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Exploring Iceland by Truck Camper

Guttormur Thorarinsson takes us truck camping across Iceland.  Step one: Check the weather.  Step two: Steer clear of quicksand.  Step three: Lookout for grazing sheep!  Stunning photos ahead.

Exploring Iceland By Truck Camper

Guttormur Thorarinsson bought his Alaskan Camper from Alaskan Camper’s then-Owner, Don Wheat. Don just happened to be in Europe with his personal Alaskan Camper rig when Guttormur was in the market.

That’s right folks. While some of us can’t get a pizza properly delivered from down the street, Guttormur got a tricked-out Alaskan Camper personally delivered to Iceland by the then-Owner of Alaskan himself. Some guys have all the luck.

With the only known Alaskan Camper in Iceland, Guttormur and his wife have traveled and explored much of the exotic island. From volcanoes to iceburgs, Puffins to rock trolls, and Thorsmörk to Snæfellsnes, the Thorarinsson’s story and photography reveals a country rich in history, natural wonders, and unique wildlife encounters.

Guttormur also warns would-be Icelandic explorers about narrow gravel roads without guard rails, weather that can send rain and sleet piercing into your camper, and hordes of grazing sheep that keep your eyes ahead and focused. And don’t forget a long stick to test for quicksand. Don’t just drive across that stream bed.

Chamaenerion Latifolium

TCM: How did you get into camping and then truck camping?

Guttormur: Camping is kind of in my blood, like most other Icelanders.

I was born 1956 when the Icelandic economy was booming. Fishing was good, factories were being built, and rivers harnessed for electricity. And Icelanders made businesses east and west. The climate here in Iceland was relatively warm at the time.

My parents bought a new Willy’s Overland to explore further than the end of the road. They introduced me and my siblings to outdoor life and camping.

When I grew up my first vehicle was a 1965 Jeep CJ5. When I met my wife I had geared up and was driving a Jeep J10. The J10 was no longer a pickup and looked more like an extended Jeep Wagoneer. It was a pure luxury and power on wheels.

After one summer camping in a tent, with everything literally on the ground, changes had to be made. That’s when we started looking for a pickup truck and a camper.

TCM: How did you put your first rig together in Iceland?

Guttormur: I worked for an insurance company and drove around the city a lot visiting customers. All of a sudden, from a distance, I spotted a good looking four-wheel drive Ford crew cab. As I looked closer I saw that it had stripped off license plates and tires were flat. It had been abandoned.

When I reached the owner he was most happy to sell it. That is how I got my 1979 Ford F250 four-wheel drive, crew cab truck. It was running with a 5.7 Oldsmobile diesel from GM. This engine was a bit too lazy for the truck.

Skamper Camper With Ford Truck Iceland

Above: The Skamper with their Ford truck

I managed to swap out the engine for 6.2 GM diesel and 400 turbo transmission. With new tires and many other things being fixed, the truck was ready and served us well for many years.

Kids In Alaskan Camper

Above: When their kids were younger, their Alaskan Camper slept six people

The next thing was to find a truck camper. Eventually we found an old Scamper. It was standing a bit off the short box, but the truck handled it easily. I just needed to load the camper accordingly. And wow, what a difference! Everything was handy, warm, dry, and spacious.

Kjalvegur F35 Blafellshals in Iceland

Above: Kjalvegur Road F35, Bláfellsháls Ridge

TCM: Those were some very lucky finds. Why were you attracted to a pop-up camper?

Guttormur: Low center of gravity, less wind resistance, and light weight. Off-road driving can be a real challenge. I think everyone who has driven off-road knows what I mean. A pop-up camper’s low center of gravity is essential for off-road.

The wind is also a big factor. It is stormy here in Iceland, even during the summer. Driving with sidewinds can tip trucks with high loads over.

Last but not least, the weight counts. You can’t glide like a hawk looking like a turkey. We really liked our Scamper pop-up camper.

Camping Iceland Sprengisandur

Above: An afternoon break and amazing moment to view 360 degrees.  Kerlingarfjöll is in the background.  Sprengisandur F26 is a 200 kilometer (125 mile) trail across Iceland between the north and south.

TCM: How did end up with an Alaskan Camper?

Guttormur: We had the Scamper for many years. It really was a great camper.

