Sailing in the West Fjords
As a photographer and seeker of all things adventure, having the opportunity to spend time in Iceland on assignment with Aurora Arktika in the West Fjords was blissfully inspiring. First things first, we had to get there! If you don’t fly often, going to a modern day airport can feel like going to a carnival; its chaos, anticipation, and excitement in one shared space. You may see people losing their minds over delayed flights, futuristic tablets decorating every table, or perhaps the neutral ponderous inevitably making their way to the destination of their choosing. My natural presence was back in my personal corner with a small smirk on my face because no amount of negative energy existing around me could weaken the truth of making it to the land of fire and ice – Iceland. During this excursion we had the amazing Utah-based apparel brand, Kuhl, along for the ride and this meant a lot. Not only does the brand match my personal style, but its quality materials and functionality set the tone for a pristine adventure where not only would we be protected from the shifting weather elements but we would be looking pretty dang cool as well (no pun intended). But as any seasoned traveler knows, fun, excitement and thrill aren’t created by extra things and commodities, they are created by the people we interact with and the attitudes we carry with us during our life. Fortunately for me, I am very aware of this and I always let the extra luxuries amplify my experience and not be a corner stone.
Before we set sail on the famed Arktika we planned to spend a week getting to know the arctic paradise we call Iceland. If you’re not familiar with the GrandTaiga style of travel yet, let me explain a bit. We don’t often stay in hotels for two reasons: doing this can increase our costs and also suck valuable time away from our exploration time. We also try our best to stay away from the tourist hot spots. We do recognize they are hotspots for a reason so if we do make it to a famed attraction like Skógafoss, we typically do it our way. This particular time our way included stripping down to our swim trunks, hobbling on the rocks past all the other tourists saturated in warm attire and then initiating a dead sprint towards the center of the beast. We do this not only for the unconventional thrill of the experience but for the instantaneous memory it creates. From truly immersing ourselves in the Iceland outback and feeling the powerful force of the waterfall, to the cheers we received and the high from the utter insanity we just put our bodies through, it is always enough to make it a worthwhile experience to just jump in. Looking back on the cold dips we’ve done in the past, there is never regret, only time portals created to provide pure and vivid memories that will last a lifetime. Some of our highlights throughout our first week in Iceland included missing the Golden Circle (yes, you read that right), climbing an ice canyon, hiking the Westman Islands most challenging climb Heimaklettur, executing a hike around the Skaftafell glacier with an endless sunset until four in the morning and climbing a random mountain that we picked out on the road just because of its epic seaside rock face.
After an incredibly fulfilling week of exploration, it was time to meet our destiny of sailing on the Arktika expedition ship situated in the quaint town of Ísafjörður. My inspiration for sailing the West Fjords was stoked by one of our generation’s greatest photographers, Chris Burkard. He had spent some time sailing on the Arktika and ever since his inspirational travel photos were released online, I set my sites on following in his footsteps. Our time aboard the Arktika was spent experiencing life in royalty. When I first laid eyes on the Dutch built ketch-rigged oceangoing sailing yacht it sparked many feelings associated with its pirate born presence. Its classical sailing elements of brown stained wood lined with golden accents not only added to the experience but proved there was some extraordinary history behind the ship and its inhabitants. As I backed my way down into the galley I couldn’t help but notice CB’s famed landscape photographs hanging on the wall. This nostalgic moment even more so set the tone for what this expedition would have in store. As my eyes danced from interesting visual to the next, my eyes caught a couple baskets of fresh fruit and gourmet cookies ready for consumption on the kitchen table. For hungry travelers on a budget this was an excuse to make like Owen Wilson and let out a legendary, “wow”.
It was now time to set sail and see what the West Fjords could offer. After we settled in and enjoyed a calm afternoon sail out of Ísafjörður, we found anchorage by an old whaling tower. Our Arktika captain Oli then shuttled us ashore on the ship’s private dingy for an evening hike. Turns out our luck during the entire trip in Iceland seemed to be running on an endless tank as once again we set out into an incredibly lit fjord where the summer sun lightly torched the tops of the surrounding cliffs. Our first night on the pirate ship was more than successful and all we could do is remind ourselves to be present and take in each enchanting moment as it presented itself.
The ensuing days were filled with excursions that left us feeling like Icelandic gods. We enjoyed hiking across stunning and historic Fjords only to be reminded every now and then out of the corner of our eyes that our new boat home would be following us the entire way to the other side where we’d be picked up. We kayaked into massive glassy majestic bays completely lined with waterfalls along the shore. After heated hikes in the never ending Icelandic daylight we climbed the masts and let go of ourselves completely as we dove straight into the frigid North Atlantic ocean to cool down. As if all of this wasn’t extravagant enough we were treated to a private tour to a remote island where we watched seals, ate deserts , and kicked back and drank coffee in a café that was opened just for us. On our way back to land, we did end up encountering a small break in the clear sky’s to experience the powerful ocean in action. With continual rain, powerful crashing waves and the boats conversion into a roller coaster, we thrashed our way back to our last anchorage of the week. If you think this itinerary is exhausting, it surely might have been if our trip wasn’t all fueled by the never ending on board food supply, fresh salmon, trout, lamb dinners and always ready coffee and tea to fight the chill of the arctic breeze.
When we arrived back in Ísafjörður and the time came to say goodbye we knew it was a great privilege to sail with Aurora Arktika and get to the know the crewmen who were the screws behind the masterpiece. We couldn’t be happier with the time we spent out in the North Atlantic Ocean and next time we hope to journey further into the unknown and make it to Greenland. Until then, this is a chapter out of my book that I will joyfully read and ponder over and over again.