TGO Challenge 2018 Trip report

My TGO Challenge was planned to take place between the May 11th to the 23rd. Thirteen days of what I could only hope to be great hiking in the Scottish Highlands. This is my trip report covering my start in Shiel Bridge on the west- to my finish at Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, on the east coast.

It ended up being closer to 360 km in eleven days and an accent at the height of Mount Everest. That’s quite the challenge if you ask me…

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Getting there

My trip started well before the actual challenge. Down in the southern parts of Sweden I boarded a bus up to Stockholm and Arlanda Airport. I stayed the night at an hotel close to it. I arrive in Edinburgh the next day just before lunch I went to one of the museums, checked a few exhibitions and used their bathroom to change from my travel clothes into hiking gear, shorts and leggings, and a long-sleeved tee… Then I went to the post office and forward all of my travel clothes to Montrose before starting the hunt for alcohol (fuel). This sent me off to a few different stores before actually finding any. My train for Inverness was leaving at 5pm so I had plenty of time dine and stock up on food for the first three days of hiking.

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Day 1

I spent the night in Inverness and had a short walk to the bus station where I met up with a few other Challengers. We arrive at at Shiel Bridge at around 11am as the bus was about 40 minutes late out of Inverness. This far everything had been late and delayed. My bus to the airport in Sweden, the plane to Edinburgh, the transfer from the airport, the train to Inverness and now this. I started to see a pattern.

After a quick bathroom break most of us set off at 11:45. I put my right foot in the water just outside the Kintail Lodge. The weather is good, the sun is out and there’s a slight breeze.

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When I get closer to the stalkers path up Ben Attow I meet a man that also a part of the TGO Challenge. We chat a while before I take off up the Munro, he’s headed to the youth hostel. The wind started to pick up as I came to the first cairn off the stalkers path onto the lower plateau. Soon the rain got at it too. Getting to the top was quite exhausting, battling the wind and the ground was very wet. At the top I have to take refuge in the makeshift wind shelter and swap into my rain gear. It’s really windy at this point and I have to stop several times on my way here and hold on to all my gear and go down to a knee not to get pushed over by the wind.

My map says I’m to decent down the north east ridge but it’s too windy and dangerous. I have to turn back to the peak after about a 150m decent. Back at the shelter again, a quick break and then going back the way I came up.

The walk to the youth hostel is windy and rainy but not rough in any way and I make good time. I pitch the tent and make some food before going inside for a cup of tea and meeting up with a few other challengers.

Day 2

After a cold and rainy night, I sleep in and let the morning sun dry the outside of my tent. After 10am I’m off to the Affric Kintail Way and meet many challengers along the way.

As I reach the loch I meet up and hike alongside Barbara for at least 30 minutes. Listening to stories from former crossings and received a tip or two about local waterholes in different towns. She is the oldest woman on the challenge. It’s hard to believe that she’s 81 years old, hiking fast and with a steady pace, she’s on her 13th crossing. This makes me think that if I just take care of myself, I can hike for many years, something that felt very surreal before seeing her still going strong.

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Further up the road I stop at Cougie for about an hour. I order toast with jam and a beer. A few more challengers comes in as I’m about to leave and I linger a little longer just to socialize.

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When I come up at Plodda Falls where I’ve planned to camp for the night I see a sign “no camping allowed”. Bugger… I continue up the path east of Hilton Lodge and soon find a good spot as the forest comes to an end. I pitch my tent and sit and watch the sunset and enjoy the beautiful weather.

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Day 3

Another rainy night and a cold morning. I start hiking around 9 and soon catch up with a few I met yesterday. The rain started to let up after 1.5 hours and the sun came out and stayed for the whole day. Not too warm, just perfect.

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It’s easy hiking to Fort Augustus but the hard gravel roads were painful for many hikers. I caught up with Byron on the last accent and we hike together for the last hour to Morag’s Lodge. Alan, a hiker that I met on the first evening at the youth hostel is already there.

We dry out our gear in the sun on the lawn outside the lodge before going down to Londis to resupply. When I come back I get word about free sandwiches. Apparently a group tour that should have stopped by never made it and they’d ordered sandwiches. Yummy! I down two of them and they’re accompanied by a couple of ale.

Day 4

I got up in good time before breakfast at 07:30. Continental breakfast, ish. Porridge and toast with beans for me. I’m off around 8:45 and headed down towards the canal. The sun is up and it’s quite warm. I don’t know what I was thinking but seeing the town and probably suffering from sunstroke I take a wrong turn and ended up on a sightseeing tour of the canal before I got back on track. A few kilometers extra just an hour into the day, a good start! I pass the church burial yard exiting Fort Augustus and got on General Wades road through the Corrieyairack Pass. I decided to take an older path up the hill and after tree trunk climbing and some uphill heather bashing, I met up with Paul that just came down the top on the ‘main road’.

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We hike together to Blackburn Bothy where he stopped for tea. Just as we came up on the bothy a man comes out on the trail in front of me, sporting a Üla pack and Altras. I take up the chase and soon catch up to him. His name is Stefan and he’s also a first timer on the TGO.

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We have a similar pace and we hike together and stop at Garva Bridge where we setup camp. A few others come in to the campsite a little later, Brian, Alan and Rory. About one hour later a guy crosses the bridge. He comes up to me and shakes my hand “I read your blog!” he says with a big smile. His name Itai and lives France.

It was a good evening with laughter and chatting until after the sun set.

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Day 5

In the morning me, Stefan and Rory sets off together. We have the same route for the day and apparently even some parts of the next days.

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We walk into the Laggan Stores Coffee Bothy and stay for a while with a few other challengers. Then we’re on our way to Newtonmore.

