Iceland Journal – “Clear the Way!” – West Iceland

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”
― Erol Ozan

This, our sixth day of travel, did not leave us lost, as the quote may imply, but it did send us down some ‘interesting’ paths.

As I noted in previous posts, there are roads which enter Iceland’s mountainous and rugged interior known as “F” roads, which we were prohibited from driving on with our rental vehicle, despite studded tires and four-wheel drive. As Iceland approaches late autumn, these roads can quickly turn treacherous and they are very remote, so emergency assistance would be very expensive, if even available.

As we mapped out our path from Svínavatn to the Snæfellsnes Peninusla, we noticed that travelling the Ring Road would have taken us further south than we wanted, meaning extra distance and time lost driving. We were directed by locals to take a ‘shortcut’ cross-country from Staðarskáli to the town of Buðardalur, at the base of the West Fjords. It turned out that the ‘shortcut’ was an “F” road, so we sought other passages. It turns out that just north of the “F” road is an ‘official’ road, in the form of Highway 59, which parallels the “F” road. I’m really not sure how much better than the “F” road this highway was, since it was roughly thirty kilometers of black, icy, and potholed track through some of the most desolate landscape we had seen yet. I think we drove nearly twenty kilometers without seeing a single building. Barren grassland and low hills reaching to the horizon.

What we did see lots of was sheep. Despite the barren, windswept landscape, sheep were everywhere. That was true, not just here, but throughout Iceland. There are just over three hundred thousand people in Iceland, and at last count, there were over eight hundred thousand sheep. They are everywhere, in open fields, on high mountain sides, in the tortured and twisted lava fields, and often, on the road. Yes, there are fences aplenty, but the sheep seem to find their way over, around, and under the fences, often grazing right next to the road, or like here, on the road. So you have to be ever vigilant while driving.

This troupe was very cooperative, except for a few stragglers, who hurried to catch up with the rest of the flock, who were waiting patiently on the far side of the bridge. I just had to stop to take a picture, since this captured yet another aspect of our drive.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 200mm
1/125 sec, f/35.6 ISO 200

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)
http://www.edlehming.com

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“Hnúksgirðingar” – Snæfellsnes Peninsula, West Iceland

“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.” 
― William Butler Yeats

I can’t say enough about how stunningly raw the landscape in Iceland is. Even on dull, slightly overcast days, there are these short breaks in the cloud where the world is alight with colours, and these colours stand in sharp contrast to the black, volcanic mountains and plains.

Above is a prime example. This mountain stands along the shores of Kolgrafjörður, one of the many fjords found along the rugged and beautiful Snæfellsnes Peninsula of western Iceland.

On the sixth day of our Iceland excursion, my son and I were on our way to Kirkufellfoss. That’s the waterfall with the odd-shaped mountain in the background that is on virtually every Iceland brochure. It’s located about three-quarters of the way out to the tip of the peninsula itself, along some pretty rough roads. Though Kirkufell was our destination, the journey there was simply breathtaking and varied. The landscapes included vast fjords, filled with hundreds of small islands, winding mountain roads, dormant volcanoes and high glaciated mountains.

As with other regions in Iceland, the scenery changes quickly and unexpectedly, each turn in the road presenting some new wonder. I recall this particular mountain well because of the way the yellow grasses glowed in the brief and diffused sunlight and how the bright green mosses stood out against the dark talus slopes of the mountain. I found, as I reviewed the photo, that there are so  many details that my eyes did not pick up on, even as I composed the image. For that reason, I’m posting a link to the high-resolution image here and encourage you to spend some time, zooming in and looking for the sheep, the waterfowl, and exploring the mountainside details that are lost in the image above.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70mm
1/40 sec, f/3.2 ISO 200

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)
http://www.edlehming.com

“Back to the Woods”

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” 
 William Blake

Today, a brief reprieve from my my Iceland series, which is not nearly complete. Yesterday, as the early snowfalls melted away, it took the the local forest for a moderate hike.

I’m blessed to live in an area with lots of forest and lots of easily accessible trails. There are favourites which I return to regularly, one being North Walkers Woods, which has a good network of interconnecting trails. The one I chose is what I refer to as the ‘ outer loop’ which follows the forest perimeter and is six kilometres long.

The day stared out dull and overcast, but sitting inside was not an appealing option for me. After a particularly horrible workweek, many of my co-workers were let go, in the ever present world of downsizing, I ended my week family ‘numb’ and simply needed to get out and recharge.

When I’m out hiking and making photos, the outside world fades away and I am simply present in the forest. I hear lots of people talking about this state of being present. I suppose I have always had the ability to do that, without having a formal name for it.

