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HVITUR Essay - Free Download

To coincide with the publication of HVITUR on October the 1st, I released a three part essay disclosing all the thrills and spills of my trip. I had manage to time my arrival onto the island with the worst winter storms the Icelanders had seen for generations so there were plenty of highs and lows. 

I received incredible feedback and was shocked by all the positive feedback on the essays so I have put them all into one place so that it can be downloaded for free. Jut visit the store, put your details through and hit download. All for absolutely nothing. The work also features images as yet unseen.

If you're thinking about visiting Iceland, or even if you're just looking for an adventure, this essay should get you itching for travel and exploration.

HVITUR: Iceland Blog Post - Part 2.

… continued from HVITUR: Part 1… 

We began to sink further into the sand. Panic was setting in. Thoughts rushed through my mind; Could we get out? Could we be rescued and even be able to afford the rescue? Could we even be located if we called for help? We were in such a huge open space, there would have been no chance of describing where we were.

I rammed the gear stick into reverse and put my foot down, we rocked back slightly but couldn't get loose. Back into Drive again. Foot down. The car leaned forward. I decided to rock the car back and forth, it was our only hope. A combination of fast footwork and flipping the gearstick from reverse to drive had the car seesawing back and forth. Our oscillation was gaining momentum and we rocked back and fourth in the ravine. We rolled forward to halfway of the slope. With my foot on the floor, the car roared and shook violently, all four wheels roostertailling black sand backwards behind our vehicle. The traction was crawling us up, inch by inch until we caught dry sand. The car lurched up, jumping forward, emerging triumphantly like a foal finding its first steps. I continued forward onto solid ground and looked at my panicked girlfriend. She could see the panic in my face slowly fading away. "I told you not to drive down there." she said calmly. My response was muted. 

We continued a few hundred feet towards the coastline toward the tremulous sea and pulled up on some higher ground. We looked east across the small estuary and saw the downed DC-3 American Naval Plane, one of Iceland's popular but hard to find anomalies. The plane crash landed in November 1974 after getting into difficulties in extreme weather. Thankfully, all crew members survived but the plane was never salvaged, and the wreckage has decayed where it landed ever since. We wrapped up and geared up, then carefully crossed the estuary to take a look around it. The majority of the fuselage had gone and what remained was rotting away; a casualty of the daily battering it received from the atlantic weather.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

The winds were getting stronger and I noticed the surface sand starting to move around our feet. It was time to go. Normally I would have walked closer to the shoreline to photograph the waves. They reminded me of a painting my grandmother used to have of a seascape that was in full gale, waves crashing onto sand and white water everywhere. As a child I used to stand and stare at its beauty, mesmerised by the chaos on the canvas. Today however, there was no time to stand and stare, we had to escape the black expanse. We hurried back to the 4x4 and drove across the beach to the relative safety of the main road, this time avoiding the ravine…

After a night in nearby Vik, we travelled through driving rain to the Skaftafell Glacier. On the way there the landscape around the road varied dramatically. Every five minutes you were in a different land. We would travel through an alien, mist-laden flatland, with luminous blue pools either side of the road where visibility was poor, then into boulderfields stretching out to the horizon. The pools shone out like an oasis. In this grey, bleak and motionless wilderness sat beaming bright pools of life, so beautiful in colour that you wanted to wade into them or take a drink from them; and yet there was an air of danger about them. Like a venomous spider, its colours exuded beauty and danger in equal parts.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

Into the boulderfield, every rock was uniformly blanketed with a thick moss, in the deepest darkest green I’ve seen. This section of the journey had an evermore eerie air and an uncomfortable atmosphere. My girlfriend and I simultaneously expressed a feeling being of watched. 

I noticed at irregular instances that in the distance you could see rock formations that mimicked the silhouettes of hooded figures. Driving without seeing another living being for hours on end, to suddenly catching the figure of a person walking alone through the endless boulderfields. In Iceland they say that some rocks are trolls trapped in solid form
for eternity; maybe these figures propel the myth.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

Under the now darkened sky, the horizon soon started to show a bright and cool blue, but the light was radiating upwards, not descending from the sky. As we worked our way along the coastline, the great Skaftafell came into view and we realised the light was emanating from the glacier. We took a punt on a turning off the road and followed an incredibly potholed track for ten minutes. 
Having never seen a glacier in the flesh, it was hard to take in. Huge blue shards of ice as big as buildings were separated by cracks big enough to drive a car through, sloped into a flat frozen lake. The glacier seemed to give off an energy. Skaftafell, so bright, so vast and so beautiful completely eclipsed the rest of the landscape and dwarfed anything I’d ever seen. 

