A Yompey Around Iceland
I admit, it wasn’t love at first sight. We both thought it would be bigger. The Camper van was about the size of our Honda SUV, with two seats up front, a bed in the back and a bin full of kitchenware; no bench, no counter, nowhere to cook out of the wind and rain. As advertised, there was plenty of storage under the bed, but the space was divided in half crossways so there was no room to stow our skis.
We went back inside to the rental desk and asked if we could upgrade to the next size up. “That is the right size for two people,” the rental guy said, “and I don’t have a bigger van available today”. We resigned ourselves, signed all of the papers, took the keys and unpacked the ski bag into the van, tossing the skis on top of the bed and the ski boots, poles, avalanche gear, skins, helmets, and various bags, layers and other luggage under the bed. By the time we finished our 1,600 mile ten-day clockwise drive around the Ring Road (with side trips), we would learn it was the perfect size for two people to drive around Iceland, even with two pairs of skis.
My copilot and I have pretty high road tripping standards: between the ages of 23 and 33, I spent most springs, summers and falls crisscrossing the scenic back-roads of North America in a series of cars, sleeping more nights in a tent than indoors. My partner Dan also spent weeks and months of his 20’s living out of his Jeep and when we joined forces in 2014, we bought a Toyota camper truck that is very comfortable for two people. We have our home base in Big Sky, Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park, and we travel by car spring and fall and backpack all summer. We prefer to camp and see the sunsets, stars and sunrises rather than the four walls of a hotel room. This spring, we set aside ten full days to drive Iceland’s Ring Road, hoping to ski on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the West Fjords, the Tröllaskagi Peninsula and the East Fjords.
After a two hour jet-lagged nap, lulled to sleep by a symphony of rain pinging on the Camper van’s metal roof, and a whirlwind trip through a grocery store in Reykjavik we headed west and spent our first night parked at a horse farm, where a six year old boy greeted us in the doorway of the farmhouse, ran our credit card on a handheld machine and pointed to a white barn across a creek with a kitchen, showers and bathrooms and ample parking.
…our only complaint was about sleeping with the skis under the mattress…
After cooking our dinner in the spacious but spartan kitchen, the all day rain let up just long enough for us to hike 2.5 kilometers to the Eldborg Crater, a scoria cone that last erupted 2,500 years ago. We watched the sunset from the rim of the crater, and made it back go our Camper van before dark – in April the days are already so long! We ran the heater while we brushed our teeth and by the time we crawled into bed, tucking our own sleeping bags inside the bags provided, we were toasty enough to turn off the heater and sleep comfortably all night, warm and dry with more rain singing on the roof. By morning our only complaint was about sleeping with the skis under the mattress – we would have to find another place for them the next night!
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula treated us well, with a coastal hike between Hellnar and Arnarstapi and a ski on the narrowest part of the peninsula, where we could see the ocean in two directions, to the north and south. Then we headed northeast for the Tröllaskagi Peninsula, saving the West Fjords for another trip: if we wanted to spend more time out of the Camper van exploring on foot and skis than behind the wheel, we were going to have to pick and choose our route to drive the whole Ring Road and make it back to Reykjavik in ten days. If we are fortunate enough to come back to Iceland someday, we’ll come back in the summer and explore the West Fjords!
On our way to the Tröllaskagi Peninsula, we spotted a tiny skier man on our National Geographic map of Iceland. Driving over a mountain pass in a near whiteout snowstorm – thankfully the Camper van was equipped with snow tires! – we saw a sign for the Tindastóll ski hill and drove up to a parking area next to a single poma lift. We went into a small shed that served as a cafe and inquired about lift tickets. A very robust man who clearly harkened back to the Vikings sold us two-hour passes for 20 krona and told us we were right on time – it was closing weekend! We chatted for a bit and he introduced himself, in a very deeply dramatic voice: “They call me Yompey” and a name for our Camper van was born (confession: we name all our vehicles!).
We skied a few warmup laps using the poma lift and then rode the lift to the top, switched our skis to hiking mode, and climbed to the top of the ridge above the ski area. We skied along the ridge, peering down steep chutes towards the town of Sauðárkrókur and out at the Greenland Sea. Then we skied down a wide open bowl and hooked back to the Camper van, where Yompey (the man, not the van) greeted us with free hot dogs and hot chocolate and thanked us for closing down the ski hill in adventurous style.
The skiing on the Tröllaskagi Peninsula was even better than Tindastóll, but we couldn’t escape blinding whiteout snow conditions to ski the East Fjords. In the ten days we spent in Iceland, we experienced all kinds of weather: snow, sun, rain, hail, sometimes all of the above at once! But we were always warm and dry in Yompey! On our second to last morning, we awoke to four inches of new snow on the van! We crawled in the front seat, started the van, cleaned the snow off the windshield and started driving, worried that the small creek we had crossed the day before on the way to the campsite might be too swollen. We were able to cross the creek with no trouble and went into Höfn to soak and shower at the pool and get breakfast and let the snow melt off the main roads.
We had a nice leisurely morning in Höfn, then headed east on the Ring Road, towards Diamond Beach. We were about 30 minutes down the road when in a flash I remembered: OUR SKIS! We had put them under the van for the night and in our rush to leave, we had driven off without them! We pulled a U-turn and headed back to the campground, fingers crossed that nobody had noticed two pairs of skis on the edge of the parking lot. We backtracked down the still snowy dirt road, recrossed the small creek, which thankfully was no higher, and found our skis sitting in a snow-free rectangle exactly the size of Yompey. Reunited! Crisis averted! Thank you, Iceland!
By Mary Caperton Morton
In Iceland April 25 – May 5 2018
Read more: Other-oddly adventure in Southern Iceland
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