So, here I was, enjoying a good late autumn walk and seeing the dull day turn ever brighter. The sun never fully emerged from the clouds but the light was soft and warm enough to make a few simple forest images, including the one above.

I played with my Prisma app to get the slightly graphic effect, which is quite subtle, and you have to look closely to see the effects.

iPhone 7

Iceland Journal – “Wild Abandon?” – North Iceland

“The greatest loss lies in our inability to accept loss.” 
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

I have a strange fascination with abandoned buildings, always wondering how they became abandoned and the stories they must have to tell when they were somebody’s home.

Along the Ring Road we travelled through Iceland, there are many of these empty shells, some quite ancient, many perched along a lonely mountainside, lost in the vast, empty landscape which is present in much of Iceland. It struck me as emptiness in emptiness.

Take this house, for example. It’s on the shores of the Heiðará river, just past Heiðarfall mountain that dominates yesterday’s image. It sits on a field of the ever present yellow grasses and mosses, along the river, next the main Icelandic highway, with a tall mountain for a backyard. If you look closely, you can see that there must have been patches of garden at one point, given the drainage ditch and rectangular area of grass to the right of the house. The house itself does not look too old and the roof is in good repair, at least from this vantage point. Yet, it’s clearly abandoned.

Who lived here? A solitary sheep farmer or a family? There is easy access to water as well as the road, not to mention that the city of Akureyri, is only a short drive away. I’d love to know the story, but I fear it is lost in time and the wide and wild spaces of Iceland.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70mm
1/100 sec, f/5.0 ISO 200

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)
http://www.edlehming.com

Iceland Journal – “The Golden Valley” – Northern Iceland

“The Golden Valley” - Northern Iceland

“When you don’t cover up the world with words and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought.” 
― Eckhart Tolle

As I continue to review my photos from Iceland, inevitably I come across a collection of photos I have dubbed “The Golden Valley”. I posted one of them a few weeks ago. That particular image was a closer view of the mountain in the distance, Heiðarfall, and as I said then, we thought we had seen the highlight of our day at Goðafoss, earlier in the day. This image is a bit of a wider shot, showing more of the valley that contained the wonder that had us transfixed for a few brief moments on day five of our ten-day Iceland trip.

We continued on our journey, stopping for lunch in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city and headed westward through a long valley, not expecting to see much more, other than the high mountains which dominate the region surrounding Akureyri. This valley follows a moderate river known as Heiðará, which can be seen at the centre of my photo.

This drive was more beautiful than expected and we travelled deeper into the highlands, following the river valley between steep hillsides and mountains. Along the way, we stopped and made some photos of the various mountains, but our attention was fixed on this single peak in the distance, framed by the surrounding slopes, the sun hanging just to the left of it, casting soft shadows and lighting up the snow blowing from its peak.

As we got closer, I was hoping that the road would continue to take us nearer and not turn off to some adjacent valley. We were not disappointed and as we approached, we noticed the slight shifting slightly to a warm glow, which made the valley seem to glow in soft sunlight. We stopped the car along the road and watched this effect take hold, making several images each of this stunning spectacle of light. The whole valley seemed to shine in tones of gold, patches of sunlight catching the grasses and seeming to shimmer through the fine mist caused by blowing snow. The whole world around us was alight in a surreal brilliance. It was like a scene you imaging in a fantasy novel, we were just missing dragons and unicorns. And then just as it had begun, it ended, still lovely but lacking the stunning effect we had just witnessed, for a few glorious moments.

Every photographer’s dream is to capture a moment like this, accurately, so that others can experience it as well. I’m happy that my many years, out on the trails, making photos, and many times failing, had prepared me for this moment and enabled me to create an image that fully and accurately communicates what I witnessed. As I sat at my computer, reviewing and editing this photo, I found myself filled with the same raw emotion I felt when I made the photo. I hope that you, my reader, enjoy it too.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70mm
1/250 sec, f/9.0 ISO 200

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)
http://www.edlehming.com

 

Iceland Journal – “Goðafoss” – Northern Iceland

“Nature was pure, and still is.” 
― Anthony T. Hincks

On day five of our ten-day Iceland trip, we drove through what felt like a rather long stretch of nothing much, as we departed the plains and low hills of Mývatn and headed towards Akureyri, Iceland’s’ second largest city. On our map we noted the location of Goðafoss and decided this was to be an extended stop on our journey.

