Navigating Iceland with a closetful of camera gear and outerwear can be tricky, especially during the harsh winter months. Luckily, we happened to be there on assignment for Eagle Creek, whose rugged, purpose-built duffles and rolling cargo haulers allowed us some much needed peace of mind. We collected sights, sounds, and snacks from Reykjavik to Reynisfjara, and compiled the results into a photo essay for Eagle Creek’s social channels.
When travelers think of Iceland, some of the first landscapes to come to mind are jagged volcanic formations, imposing glacial tongues, and stunning black sand beaches. Despite the regularity of world-class scenery along the southern coast, access to any type of terrain can be difficult in December, when short days and questionable conditions complicate travel plans. After landing in Reykjavik just before 6am, we quickly grabbed our luggage and sprinted for the car rental shuttle, hoping for enough of a head-start to pull off a sunrise shoot near Sólheimajökull later that morning. As luck would have it, we scored the first car available and pointed ourselves East, soaking in the long sunrise while counting sheep along the ring road.
Some gas station skyr later, we arrived at the glacial lagoon and knocked out some quick landscape photos before a sudden snow storm sent us back toward shelter. The main objective for the day was a visit to Vestmannaeyjar, a small archipelago not far off the southern coast. No roads lead to the islands; commuters and tourists alike must make the 45-minute journey on the Herjólfur ferry. We opted to leave the car on the mainland, as the limited daylight would make a fast-and-light approach on foot the most efficient way to explore. Christian and I selected a small bag each and quickly repacked the necessities into our Eagle Creek kit: cameras, drone, a modest lunch, and a few extra layers in case the weather turned for the worse.
Gulls circled overhead and icy teal ocean water swirled around as we passed through the jagged cliffs guarding passage to Vestmannaeyjabær, the small fishing village on the island Heimaey. We had just four hours of daylight to work with, so we sent the drone up to survey our surroundings and plot a route to the nearest overlook. Thanks to our airborne guide, we made it to the high point in time for the moody light to put on a show, as the clouded rays broke through and bathed the sun-deprived landscape in a northern kaleidoscope.
We were looking across some of the youngest land on earth, the site of a 1973 volcanic eruption that isolated villagers for nearly five days, and we could feel the newness of the land through our boots as we picked our way across the ragged volcanic detritus to the summit of the volcano. Staring over the rim while birds streaked by overhead, we quickly forgot our jetlagged muscles and “airplane backs,” caught up in what felt like the center of the earth. On our descent, steaming volcanic ventricles reminded us that geologic time includes now – each step bringing us that much closer to the heat emanating from the cracks in the earth.
We lost the light and stuffed our gear back into the weatherproof bags; a storm was coming, and we wanted to arrive back at the harbor in time for fresh fish and chips before the ferry ride back to the mainland. Sprinting through the rain towards the endless black coastline, we saw our boat coming in, the captain weaving deftly between volcanic outcroppings guarding the shore like melted gargoyles. We quickly snagged our meal and hopped aboard; it was strangely refreshing to be back at sea, chatting with the captain as he steered course back toward Landeyjahöfn, hugging the shoreline so as not to disturb the beluga whale sanctuary nestled between the cliffs.