Tag Archives: mountains

Iceland Journal – “The Magical Light of Iceland” – Kleifarvatn, Iceland

“We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.” 
― Leonora Carrington

The light in Iceland is incomparable, it possesses a magical quality and softness that simply pervades everything. I think, in part, is was partially due to the time of year, late October, when we visited. The sun never gets up very high and wonderful shadows are created. This ‘low’ sun also makes the light softer and warmer.

Here, along the shores of Kleifarvatn, the sun catches the yellow grasses on the low hillsides and makes them glow with light. Despite the snowy conditions, the whole scene is warm looking. Trust me, it was not warm when I made the photo!

There are colours here that are unrivalled in my experience, an inner glow, that I fell in love with. I can fully understand how Iceland holds other photographers in its thrall. The light shifts, dims, brightens, and brings out details like a spotlight, then moves on to the next subject.

It’s really quite remarkable, upon arriving here, we entered a world that looked blasted, tortured, and lifeless, yet the land slowly reveals its wonder, moment by moment until you are fully emerged in a sublime beauty that is so unexpected and so ceaseless that it’s almost overwhelming. And it’s all driven by the light, the magical sub-arctic light, and those beautiful mosses and grasses, which stand in such incredible contrast to the black sand and jagged rock.

As this year winds down, I’ve been able to send a lot of time recalling this memorable trip, through photos and memory.

Nikon D800
Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G I AF-S VR Zoom @ 70 mm
1/320 sec, f/9.0 ISO 400

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)

Iceland Journal – “Across the Fertile Valley” – Southwest Iceland

“I am reminded that the most fertile lands are often built by the fires of volcanoes.” 
― Ed Lehming

On the seventh day of our Iceland journey, my son and I travelled through the high mountain passes at the base of the West Fjords, southward along Highway 60 to rejoin the Ring Road, just north of the town of Bifrost.

We were greeted by this spectacular view of a broad valley, filled with meandering rivers and lush farmlands, stretching to the horizon, some 30 kilometers distant, which is bounded by the Skarðheiði mountain cluster and dominated by steep sloped Skessuhorn, poking from a persistent cloud bank, which did not break up all day and kept the rest of the mountains obscured. I could not keep my eyes off Skessuhorn as we drove along, and eventually into, the valley, which is bounded in this view by the Norðurá river. The Norðurá joins several other rivers to form a small delta, just north of the town of Borgarnes, our final destination on this day of travels. I have included a link to the high-resolution version of this image, should you care to have a closer look.

This is a truly remarkable area for Iceland, in that it a very large expanse of farmland, though it is still a very active geothermal area, interspersed with hot springs throughout the valley. An aerial view of this region shows it to have been formed by glaciers, carving and eroding the volcanic bedrock and creating ideal conditions for rivers to flow and deposit their rich, mineral laden silt within the valleys carved by the glaciers.

It was this area that we intended to explore that day and it led us through the farmland, past steaming vents, cold glacial streams of turquoise, and up into the highlands and lava fields of the Hallmundarhraun and the peaks of Ok and Eiriksjökull. It was, in the typical fashion of Iceland, an incredible change in environments, within a fairly short distance of some 30 kilometers. The trip also included a stop at the magnificent Hraunfosser waterfalls, which I have already discussed in a previous post.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 116mm
1/320 sec, f/9.0 ISO 200

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)

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)


Iceland Journal – “The High Country Road” – North Iceland

“The High Country Road” - North Iceland

“I like geography best, he said, because your mountains & rivers know the secret. Pay no attention to boundaries.” 
― Brian Andreas

Believe it or not, this is a colour photo. The light is heavily filtered by the snow filled clouds that created a significant driving challenge as I was travelling through the highland which separate North and East Iceland.

The mountains are part of a long actively volcanic ridge that runs from the glaciers of Vatnajökull in the south to Iceland’s most north-eastern point, Kòpasker.

