North by Northwest
Siglufjörður and Eiriksstaðir
Friday, July 13th
Friday the 13th had arrived. Being in vacation mode, we did not notice that this superstitious combo was upon us, and we went about our day oblivious to possible doom.
More importantly, this was the last full day of our trip with Roland. Since he had to catch a flight the next morning out of Keflavik, we had to be back in the Reykjavik area this very night. Since we were in Akureyri - in Iceland's north - we had to allocate several hours of driving time today to get there. That meant, unfortunately, another day light on extended outings. I felt that we were rushing just a little too much on these last few days. A few extra days would have helped immensely.
We packed up and drove north out of Akureyri without having breakfast. As we had discovered over the last few days, Iceland seemed quite well-suited to picnicing, with many scenic roadside stops, usually with nice picnic tables. And usually with no one else stopped at them. So, today, rather than eat at the city campground, we decided that we would have our breakfast at the first scenic roadside stop with a picnic table that we could find.
Mountains of Tröllaskagi
If you were paying close attention, you may have noticed two things that I wrote above: one was that we were in Akureyri, and needed to get back to Reykjavik that day, and the other was that we drove north out of town. If you were paying close attention and you were very astute, you may have noted that the fasted way to Reykjavik from Akureyri was to take the ring road west out of town.
Road-side breakfast stop
If you were attentive and astute, pat yourself on the back. If not, no matter, because there was a reason to our choice. We had some leeway with the day's time, and one area that had attracted my attention was the mountainous coast of the Tröllaskagi (The Troll Mountains) peninsula, north of Akureyri. Both the topography and the little coastal towns along the way looked interesting. I also thought that we might be able to fit in a very short dayhike along here, given the close proximity of the highway and the mountains. After all, we had been primarily car touring for two days now, and a little foot-based travel would be welcome. Finally, the peninsula seemed like a convenient spot to experience a bit more of what the coastal areas had to offer - we had not really spent all that much time along Iceland's coasts.
A short twenty minutes north out of Akureyri along highway 82, we found the perfect little roadside picnic spot. The morning sun was shining, and the vista north to the snowy mountains of the peninsula with bright sunshine coming from the southeast - well, it was perfect. We set up the stove on the rest-stop's picnic table and had a very enjoyable, very scenic morning breakfast.
After our breakfast, we continued north along coastal highway 82. We passed the fishing village of Dalvík, modest, tidy and quiet, and continued north, with the snowy mountains along the spine of the peninsula squeezing us ever closer to the ocean.
Proud Icelandic Horse
Before the mountains had a chance to squeeze us right off into the waters of the fjord, we came to the entrance of the Múlagöng tunnel (also marked as the Ólafsfjarðargöng tunnel on some maps). This is a dark, narrow (one lane), rough-hewn tunnel that drills through a finger of the mountains that separates the main valley of the Eyjafjörður with the much smaller valley of the ÓÍafsjörður - another smaller fjord that indents into the peninsula. The tunnel has periodic pullouts to allow opposing traffic by. Ewart thought the whole arrangement was unworkable. I liked the narrow and primitive feel of the tunnel - it added to the sense of leaving urbanity behind and heading to the wild frontier.
The other side of the tunnel popped us into ÓÍafsjörður - both the name of the fjord and the little fishing town at its head. We drove slowly through the town, which was a little drab and run-down looking. If nothing else, it certainly felt like a tiny frontier sub-arctic community.
From ÓÍafsjörður, we soon plunged into another tunnel, this one much more modern. This was the first of the two Héðinsfjarðargöng tunnels, completed only very recently - in 2010 - and running a combined (very long!) 12+ kilometres under the mountain ranges of the northern Tröllaskagi peninsula. The tunnels connected to the [formerly] very isolated community of Siglufjörður.
As I mentioned earlier, in addition to the desire to explore these remote northern coastlines, I had hoped for one more short mountain dayhike. In my researchings, I had noticed that there was a small mountain-road just south of the town of Siglufjörður. The narrow gravel track winds up and over the spine of the mountains above town, and it looked very much like there would be a few easy hiking routes to nearby peaks from the road's height-of-land.
Unfortunately, as we emerged into the Siglufjörður environs, we looked up at the slopes that the mountain road traversed, and... well, they looked pretty snowy. At a glance I knew that it was very likely that the high part of the road was still not passable - even though it was the middle of July. The other unfortunate thing to note was that unlike back in the environs of Akureyri, the weather here wasn't nearly as cheery. There was a low cloud deck that obscured the summits of the surrounding mountains, and it was cold and windy.
Despite all of this, some of us were still game to go up and explore as far as we could along the mountain road. Maybe we'd have an adventurous change of heart and want to hike in the blustery weather after all.
Siglufjörður from above
Turning off onto the narrow mountain road, we soon started steeply up through a downhill ski area. The road's angle increased further as we drove higher, and quite rugged alpine-looking peaks rose above us into the clouds. Impressively so for such low elevation (2,600 foot-ish) peaks.
Sure enough, a bank of impassable snow soon blocked the road, and we could drive no further. Up here we could see the base of the clouds not far above, the wind whipping them along at a high rate of speed. From the back of the van I could feel the distinct lack of will to get out and do anything in these conditions. Still, a few of us got out to at least get a taste of it, and get a few shots looking back down to Siglufjörður (there was a neat view back down the slopes to the town from here).
It was truly wintery, high up in this bowl of snow and rock and grey clouds. The wind was very strong and the temperature couldn't have been more than a few degrees above freezing. Pretty inhospitable-feeling for the middle of July. Even Roland's in-car bravado faded as he looked up at the drab slopes. And if the wind was strong here in this bowl, it would be several notches higher on the ridges and summits above.
In the end, we decided that we'd just head back down to Siglufjörður and have a coffee. No day-hiking for us today!
The frigid weather and blocked road were a bit of a blessing in the end, for we got spend more time exploring the town of Siglufjörður, which unlike nearby ÓÍafsjörður, was actually quite an attractive little place. It appeared as if the harbour area had been the recipient of some recent revitilization, looking quite tidy and pretty, while still retaining an authentic small-fishing-port-air. We drove by the interesting-looking Herring Era Museum (the Herring fishery played an important part in Siglufjörður's history), and parked the Hiace adjacent to the harbour.
We spent an unexpectedly long time in this town. In addition to the very scenic harbour views of colorful ships backed by snow-capped mountains, we visited a very nicely renovated harborfront building that had been turned into a cafe. Everyone was very impressed with the spacious and nicely-finished interior. Outside were a number of interesting works of art, places to sit, and various little attractions. When all put together, it made Siglufjörður a very nice spot for a break. With more time, I think it would have been worthwhile to check out the museum.
Not looking too good for Hanel