We reach Ali and Sue’s, organizers, at 3pm and I book a room at the hostel and pick up my maps that I had sent there before hand. I even meet up with a fellow Swede. Stefan has got a reservation at another place and Rory talks me into going to a bothy to shorten our next day. So I cancel my reservation. We’re not leaving just yet, not before picking up some food at the grocery store and having a meal at the pub.

We get to the bothy and it’s completely empty. I get a fire going and we stay up till half past 10, chatting in the warmth of the fire.

Day 6

I wake up as Rory starts shifting around in his sleeping bag. I look at the window to my right and it’s completely fogged up, condensation running down one side of it as the sun hits the window. It’s damp and a little chilly.

Last night we decided that we wanted to get an early start to make up some miles before the sun gets up. The weather forecast says warm sunny days until the weekend when the temperature will drop. Going down from about 20C to 10C.

It’s 5am and we have a quick breakfast and start hiking toward Tormie Bridge up by Kingussie. We part ways a little further up the road as he’s off to Aviemore and through the Lairig Ghru while I’m going to the Glen Feshie stopping at the Glen Shiel Bothy.

I arrive at the bothy just before 10am. I’m greeted by a lovely family that’s currently taking care of the last bits and pieces of the restorations. I get a cup of tea and have lunch with them. The bothy is really a five star one.

Stefan walks in the door about an hour and a half later. He started from Kingussie this morning. We stay for a while and I’ve decided to tag along with him towards White Bridge where he’ll camp. My day is actually done, my planning says that I should camp here at the bothy, but my body feels good so I thought I might as well do two days in one.

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We push on and get to White Bridge but we don’t like the camping spots that it offers, hard packed ground and sheep. We decide to go a little further and we find a really good spot just outside Glen of Dee.

It’s been a long day and we’re both tired, about 48km today.

The tents come up fast and we go to get some water. Dinner is getting ready but mine isn’t too tasty as I’ve managed to burn some of my instant soup… Black flakes floats around in my pot… Good job! I guess it works as a type of odd seasoning. I’m to hungry to care so I eat it anyway.

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Day 7

The night was cold. The grass was covered in frost in the morning, so at least 0 degrees last night. We cook breakfast and Stefan sorts my feet out and kill my heel blisters.

We walk into Braemar around lunch time. Beer and burgers for both of us. I’ve booked myself into the youth hostel and he’s got another reservation so he’s off to that. I do some shopping at Co-op, 5 days worth of food, all the way to Stonehaven.

Before going to dinner I clean my socks and long sleeved hiking shirt. One could think that the green shirt has given colour to the water because it’s everything else but clear. I meet up with Paul and Paul and a couple from Holland. We have drinks and food at the hotel before going to bed.

Day 8

I wake up just before 8 and start to get myself ready. Paul is also up getting his backpack in order. I take my stuff and head down to The Bothy cafe for second breakfast.

Sitting there in the sun I finally decide to go up Lochnagar. For the past few days I’ve been thinking and quite determined to skip it. But last night during dinner they convinced me that I should do it, I’m a head of schedule, don’t be lazy.

It’s a bit of road walking before you get to the parking lot where the trail starts. There are plenty of people in front of me and we all come to the lodge at the same time.

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There are two guys just outside the fence, Bill and George, they’re putting up a sign “T.G.O. tea” and an arrow pointing at the stone houses.

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Apparently I’m the first Challenger to get there this year. After about 20 minutes or so Scott walks in through the door. I’ve actually met Scott and we had dinner together in Newtonmore. We have a chat and then we’re off. He to Jocks Road and I’m up the other side toward Lochnagar.

The climb is quite easy and with a slight breeze and the sun at my back I’m up on the plateau faster than I expected. When I reach the top there’s actually cell reception and I manage to call home and give them the grand FaceTime tour of the top.

I start heading down toward the Queens estate and it’s a very steep decent and my feet are really feeling it. But I just put that away because the views are just stunning. I reach the house at Loch Munich and have some snacks and air my feet on the lawn.

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I make up my mind to push a little further to Shielin of Mark bothy. I go fast on the gravel road and Spittal of Glenmuick is in front of me in no time.

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I start the climb toward the bothy and after some encounters with heather and peat I’m there. There are also three women from Holland here and a few hours later, three more hikers in from Aberdeen join us. I let them have the bothy so I sleep outside in my tent by the burn.

Day 9

The sun woke me up around 6am. Shining straight into my tent. I pull down my buff over my eyes and manage to fall asleep. At 8 the tent is too hot, I need to get up. I start to get out of my sleeping clothes that consists of a merino t-shirt with more holes in it than I can count. An R1 fleece and my tights and shorts. On my feet I have a pair of short down booties.

I break down the tent and just before I’m to set off one of the Hollanders comes down to me and offers me a piece of banana cake that I happily accepts.

At 09:45 I start walking and set my compass almost straight east up the hills. There’s a large rock or similar that I aim for. The ground isn’t too wet and I make good progress. I come to the ridge and find the land rover tracks and I go left to see the Muckle Cairn.

Then I go back and down towards Glen Lee and past the stables, which is a beautiful decent down all the way to Loch Lee.

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I arrive at St. Drostan’s at around 1pm. The old church sits just at the outskirts of Tarfside. The two route vetters/organizers Anne and Alan has just arrived a few minutes earlier and are surprised to get a TGOer so soon after getting there. I get offered tea and toast, I also book a room for the night, shower and food!

Not too long after, Roger Smith and his wife arrives. It’s nice to meet the one who you’ve corresponded with via e-mail to get the most out of my planned route. I get to ask Roger about my planned descent down Ben Attow as I believe I miss understood his directions and he says that what I tried to do is quite hard even in good weather and that he meant that I should have followed the ridge all the way toward the youth hostel just as I suspected, in hindsight.