Eventually we realized it was limited when we had strong winds and cold weather. A few times we had to lower the roof and vinyl soft walls to withstand the weather. On cold nights the vinyl would get wet from moisture condensation. So we started looking for another pop-up option.

About that time, Don Wheat (the former owner of Alaskan Campers) and his wife, Toni, happened to be on a grand tour in Europe in their good looking Chevy Silverado and Alaskan Camper. They were situated in England and I invited them to Iceland to show us their amazing camper.

Don and Toni simply drove north to Scotland to catch the ferry. I do not know the details about how this cruise was done. They just made it similar to the Vikings.

Eventually they came to Seyðisfjörður by the east coast of Iceland. Since Don was the owner of Alaskan, this particular camper was especially made for him. The Chevy Silverado was also painted specially with a most spectacular color combination. His truck and camper were the front page on Alaskan Camper’s brochure.

We bought the whole unit, as we had promised. It was quite a big bite, but worth it.

South Central Iceland Holmsarfoss
Above: Path F232 in Hólmsárfoss is in the south central part of Iceland

TCM: I see in the pictures that you’ve had a Chevy, a Ford, and now a GMC. How did you get the truck you have now?

Guttormur: Although the Chevy was just like new, our old Ford was a better option for us. It seated seven; four in back seat and three in front. The new Alaskan camper had a new home on our old Ford truck and the Chevy got a new life as a tow and recovery truck.

Hvitarbru In Borgarfjorour Bridge Built 1928 Iceland

We got our GMC when we visited Don and Toni in the United States. We found a 2004 GMC and had the truck body installed by a GMC dealer in Phoenix. We shipped the truck from the harbor near Boston and flew home.  After the truck was cleared through customs here in Iceland, I took the Alaskan off the Ford and loaded it on our new GMC, which was a major upgrade.  The GMC has endless power, and it’s smooth and quiet.

Camping At Snaefellsnes Peninsula Ocean Beach Iceland

TCM: Did you make any modifications to the rig after taking ownership?

Guttormur: The Alaskan camper had a smart water heater by Precision Temp that switched on the gas flame as soon as water flowed through it. I improved the system a bit. I installed Circulating frost free water system with a heat exchanger on the line, the thermostat was connected to the circulating water pump.

Then I installed thin steel radiators behind the dinette seats. I also installed a small tank beside the radiators to fill up the system and air it out. As soon the thermostat ticked in, the water pump started pumping the water around, and the Precision Temp turned on and flamed up. When the radiators became warm, the thermostat turned off, the pump stopped, and the gas flame extinguished.

The warm fresh water for daily use goes through the heat exchanger. That means I need to turn the thermostat up to have warm or hot water for the sink, but that works for us. Usually we wash things when we are warming up the camper anyway.

Alaskan campers are well insulated and its round-shaped roof is perfect for windy places like Iceland. We have never lowered the roof no matter how much the wind blows. The Alaskan is heavier than the Scamper, but I can not do much about that.

Litli Kylingur Kirkjufell Near Lamdmannalaugar Iceland

Above: Road F224 by Kylingavatn.  Litli Kylingur and Kirkjufell are in the background.  It’s near Lamdmannalaugar.

TCM: What’s the camping situation like in Iceland? Can you just pull over and camp?

Guttormur: There are number of organized campgrounds. Some have electricity and others are more primitive. Generally there are no numbered camp sites, so you might have a neighbour right next to you. It used to be all right to pull over and camp, but nowadays it’s different. The number of tourists have changed everything. Things are more organized and you can’t just camp anywhere anymore.

Kerlingarfjoll in Iceland

Above: In the center of Iceland. Kerlingarfjöll is in the background and Gýgjarfoss is in the foreground.

TCM: What are some of your favorite places to go truck camping in Iceland?

Guttormur: It depends on the weather. We don’t like rain too much and try to figure out where to go in good weather. Inland is always our favorite. Roads are open by late June. We also like the shore line. There are endless variations.

One place we really enjoy is Thorsmörk, (Þórsmörk.) It’s a long valley in the south part. The valley is framed in by two glaciers and a mountain range on the third side. Fortunately, the two glaciers take most of the precipitation, which is the reason for the glaciers.

