we slowed the hike down and unfortunately missed the bus we wanted.  The important thing was that we hiked safe and made it down in one piece.  We caught the next bus which got us closer to Skogar, but not all the way there, and then we took an expensive taxi for the last leg back to Skogar.  The Fimmvörðuháls Mountain Pass Hike is the kind of hike that you want to plan out better than we did.


The other challenge here was balancing the right amount of equipment for the Hike.  I brought a DSLR back pack made by Incase along with 2 Canon DSLR's, 2 Lenses, the BeFree Manfrotto tripod, the DJI Mavic Pro Drone, in addition to a few liters of water and layers of clothing.  Needless to say my bag had some weight to it that made the hike more challenging, especially as it became water logged.  I recognized their were competing imperatives between bringing very limited gear and hiking for speed, and bringing additional gear that would maximize production of quality photographs.  Next time I definitely need a really good high quality water proof hiking bag for the camera gear, and maybe I'll only bring one camera, but that will be a hard sell since their are speed efficiencies in not switching lenses between one DSLR body.


One of my favorite parts of doing trips is to pickup tips and tricks that will add value to the next trip. One major takeaway was to have fit for purpose gear that is calibrated for the scenarios that are expected to be encountered. It’s a good move to invest in high quality equipment that will have your back when you need it to perform, unless you don’t mind being uncomfortable mid trip.


The weather was highly variable in Iceland and changed without notice. It is best to be prepared for all the conditions you can imagine like sun, clouds, rain, wind, and different combinations of temperature. It’s always good to hope for the best and be prepared for the worst because the weather cycled quickly from a sunny skies to heavy rain and vice versa. We factored variable wether into our planning and packed gear to get us through. With that said the conditions exceeded our expectations especially with the amount of rain we encountered. Definitely invest in a high caliber water proof tent, water proof rain jacket, water proof hiking pants, water proof hiking boots, and dry bags for electronics.


Water protection was the biggest opportunity for improvement on this trip. We did receive heavy rains during nights that we camped and my tent did leak a bit at the edges. It was pretty windy at night too and the tent was fairly loud when the wind gusted, which made sleeping challenging at times. For these reasons, I’m researching tents that are up to the challenge so camping will be more of a seamless experience next time.


I had challenges with my hiking pants in the rain because they became completely saturated. I had some challenges with my camera bag as well because it became water logged even though I used a waterproof cover. I learned midway through the hike that the bag was absorbing moisture through the shoulder straps, which added significant weight that made hiking down sketchy sections with steep grade and loose volcanic rock difficult and dangerous.


Even a waterproof Goretex jacket wasn’t enough to keep the rain out. I had my cellphone in the map pocket of the jacket and it was impacted by the water. Fortunately, I was able to dry the cell phone out but it was a close call. Next time, I will have a layered approach and will keep the electronics in a dry plastic bag.