Paul arrives after a few hours. We have dinner around the big table in the kitchen, two challengers and six vetters. After dinner Scott shows up and he’s had a rough day via Mount Keen. Heather and peat bog sums his day up pretty well. He also decides to stay the night at the church.

When dinner is over Roger Smith and Alan goes through the list of retirements from the challenge. Number after number, sheet after sheet. You really start to notice it’s not all that easy.

An hour passes and the phone rings at 8:45. It’s from Challenge Control just as planned. They’re expected and it’s just for a quick update of the lists, more retirements maybe. It’s a quick call and Alan comes back to the common room and stops in front of the fireplace. He stays silent for a moment and then says
– We’ve got one AWOL.
The whole room shuts down. Everyone is quiet.
– He’s been found by other challengers and is well, but he’s a part of a group and we don’t know if they’re still looking for him. There’s no phone reception in that area…
The vetters look at each other, they can’t do anything about it, it’s just facts.

Conversations are on the topic about routes and how this can happen and the mood is definitely changed. They’re expecting an update later tonight about the rest of the list. Challenge Control is currently busy handling the situation.

Day 10

My alarm rings at seven and I drowsily walk to the kitchen. Breakfast. I meet Scott in the hallway and when I get to the kitchen Paul is already there. I have tea and toast.

Paul leaves first. He has to finish in St. Cyrus today, a pretty tough road walk for him. Scott and I have the same route over the hills and Mount Battock so we leave about 30 minutes after Paul.

We start the climb and it’s a nice morning with overcast and the sun shines through in the distance. The climb up Craig Soales is steep and the wind is picking up. We get to the top and stop to enjoy the views and take some photos.

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It’s getting cold when we stand still as we’re both in shorts and base layer shirts. When we start the accent up Mount Battock the wind is really picking up and we guesstimate 45mph or there about. After another kilometer Scott stops and asks if we’re to put on our wind trousers and I agree. Smart move!

We continue up toward Mount Battock and at this point the wind hits us sideways and I have to lean into the wind not to loose my footing. As we reach the top we both hurry into the wind shelter and sit down. Sitting on the small bench everything is very quiet compare to the howling wind that hits the stone walls. Scott offers me some homemade trail mix and I happily accepts. Going down the wind is at our backs and it’s quite easygoing but you really need to hold on to your trekking poles because the wind is eager to steal them from us.

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When we arrive at Charr Bothy, which is where Scott is staying for the night we have some snacks and a cup of coffee. I’m to continue on into the Fetteresso Forest to setup for a short 19km (actually 27km) walk into Stonhaven and Dunnottar Castle tomorrow. He’s looking at almost a 40km day so after some contemplating on his part he decides to tag along. I got a nice tip from Anne, one the vetters, last night about a good camping spot and that’s what I’ve drawn fresh lines on my map towards.

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After a nice walk through forests and up Cairn Kerloch past the wind farms, we end up at a sort of meadow. Not to many spots to pitch at but we manage to find two good ones. We both start to boil water and enjoy an evening meal by the burn and stay up chatting till 8pm.

Day 11

The night had been calm and warm. I guess being camped in the Fetteresso Forest the trees help to retain the heat. I slept really good, the sound of the wind turbines in the distance wasn’t as disturbing as I first found them. Rather soothing actually.

When I get out of my tent Scott was already sitting outside enjoying the morning sun, scribbling something into a book. I eat a few breakfast bars while I break down the tent. We filter some water and then we were back on the trail. The forest was still and the sun trickling through the tight knitted canopy and the birds receipted a well known tune.

This is the last day on the trail for us, The Great Outdoor Challenge of 2018…

The forest is littered with small tracks and bigger logging roads. Unfortunately we’re soon on to the latter. As we’re about to exit the forest and onto the tarmac a cuckoo said goodbye. There’s always a cuckoo close to camp for whatever reason.

We have a quick stop, coffee break, just before hitting the road and mixing with the vehicle on it. Not too long after we have our eyes on Stonehaven in the distance and I say that it looks like there’s smoke coming out from the forest. When we get closer it’s quite obvious that it’s not a fire but rather a pretty dense fog rolling in from the North Sea.

When we get closer to Dunnottar Castle it’s soaked in the fog and visibility is poor. The temperature has also plummeted. Previously it was a really warm day. There’s a lot of people here, feels really busy compared to the hills.

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As we start descending down to the beach I’m trying to understand what I’m feeling so close to completing the challenge. I ask Scott who’s also a first timer
– So this is what it feels like?
He responds with something like “aye”. I think he’s just as empty as me. It’s low tide and we go out on the sharp rocks covered in seaweed and kelp. Scott takes off his boots and socks and puts his feet in and I take his picture.

I ready my camera, set the aperture, check exposure, puts it down on the rocks and hit record. The red circle comes on. I take a few steps and go out as far as possible. Then a wave roles in and I try to jump up and escape it but it completely soaks my shoes up to my ankles. I look at Scott and say
– Does that count?
– I think so, he says with a grin on his face.
I put my hand in just to be sure and we start walking back up to beach and follow the coast into Stonehaven.

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If I were to summarize the TGO Challenge it would be:

  • Challenging
  • Friendly
  • Character building
  • Weather dependent
  • Heather

My route that was logged from my Spot Gen 3 tracker. There are more tracker points but this was the only way I could export it. The map/track functionality on their web is not the best in the world. Their iOS app is better but then you can’t get an image you can actually zoom in on and showcase it as one.

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Ps.

I saw this just as I came home and much of what’s in it could also be what I experienced during the challenge. You should watch it too, it starts at 1:04.

TGO Challenge 2018 Video

 

This was my TGO Challenge (The Great Outdoor) starting on the 11th of May in Shiel Bridge and finishing at Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, on the 21st of May.

