I woke up before sunrise and took a look out of the window. Clouds. Lots of clouds. I thought the evening before was bad, but this took it to another level. I couldn’t see the mountains I had planned on shooting at sunrise, and I was on the near side of the bay. I had planned on shooting them from across the bay. “Stranger things have happened”, I thought, and started the drive around the bay. I pulled in and began the waiting game. Nothing. Sunrise time came and went, and the pure, low cloud cover didn’t budge. Oh well, can’t win them all. I had plans for two waterfalls that day, and the Northern Lights forecast was strong for that night.
I began my drive towards Egilstadir, the next town of any size. It had snowed just enough to make the road white, so I wasn’t in a hurry. I move along, noting the diminishing scenery. I don’t think the scenery was getting worse, but the visibility sure was. The clouds got lower, blending with a thickening fog, and it was now snowing. I slowed more and the road got worse.
I pushed on, hoping it would get better, but mother nature is going to do whatever she wants. I grabbed my phone and snagged a quick shot before I had to turn my focus (mental not camera) all the way up. Thankfully they place yellow markers along the road for travelers and the snow plow, because it was soon after like driving into a sheet of paper. The fun meter was pegged at zero.
The visibility dropped to two sets of those yellow markers. On top of all of this, the road was now climbing steadily and started up switchbacks. The snow was 6 inches deep. The fun meter was now well below zero. I honestly wanted to turn around, but there was no place to pull in, and 3 pointing it on the road would have been really stupid, as someone could easily ran into me. I pressed on and soon was at the top of the pass. I knew that it was likely to get better as I made my way back to lower elevation.
Things did gradually improve on the way down, and as I got closer to town, I finally met a snowplow. I pulled into town, needing a break. It took me twice the time the GPS said it would.
I fueled up even though I was only down between 3/4 and half a tank. I wanted all the weight I could get if the roads were going to be like that. I grabbed a coffee, and checked the weather. I asked one of the girls at the counter if she knew the road conditions. She said she would check and ran to the back and came back with a print out from the computer. It actually showed the locations of the 4 snowplows working 100 kilometers or so of road. She told me that they don’t start plowing until after 8, that’s why it had been so bad coming over from the coast. I felt like a dumb ass. I thanked her and made my way to the camper.
The roads still were not what you’d call good, but they were at least being plowed. I just took my time and headed for parts west. Things improved as I went along, and the clouds started to break open a bit, clearing out the fog and gloom.
I reached the first turn off to go up the east road to Dettifoss. Dettifoss is one of the larger waterfalls in the country. If you saw the movie Prometheus last summer, it was the waterfall at the beginning of the movie.
I took a look at the road, marked with a sign that stated that the road was not plowed in the winter. It had one set of wheel tracks going through the snow. I went about a half mile up the road before I saw a drift and said no way. I turned around, guessing that I wasn’t going to get there.
I turned west on the ring road and drove a little ways. Here came the second road to Dettifoss, this one on the west side of the river. There were a couple sets of tracks through the snow. I checked the sign. 25km. I did the rough math in my head. 17 miles? “I’ll give it a try” I thought, “If it gets bad I’ll turn around”.
Up the road I went. The sections that were north/south were not too bad, but as the road turned more east/west, the drifting was obviously deeper. I stayed in the wheel tracks and pushed on. I figured that after that morning, it wasn’t going to be worse than that. At least I could see.
I made my way north/northwest. Some sections here and there began to get deeper. I’d have to quickly calculate whether to quickly stop before it got deep, or push the accelerator down and plow through. Over half way there, the answer was always the latter. The Happy Camper’s turbo diesel 4 cylinder would spool up, and I aimed the camper through the wheel tracks. It was honestly pretty stupid. Getting stuck in a rental camper in the middle of nowhere Iceland wasn’t on the to do list, but I forged ahead.
After an hour, I found myself at the makeshift parking area near the falls. There sat the two other crazy people’s vehicles. One guy was leaving as I pulled in, and he had a big grin on his face as he looked at the camper van. I’m guessing he had a good laugh that somebody was goofy enough to drive something like that back there.
I could hear the falls, but it looked like a half mile hike on the snow. I ate quick for energy and grabbed my gear. I made my way towards the water, quickly realizing that the clouds had mostly burned off. My black coat and pants suddenly didn’t seem so cool, as I was soon pouring sweat. The sun was also unwelcome news for shooting the falls. I wouldn’t be able to use a long shutter speed to blur the water without a strong enough filter.
I got closer to the river, and soon had a glimpse of the water. These were not the right falls. What the heck? I surveyed the land and noticed that footprints also led to an area maybe a half mile downstream. I began trudging through the snow in that direction. Before long, the roar of the falls behind me was overtaken by the sound of the main falls.
Upon arrival, I immediately thought that the falls better angle was from the other road. Terrible roads, full sun, wrong angle. I was beginning to feel sorry for myself, as my luck was running on empty photo wise. I told myself to snap out of it and shoot pictures anyways.
