Paragliding in the land of fire and ice – Adventures in Iceland

As always, after a busy season at home, the wanderlust set in and we felt that familiar itch to travel. So we packed our gliders and headed north for Iceland.

As you do before any trip, I had images in my mind of what to expect.  But nothing can quite prepare you for diversity of this island.  Every day the landscape changes and every day it is breathtaking and dramatic.  Some days the ground is so hot that jets of steam escape from it as far as the eyes can see and geysers violently erupt 60ft high making you catch your breath.  Some days the land is scarred with craters a mile wide from previous volcanic activity , an eery reminder of just how hot it can get.  And then, just like that it changes and the ice fields stretch hundreds of kilometres until they meet the sea and pieces of ice bigger than houses crumble into it.  I was very excited!

Paragliding Iceland

Determined to fly the Hverfjall crater,  we rented a 4×4 and headed north out of Reykjavik.  It was still only late September but we were already driving through blizzards and snow drifts and we were not sure what we would find.  At the edge of the Arctic Circle and pounded from all sides by the North Atlantic, Iceland is exposed to big weather.  But our hopes were high.  And rightly so.  We arrived early afternoon just as the skies were clearing.  This explosion crater is one of the largest of its kind in the world and is estimated to be almost 3000 years old. We hiked to the top to find a perfect autumn sky and 20kts of wind and ridge soared the west face of the crater till the sun went down.

The next day, with another active cold front due to pass by midday, we climbed the crater again at 5am and were blessed with a gorgeous sunrise over the ocean.  We landed by a small farm and had coffee with milk fresh that morning from their own cows.  If only every day could start like this.

The forecast was right and the weather rolled back in.  Putting the truck back into 4 wheel drive we headed further north towards Seyóisfjörour.  Here the road drops 4500ft into Icelands deepest fjord and we wanted to fly into it.
The drive in was stunning.  Wild country side, big waterfalls and road signs warning of snow drifts.

But for us it was rain.  Rain driven so hard by the wind that it appeared to be falling horizontally.  My heart sank as I saw the forecast showed no change in sight and so we would not be flying here.  We made our way into the village at the base of the fjord and found a nice place to stay.  The locals were charming and told us epic stories of being cut off from the world during heavy winters.

We had planned to head into the highlands but the high mountain passes were closed to snow.  Not knowing where to go next, we took the advice of one of my favourite childhood books, Alice in Wonderland…. “if you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there.” So we headed South, following the East coast which drops dramatically into the ocean. If we could climb the cliffs we would be in for some fantastic flying.  

We set up for the night in a little fishing village where the “welcome” sign proudly boasted a population of 139.  For such a small place we were delighted to find it had a first class fish and chip shop and a micro brewery with a pool table playing classic juke box music.  What a find!

Here the weather opened up again for us and the eastern seaboard was everything we hoped for.  The hike in was stunning but steep and we were grateful to have some light weight gear.  

At the top a steady easterly was blowing and we were graced with some gorgeous flying.
From here we headed for the Vatnajökull glacier.  Europe’s largest.

Flying with Iceburgs

We didn’t have much time before the weather was due to change again so we wriggled our way around the incredibly windy coastal road for 200km and just managed to stay ahead of the weather.

We had an evening of blissful flying over the icebergs where the glacier breaks off into the Atlantic while seals popped their heads out of the water in curiosity.

The next morning the snow was back and the wind was blowing with a vengeance and I felt sublimely happy to have arrived the previous afternoon.  I would have been truly sad to have missed flying over the ice.

We had hoped to move on to Eyjafjallajökull, to fly the volcano which famously erupted in 2010 but now we had a massive low over us and this time the weather was set to stay in for an ongoing period.

When this happens in Iceland, there’s only one thing left to do.  So we headed for the thermal baths.