Special thanks to Stefan, Rory, Paul and Scott that help me film and pushed me to do things I otherwise wouldn’t have done.

This video will be followed up by a trip report and more video from a day-to-day basis.

Hiking Holavedsleden

Hiking Holavedsleden (59km) from Tranås to Gränna in the last days of April. The numbers and letters showing up through out the video are map reference markers.

Pleasant walk but a lot of roads and not enough trails through the forests. Water was an issue at times but not so much that it was holding me back.

Number of ticks attached, four. A few crawlers too.

For maps and more info about Holavedsleden click here.

 

The hypocrisy of Leave No Trace

So you’ve just bought that new cheap super-light mini pocket gas stove from China. Two pair of trekking pants and this years edition of trail shoes with that crazy cool color scheme. A pack of 5 charging cables for your phone (because it was cheaper than one) and you’ve upgraded your backpack – all set for this years hiking adventures!

Sounds familiar?

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So what is Leave No Trace?

Leave No Trace is a set of outdoor ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors. It consists of seven principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

These principles have been adapted to different activities, ecosystems and environments. Since 1994, Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics, a non-profit organization also known as Leave No Trace, exists to educate people about their recreational impact on nature as well as the principles of Leave No Trace to prevent and minimize such impacts. Source: Wikipedia

Breaking it down

If we try and break these principles down in terms of a trip into the wild to make it more realistic and what you as an individual can do.

Plan ahead and prepare

It’s hard to plan ahead for all trips you want to do in life but what you can do is choose your big three, backpack, tent and sleeping bag as carefully as possible. Looking at reviews on blogs, YouTube etc you can start building a good idea of what you’ll need. For example, if you’re not too keen on winter hikes you can probably get away with a three season sleeping bag or less. You can still do day trips during the colder months.

Choose something that you know will last. Even the lightest Dyneema Cuben Fiber items will last for a very long time. Also try and get multi-purpose items, e.g. a compass with a mirror will double as – yup, a mirror. A buff will be a hat, scarf, bandana etc.

Picking gear from companies that are aware of their impact on the planet is also very good. Today we have multiple companies like Patagonia, Fjällräven, Houdini and Arc’Teryx that try to spearhead in terms of sustainability and environmental impact when producing their items. Cottage manufacturers are small and have usually already made good decisions based upon these principles. Being smaller they can adjust faster too. If you’re unsure, you can always ask.

Food, isn’t this the most boring part? It shows that making good decisions of what you eat will also have a very big impact on how far you can go and also what waste you’re bringing with you – pack in, pack out.. We’ll leave the food industry out of this one.

Travel and camp on durable surfaces

Stealth camping or just being able to pitch your tent wherever is very liberating but you can still pick a spot with care. Avoid sensitive areas if the trail information tells you to and use designated campsites. If you’re allowed to wild camp then make sure not to put your tent on plants/flowers if possible and do not dig into the ground for fun.

At the same time, use the trails that are available to you. If there’s no trail and you’re up in Alaska or another very remote area don’t disturb trees, bushes etc just because you wanna plow through. Look at the map and make good decision. This will save you calories too! Win-win.

Dispose of waste properly

Pack in, pack out! How many of you haven’t seen trash on the trail. Be it something that’s “accidentally dropped” to beer cans or worse. I don’t understand how hard it can be to put your trash in your trash bag and bring it back. Sure it’s bulky and might even smell a little, especially in hot weather, but you brought it there, make sure it gets out and is recycled. Burning it in the fire pit is not recycling or disposing of it properly.

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Plastic waste and a heart shaped piece of grass.

Poop, we all do it. Make sure to dig a hole for your business at least 50m away from a water source. Don’t be the person that just go around the big rock next to the trail and do your stuff on the ground and leave some toilet paper as a souvenir for others to see, smell, step in or worse, for animals to eat. We’ve seen some really nasty stuff…

Leave what you find

You’re in a very barren place. It’s super windy and you’re afraid your tent will wanna make a run for it during the night. You see a bunch of rocks in the ground. That will work! You start plying them out of the ground and put them on your tent stakes. Aaah, safe and sound, you sleep like a baby during the night in the high winds.

You wake up and break down your tent and walk away. No! You pause and remember; I need to put the rocks back first because it could take up 20 to 50 years for the vegetation to recover to a pre-removal condition.

This goes without saying but don’t mess with cultural artifacts.

Minimize campfire impacts

If you just need to make a fire (non emergency) use a fire pit if there’s one already. Don’t just pile stuff up wherever and light a fire. If you don’t really need that campfire just don’t make one.

We also have many wood burning options in a lightweight package today. When you use these make sure to use the wood burning floor that’s usually supplied with them so you don’t damage the ground or worst case, making roots catch fire and you have a underground fire resulting in a forest burning down.

Respect wildlife

Arctic Foxes, elks and birds etc are indeed beautiful. But leave them alone. Don’t scare them off and for the love of – don’t feed them with the stuff you brought. They were there long before you and will still be there when you get back home and sleep in your comfy bed dreaming of your wonderful time in the outdoors.

Be considerate of other visitors

Remember, you’re (almost) never alone in the wild or going to a place where no one will ever go. This is just like karma – you get what you give.

The hypocrisy

Fast fashion is a thing and the outdoor companies still needs to make a living.

I’m in no way better than anyone at this, even more so in the past. I’ve even stated “whoever has the most things when he dies wins”. Let’s say I have a different perspective nowadays.

Much of the traffic on this blog is coming at different products that we at Lighter Packs have bought in the past and reviewed and showcased. Hopefully we’ve given something back so that you can and could make the right decision to buy or not.

I believe that some companies are better than others in taking pride in their gear, offering to repair items on warranty or even when you just break them.
We at Lighter Packs have had multiple experiences with sending in gear to have it repaired and restored, be it a new zipper or similar, even repairing it ourselves. If they can’t fix it, they’ll usually give you a “new” item and your broken one will be recycled and reused in production of something new for someone else to enjoy.