We finally arrived at a clearing and parked up, taking a walk to the edge of the land that soared above the lake to take a closer look. Snow was coming down pretty heavily at this point and we climbed higher up a steep slope to get a better view. To our left we noticed the remnants of some footsteps heading round the corner. I was left confused because there was no path leading around, and it didn't look possible to get further around from where we stood. I took some photographs and decided to climb back down the face as the weather was worsening and starting to make things feel a bit uncomfortable. On the way down we noticed a plaque commemorating two climbers who were last seen there in 2007, and had never returned. Another reminder that Iceland was as silent, serene and beautiful as it was dangerous. 

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

Next stop was Jokulsarlon. A must for any visitor to Iceland and an area like no other on Earth. Here the Skaftafell Glacier breaks up in an inland lagoon and huge icebergs which are slowly washed out to sea, are battered by the waves, and thrown back onto the black sand.

We reached the bridge that takes drivers over the Jokulsarlon lagoon and stopped off under a stormy sky. As the light faded we decided to take a look around. Walking along the edge of the lagoon we saw seals playing in the water, popping their heads up to look at passers by. The water was dark, offsetting the brightly coloured blue-green icebergs in the water. Upon the shoreline were oddly shaped fragments of ice, contoured, worked and smoothened into beautiful shapes. Unlike the bergs, these pieces had been whittled and refined by the water and so had turned absolutely clear. A millennia of compression had distilled them, making them almost perfectly transparent. The only thing breaking up the clarity were minute bubbles and tunnels or air, sporadically working their way through the ice.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

As the light faded, we headed to our accommodation and returned the following day.
In early morning the light was much cleaner and we headed out onto the iceberg littered beach.
The volcanic sand was scattered with bright blue sculptures, unimaginable forms pitted by the elements. The wedges of ice harboured an deep incandescent aqua blue light, and appeared to glow - this was the same light we had seen emanating from Skaftafell, but in smaller pieces.

Different angles presented the sculptures as different things, flower heads, animals or delicate artefacts, installed in a way which mimicked the experience of walking through a gallery. It was strange to believe that these objects had be placed by nature, as opposed to being organised and curated by human hand.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

As everything on land lay absolutely still, I turned my attention to the waters edge. The wind was picking up and the waves were getting rough. Larger slabs of ice marooned on the sand were taking the brunt of the tide, jolting back and forth as wave upon wave slammed against them relentlessly. I was reminded of my Grand-mothers painting once again. Blue-green waves swelling and crashing into white foam. 

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

Further into the trip we decided to track down the infamous Bruarfoss.
A small, brightly coloured waterfall nestled inland, Bruarfoss is know for being incredibly hard to find, and as such is yet to be a tourist hotspot. After hours of research before the trip, we had a pretty good idea of its location. We drove inland on a bright white morning, to the point at which we thought it lay, but found ourselves on an empty campsite with baron chalets all around us. Driving through the campsite was difficult as this was their off peak season. The roads hadn't been ploughed recently and we had to wrestle the 4x4 down small lanes with 4ft walls of snow on either side.  We followed our coordinates and were sure it was around, yet found ourselves in a completely unexpected location. 
We parked the car up and decided to take a look around, taking full faith in our research but not our location. With the snow crunching underfoot, we explored around us but were none the wiser. After pausing in the still air, we heard the faintest sound of rolling water. Following the direction of the noise we noticed 20ft down the lane a break in the snow-wall lining the road. Entering this, we waded through thigh high snow, weaving through leafless bushes, remaining cautious of the uneven ground beneath our feet. The ground started to decline downwards and we came to a bridge over a dry ravine. We crossed it, shaking the snow off our waterproofs, only to be emersed in waist high snow on the other side. We could hear the sound of crashing water getting closer, pausing every few feet to readjust our direction. We found ourselves powering through the snow as fast as we could. Wading turned into slo-mo running, pushing harder through the powder to find what we hoped would be Bruarfoss. 
The ground sloped down again and as we slowed our steps, it came into sight. Bruarfoss. Alone in the silent wilderness without another person as far as the eye could see. Nestled within the black water of the river, the Bruarfoss crevice glowed brightly. A belt of sulphur-blue water gleaming out against the coal black rivers edge.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

