Access and Resources: Reenact Your Own Viking Saga

Jun 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

The Western Fjords.

Trekking the Laki Lava Field // Southern Iceland
When Icelandís Laki volcano last let loose (in 1783), it spewed 30 billion tons of lava and ripped a 15-and-a-half-mile-long fissure across the landscape, making it one of the largest eruptions in human history. It's not likely to blow again any time soon, but a trek across and into the 135 craters it left behind gives a glimpse of its awesome power. If you explore the terrain with Icelandic Mountain Guides, you'll be hiking six to eight hours a day, starting at the old farming community of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (don't even try to pronounce it)—where the lava miraculously halted at the town church—past abandoned farms where you'll camp for the night, through wetlands chiming with birdsong, and into the 226-square-mile lava field with craters so imposing some of them merit their own names, such as Red Hill. It's no wonder this striking Arctic desert geormorphology was where Neil Armstrong trained before he set off on the first Apollo mission to the moon. Reykjavík-based Icelandic Mountain Guides (011-354-587-9999; offers five-day guided trips here for $340.

Paddling Breidafjördur Archipelago // West Coast of Iceland
The subarctic archipelago of Breidafjördur, a wild maze of almost 2,700 tiny, mostly uninhabited islands, is Iceland's only marine conservation area, which makes it perfect for sea kayakers who want to avoid the country's otherwise ubiquitous coastal commercial fishing boats. The spectacular western coast is also home to thousands of cormorants and shags that breed on the offshore islands. Starting from the isolated coast at Dagverdarnes, you can paddle past Helgafell (a holy hill—not the volcano south of Reykjavík—mentioned in the Icelandic sagas as a territory that sparked a blood feud) and other mountains of the Sn3/4fellsnes Peninsula, through skerries that jut out of the water like an offshore Stonehenge, and among island colonies of friendly seals. Most paddlers who go on the four-day trip offered by Ultima Thule are intermediate kayakers ($390; 011-354-567-8978;
Backpacking the West Fjords // Northwestern Iceland
Visitors may think Iceland is sparsely populated, with just 281,000 people living on 39,709 square miles (a landmass roughly the size of England, which is home to 48 million people), but when the locals need space, they head north to the 232-square-mile Hornstrandir nature reserve, stunningly wild terrain near the Arctic Circle. The handful of farmers who once lived here fled in the 1950s, unable to bear the isolation. Con-sequently, there are no roads, so you can either walk in (which takes four or five days from the nearest village, Nordurfjördur), or take the ferry from Ísafjördur, the central hub of the West Fjords. Most backpackers opt for the ferry ride to the abandoned hamlet of Hornvík. From here you can climb K‡lfatindar, at 1,760 feet the highest cliff around, which has an incredible view of the Greenland Sea and the Hornbjarg nesting grounds crowded with razorbills, puffins, and fulmars. Then hike along the uninhabited coast across rock fields, shallow rivers, hidden coves, and meadows bursting with flowers. The 20-mile trek ends at Adalvík, another abandoned homestead, where you catch the boat back to civilization. Be forewarned: It's so remote that even the powerful Icelandic cell phones that work in the glacial interior don't get signals here. Ísafjördur-based West Tours (011-354-456-5111; offers five-day walking excursions for $480, including food, guides, and luggage transport. Hornstrandir Tours (011-354-895-1190; can assist hikers in planning their own expeditions and has two boats that drop off and pick up backpackers.

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