I believe that it’s never too late to start making a change and hence making a difference.

So if you leave here with one message; Before you buy something, take a step back and ask yourself – Do I really need this item? Will it add value to my life for what I’m intending to do? Or will I be equally good off with what I currently have?

Also if you have used items that still have some life left in them. Sell them, gift them to a friend or drop them off at your local second hand shop. Just because you don’t need it anymore doesn’t mean it has to go to waste, pun intended.

The lightest things are the ones you don’t bring.
So maybe you can skip that third, oh so cheap tent from AliExpress?

We have one planet. Don’t forget that. There’s no reason not to let people enjoy it as much as we have.

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Happy trails!


Disclaimer, this is focusing on a “lighter pack”. Hence gear to carry very specific or heavy items might require different sets of i.e. backpacks to get the work done. There’s no ‘right way’ – all I ask is that you think first, buy second.

Episode Two – The Fox & The Bird | Hornstrandir, Iceland, August 2017

Trip report of my solo hike in the remote area of Hornstrandir, north western most part of Iceland in August 2017.

This video shows the first three of eight days.

  • Day One: Látrar – Hesteyri
  • Day Two: Hesteyri – Fljótavík
  • Day Three: Fljótavík – Hlöðuvik

 

8 days in Hornstrandir, Iceland – Trip report

It was in the middle of the night when I got up on the 4th of August, 1:50 AM to be precise. I had order the taxi the other day to come pick me up at 2:30 AM so I could have plenty of time if something happened, the bus to the airport left at 3:25 AM. My phone beeped and the taxi showed up on the map, late…

Got on the bus with time to spare and rode to Landvetter airport, Gothenburg. Smooth flight as always with Iceland Air and we landed right on time at Keflavík International Airport. Transfer bus in to Reykjavík and started to hunt for breakfast and place to store my bag until I got access to my room.

I was also calling the local gas station in Ísafjörður to make sure that they had alcohol for my stove. Had e-mailed them previously but not reply. I got a hold of them and they put a side on bottle for me. Problem solved.

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Main street, Laugavegur (has given name to the popular hiking route Landmannalaugar – Skogár)

The information center had a service to store your bag for 1000ISK so I took up on their offer and started to walk the streets. The rest of the day I was having a good time in Reykjavík, visiting Micro Bar, best beer place in Iceland, where I met a few people and chatted away with till late.

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5th of August – 6:30 AM , Reykjavík Airport.

Finally off to Ísafjörður! Reykjavik Airport is small but everything was flowing smoothly and we departed on time. Flight time 40 minutes.

The 5th is a bank holiday in Iceland so that would mean that I was stuck in the small town for the day. No boats.

Coffee, food and rest was on the menu. If you go here you should definitely visit the old bakery and for food there’s this fish-place with all you can eat (didn’t visit) but otherwise a place called Húsið (the house) which I cannot recommend enough.

Ísafjörður is a picturesque town with a great backdrop with the mountains surrounding it and the people are very friendly. There was quite a few tourists here that came in with cruise ships so don’t expect it to be empty and you might have to fight your way through to get a table at times.

6th of August – 0900 hours, adventure time!

I was at the docks early, slept kind if good but I IMG_0628guess the excitement got me waking up early, even before the alarm sounded.

Packed and ready from the night before I had a quick breakfast and went to the old bakery to grab a cup of coffee. Being a bank holiday yesterday, there was a lot of people going with the boat together with a lot of supplies for their summer homes. The boat was packed to the limit, 16 people.

The seas were rough and some people were ill.

First stop was Sæból, took almost 45 minutes to get everyone off the boat and on to land with their supplies with the Zodiac. We also picked up three Icelandic hikers that had been out for eight days. I took the opportunity to ask them a thing or two about the area and the weather.

Landed on the shore of Látrar at around 11 AM and I started walking on the beautiful beaches towards Sæból (yes, I went back) getting attacked by Arctic terns . These are very territorial and will dive bomb you until you’re out of the way, “Welcome to Hornstrandir”.

Overcast with a steady 10 degrees Celsius, perfect hiking weather. There was also low tide which was perfect for this section. After the beach walk there came a part which was just walking on stones, was slow-paced because some were slippery and some loose. Just as I got eyes on Sæból in the distance, coming around a corner I found a metal ladder. I had been told about this part from the hikers that came on the boat but I couldn’t really imagine what it would be like.

The ladder went straight up 90 degrees and then came to a chain hanging of the cliff. It was really steep and with a full pack this was interesting to say the least. This was climbing. Fortunately enough there was no wind, or very little, and no rain. Otherwise I’d turned back. I reached the top after some scary moments with rocks coming loose and slipping on gravel, my heart was racing when I came to the top and I was pumped with adrenaline. I wouldn’t do this part again with a full ever again even if I got paid. My pack is light but someone coming with a 20kg+ pack wouldn’t have a great time here or might not even make it at all.

I sat for a good 5-10 minutes and then got back up on my feet and started moving again, grassy slopes with a well beaten track, reached Sæból in no time and started climbing the mountain Darri to go look for the old British radar station. I had lunch on my way up to the top. Just as I reached the top, the northern winds had brought big clouds in over the area so visibility was at times less than 20 meters but usually around 50. I searched but couldn’t find it. Didn’t want to go exploring too much because there are overhangs here on the cliffs and in the clouds it’s really hard to see what’s what until you’re standing right there. I went back down again a little sad that I didn’t find it and made the climb ‘for nothing’.

Started walking towards Hesteyri where I would make camp for the night. This route was really nice going past an old church, climbing next to a small waterfall and then up on the plateau, Sléttuheði, where you could see quite far south where the fjords makes up for a spectacular view.

