Iceland Day 11 – Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Snæfellsnes Peninsula / Snæfellsjökull National Park



If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.

Breakfast is included at Gistiheimilid Hof, but we got there at the tail end, and it was a bit meager. That is to say, they ran out of cheese, dang it! We filled up on other things, but still...

Staying two nights in one place, we had the luxury of devoting a whole day to exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, a 100-kilometer-long appendage sticking out west from the main body of Iceland. Snaefellsjokull, the ice-cap-covered volcano at the western end of the peninsula, is the orifice through which the book's characters descended to begin their epic journey in Jules Verne's “Journey to the Centre of the Earth,” which I read while we traveled through Iceland.

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Snæfellsjökull obscured by clouds

After breakfast we headed west along the peninsula's southern shore. We quickly came to Raudfeldar Canyon, a narrow crack disappearing into the side of a cliff. There's a short hike, and then you have to hop from rock to rock up a stream to enter the ravine. After that, you can continue pretty far up the canyon, but we went just a little past the entrance, where we found an abundance of dead birds lying around in various states of decay. Creepy.

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Rauðfeldar Canyon

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From Rauðfeldar

A littler further along, we turned up Rt. F570 to visit some cool lava caves about 1.5 kilometers from the main road, the largest of which is Songhellir (Song Cave). The acoustics were great, and I treated Tom to a few verses of my favorite songs from “The Sound of Music.” You're welcome, Tom.

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Lava caves at Sönghellir

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Tom enjoys my concert

As I've mentioned, 2WD vehicles, such as ours, aren't allowed on “F” roads, so after the caves, I was keen to turn around and get off F570, but Tom was set to keep going, so we foolishly pushed on up the steep, rock-strewn, pot-holed track. The road goes right along the edge of Snaefellsjokull. Too bad it was obscured by low-lying clouds on this very dark and overcast day. Luckily, we had a good view of the volcano from our cabin last night.

At an elevation of 700 meters, we reached the summit of the road, though we were nowhere near the top of the volcano, at 1,446 meters. Finally, we turned around at the top, because the road further north was clearly even worse, and we'd been lucky to make it this far. By the way, we weren't the only fools up there in a 2WD, but that still didn't make it a good idea!

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F570 summit

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On top of the world

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F570 - It's worse than it looks

The dark day wasn't good for mountain viewing, but it made the seascapes even more dramatic, and we took a fantastic cliff-side hike along the jagged coastline between the villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar. It was 5 kilometers for me out and back, but only 2.5km for Tom, as I went and picked him up in Hellnar after hiking back and retrieving the car.

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Mt. Stapafell from Arnarstapi

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Cliffs of Arnarstapi

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Arnarstapi to Hellnar coastal hike

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Hellnar to Arnarstapi coastal hike

At Svalpufa-Pufubjarg we found dramatic craggy cliffs and a tall seastack forged from layers of volcanic rock and thought to be part of an ancient crater that erupted under the sea.

According to legend, in the 17th century, poet Kolbeinn Grimsson challenged the devil to a poetical duel, and at Pufubjarg one night when the moon was shining and the sea was rough, they sat down on the cliff edge and dueled for the whole night. Whoever could not finish a verse started by the other would fall from the cliff into the ocean. They dueled for the whole night, until Kolbeinn gave the devil the beginning of a verse he couldn't finish, and in his frustration, the devil said, "This is no poetry, Kolbeinn." Kolbeinn then finished the verse himself, and the devil immediately fell from the edge of the cliff and plunged into the ocean.

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Svalþúfa-Púfubjarg

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Cliffs of Púfubjarg

On the black-sand beach of Dritvik, next to a rocky shore, lie the remains of the British fishing trawler "Epine," wrecked on a stormy night in March 1948 with the loss of 14 of her 19 crew. The fragments of the vessel have been left as a memorial, and you're asked to please not disturb or remove these.

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Dritvík beach

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Remains of the trawler "Epine"

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Rocky stacks at Dritvík

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Gatklettur arch, Dritvík

Next we climbed Saxholl, a volcanic crater with the classic cone shape. It was only about 300 meters to the top. Shortly afterward, at about 5:00 p.m., the clouds finally parted to reveal Snaefellsjokull!

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Saxhöll

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Saxhöll from the top

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Snæfellsjökull appears!

We took side road 579 toward the bright orange lighthouse at Ondverdarnes. Before the lighthouse, we reached the beach at Skardsvik, with its ridiculous warning signs regarding the danger of swimming there. I guess they thought we'd take one look at the pretty beach and not be able to resist a dip in the frigid ocean. Just before the lighthouse are the Svortuloft bird cliffs, sans birds this time of year.

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Skarðsvík beach

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Too bad - I was totally going to take a dip

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Svörtuloft bird cliffs, Öndverðarnes lighthouse

Back to the main road, 574, heading east across the top of the peninsula, we passed the Hellissandur long-wave radio mast at Gufuskalar, the tallest structure in western Europe, 412 meters (1,352 feet) tall, built by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1963 as part of the LORAN-C navigation system. LORAN-C was shut down in 1994, being replaced by satellite technology, at which time the tower became a radio transmitter for the Broadcasting Service of Iceland.

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Tallest structure in western Europe

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Ólafsvíkurkirkju, made entirely of triangular pieces

The drive from Grundarfjordur to Stykkisholmur is supposed to be exceptionally beautiful, but by the time we got to Grundarfjordur, it had started to rain and the clouds were very low, so though it was pretty, it wasn't spectacular, and I didn't feel like getting out in the rain to take any photos, even though we did see some nicely shaped “sugarloaf” mountains and a multitude of waterfalls.

We turned off the main road again for a short time to drive the Berserkjahraunsvegur (Berserkers' lava field road). The rugged road gets its name from a pair of Berserkers who, in a famous Icelandic Saga, were murdered nearby by being locked inside a scalding hot sauna and then speared to death as they tried to escape. (Another heartwarming story, I know.) It was a strange place. You could barely tell the road from the surrounding lava. We just had to follow the tire tracks.

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Berserkjahraun lava field

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Berserkjahraunsvegur

Since the view was diminished in the rain and gloom, we turned back toward our guesthouse before reaching Stykkisholmur, deciding the town is close enough to visit tomorrow morning if the weather is better. We got back to our cabin by 7:30. What a great, beautiful, marvelous, interesting place the Snaefellsnes Peninsula turned out to be!

Tonight we had another dinner of champions: ramen noodles with salami, cheese, and crackers – easy, convenient, and cheap. No Northern Lights tonight – way too cloudy.

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Voted best beer in Iceland by at least two Americans



Continue to September 18, 2014

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