By Terry Whittaker
Thetta reddast is a well known saying in Iceland. Roughly translated it means don’t worry, everything will work out OK in the end. It’s more than a phrase, it’s an attitude or even a philosophy, and one I had to keep reminding myself of when setting up the Northshots Arctic Fox Bootcamp. There are plenty of things that can go wrong with a tour to a remote area of Iceland and they almost all have to do with the Icelandic weather. Will the flight from Reykjavik to Isafjordur be cancelled due to high winds? Will it be too rough for the boat trip to our isolated base? Will there be too much snow, or worse, too little?
As it turned out we had perfect conditions for both legs of the journey with gorgeous views of the Westfjords on our flight in and a calm sea for the boat. To be honest, we could have done with a bit more snow. There was a fresh dusting on our arrival but unseasonably warm temperatures meant this was melting fast and the couple of snowfalls we had didn’t stick. But there was enough and as the snowfield retreated, we moved up the hill with it. There’s always a solution. We had one aurora event, which unfortunately occurred just as it was getting light. This in contrast to the year before when we had a spectacular night when the super bright phenomena lasted for hours.
Our home for these tours is a remote farmhouse at Kvíar, deserted in 1948 and lovingly restored in a traditional style by Rúnar Karlsson and the guys at Borea Adventures. Apart from offering a cozy base, the house provides some insight into what life must have been like for those hardy souls eking out a livelihood from small-scale farming and fishing in such a remote place.
But this tour is all about the arctic fox, Iceland´s only native land mammal. Recent research has shown that the arctic fox is currently declining throughout Iceland, both in areas where persecuted and, like here in Hornstrandir, protected. It´s thought this may be related to climate change. Most of the foxes winter food at Kvíar comes from the sea in the form of fish, seabirds and marine mammals washed up dead and crustaceans foraged in the tidal zone. This works well for us photographically as we were soon able to figure out the fox´s regular paths from the hills behind the house to the beach where they feed at low tide. They usually pass right by the house, possibly attracted by the smell of guide Max´s excellent traditional Icelandic lamb stew.
Arctic foxes come in two colour phases, blue and white. In Iceland the blue phase, which is brown or dark, grizzled grey in winter and dark brown in summer, is the most common. We had three blue foxes in the area, an adult pair and probably an older cub plus an adult white female, which for the first few days was mostly about a kilometre along the coast and surprisingly difficult to catch up with. On the last day she turned up on the beach below the house and was promptly chased away by one of the residents. She then took up a vantage point on the hill above the house where a couple of the guests managed to photograph her, although at a bit of a distance. It was obvious she was making a move to take over the territory around the house so we´re hoping that she might be the resident female next year.
So thank you to Runar, Max and Sofia at Borea and to Helena, Paul, John, Mark, Martin and Richard for being such great company. It was fun and that’s the most important thing.
If you would like to visit an isolated and rugged part of Iceland, as far from tourist hot-spots as it’s possible to be and spend time with arctic foxes unfazed by our presence, join us on next year’s adventure. There are plenty of things that could go wrong, but thetta reddast.