Saw my first Arctic fox too just before crossing a stream. It was quite curious about me and came as close as 2 meters before I started walking again.

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Easy walk all the way to Hesteyri and a good campsite that even had an outdoor sink with running water. The only thing that felt weird is that the campsite is 10 meters from a cemetery…

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Ending notes:

Everything is alright, my body feels good.

7th of August – H-4 in the clouds

A beautiful morning, the wind was blowing gently through the whole night, campsite sat quite high above the sea, no condensation anywhere. Pack and go!

Started with a nice ascent giving a good overview of the campsite and Hesteyri. There was a few people walking between the houses here, probably going to get some food. They even offer accommodation here along with a breakfast buffet if you want to pay for that. Beer and pancakes too. I had non of this, stuck to my strict diet, haha.

When I came up on Hesteyrarskarð the wind picked up and with windchill I guess it was not much more than 1-2 degrees at times. It was cold so that the few stops I had to do like tie shoes and have a quick snack, I really had to find a good spot to get out of the wind but even with that I was shivering. Saw the first snow on the hike here.

Coming closer to Látrar I got a great view of the entire valley and Straumnesfjall which was the next target with the old american radar station H-4. The sun was up at this point but low clouds where closing in. Crossed Norður Aðalvik with it’s sand dunes and bogs. Caught up with an elderly couple from Wales that had come in with their sailboat yesterday. We had a quick chat and then I started ascending the south path of Straumnesfjall. The men who lived an operated at H-4 must have been super fit climbing these paths with supplies and gear. Before I managed to hit the top the clouds where reality, walking in a glass of milk again. The wind picked up and the visibility was anything but good. At times you could see 100 meters and then the next sub 20.

When I came up to a “cross-road” I took a left and realized that I probably had turned too early. A quick map check, no landmarks, but gut feeling told me it was wrong. Then, out of a sudden the clouds gave me some slack and a big ghost house was in the distance. It scared me because with the wind the clouds moved so fast it just came and went out of nowhere. Almost like a mirage.

I didn’t see this house on the map but knowing before I left, when I did the research, that there were a few houses spread out on the area connected with roads I made my way towards it. The clouds covered it again and I just walked towards where I saw it and then… There it was, a single building in the middle of nowhere, scarred by time and the not so gentle Icelandic weather.

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Filled with new energy I pushed out west again looking for the main road and found it shortly after and turned north towards the main buildings. It took some time and I saw a few more houses along the way which like the previous one just popped out of the fog on short notice.

It was closer to 1 PM when I reached the radar site, covered in the clouds, quite creepy place with the fog. Felt like something out of a movie. I stopped for lunch and found out by accident that this place actually hade service so I called home via FaceTime, which was choppy and not the best.

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During my lunch the wind had moved all the clouds and the sun was out. I took shelter in one of the aisles and tried to dry out shoes and socks.

After I was done I made a “navigational error” and went down the east side, there’s no real path here but it’s there on the map. It was a great place but very wet. It took me longer than expected but with the sun out it was still a nice walk downhill.

Instead of setting up camp at Látrar which was the plan, I didn’t really remember my plan, probably due to the nice weather and the mindset of ‘keep pushing on’. I ended the day over at Fljótavík. The Ascent up to Nónfjell was nice and offered no real paths so that was the real first navigational challenge but soon found a good path to follow. The Descent however, was really steep and I didn’t enjoy that part, slippery and some climbing at times. Found a good campsite and could see another tent about 2-300 meters away from me.

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Ending notes:

I miss Emelie and the kids.

8th of August – one day ahead of schedule

Woke up around 3 AM from the sound the rain made when it hit the tent. Cuben fiber is quite loud if it’s pitched right, more or less working like a drum head. I wasn’t cold but I could feel the moist that was in the air. I went back to sleep and woke up around 10 AM and contemplated if I was to get up and hike out in the rain. I decided to hit the mental snooze button again as I was one day ahead of schedule. Had breakfast/lunch around noon. I was thinking of taking a zero day but I thought it to be too lazy for the third day. Broke camp quite quickly, put my HMG Ultamid 2 in the mesh pocket on the outside of my ZPacks Arc Blast with the hopes of the rain letting down later in the day and maybe even get some sun to dry it a little.

I walked north-east towards the river crossing marked on the map, Atlastaðir. From where I camped I had to cross a small and shallow lake. Soaked. Once I got to the river crossing I decided on the best place to cross. There weren’t really any wide parts here and I could see that the water was moving quite fast and the rain that had fallen through the night probably didn’t help. I picked the best place that I could see and started crossing. As soon as I hit the water it was knee-deep and it looked to stay like that so I carefully continued. That’s when it happened, just past the middle it went waist deep and I could feel the current grabbing the back of my pack. I was about to go swimming!

I hastily checked left right for the best ‘exit’ if I’d fall and thought to myself, this is it. At that point adrenaline and anger kicked in about my own stupidity and I managed to push my trekking poles deep in the soft lava sand and they sunk like in quick sand. I leaned forward as much as possible and managed to get my right foot on more solid piece of the sand bottom and pushed out. Close call!

I should have known better and that glacial streams drags a whole lot of stuff with them and makes the bottom act like quicksand.

After I got up I checked my pockets that I still had everything and that my map and electronics weren’t swimming in my hip pockets on my pack. Luckily enough everything was dry. I brought out the map and decided not to cross further down but instead take the detour around south-west of Flótjsvatn via Glúmsstaðir ruins.

This whole area around Fljótavík is known for being wet and it held true to this. Not a dry spot anywhere until I started climbing up towards Þorleifsdalur. There was no real trail here but at times you could see that people have been here, the odd footprint here and there.

