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Ásbyrgi

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It was an early Monday morning when we visited the horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi. We were all alone in the park and during the two hours we spent there, we hardly spoke a word. It’s the kind of place which robs your voice.

Ásbrygi

Iceland is a country full of bizarre natural wonders, and Ásbyrgi is yet another. The canyon defies logic. You’re walking through a forest, when suddenly there’s this massive cliff wall towering 100 meters into the air, encircling you on three sides. There’s a pond at its foot, into which a small waterfall is trickling. And, while you should be concentrating on the sheer magnificence of the scene, you can’t stop wondering … how did something like this form in the first place?

Modern-day geologists have an answer for us. Something about catastrophic glacial flooding swiftly carving a chunk out of a relatively warm lava bed. But I prefer the origin story from Norse mythology. Ásbyrgi is believed to be the place where the horse of Óðinn, Thor’s father, stamped one of his eight hooves down onto the earth. It would explain the shape, and the pool at the base of the cliff looks just like a rain puddle collected in the hoof-print.

There’s a network of trails around Ásbyrgi, and a few excellent lookouts from which you can take in the scene. We only had a couple hours, and so stuck to those which were easiest to reach. With more time, we’d have been able to climb to the top of the cliff, or even scale Eyja, a giant rock island which sits in front of the horseshoe. There’s also a popular multi-day hike leading from Ásbyrgi to Dettifoss.

Regardless of how much time you have, it’s worth going out of your way to see Ásbyrgi. It’s an area of sublime beauty, especially in autumn when a thick forest of birch and fir trees have turned colors, and was one of the surprise highlights of our trip around Iceland.

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October 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm Comments (4)

Hiking around the Western Snæfellsness, Part 1

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We set out early from Hellissandur for a big day of hiking around the western end of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This was our first extended hike in Iceland, and we had planned a promising route through lava fields, to the rims of craters, past waterfalls and across glacial rivers. Well, “crossing glacial rivers” wasn’t actually on the itinerary; it was more like a last-minute surprise at the day’s end.

Saxhóll Volcano Vulkan Iceland
Saxhóll Crater

We had stayed the night at the Hotel Hellissandur, which was large and comfortable, with a helpful staff happy to provide tips on our upcoming hike. We gorged ourselves on the hotel’s excellent breakfast buffet before setting out, providing us extra energy that turned out to be vital. Our hike was a lot longer and more difficult than we expected.

But the path started easy, following the coast southwest of Hellissandur past the remains of Viking-era fishing huts and to the Írskrabrunnur (Irish Well), a dried-up underground cistern guarded by a massive whale bone. Very cool. You can descend the stairs into the well, though there isn’t much reason unless you’re an aficionado of puddles and dirt walls.

Next we crossed the Neshraun Lava Field on our way to the Saxhóll Crater. Marked by red-tipped stakes, the trail was easy to follow, though not so easy to traverse. The dried lava was craggy and sharp, keeping our pace slow and clumsy until we reached the foot of the crater. Saxhóll erupted around 3000 years ago, forming the amazing landscape we’d just crossed. The climb to the crater’s rim was surprisingly easy, and the view down into the bowl was spectacular.

Saxhóll was just the first crater we saw on our long day out. As our journey continued, we would come ever nearer the Snæfellsjökull Glacier, and encounter waterfalls, snow, sheep, and absolutely no other people. Oh, and we would run into some rivers. Plenty of rivers.

Locations on our map: Hellissandur | Írskrabrunnur | Saxhóll
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Iceland Roads
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Hellissandur Archaeological Viking Finding
Írskrabrunnur
Írskrabrunnur (Irish Well)
Írskrabrunnur
Írskrabrunnur (Irish Well)
Hiking In Iceland
Neshraun Lava Field
Neshraun Lava Field Iceland
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Neshraun Lava Field
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Glacier Neshraun Lava Field
Saxhóll crater
Saxhóll crater Iceland
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Snæfellsjökull Glacier
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August 8, 2013 at 4:49 pm Comments (2)
sbyrgi It was an early Monday morning when we visited the horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi. We were all alone in the park and during the two hours we spent there, we hardly spoke a word. It's the kind of place which robs your voice.
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