I didn't do much research on Iceland before I went. I just knew it was one of those places I always wanted to go to. A few years back I saw a photo online of Mt. Kirkjufell – a cool, wizard-hat-looking mountain, and I thought to myself, "why doesn't anyone climb that?" After doing a little research I learned that some people do climb it, but not many. So, my main objective for this trip was to summit this interesting looking peak.
Words & Photos / Matt Wild
When I arrived in Iceland I felt at home, climate wise. The weather is just as cool and unpredictable as Alaska’s. My friend Josh and I stopped into Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland) for breakfast before heading north to the west fjords to camp at the base of Kirkjufell. It was about a 4-hour drive along the coast. There were waterfalls for days. I think many of us have an unclear image of Iceland. It's crazy how quickly the landscape changes from grassy mountains to lava fields to glaciers, all in a matter of minutes. Looking out into the vastness of nature it almost feels like you’re in another world – parts of Iceland were used to acclimate astronauts to landscapes in preparation for the moon landings.
After a long drive we ended up in a city called Grundarfjörður (a small city located near Kirkjufell). We set up camp, got some sleep, and hoped the clouds would clear before hiking to the top of the mountain.
We woke up to crystal clear skies and warm sun. Since we didn't have any cell service or Internet we couldn't research the route to the summit. None of the locals really knew much about it either. So we just went straight up. There was no beaten path and there were several sections that required some bouldering skills. At the top shelf there was some sketchy rope tied to help climb the last 3 sections. I reluctantly trusted the ropes and, once at the top, noticed that they were not anchored to anything very sturdy.
Overall it wasn't a difficult hike. The peak isn't very high compared to what we are used to back home, but the view from the top was absolutely gorgeous and we couldn't have asked for better weather. We chilled at the top for a while, soaked in the scenery, and eventually climbed down to prepare for the next adventure.
And so we ventured on. We didn't really have a plan, so we decided to do all the quintessential tourist things. We visited the national park, ate smelly shark, learned about Viking history, and went to all of the easily accessible tourist attractions.
After exploring and camping for a few days we decided to head back into Reykjavik and book a hotel for the next few days. That night, it just so happened to be Culture Night, the biggest Icelandic event of the year. All the streets downtown was closed and the whole city turned into a giant party. Live music on every block, fireworks, dance parties in the streets, food and people everywhere. It was a pleasant surprise.
The party went till 5am with almost no snags. At one point I got into a little bit of a scuffle at a club. I don't really know how it started, all I know is that I ended up with a black eye and he ended up getting choked out and thrown out of the club. After that it was time to go. I had enough skinny jeans and Macklemore haircuts for one night.
From Reykjavik we ventured into the wilderness and explored some lava fields, did some day hikes to waterfalls and hot springs. Before heading to the airport we stopped at the famous Blue Lagoon. Even though it was very commercialized it's still a must do for any visitor. It was pretty relaxing and was a great ender to our trip.
A few tips for anyone who visits:
- Iceland sleeps in. If you want to beat the rush, go before noon.
- Buy your beer at the duty free shop in the airport. You'll save 50%. 9 bucks a beer gets ridiculous.
- Iceland is bigger than you think. Do your research.
- Icelanders are standoffish at first, but ultimately very friendly (we had several locals invite us to their houses for a feast of Minke whale and Puffin).