As we departed the town of Egilsstaðir in the east and followed the Hvannà river valley towards the interior, the light dusting of snow we had experienced in Egilsstaðir began to grow heavier and north winds whipped the snow across the barren and seemingly lifeless landscape. On the northern horizon, dark and menacing clouds threatened white-out conditions and the roads soon turned to pure ice.

Fortunately, our rental vehicle was a 4×4 with studded tires, which made the drive a bit safer for us, but the threat of heavy squalls and high winds remained, exaggerated by the altitude and wide open plateaus which we had entered. As snow blew around us, the occasional mountain peak would reveal itself from the maelstrom and then vanish again behind a veil of white fury. I’m fortunate to have grown up in Canadian winters, knowing how to drive these conditions, but still gripping the steering wheel tightly as we ploughed through ever deepening drifts across the road.

We drove this 100km stretch, stopping between squalls for photos, without incident, eventually dropping in elevation through the ridge of mountains that serves as the border between east and north Iceland. It’s that ridge that is pictured above, the steep volcanic cone of Geldingafell rising in the distance, offering us one final view before being obscured by snow once more. This brief, roadside moment lasted, as many things in our Icelandic journey, for mere seconds before disappearing from sight.

The colours, as you can see here, are so heavily muted by the snow that you would think this to be a toned black and white photo. It’s quite the effect and a bit unsettling when you are in it for an extended period. And, as you can see from my camera settings, it was quite dark, with the exception of the muted sun reflecting from the icy road.

At the time, I had no idea exactly where we were, only that we had passed safely through the mountains and onto the broad northern plains of Mývatnsöræfi and further adventures, in this geothermally active region, so different from any terrain we had experienced so far.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70 mm
1/250 sec, f/18.0, ISO 800

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)

Iceland Journal – “Sandfell” – Fáskrúðsfjörður, East Iceland

“Sandfell” - Fáskrúðsfjörður , East Iceland

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” 
― John Muir

I have found myself looking back through the photos I made along a trail leading to Sandfell, a moderately high coastal mountain, on the Fáskrúðsfjörður fjord in Eastern Iceland. I shared a bit about this in yesterday’s post.

This place summed up a lot of what I experienced in Iceland. Here, I’m standing on the shores of a small glacial stream and looking up the slopes of Sandfell itself. It’s like the innumerable mountain streams that seem present everywhere in Iceland. The creek, one of many flowing down from the mountain, follows a stone filled gully, bounded with long grass and mosses. The mountain itself is not very high, at just over 700 meters and would not normally be snow-covered. The snow is the result of a series of late October snowfalls. It has remained frozen above 600 meters and the creek, where I am standing is a transition zone between freezing and melting.

The scene is also representative of the many colours and textures of Iceland; the endless moss and grasses and the stark black stone of ancient volcanoes, covered in light snow at this time of year. Its rugged yet peaceful, a natural and untamed beauty so rare in the world these days. I completely understand why  thousands upon thousands of visitors come here every year. My hope is that, despite all the tourists, it can remain unspoiled.

iPhone 7 back camera @ 4.0mm
1/1150sec; f/1.8; ISO 20

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)

Iceland Journal – “Trail to Sandfell” – Fáskrúðsfjörður, East Iceland

“Trail to Sandfell” - Fáskrúðsfjörður , East Iceland

“The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn’t matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark.” 
― Barbara Hall

During our journey along Iceland’s Ring Road, we took many occasions to satisfy our curiosity by hiking off the road when the opportunity presented itself. One of these opportunities was this gravel road, which leads up into the mountains that line the west shore of Fáskrúðsfjörður fjord.

The main reason we chose this trail was easy access from the main highway, meaning we could pull off the road safely and park our vehicle by driving part way up the road, till it became too rough to continue. Once parked, we donned our backpacks, filled with camera gear, and headed up the road, which soon narrowed to a rugged trail .Our goal: get to the snow line at the base of the mountains which you see in the distance. The highest peak, Sandfell, is 743 meters high. We were actually hoping to get part way up its slopes.