Watching the water swirl over the blue riverbed was mesmerising and I found myself endlessly staring into its depths. If it hadn't been just above freezing, I would have considered diving in to see what the rock face looked like underneath the swell. The land around Bruarfoss is bleak and nothing stood out except the fields, laced with golden grass. We stayed here for a good hour absorbing its sounds and movement, then followed our footsteps back through the snow to the car. We slowly drove back through the lanes of the campsite, the car sliding and swerving left and right through the snow. We came to the final stretch before the main road, a long and perfectly straight section of lane, banked either side with snow that sloped gradually upwards to the junction. As we advanced to the crossing, I lifted my foot off the accelerator to coast up to the connecting road. An alarming grunt followed and the drivers side front corner lurched violently a few feet downwards. I couldn't believe my eyes: the lane sloped upwards, and yet the front corner of the 4x4 was facing down at a dangerous angle. I cautiously put the car into reverse and turned the wheel away from the decline. I put my foot down on the accelerator to take the front end back onto the lane. We creeped backwards. Suddenly the back end of the car slid down into the ditch and the car tipped on one side. We were sliding laterally and the car was tipping more and more. A fear a hit me, the car was starting to roll...

To be continued in HVITUR: Iceland Blog post - Part 3...
 

HVITUR: Iceland Blog Post - Part 1.

The night before the flight to Iceland, I barely slept. I lay there in Hackney amongst the lights and the sirens absolutely wired. 

When the hour finally approached, my partner and I caught a couple of busses across London to St. Pancras only to be an hour early. We spent that dark hour sat in a Starbucks which had transformed into a seedy dive, home to all sorts of undesirable characters - drunken old men flopped in arm chairs, gangs of burnt-out women waiting for the first train back after a night out, and a couple of homeless guys who even attempted to steal the jug of milk only to be shooed away like a pair of pigeons entering the shop. All in absolute silence. The only thing more uncomfortable than the silence was the unbearable smell of rancid body odour in the air; and yet we sat there, because it was the only place open.

We jumped on the train to Luton and the flight over to Reykjavic was pretty smooth. Once the plane had pulled up, we had to sit onboard for 25 minutes because the doors had frozen shut and airport staff were attempting to thaw us out. We headed to the rental desk to pick up our 4x4 and whilst signing the paperwork, were shown a car that had been dropped back a few days before. It was destroyed. It looked as if it had been rolled down the side of a mountain or dropped in the sea. All glass was gone and every panel was pitted and deformed. The client had been caught in one of the regular wind storms on the south coast, exactly where we were headed. The Atlantic wind can easily build to be so strong that rocks and stones take flight and destroy property.

Our first stop, after getting used to driving an automatic, was a peninsular south of Grindavik, the most South-Westerly point of Iceland. Directly to the west, Greenland. Directly South, nothing but the Atlantic all the way down to Antarctica. The sea was raging against the jagged, black cliff edges. The only thing outsizing the mountainous black-green waves were the cliffs themselves, all capped with snow. The sharp air whipped around us and held a strong scent of Sulphur, not altogether pleasant. The landscape as we faced inland could only be compared to the moon; boulderfields as far as the eye could see, except snow covered and surrounding a tall red lighthouse.  

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

After a night in Rekjavik, the adventure really started. On our first drive out, we came across a volcanic lagoon which, although being vibrantly colourful and beautiful, filled me with a sense of uneasiness. The water steamed in places and in others was perfectly still. The blue surface looked like glass, as if it had been immobile for millenia. We knew the water was warm and yet there was something stopping us from even dipping a finger tip in. It was so vibrant and so inviting it felt like a trap, as if it could have been toxic or acidic.  The algae was a brilliant green-gold and the silt was a cool grey. 

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

The Icelandic winter is incredibly volatile. As minutes passed by the weather would change from wind storm, to hail storm, to sun, to snow, to wind, to hail... relentlessly. Sporadically we were fortunate to have the same weather for more than ten minutes, but driving throughout the day exhausting; just as you've adjusted your eyes to seeing through a hail storm, the hail has gone and you were fighting the wind, wrenching the steering wheel to try and keep the car on the road. It was at this point, on South coast, that the wind got too much and we started to panic. We couldn't stop and sit it out on the roadside because we were driving through boulder fields, which meant flying rocks. We pushed forward until we saw a farmhouse a little back off the road. We swerved up the track and drove into the farm yard to hide. I zipped up my arctic coat and knocked on the farmhouse door. I was met by a large black dog barking wildly and a broad, redfaced woman who didn't speak a word of English. After some wild gesturing, she said we could shelter in her yard, so we bunked down in our sleeping bags in the 4x4. Two hours of incessant shaking meant we didn't sleep a wink for fear of the car rolling or a window bursting through. The wind still didn't abate so we were forced drive through whatever sunlight was left in the day to our refuge for the night.