I shot a few angles, but I knew that I wasn’t getting anything “print worthy”. The light was simply too harsh. I also knew that I wanted to shoot Godafoss around sunset, and wasn’t sure how far down the road it was. I also had to drive back out to the ring road. It was time to pack it up and go.
I started the drive out. I figured that if I made it to the falls, I’d make it out. The other two vehicles were gone, so they had likely widened out and/or packed the trail down more. I was going along, not having too much trouble heading south. I came around a bend and found this…
What in the world? I stopped here before I got into the deep section. I got out and started walking to the cars. One of the cars ( the one on the left) was the other car that was at the falls when I was there. People got out of the cars and began walking towards me.
“Are all 3 of you stuck?” I asked. Of course they were. “How did that happen?” I was told a story that the first two met, and instead of one pulling off in one of the open areas, they both decided to take one wheel track and go for it. The snow made quick work of that thinking and had pulled them both in. “What happened to you? I asked the third guy. He explained that he had been driving fast and couldn’t stop in time, so he ditched to not hit the cars. I’m sure at this point I had a dismayed look on my face. I inquired if anyone had tried to push any of the 3 vehicles, heck two of them were 4 wheel drive! They told me that they had tried, but had no luck. They informed me that they had called (lucky for them there was cell service there) the local hostel, and that the owner was coming to pull them out for 10,000 Krona a piece (about $80). By then we were all cold and took to our respective vehicles to warm up.
I ate again and maybe 20 minutes or so passed, and my wheels started turning. Them getting pulled out was all fine and dandy, but if the guy was going to pull them clear out to the ring road, I might have been sitting there for 2 or 3 hours. “I don’t have time to F around” I thought, and got into mission mode.
I got out and head towards the cars. We had 2 that were 4 wheel drive, and 5 or 6 guys there. “Ridiculous!” I thought, “We can get at least one of them out”. I explained the plan of attack to the guys, and they were all ready to try. We worked on the first car for a few minutes, and then heard the sound of a car coming. It was the hostel owner, there to save the day.
Long story not so short, the hostel owner pulled the cars out ( not nicely either, haha) and got them to a nice melted out area just south a ways where they could turn around. The father didn’t speak English (one of only two people all week that didn’t) but his teenage son did, and he translated to everyone. He suggested that I follow the other 3 cars out, and he would follow everyone. I took advantage to talk smack to the other tourists with a “I won’t get stuck, I live in Colorado”, haha. Seriously though, you don’t grow up in Iowa and now live in Colorado without having an idea how to drive in the stuff. I took the offer though and said thanks, and soon the caravan was on its way out.
I had punched in Godafoss, and checked the sunset time, and I was still ok. I drove west along the ring road, bypassing an area full of geothermal features. It was like a barren version of the Norris geyser basin in Yellowstone. I’ll have to check it out during a future trip.
I arrived at Godafoss and had a little time to check out the area. I had a shot in mind, but after checking the area out, the approach looked sketchy with snow and ice. I figured that I had pressed my luck enough for the day, so I went with the safer approach on the west side of the stream. I first went up closer to the falls, but I didn’t care for the angle and the spray would have been a pain to deal with. I started tracking back farther downstream, choosing to go with my zoom lens for a shot. It was mostly cloudy, but there was slight openings to let a little light in. It made for a nice texture in the sky. The clouds began to get a little color on the bottoms, and I worked to grab a few shots. After basically two days of nothing, finally a keeper!
I packed up and head west to the “Capital of the North”, Akureyri. Akureyri is a beautiful city, sitting at the south end of a long inlet from sea. Behind sit snowy mountains, making for a picturesque setting. I ventured into town. I was burned out on cold sandwiches again, so I went all out and went to Subway, haha. I checked the weather and the Northern Lights forcast. Clearing skies about 10PM and the Aurora forecast was a 5, which is really high. I was crazy excited about what the night had in store.
I got out of town and started to venture out in search of a good place to set up for the show. I went straight north to a small town on the coast, but didn’t like the light pollution, even with it being a small town. I head out into the country in search of something better. It was about 10, the twilight light finally fading out into darkness. I noted the still cloudy skies and checked the weather. Clearing between 11 and 12. No worries.
I decided to head back out to Godafoss to set up for the shoot. There was a parking area that was fairly level on one side. I thought it would work well for shooting the lights and then hitting the hay.
I arrived and checked the skies. Cloudy. Maybe a small open patch teasing a star or two. The game began. Long story short, I’d check outside every so often, maybe get out and do a test shot. Clouds! 1AM. 1:30. 2. Pondered driving an hour or so, just to see if my luck would change, but thought better of it. I was really tired. I started setting my alarm for 30 minutes, would doze off for the shortest of power naps, and check again. Nothing. The clouds held and I got zilch. Finally at 4 AM I said to hell with it, sunrise was in a couple of hours, go to bed. And so I did, with hopes the the next day would bring better luck.
Day 5 Map. A is the small town where I started. B is the pass of doom in the morning. C is Egilstadir. D is Dettifoss but the map is showing the east road instead of the west. E is Godafoss. F is Akureyri.