As our hike continued, the road banked sharply to the left, following a deep ravine toward the base of Sanfell. Something that is not often mentioned in the standard tourist literature is just how rugged Iceland’s terrain can be. Most scenes look quite smooth and simple to traverse, but in reality, the rugged landscape is filled with unseen obstacles, sharp rocks, ice-cold streams, and deep fissures The ravine I mentioned is just one such obstacle. A small glacial creek flows through it, but the banks are steep, jagged lava, and it takes time to find safe passage into the ravine and back up.

After crossing the ravine we were faced with a man-made obstacle, namely, a wide field of deep grass, to be used as feed for sheep or cattle. We only got a few meters into this dense, ankle grabbing grass, till we realized that crossing the field towards our goal would be absolutely exhausting. So, we turned back and forded the ravine once more. As I said, we had hoped to climb part way up Sandfell, but there was just too much terrain between us and the mountain

The other interesting thing we came across on this hike, was a ‘rustic; cabin at the end of the trail. Cabin near Fáskrúðsfjörður, East IcelendThe owner had built it at the edge of the mountains and I can only imagine the lovely view in springtime and summer. The mountains fill the view through one window and the other side looks down across the long fjord.

So, we stood, at the base slopes of these majestic mountains, simply enjoying the view and taking a break from driving.

iPhone 7 back camera @ 4.0mm
1/2200 sec; f/1.8; ISO 20

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)

Iceland Journal – “Steps to the Sky” – Djúpavogshreppur, East Iceland

“Steps to the Sky” - Djúpavogshreppur, East Iceland

“Well, first of all,” said the BFG, “human beans is not really believing in giants, is they? Human beans is not thinking we exist.” 
― Roald Dahl

You’d think, to look on this, that giants did exist, and had built a broad staircase to the heavens.

It’s quite a sight when you first see it, the broad and high steps of the steep hills along the East Fjords. For me, it was something I had not seen before. And, as most of my experiences, travelling through Iceland this fall, completely unexpected. They had the appearance of being somewhat unnatural, as if the mountains had been carved into these terraces.

I’m still curious as to the exact process that creates this effect. Yes, they have clearly been eroded over time to this form, but I don’t fully understand the geological process that causes this. It’s quite prevalent in Iceland, but I have, as yet, to find an article that explains it.

In any case, it makes the landscape quite stunning by creating layers upon layers of colour and texture, further enhanced, at higher altitudes by a light snowfall, as the layers continue into the sharp horn of Nóntindur, high above the Berufjörður fjord below it.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 75 mm
1/320 sec, f/10.0, ISO 400

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)

Iceland Journal – “The End” – Svínafelsjökull – South Iceland

“The End” - Svínafelsjökull - South Iceland

“It’s not the endings that will haunt you
But the space where they should lie,
The things that simply faded
Without one final wave goodbye.” 
― Erin Hanson

The long journey comes to an end, silently and slowly, in water.

Nothing is quick for a glacier, including its ending. The ice slowly flows down the mountains, slowly melting, cracking, and disintegrating. The last vestiges float about in a muddy pond, eventually fading not the water, at the feet of their majestic source..

In the image, you can clearly see the progression down the mountain, including the widening fissures at the face of the glacier. I made the photo from the edge of the pool, looking back up the glacier and waiting for the clouds to clear so that I could see the high peak of Hrútsfallstindar towering  behind the glacier at 1,570 meters.

My son and I walked the edge of the pond, amazed at this natural spectacle and watching all shapes and sizes if ice floating around in front of us, or stuck to the muddy bottom and gradually melting away. What really surprised me was the variation, not just of shape and size but the colours and textures of the icebergs. Some were simply dull gray masses, others were made up of layers in every vibrant shade of blue imaginable, and some were absolutely crystal clear.

