I have paddled in Iceland every year for the past 10 years, either running courses or leading expeditions. Over the last 3 years I have taken groups of paddlers from around the world to the dramatic fjords, which make up the north-west corner of Iceland. This area is home to the lowest glacier in Europe, where the entire glacier sits below 1000m. It is also one of the few glaciers not currently in retreat.
Paddling out of Isafjordur heading north, you enter Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, where the only access is by water. There are no roads, and only isolated settlements of a couple of houses break up the ancient volcanic landscape.
The weather has always amazed me when paddling in this area, and it has taken a few years to really start to understand the local anomalies. The landscape is BIG; with cliffs that rise out of the sea reaching 600m straight up, and no trees or houses to help with scale, it’s hard to get your head around distances. The heavy cold winds that come from the north flow down and along the fjords. If a fjord is in line with the forecasted winds, it can increase the winds strength a lot, and if the fjord is perpendicular to the forecasted winds it can have no wind at all.
The highlight of paddling in this area has to be the wildlife. With thousands and thousands of sea birds on the water and cliffs, and an incredible abundance of whales, every day gives you a wildlife spectacle to observe. This year we had a few Minkie Whales join us in the middle of a crossing. They were swimming right under the kayaks and giving a display of their tails for all to see. The National Park is also home to an abundance of arctic foxes that often venture into our camp to see what’s going on, and try to steel our catch of fresh cod.
Iceland is like nowhere else on the planet and has so many different environments to explore. To me expedition sea kayaking is a way to access locations that cannot be easily explored by any other craft. Every time I return from a kayaking expedition to Iceland’s west fjords, I feel I have been fully immersed in the environment and come back with a deeper understanding and appreciation for a very special place. I am already looking forward to next year.