Summer was a mercurial season in east Iceland this year. The region often has a natural low cloud ceiling—an oppressive grey nothing that drifts over the Eastfjords, hanging just above the rooftops of the tiny towns—but this year, it felt impenetrable. The sun didn’t break through for weeks at a time. Even when it was warm, it was the odd warmth of a faraway summer sun radiating through the murky weather.
So it was with excitement that I woke up one Saturday in Seyðisfjörður to see a change, with strong sunlight shining through the curtains, creating dancing shadows on the bedroom wall. I eyed the blue sky with suspicion as I wolfed down breakfast, set on using this rare fine day to explore the mountains around the town.
Stopping in the town’s sole minimart to pick up supplies, I bumped into a friend who’d had the same idea. We decided to join forces, striding out of town along the fjord’s northern shore, stripping off hoodies and raincoats as we walked in the sudden, improbable heat. Seyðisfjörður’s windows gleamed across the water, its eggshell-blue church glowed in the sun, and just a few lonely clouds drifted across the sky.
The trail beginning is all-but hidden. Up a gravel road and over a ridge lies a long valley that very gradually ascends into the mountains. Following the bright yellow path markers, we wandered along the bank of the river that flows down from the heights, aiming for a high lake of Vestdalsvatn, five or so kilometres away.
The dirt path zigzagged up rocky outcrops, past a series of tumbling waterfalls. Each new tract of flatland was met by another waterfall, then another plain, as if we were ants climbing a series of giant steps made for a much bigger creature.
After two hours of gradually creeping higher, we turned back to see a breathtaking view out to sea. The river looked like a meandering rivulet gleaming in the sun, and a single boat chugged out of the fjord far below; the distant mountains seemed a deep, hazy blue, gracefully curving down to sea level.
As we ascended ever higher, the land changed from red and ochre mud and verdant green grassland to undulated rock-strewn plains, laced with vivid white roots and reeds. At one point, we were confronted by a wide patch of leftover hillside snow dusted with black ash. Stamping emphatically into the steep slush for grip, we slowly made our way diagonally upwards and rejoined the path, hoping it was the worst obstacle in our way.
We were gradually walking up into the clouds, through increasingly treacherous bogs and scree slopes, when the path hit a wide, rapid-flowing mountain stream. After examining the torrent for a foothold, nothing seemed quite safe enough. After adding a few chunks of rock to a submerged line of stepping stones, we sat down for a picnic in the mist, defeated.
After a while, a couple of brightly coloured figures appeared around a hill in the middle distance. They strode forth confidently, using climbing poles to steady themselves at every step, dressed head to toe in pro-hiker gear. When they reached the water, they drove the poles into the riverbed and crossed to our side.
They turned out to be a couple on holiday from Vancouver. “The lake is maybe half an hour more,” they said. “There’s some pretty deep snow and some wet bogs up ahead. It’s nice up there, the lake is frozen over.” They continued on their way. “Get some poles!” shouted the woman over her shoulder, as they marched off down the slope. Another well-kitted-out hiker passed not long after, showing us a photograph of the lake that lay tantalisingly out of our reach—the frosted surface of the water was barely visible through a white, spectral murk.
We may not have reached our target, but its a spectacular route nonetheless. The path back to the town faces the spectacular fjord view the whole way down, threading its way back across the streams, scree slopes and marshland towards Seyðisfjörður.
Find out more at www.visitseydisfjordur.com