Behind us was a high mound of rock and gravel, the terminal moraine, made during the last advance of the glacier, as it pushed and piled the rock into a hill in front of it, creating a dam that is responsible for the glacial pool.

It was such a lovely place that we spent over an hour exploring the shoreline and photographing the icebergs and surroundings. It was an experience that I had not expected to ever have and one I will not soon forget.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 75 mm
1/320 sec, f/10.0, ISO 400

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)

Iceland Journal – “Svínafelsjökull” – South Iceland

“Svínafelsjökull” - South Iceland

Ice, massive ancient glacial ice, sagging and flowing under its own weight;
A great white beast, carving and devouring the mountains which contain it,
creeping forward, unstoppable;

It’s only foe, sunlight and warmth.
I stand humbled by its patient and persistent force.
– Ed Lehming

Svínafelsjökull glacier, or rather, the “glacier of Svínafels”, since jökull is Icelandic for glacier is actually one of the smaller glacial outflows associated with Hvannadalshnúkur, mentioned in a prior post.

I saw this glacier ahead of us as we continued to travel east along Iceland’s Ring Road. The sheer size of this incredible mass of snow and ice, piled high between the rugged peaks is humbling. The photo hardly does justice to the scale. At the far right foreground, a few vehicles sit parked along the road in front of a terminal moraine of this glacier. Basically, a pile of rock created by the front of the glacier plowing up the ground in front of it. The moraine itself is over 50 meters high and hides the lead edge of the glacier and the glacial pond formed by the meltwater trapped behind the moraine. More on that in a future post.

As we drove, ever closer, I hoped the road would bring me closer to this magnificent sight. I was not disappointed, the road came to within two kilometers of the glacier itself and we had opportunity to get even closer via a horribly potholed dirt road that led us to paths along side of the glacier and around the pond below.

As I said, the experience of walking along precipitous trails next to this massive and ancient ice is humbling, as we gazed across the deep crevasses of the slowly melting glacier and witnessing, close up, the unbelievable colours and patterns of the ice within meters of us. Then, looking upwards and seeing ice on ice, wedged between unyielding rock, piled ever higher and disappearing into the clouds above us.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 172mm
1/320 sec, f/9.0, ISO 200

For more images like this, please visit my website (images are available for purchase)

Iceland Journal – “Djúpavogshreppur” – East Iceland

“Djúpavogshreppur” - East Iceland

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” 
― Rachel Carson

I couldn’t help but match my favourite Rachel Carson quote with this image. The scene above left me breathless as I beheld it for the first time. I was captivated be the shape of the high mountains which bound this relatively short Eastern Icelandic fjord, Hamarsjörður, and the stunning play of light on both the peaks and the flanking foothills. When I return to Iceland, next time, I plan to spend more time travelling these spectacular fjords.

In the foreground is Nontindur, a stunning 935 meter high pyramid-like peak. I was enthralled by these mountains the first time I saw them, the recent high level snowfalls accenting the horizontal tiers that make the peaks in this region so unique.

The light that morning, as we followed the Ring Road along the southern coast eastward from the town of Höfn, was absolutely gorgeous and makes the ever-present yellow grasses glow with a soft golden warmth that we experienced so many times on our journey. I was concerned that travelling to Iceland at this time of year might make for some fairly dull images, but was so pleased when I revisited these locations in Google Street View to find that the light and colours that I experienced were by far better than that of summer, at least in the Google images.

As I composed the shot, from the side of the road, all the elements came together once more to produce this post card-like image that so wonderfully conveys the feelings I experienced while standing there, taking in the beauty.

In this case, as in several other shots I have been sharing, I deliberately put an object in the foreground to help establish scale. In this case, the freshly installed and sharpened fence post nicely echoes the shape of the mountains behind it and seems to be pointing to the peak itself.

Once more, I’m including the Street View link so you can also take in the surroundings that make up this shot. This is the exact spot I pulled off. You can even see the gate and fence post in the foreground 🙂