What's the landscape of the Westfjords of Iceland like? What's it like to explore, walk in the Westfjords? Do I need to get a guide to explore the Westfjords?
Látrabjarg, by Tanja Geis
I´m going to start this BLOG with a dictionary definition of 'jitters':
1. feelings of extreme nervousness as in "a bout of the jitters"
2. slight irregular movement, variation, or unsteadiness, especially in an electrical signal or electronic device.
Yeah, based on my recent experiences, I´m throwing it out there that the Westfjords land and seascape has the potential to impart the jitters. No surprise there, perhaps: weather depending, it can be an austere landscape, all rock and rebound, a violent conversation between self and land, or self and sea. Philosopher, Frédéric Gros, in 'Philosophy of Walking' has it down something like this:
"It sometimes happens, of course, when for example you are too deep into the rocks, overlooked by crags, no trace of vegetation - too high, too hard, tracks of pebbles and scree - that you despair a little, feel very isolated....excluded, so to speak. It only takes the threat of a lowering black sky to render that feeling unbearable very quickly, insurmountable almost. Your throat tightens and you rush down the hard path with anxious haste. It's impossible to walk along for too long like that, in the crushing silence of immense blocks of stone: your own tread echoes with incredible violence"
A high rocky vantage point from the Westfjords, Oct 2017
As part of the Wildfjords project I manage, I am currently walking and mapping ancient walking and herding routes in the Westfjords, with a view to producing a creative guidebook to the region, one that's steeped in the land and sea and one that invites readers to deepen into their own wildness through this place.
A 2 day route recce last week saw me climbing up and through Selardalur (seal valley), a steep rocky valley opposite Suðureyri. The colours were bright on the land, the cloud low and the wind fierce. After a further 8 hours of walking I ended at Skálavík, a seething black sand beach that likes to juggle heavy slick-grey cobblestones.
Skálavík rescue hut, Westfjords, Oct 2017.
Having eaten polenta (great easy-cook camping food!) and vegetables, I slumbered, then awoke to a full moon sailing silently through the sky. Beyond any signal, without anyway of communicating to the world beyond, the moon's eerie light combined with the thudding surf, freezing temperatures and in the knowledge I had a tough mountain to climb at first light, I succumbed to a fit of the jitters. Abnormal heart rate, adrenal glands working overtime, wired, not in a good way.
Skálavík rescue hut, night-time shakes musically soothed: this land can give me the jitters.
I am a trained wilderness guide. I deal in wildness but that doesn't put me beyond wildness' effect or affect: these landscapes exude a powerful energy, spirit vibrates, things are obviously, entirely, themselves. And they impress forcibly upon you. What my training does give me is an ability to know my limits: through thousands of hours experience, I've learnt to manage myself in these environments, to stay within a safe zone, to know where my edge is, to fluently navigate my terrain and the wild terrain around me.
As with all explorers, creatives and humans alive in their skin, I constantly flirt with the edge, I push and play at my outer physical and mental limits. Occasionally the jitters let me know where the edge is; then Leonard Cohen's dulcet acoustics get even better appreciated and I take a step back from the precipice.
Westfjords 2015, Guiding a group along an edge, theirs and the lands. Photo by Jay Simpson
When you employ a wilderness guide, you are buying their experience. You are being held in your interaction with the wild but loosely enough so that you can find your own edge, which will inevitably fall well within the boundaries of your guides' experiences. Good guides share their way of interacting with place, their lens become yours, an invitation to explore, play and learn through their amassed experience and passion.
After attempting a thick fog mountain crossing, we met the group's limit, retreated and took a lower route. Photo by Tanja Geis.
When travelling to Iceland, to the Westfjords, anywhere, ask yourself and those you are planning your trip with:
Why am I drawn to this land? What attracts me? How do I want to grow while there?
Can the people I've chosen to guide me offer the experiences I'm looking for?
Are they experienced, do they love what they do, what are their values, their specialties?
Kurtis Hough capturing the river's curvature with a fish-lens camera.
And you shouldn't underestimate the effect of your visit. You shape the place and people you visit as much as the place and people shape you. A radical conversation happens, you carry ideas from another time and place, you seek out and create demand for experience, you bring your deepest dreaming with you while travelling: potent stuff indeed.
Those arrowhead leaves of sorrel
and the buds of Angelica
are good to eat but hard to survive on.
Like the brief shards of sunlight sown
near arctic midnight and the lull in wind
that leaves me empty, tucked leeward
in the rocks, shivering—
I learn to live on dedication alone.
Like the eider duck, like the guillemot,
nurturing my tapestry of bedstraw and sea thrift
in the cold cradle of this island
I wait for the land to give and give.
Photo and text from artist and Wildfjords guest, Danica Novgorodoff
Our Wildfjords Project tries to acknowledge all these points: we're dedicated to holding people in their interaction with wildness, we facilitate and celebrate your creative response. We're generously sharing the less-known walking routes and highlights of the Westfjords region through writing a creative guide - which will be an extension of our guiding practice. It's going to be called, 'Walking and Wildness in the Westfjords of Iceland', and we aim for it to open a conversation between the local tourism sector, travelers and local people, so that we might all deepen into the abundant, glittering, wildness this land and seascape has to offer, and so care for it all ever more deeply.
I'd love to know what you dream of experiencing when thinking of travelling to the Westfjords, and what your wildest dreams see you doing in your life: the more personal the better, leave a comment below: I´m all ears, so is the land and sea. Wishing you a gentle awesome day.
<.@.> Henry <.@.>