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Iceland Photography Blog 4 - Huskies, Goðafoss and the North

The most memorable parts of a journey can not be planned or expected you have to be lucky and this gift of luck is only brought forward by the tenacity to take advantage of it.

Luck was on my side as this day of clear skies and renewed enthusiasm for the trip (see blog 2) moved forward into the mid morning. It had been a frantic start to the day with beautiful scenery matched by truly memorable light. But this ethereal morning did have to come back down to earth as did I with the need to visit the bathroom.

One piece of advice I would offer first time visitors to a snow covered landscape would be is to not expect an apparently loose gravel surface to be just that. The ground can freeze just like water and be just as hard. This frozen ground situation had rendered a previous attempt to use my aptly named “Stool Tool” (a small hand trowel used for digging sanitary pits) a waste of valuable time. This situation quickly leading me to much physical, moral and environmental confusion over what should be a simple task.

So instead of going with trusty nature I drove onward to the north and waited for a sign for the next village and took that very turn.

This next turn proved fruitful for its intended purpose as well as an unexpected encounter with Iceland’s Husky club. I had stumbled into the fourth annual race meeting of the club which was only about half an hour away from starting. This magical morning after days of weather beat downs was about to throw me another once in a lifetime experience.

Casually, like I was meant to be there, I parked my car on the ice covered ground beside the road right next to a 4x4 loaded with huskies and sleds. I got out of the car to as many looks of “who is that guy” as one would expect from such a tight knit group of people. Steeled myself and walked right over the 4x4 and said “hey”. Not trying for a second to hide the fact that I didn’t belong there, had no idea what was happening or that I looked like a guy who had been camping the last 3 nights without a shower.

Within 2-3 minutes of talking to the first guy I met I had it all worked out. Huskies, sleds, racecourse, athletic people and one ginger haired goliath of a man.. time to take some photos. Pretty obvious sounding with retrospect, I do admit, but having laid some ground work and letting a few people know who I was set me up to get my camera out without the puzzled looks.

For the next 4 hours I hung out talking to the people and photographed the event both for myself and them as they were in desperate need of some photos. Group after group started the course with a 3 minute gap between each allowing time to chat with those nearby.

A few facts about huskies and Iceland –

  • The first huskies were brought to Iceland only about 10 years ago.
  • It costs about 2.5 million Icelandic Kroners (AUD $19,000) and 4 weeks in quarantine to bring a husky into the country.
  • The sleds and other equipment is mostly home made to designs found on the internet.

As the final teams were returning to the finish line a black cauldron like none I had seen before was produced along with an “A” frame stand and chunks of wood. “What’s going on” I asked a racer that I had been speaking to for sometime. “We’re about to start preparing a traditional Icelandic meat soup for lunch, you have to try some” she said as if the day couldn’t get any better.

Following on from one of the best encounters of the trip so far was always going to be a difficult task for any attraction. However the prospect of visiting steam vents howling with as much force as a train and boiling mud while not sounding as cool in writing was a spectacle. The thermal plain of fbdfbj was is one of Iceland’s greatest volcanic attractions without the crowd.

The designated tourist area with safe walkways and barriers to stop folk from putting their foot or more into boiling mud is relatively small. However, the landscape of the surrounding area makes the observer stand back and realise just what has happened. Craggy rocks cover the wider area for kilometres and even for the layperson mildly interested geology its easy spot that they are all lava flows. And they go on and on to the horizon or until they are obscured from view by the blanket of snow. No amount of mental prowess is needed to piece together the recent geological history of such a place. This quite unsettlingly making the observer feel not quite as safe as they just had a moment before.

The day began to grow old and an amount of driving was required to reach my final destination for the evening. Godafoss translates to “Waterfall of the Gods” and it was the place where I would spend this late afternoon. With great feelings of achievement already making me a little complacent I wander up to the rim of the gorge where the waterfall is thundering down the 20m drop. The other spectators were happy to stay on the rim but after doing some research I knew that there was a way to get to the bottom of the falls.

I couldn’t find the path for about an hour as it had been covered by snow and ice. This perhaps was the main reason why nobody else was shooting from the base, it was after all not exactly easy.

Crampons, this trips best photographic accessory were retrieved from their case and put to work. A comparison between wearing crampons and not wearing crampons is as easy as being able to go and having to sit back and watch. With 24 steal blades strapped to my feet the steep icy rock scramble was nothing of a challenge and soon found myself safely to the bottom.

While spending time looking for the angles and watching such a sight as Godafoss I had one of those moments. Everything else around me drifted away and a feeling of gratitude for where I was took me over. I had been missing this quiet time so far this trip having packed so much in to each day but at Godafoss it was there and it was almost tangible.

Shooting there was not nearly as pleasurable as simply setting up and going at it because of the constant drenching. The afternoons shooting was difficult and freezing cold. I was constantly having to nurse a wet lens back to a usable level of clarity as I was having to regain the warmth in my hands and feet.

However after the coldest night of camping and the truly freezing morning that followed the problems I faced in the afternoon took on a whole new level of pain. The morning was -14c and although it was cold I wanted to push for a pre-dawn shot of the falls. Making my way straight for the path down and preparing for the shoot in the last protected area away from the spray I realised one major difference between the two shoots.

The morning was so cold that the spray coming from the falls instantly froze to what ever it came into contact with and I do mean everything. I first noticed that my jackets arms had small white crystals then my pants then everything including my beared and the crystals grew in abundance.

This was a new and exciting element to work with but it did mean that the morning only yielded 12 photos in 2 hours. Each time I uncovered the lens to take a shot the spray that contacted it froze and required thawing then drying to remove. This was impossible to do without risking internal condensation on the lens taking it out of action possibly for the day or even longer.

I had two lenses that covered the frame, plus a filter that could be used to compose the photo without compromising the dry front glass of the lens itself. I could get 4 quick shots with each lens and another 4 with another filter attached before a noticeable amount of spray froze to the front glass.

It was hard work getting it right and by the end of it I had quite a lot of ice attached to myself. Like no other point in the trip this morning pushed what I thought of as the limits of the camera gear and myself. I was wearing so much clothing almost as much as I had but I could not stay warm. Standing in that spray for almost 2 hours had chilled me to the core.

Not even the heater in the car could get me back to normal temperature so I just gave up trying to warm from the outside in. I stopped the car and lit my camp stove to boil some water and even the gas mixture struggled in the cold. The flame of the Jetboil usually living up to its name was only at best a stiff breeze away from being extinguished so I packed nearly everything I had around it for a windbreak.

It seemed to be the longest session of watching the kettle boil of my life however unlike the well used saying my did eventually boil. I held close that litre of hot sweet coffee and cherished every sip as it brought me back to operational temperature. This was a very good lesson in not letting myself get too cold, once you’ve lost that core heat its difficult to get it back.

Feeling super powered by the strong coffee the journey continued without pause towards Akarry Iceland’s second biggest settlement. While driving into the outskirts of the town I decided to fill up the car and just by chance there was a photo shoot just beginning there. Marmot, a brand of outdoor equipment and clothing, had paid its European pro skiers to go to Iceland to do what they do best. The company had also devised a story line to accompany the ski trip and these guys were acting out one of those scenes.

Try as mush as might I wasn’t able to mooch a free ride so after 20 minutes of hanging out/pestering them I continued on to the town itself. Akarry is a great town but it was going to be my base where I learnt to ski in a few more days so I decided to breeze though town.

The next stage of the Icelandic journey of which I have a taste of here in this set of photos is the North Western Fjords and the sneafellness peninsula. Some of the most epic Fjords of the trip!