As I found typical of Iceland, things are often not what you expect. The map showed Goðafoss close to the highway, but we expected a short side trip to get closer. As we rounded a bend, a large river appeared in front of us and there it was,Goðafoss, right next to the highway, a distant spray of green and white in the distance, some six kilometers ahead of us, yet is was clearly recognizable.

Goðafoss is not as big as I expected, with a vertical drop of about 12 meters and a width of 30 meters. Though not exactly as imagined, it’s a beautiful wide and complex waterfall, especially at this time of year, when the waters run cold and pure, no longer carrying the spring sediments which make the water cloudy and gray. This purity showcases the gorgeous green tones of the water, as it falls and as it pools beneath the falls. Goðafoss is the Skjálfandafljót river which flows north from central Iceland’s highlands.

As with many of the waterfalls we experienced, it was quite easy to gain close access to the waterfalls from well-marked access points. On our arrival, we set up our cameras close to the base of the eastern side of the falls, visible in my image  just left of the bottom center. This area is a small shelf of rock, covered in snow, at this time of year.

There were several other people there taking pictures and just enjoying the sight, for the most part, very respectful of others enjoyment of this beautiful place, including photographers, like me, setting up tripods to make long exposures. My son and I spend quite a bit of time shooting from different angles and at different speeds trying to capture the feel of this fall.

I have several decent images, but none really resonate with me, so we headed up to the top, where there is a large viewing platform, with good visibility of the falls. Once more, there were quite a few people taking pictures; some avid photographers with tripods and filters, as well as the casual tourists and the ever-present ‘selfie seekers’, posing in various positions along the railings.

This platform yielded the best photos, though I was unprepared for the brightness of the freshly fallen snow and did not have a good neutral density filter with me to compensate for this. Generally, I can accomplish good light balance through ISO, aperture, and exposure settings, but I maxed them all out trying to get a long exposure. The image above is the best of my attempts, and despite the challenging light, I think it turned out alright, showcasing the bright snow and deep emerald waters. What it can’t show is just how cold this water is. The only evidence being the thin ice-floes accumulating in the foreground, just off my initial vantage point.

Nikon D300
TAMRON SP AF 17-50mm F2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical IF A16NII @ 22 mm
1/6 sec, F/29, ISO 125

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)
http://www.edlehming.com

Iceland Journal – “Climbed a Mountain and I Turned Around” – Krafla, North Iceland

“Climbed a Mountain and I Turned Around” - Krafla, North Ice

“I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down”
– Fleetwood Mac

As those who follow my blog regularly will know, I try to avoid people in my photos. My primary focus it to share places and things and try to convey some of the ‘feeling’ of those places and things. In this case, I am making an exception, because the ‘feel’ of this place, high on the slopes of Krafla volcano, is conveyed most effectively by my son, Greg, walking back down from a high ridge, trying to stay warm,  as 100 km winds drive snow across the road around him.

I chose the lyrics of on of  my favourite Fleetwood Mac songs, because we both joked about the line “Climbed a mountain and I turned around” as we warmed up in the car. Which begs the question, “Why did we climb in these conditions?”

We had left the waterfalls: Selfoss and Dettifoss about an hour earlier and wanted to check out the green water-filled caldera of a large volcano named Krafla. Like Dettifoss, this meant a bit of a detour along a snow-covered road, but it was not as bad as the Dettifoss road. The road itself leads to a large geothermal generating station and continues up to the top of Krafla.

As we approached the Krafla access road, we noticed that barricades had been placed across the road along with signage stating that the road was closed. At this time, another squall had come across and so, we waited till it cleared and decided to hike the 3 kilometers to the Krafla crater.

As we set off, the sky was still a bit snow filled and it was windy, but tolerable. and remained so, till we got to the crest of the ridge at the top of the road. At this point, the wind, now not blocked by the ridge, showed us its true nature, making it quite a bit less hospitable. We looked up the road, the Krafla parking lot about one kilometer distance, but barely visible. To the north of us, yet another menacing black cloud approached, meaning more wind and white out conditions. The road ahead offered no places of shelter and followed the ridge, which would have left us completely exposed when the next storm hit. So, we made the decision to abandon our quest and head back down to the car.

Within a few minutes, and sooner than expected, the fury of the next squall was on us, temperatures dropped, snow filled our sight, and winds picked up to hurricane force, whipping the snow at our backs.

I’m glad we decided to play it safe, because I can’t imagine what it would have been like on that exposed ridge and we had no idea how long this squall lasted.

It wasn’t a landslide that brought us down, but we had experienced something new: just one aspect of the raw and untamed nature of Iceland.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70 mm
1/250 sec, f/8.0, ISO 800

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)
http://www.edlehming.com