I started my ascent towards Þorleifsskarð (skarð = gap/dent) which is more or less just stones everywhere and the trail is quite hard to follow especially with some fog/rain. Tip of the day is to follow the map blindly here and just go straight up the middle, even though it looks like it’s almost vertical climb from afar. The trail is there, and it’s steep. Half way up I had to put away my trekking poles and strap them to my pack. I needed both hands to climb up onto rocks and clinging on the side of things to be able to go upwards. The descent on the other side isn’t that bad and it’s an easy walk to Almenningarskarð which is also quite steep. Ascent towards Hlöðuvik was not bad at all and the view was great.

When I came down to the beach area I caught up with two Germans that was on the beach taking pictures of the drift wood that had piled up. We walked together for sometime until they stopped again to take more pictures. I was getting cold so I headed for the campsite. There were already two more tents here when I arrived, an Italian couple and a solo hiking Canadian. Apart from us there were also 2-3 Arctic foxes that were very used to humans. They went and searched around the tents for food and some of them even more brave, had a quick peak into them too. I stored all my food and trash bag inside my pack that night.

Here the wildlife was great, apart from the foxes I saw a lot of different birds and even a seal swimming next to the shore.

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Ending notes:

Scarð would translate into scared

9th of August – Misty mountains

I got up in time this morning, around 9 AM. There was a light drizzle and I was sitting inside the tent boiling water for breakfast. The camp was empty when I packed my stuff. I started walking east towards Buðir and the first ascent of the day. I caught up with the Germans and Italians after 20 minutes and took rear place and followed their (slow) tempo up hill. At the top of we came across an Arctic fox. It hung around for a few minutes before it headed up to the peak to the north. The group stayed there and I walked a head because the wind was quite strong and I was getting cold.

The hike towards Atlaskarð was interesting with the low clouds giving very bad visibility and I lost the trail a couple of times but found it soon again. Due to the recent rain and the bad visibility I changed my route and decided not to go further north and around Hælavíkurbjarg (which was good). I met a solo hiker when I started my descent from Atlaskarð and she said that the weather was much better just a few hundred meters down the hill. We talked for 5 minutes before going our separate ways.

I had a break at Rekavík bak Hófn on the beach when the ranger came up to me to say hello. She was very friendly and asked where I’ve been and where I’m going etc. She told me that it was good that I avoided the Hælavíkurbjarg route because in the fog and rain it’s quite dangerous. She also told me that Bjarnanes and Smiðjuvík where I had plan to go was just about as soaked as Fljótavík so she recommended me to stay an extra day in the Hornvík area to explore in stead. Good information.

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Icelandic art. You climb up the rope that’s on the right and down the other side.

The entire Hornvík bay is very beautiful with the rocks coming out of the water like teeth and with The Horn or Hornbjarg in the distance. I arrived at Hófn and the weather was clearing up, early night.

Hófn is a very luxurious place and the rangers house even have a WC that’s open for you as a hiker. It doesn’t get much better than that in the back country. However the place smells of rotting seaweed and during the day it has a lot of flies. In the evening and night they’re all gone.

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Makeshift nightstand

Ending notes:

Waiting for better weather to go to Hornbjarg.

10th of August – The Horn

Woke up early because the tent was too hot. The sun was already up. The night had been cold though, damp. I got up and threw out all the wet things I had in my pack and hanged them to dry. It didn’t take too long to get that sorted and they were soon dry.

I headed off towards the stream Kýrá, which essentially is a waterfall. My shoes and socks were dry, a few minutes later it was time for the first river crossing… So much for dry feet. Easy to cross, the water isn’t higher than your calf.

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Hófn campsite is located on the right. You can see a bright dot there.

I took the west route up to the horn and then following it around to the east and south. The views were just spectacular. The sun and blue skies made the day even better. Couldn’t have hoped for any better conditions for this part. I had two things on the trip I really wanted to see and that was this and the H-4 radar site.

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The Horn

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Miðfjall

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Kalfatindar

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The birds are everywhere on the cliff side

I called home from the top of Miðfjall the only place with service around here. Showed the panoramic views and was just happy having contact with the outer world for a while. Pushing the “OK” button on the Spot Gen 3 helps too, it’s psychological in a sense that you’re still here. I got told that the other day my ‘camp message’ hadn’t gone through and there had been some talks back home about what could have happened until I signed in the next day. This wasn’t the Spot’s fault but human error because I think I turned it off by mistake thinking the messaged had been sent.

Made my way back down south and had lunch at the campsite close to Hornsé waterfall. Had a fox sneaking on me begging for food. They’re kind of like cats, sitting there looking pretty, praying on your conscience to feel sorry for them and throw them something. It gave up after 5 minutes but kept coming back every now and then. At the end it settled with laying down on a piece of grass on the high ground to my front and kept me under observation.

Went back to Hófn campsite and took a picture of this Icelandic natural art on the way. I named it, Dog eating food.

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As I came back I found a spot where there was still some sun and pitched the Ultamid and just sat in the grass having a cup of tea and enjoying life.

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Ending notes:

Talked to Casper and Emelie today. Will add some more luxury and listening to some music for a little while.

11th of August – The American

A sunny morning once again. The night was cold. Hófn is trapping in all the cold and moist air like in a kettle. Had to sleep with everything on, even my down jacket as an extra blanket. Talked to a few others and they have had the same experience here during the night.

Wasn’t really sure what to do today but on my old route I was to go by the lighthouse at Látravík directly east from Hófn. Unfortunately it closed on the 7th of August but otherwise they make pancakes and sell them for a fair price. I still went even though they weren’t open for business.