After a night in Puertsey, we headed out in bright, calm weather. We soon stopped off at Skogafoss, a soaring waterfall standing 200ft high. As much as possible we tried to avoid tourist hotspots in Iceland, but Skogafoss just isn't something you can drive past without wanting to take a closer look. As we drove up the the waterfall we were met with bus loads of tourists taking selfies and jumping photos in front of the roaring, cascading water. With the weather turning slightly fair as our films were loaded into our cameras, we decided to climb up the side of the waterfall, up a slippery and sharp grassy incline to walk along the river further inland, away from the iPhones. As we reached the 3/4 mark, I spotted an out ledge hanging high over the waterfall and decided to walk out onto it. I composed a few shots and before I could do anything about it, was knocked sideways by a burst of wind. Iceland's turbulent winds had caught me off guard. I slipped a couple of feet down the side of the ledge but managed to get a grip on the rock face through the crisp snow. Had I not been able to stop myself, the was 150 feet of nothing to stop me from hitting jagged rock or plunging into the shallow pool at the foot of the waterfall. I was starting to realise that relaxing too much in Iceland could put you in serious danger. 

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

Trekking further inland lead us into a silent and desolate plain. Behind the waterfall, the river forged its way through vast expanses of golden grassed hills and the river varied through still, calm pools to wild rapids and white water. Whilst walking away from the river, wrapped from head to toe in arctic clothing, we came across a small spring. A gentle and solitary trickle emerging from a thigh height ledge. For a moment the winds died down, and the spring was the only source of noise; a tiny, delicate flow in an swathe of silent fields. We removed our gloves, cupped our hands beneath the spring and sipped at the water; as cool, clear and refreshing as you could ever taste. 

Turning back for the car, we walked until we reached Skogafoss. Between the waterfall and the coastline we saw a huge tract of land, absolutely flat, dark and lifeless, and totally exposed to all of nature's force.  We realised that this stretch was part of Iceland's famous volcanic beaches. 

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

© Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

From the waterfall, we drove west and decided to explore the black volcanic beach by car. Although the beach is a huge attraction, there was no developed route onto the beach, no signposts or information, just a small insignificant gate in a crooked wire fence. We dropped down onto the beach and headed straight out to the sea. After a couple of minutes driving, we realised the sheer scale of the territory we were immersed in. Glancing East and West we saw nothing but acres of black sand as far as the eye could see. 
The lunar landscape was like nothing I'd ever experienced before; although the beach itself was smooth and easy to traverse, it was scattered with boulders meaning we had to really think about how we navigated our way to the shoreline. Across the whole beach there was barely any sign of natural life. 

Look closely, you can see the 4x4 on the horizon. © Patrick H. Sampson, 2015.

With the winds picking up, the car was rocking about as we headed out to sea. If we were in danger of being caught in a wind storm and having the 4x4 destroyed, it was here.
We followed the line of a small estuary in the hope that it would end up taking us out to the waters edge, swerving around yet more boulders. In the distance we could see the sea absolutely raging against the shoreline. I'd never seen the sea so violent, 15ft waves crashing directly down onto the black sand. 
While keeping an eye on the conditions, I kept a steady pace across the beach as a sickening combination of excitement and uneasiness sunk into me. Along the line of the estuary I saw a smooth dip in the land, about 5tf down and then slowly back up again. Heading towards it, my girlfriend said, "Don't drive down there?". "It'll be fine." I replied. After all, the beach had been completely firm all the way out from the roadside. I put my foot down. We sped down to the bottom of the dip and shuddered to a stop.
The engine revved with rage as I put my foot completely down. The car shook, and I opened the door to see the underside of the vehicle completely set on the sand.

The freezing gales whipped around the car, and there we were. Stuck.   

 

More images from my Icelandic expedition can be seen here.

Continued in HVITUR: Iceland Blog Post - Part 2