If you are headed to Iceland during one of the few months that the remote Westfjords are accessible, I highly recommend you stray away from the increasingly popular Ring Road and embark on a truly wild journey.
It is important to plan and prepare before you venture to the Iceland’s best kept secret, by checking the road and trending weather conditions in the area. Even in the summer months, with good road conditions, it would be wise to consider renting a 4×4 to get there.
Iceland’s Westfjords is without a doubt one of the world’s most spectacular hiking utopias. The landscapes include distinctly arctic looking mountains shaped by the strong north winds. The lush valleys and tundra along with the ocean scent immerse your right into the arctic culture. The fjords are incredibly mountainous, which makes choosing a hike extremely simple; if you see something that appeals to you, find a route and hike up it.
Our road map had tons of geographical details and information on everything we needed to know about the landscape. The map helped us come across what they call “The Alps of The Westfjords” which is nestled in the peninsula between Arnarfjordur and Dýrafjörður. A scenic mountain pass, through the tallest peaks in the fjords.
The steep pass took us from Dynjandi Waterfall to Þingeyri, a small viking town on the southern shore of Dýrafjörður along the coast. Before driving into town, we noticed a side road that appeared to ascend up a mountain called Mt. Sandafell. We drove the vehicle as far as we could before getting out to hike the rest of the way up.
The viewpoint from the top of the mountain showcased Kirkjubólsdalur valley and surrounding peaks, including Mt. Kaldbakur, the tallest mountain in the Westfjords (998m). It gave a stunning view also of Bakkahorn, which erects right out of the valley’s floor, and is surrounded by a perfect half crest of the tallest mountains in the fjords. The views from Mt. Sandafell completely stunned us and inspired us to experience this amazing area to the fullest.
They call the range the Alps of the Westfjords because they are significantly taller than other mountain ranges in the Westfjords and their general shape and pointed peaks look quite similar to The Alps in Europe. Our eagerness to get out hiking and exploring the peninsula was obvious and made for a quick consensus as to which mountain we were going to attempt first. We were drawn to the lonely peak of Mt. Bakkahorn. At this time, the day was drawing to an end and we had already spent most of it hiking and driving. We didn’t let our exhaustion get the best of us, it was midnight sun after all so why wait until tomorrow to get up the mountain?
We first headed to Þingeyri, filled up on gas and restocked some of our supplies. When paying at the gas station I asked the attendant if she had known of anyone being to the top of Mt. Bakkahorn, she shook her head and responded with, “no”. The attendant said that she had never heard of anyone climbing to the top of it. We checked the registry online and no one seemed to have ever documented climbing it, we were tingling with excitement.
Bakkahorn is only a 558 m ascent and can be accessed from Kirkjubólsdalur valley. Getting to Kirkjubólsdalur from Mt. Sandafell was a challenge in itself, but a few side roads lead us down a rugged farm road where we could hopefully access the mountain.
We parked the car next to a few large sized stone piles that had been perfectly crafted and placed in an odd triangular shape. As Þingeyri is incredibly historic and is known for its heavy Viking history. We assumed the stone piles could have been viking graves. The eerie sensations we were experiencing as we made dinner next to these stone piles reinforced our speculations.
We ate dinner out of our SUV and geared up to go for our midnight hike. As it was midnight sun, it was still fairly light out, however, the sun had set behind the horizon and the sky had been taken over by a dull, thick grey colour.
The first part of the hike was spent climbing up a stream that had just enough running water to make the rocks quite slippery. Consequently, we took our time climbing up the creek bed due to the soggy conditions. There were of course no trail markers to indicate if we were heading in the right direction. We eventually made it up to the western side of the ridge, which opened up incredible views of the range in almost all directions.
We could see the town of Þingeyri, the mountain peaks around us, and our objective in front of us. The only route to the summit from this ridge consisted of crumbly rocks, with exposure on both sides, which undoubtedly meant no fall zones. Additionally, the wind had picked up too and the conditions looked incredibly sketchy at best. At this point, we were more stoked on the fact that we got to do a midnight hike in the ‘Alps of the Westfjords’ than we were about summiting Mt. Bakkahorn. We had ultimately decided that this route wasn’t inside of our risk margin and opted to try it again at a later date, from the east side.
We returned to the vehicle at about 2:00 AM and drove to a different part of the town so that we didn’t have endure an eerie sleep next to the presumed viking tombstone. As we drove away from the mountain, we spotted a beautiful white Arctic Fox and made eye contact with it before it dove into the tall grass.
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of rain on our windshield, it was pouring, so we went to a great little coffee shop and a historical gift shop in Þingeyri to get out of the car for a stretch. The store owner of the gift shop gave us information about the Kirkjubólsdalur valley and other hikes to do within the area. We connected to WIFI and checked the forecast for the area, the weather had taken a turn and was forecasted to be raining steadily for the following four days. We decided to press on with our journey towards clearer weather, leaving Mt. Bakkahorn and Kirkjubólsdalur valley behind, for now at least.