For this reason the weather is usually nice in Thorsmörk. Just 30 miles away or even shorter, it might be pouring rain. For us, it is always an adventure. The kids loved it, too.

North Towards Breioafjorour

The photograph above is looking north towards Breiðafjörður in Snæfellsnes, Kerlingarskarð. Since this was once a very active volcano peninsula, there are number of beautiful craters in Snæfellsnes.

In the foreground you can see a stone-pile. It was, and still is, tradition to throw stone on graves outside graveyards. It was also tradition to pile stones where the road changed to have a different angel or view. The reason for this was both to mark the road and also for travelers to take time to rest a bit..

Breioafjorour Uncountable Islands Iceland

Looking across Breiðafjörður and the uncountable 2,700 to 2,800 islands. This is in Dalabyggð in Snæfellsnes.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula Mountain Range

The Snæfellsnes peninsula is a wonderful place. You can hike along the coast or up on the mountain range. Here is a picture of Máni, our dog, relaxing.

Kerlingaskaro Pass By The Troll

This is on the Snæfellsnes peninsula on the old road across the mountain range. It is named Kerlingaskarð, which means the pass by the troll.

We were looking for the Kerling (old women or troll) and there it is watching over us; all of stone. The story is that a troll lady went out trout fishing as she headed back home with a bundle of fish on her back, she was too late and the sun shone on her and turned her into stone. Trolls can not withstand any daylight, as we all know.

Djupifjorour Towards Northwest Iceland

This is on the West Fjord Peninsula looking across Djúpifjörður towards the northwest. For centuries the ocean roads were the main roads in Iceland.

Since real automobiles arrived after the second World War, roads became different. In this photo the path is an old road toward an abandoned farm.

The forests in some of these remote areas have been left untouched for a long time and are special.  Many people want to protect these remote areas.

Djupifjorour looking inland Iceland

This photo is from same location as the photo above looking inland.  The native forest in Iceland is Birch.  It does not grow very tall, but it is dense.

The white spots on the fjord are flocks of swans.  At the very end of the fjord is a farm and the main road is across the fjord. It’s a gravel road that hardly holds the traffic anymore. Therefore a new road is being designed.

Harbour At Brjanslaekur, Iceland

This is by the harbor at Brjánslækur, the northernmost destination of the ferry that crosses Breiðafjörður.  As you can see in the landscape, this land is old and shaped from a number of glacial periods.

West Fjord Peninsula is the oldest part of Iceland and keeps drifting towards North America.  Fishing, whaling, and general farming is the main work.  Tourism is a growing industry.

Kleifabuinn Built 1947, Iceland

Kleifabúinn was built in 1947 by the road workers.  This is a statue of Hákon í Haga who was the foreman of the roadworkers. It was agreed that he would point in the direction of the new road.

In a distance is a traditional stone cairn. It is one of many that were built beside the old road for guidance when people traveled by foot or by horses.

Icelanders never had wagons. We had single horse trails.  I just mention this in case someone that thinks that life was easy here in Iceland.

Sprengisandsleio F26 Northern Iceland, Blue Hydrant

Some joker put a blue (Europe regulation color) hydrant by the path.  This photo is taken in Sprengisandsleið. At least it marks the road, so there is some use for it.

If you look carefully you can see how soft and sensitive the black sand and gravel is because footprints are marked easily.  Therefore it is most important to stay on the path and avoid any off-road driving. It is only allowed in Iceland if the land is covered with snow.

Puffin in Suourland To Landeyjahofn

Here is one of largest puffins that I have ever seen.  We saw this puffin at a rest area at the junction to Landeyjahöfn in Suðurlandjunction.

It is estimated that 60-percent of the ten-million puffins nest in cliffs around Iceland.  Most of the birds arrive in early May after being seven months out on the ocean.

Puffins fly fast and dive deep.  The oldest puffin that was recaptured is believed to be 38 years old. They lay their only egg in a hole underground close to the cliff. It takes 40 days to hatch the egg and 45 days to feed the chick.

The colored nose is only summer decoration.  Unfortunately, there has been a lack of Raitt’s sand eel (an important food source), so the puffins have not been successful raising chicks on the south and west coasts.