The other reason besides seeing the lighthouse, was to walk on the only real marked trail in Hornstrandir. Hófn to Látravík. The ranger told me so the other day and that made me want to go even more, just to have been there and done that. The trail was indeed marked, to a degree. Some stakes had been smashed down into the rocky ground. Some where only 20cm high but others were almost 1.25 meters (my trekking pole length).

On the western side of the Kýrskarð the wind was completely blocked and I was sweating like crazy. But as soon as I crested the wind was really blowing again, 15-20m/s. A rocky descent down towards the lighthouse but easy walking. I stopped halfway down the last hill and had a good overview of the lighthouse and the horizon. Dried my socks in the sun and had a snack before going back to Hófn.

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In Hófn for the last time. Decided to have lunch at the one and only picnic table. After a few minutes a guy showed up, trying to escape the flies (there’s no escape during the day).  He introduced himself and asked if he could sit down and I said yes. He talked about what he did and how he’d come here to Iceland and Hornstrandir. He was very ill-prepared and didn’t have proper equipment if the weather would turn bad. He didn’t have a map, well, he had a “map” that was printed on a buff that he got for free from a lady in a store, where he bought one of those popular Icelandic sweaters. She gave it to him thought he’d need it, no trail markings or nothing.

I believe that half of what he said was gibberish and he made it up as he went. When I’d finished my noodles he said that he’d taken great pictures of the Arctic foxes that was around camp (I didn’t see any) and that they were really easy to photograph if you had a piece of bread in your hand and fed them(!). He’d even put down a can of tuna and thought it’d only eat from it but he was amazed when it took the whole thing and ran away… Some people…

I guess this is the magic of internet and the easy spreading of images from “cool areas” that make these idiots visit them. The ranger told me that they’d even rescued two people around the 7th of August. They’d lost half of their gear, didn’t have a map and didn’t know here they were. Nice. Hornstrandir is no playground I can tell you that much.

I left in anger, going south towards Veiðileysufjörður and I cooled off only after a kilometer or so.

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The climb up to Hafnarskarð is easy and you get a good view over Hófn. This place is very nice and there’s a lot of small glacial streams where you can get water, cool yourself down or just stay and look at them for a while.

The closer I came towards the skarð I had to cross more and more snow patches. At first only 10-20 meters. Then 50 meters and even this one above which I guess was around 100-150 meters before reaching the top. Here at the top there’s service again so I got to call home but it wasn’t that good so I was breaking up a lot.

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Going down towards Veiðileysufjörður, my pick up location, might have been the most beautiful place on the whole trip.

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Down at the camping site there was quite a few people. About 10 of them waiting to go on the boat and four tents. I guess the trick here is to come early in the day because there are not that many places where you can pitch your tent. Everything is sitting on a slope and there’s quite many rocks which makes it hard to pitch even a small tent. I was lucky to find a good spot.

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Ending notes:

Talked with Emelie and Alma.

12th of August – That one time I almost got on a boat

Slow day. Slept in and no rush to do anything. My left heel was hurting a little from the descent yesterday. Zero day.

I mostly kept to myself but right before noon a couple from the Netherlands came to me and started chatting. They were really nice and we sat and talked the whole day until they were to get on the boat.

I was told from before that there might be a slim chance that I might get on the boat and back to civilization a day early, rather than just sitting here for another day. The boat came in and one of the rangers who was leaving the area, closing up for this season, asked if there was room for me. Noup, full.

I had visualized in my head, pizza or hamburgers with a cold beer. Wouldn’t have any of that for this evening!

I went back up and pitched my tent in the same place again. Off the boat came a couple from Canada and we started chatting and they wanted to know about the trails etc. We ended up talking for many hours about everything from their studies on Lynx, Bobcat and primates to traveling and general everyday things. I went to bed around 10:30 PM and that’s the last time I saw them.

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These (new) socks didn’t survive Hornstrandir. Not buying these again.

13th of August – You have to do something

Last day of the trip. Sun was up again, hot tent. Dried out everything I had. Would make no sense to bring back wet stuff with me if I didn’t have to.

I didn’t feel like hiking at all but I got told last night that I need to do some hiking today. So with that in my head I looked at the surroundings and on the map, Karlstaðir looks ok. I’ll just go and have a look at those ruins.

My legs were slow, my mind was some place else rather than on the beautiful scenery. Not until I crossed the water over towards Karlstaðir my body went into hiking-mode. I picked up the pace and when I got better eyes on Karlstaðir I saw that the place was full of Arctic terns… Not going near them if I don’t have to.

I was thinking if I was to go back but then again came that feeling, need to do something useful on my last day here in Hornstrandir. Tafla, 402 meters high, right next to me – Yeah, let’s do that one!

The climb was steep, there are no routes here so I just winged it. Took some time to get up there and was feeling my heel a bit so I stopped shy of the highest point. Took a breather and then headed north to link up with the trail I walked down two days ago.

On my way there I met up with a bird that I think was a Golden plover. It sings in a way that you can quite easily mimic with just whistling. I started to whistle and it responded every time. It started following me for about 500 meters or so, talking the whole time. It was fun and kept me distracted. Feeling as one with nature. As soon as the descent started it didn’t follow me anymore and I soon hit the trail and was back on the campsite in no time.

The boat came after a few hours and I was on my way back to Ísafjörður.

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The boat ride was interesting. We picked up a few people and almost hit the pier because the sun was so low that the captain had it in his eyes, close call.

Just before we came in to the harbor the engine stopped. Out of fuel… Well isn’t this a good way to end a trip? They pumped fuel from one tank to the other and with a slight engine issue afterwards we were on our way back to the safety of land.

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A quick goodbye to the very friendly guys on the boat and back to take a shower and then get some hamburgers over at Húsið.

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Hornstrandir, was an interesting place. The trip was interesting, exciting, scary and very beautiful. I don’t think I’ll be returning to this place anytime soon but I’m glad to have done the trip.

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