Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Snowshoeing in Ísafjörður

Photos: (1) Siggi on snowshoes; (2) The old ski hut; (3) Avalanche blockades; (4) Summer houses in Ísaf.

Siggi and his son Haukur pick us up at the guesthouse at 10am. It’s still dark and has snowed a lot again in the night. We drive up the road towards the old downhill ski area. The lifts were destroyed in an avalanche in 1995, but the hut is still there and maintained and the area is now used for cross country skiing. Because there are a lot of deep snow drifts on the road, we leave the car at the side of the road just before the tunnel and walk to the hut. It’s quite a tiring climb because the snow is deep and it’s uphill. I finally get a chance to use my headlamp, and Haukur has one on too. To get in the hut, you have to push a buzzer and let yourself in. It’s warm, with a kitchen, bathrooms and a room with tables and chairs. The view is fantastic, with windows all around. It has electricity and running water.

But we don’t stay long, and head right outside. After we strap on our gear, we split up. The boys head for the pass to do some back country skiing. They want to ski behind the mountains and come out in the next town, and we can pick them up there at the end of the day. Siggi and I head uphill on our snowshoes. The wind is strong but I’m dressed properly, the thermometer says –8°C (17°F) but without the wind chill. It snows like crazy most of the time, the clouds are pretty thick and the wind blows around the snow so the views aren’t that fantastic. As we started to head back to the hut though it clears up. Siggi is having fun but he asks me not to tell anyone; He says that to anyone who skis, it’s blasphemy to use snowshoes here and no one ever does.

Back at the hut for lunch, there are a couple of skiers despite the trails not being groomed yet. We just have some tea and a quick snack and head back out again. We trudge around the mountain, heading towards the car since it is time to start looking for the boys. Siggi talks a lot about the avalanche and that’s interesting. He shows me a contraption out in the snow that measures its depth, so nowadays monitoring the risk is the best prevention there is. The main part of town is safe out on the peninsula, but there are other houses and parts of town in the risk zone. Close to the car, we jump and play in some really deep drifts for a while – you’re never too old to play in the snow!

After putting our gear back in the car, we drive to Hnifurdalur to look for the boys. Siggi tells more stories, and I learn that he was a shipbuilder before he started his adventure touring company. We drive straight through the village out onto a path into the valley, but the snowdrifts are high and we got stuck. After a futile try to dig the tires out with our hands, Siggi uses one of the skis to push the snow out from underneath the car. He doesn’t carry a shovel or kitty litter in the car like every good Wisconsin girl learns to do in the winter. It’s getting dark and there’s a near full moon in the sky when the boys finally arrive, Haukur up front and Lee way behind. Hauker looks fresh and chipper, and Lee is absolutely exhausted but happy, grinning from ear to ear. They’re both starving since it was too cold to take a lunch break. It was a great day, and we’re all happy. The hotpot is calling…