Iceland Glacier Volcano

We had mysterious weather at the very tip of Snæfellsnes peninsula. It is the highest pass across the mountain range, just under a volcano that is under glacier. Since 1937 pumice ash mining was done, just during the summer time. The mine was closed around 1960.

This particular ash erupted some 4,000 years ago.  For a number of people, Snæfellsnes has special invisible powers, and even healing powers.

This time the clouds and damp from the north evaporated just upon the pass. The southern part was clear and warm.

Snaefellsnes Healing Power

Máni, our dog, poses for me as the fog flows around.  The truck did not start for many hours until I glided it down this slope. Then I tried to start it again and it worked.   I believe we were parked on an intensity spot.

TCM: What’s an intensity spot?

Guttormur: As I understand this word, it is a spot loaded with power. These spots are connected to the hidden people. No one but people in Iceland seem to believe in them, or have seen their power. There are places where hidden people live and those places are not supposed to be disturbed.

In the old days, intensity spots were used as an explanation when there was no other obvious explanation. Mothers did not want their children to climb in cliffs for instance. Don’t you have spots in your country where roads are carefully bended around a hill or rock? We have bended roads here.

TCM: Have you explored most of Iceland at this point?

Guttormur: No. There is much more to see and explore.

I was born in Iceland and can trace my roots way back. I am truly proud of my ancestors surviving through the centuries. It was not always easy. According to stories, it was a real struggle.

TCM: How do you decide where to go and what to do?

Guttormur: We simply check the weather to see what direction to go and head off. Conditions and weather are quite variable here. We need windproof and warm clothes, and some rain gear. We also take a cap and mittens as well as lighter clothes and a swimming suit. So now you understand what the storage box is for.

Birkimelur Self Service Geothermal Pool

Above: A self-service geothermal pool on the West Fjord Peninsula

When we camp we look for a safe spot with a view. We take a hike in the morning and look for adventures. History is everywhere. We might come across a geothermal pool in a village. That is always a nice thing. We like to stop by the villages or by the shore line. There is usually something to see. We avoid lava and moss.

Skaftartunga Close To Path F208

Above: Máni is stretching on the moss.  Vatnajökull is in the background. Moss is widespread in Iceland. It is sensitive vegetation and can’t withstand traffic. Wheel tracks can be seen for many years on moss.

TCM: What are the challenges to camping in Iceland?

Guttormur: First, the weather. Summer is not always like a summer. Wind can gust up and blow vehicles off the road. Commonly the rain comes along and then it rains vertical. There is hardly any gear that stands up to weather like that.

Temperatures also drop and the precipitation becomes very cold, even as sleet or snow. This is a real challenge; even critical.

Hreppaleio Sand Pits Quick Sand Iceland

Above: It is important to avoid sand pits and quicksand.  I use a long stick for support to see if the stream is hard.  If I cannot pass the river on foot, I do not drive across it. Sometimes it is better to wait for a new day. Usually there is less water in the river early morning.

Another challenge are the roads. Some of them are rather narrow and not necessarily with shoulders. Some bridges are still a single lane. Constant attention is needed when driving. Gravel roads can feel like icy roads.

Another challenge is the grazing sheep. My best advice is to keep your eyes on the road, and to look on both sides of the road. Backroads are narrow and some rivers are forded. Finally there is the challenge to respect the nature. Do not spoil it and do not leave trash or wheel tracks behind.

Flooded For Reservoirs Halslon

Above: Inland on the central east coast in Hálslón. Land was flooded for reservoirs. Snæfell is in the background.

TCM: Have you seen any other truck campers in Iceland?

Guttormur: There are number of them. Some are rentals and others are privately owned. There is only one Alaskan Camper though.

Eyjafjallajokull In Background Iceland

Above: Máni relaxing with Eyjafjallajökull in the background

Thank you for publishing your magazine. I would also like to thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed and hope it will be useful for someone. My wife and I wish all Truck Camper Magazine readers safe travels.

Guttormur Thorarinsson’s Rig
Truck: 2004 GMC 3500, diesel, 4×4, 8’ utility body
Camper: 1996 Alaskan
Tie-Downs/Turnbuckles: Camper is bolted to the bed through floor
Suspension: All original suspension, 37” tires, 11” wide rims 3” body lift

 

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