Europe, Photography, Travel

White Knuckles and Seal Poop: The Great Snowstorm



I look down at my Facebook messages to see, “Head south. A massive snowstorm is heading your way!”

I looked out the window at our place in Myvatn and wasn’t convinced. Since it was our time to leave the area we packed up the car to head to northwestern Iceland – to the land of the seals – Hvammstangi.

Remember, Iceland weather can change quite quickly.

We arrived after a windy drive through curvy mountain passes with our tall and tiny Rav 4. We were blown all over the road so when we finally arrived to our hotel, we were elated. I guess we were in for a wintery surprise. With hurricane speed winds we had to pry open the door and slide our bodies and luggage out. This had to be done with a degree of control or you run the risk of tearing the door off its hinges if the wind catches it just right.


Apparently we had chosen to be in Iceland during the coldest September they had on record in 50-100 years and it was supposed to sleet and snow the next morning. Surprise, surprise.

But I was stubborn. Hvammstangi is known for its massive seal colonies that hang out on the Icelandic beaches. You can drive up to where they are. Don’t let them sell you on boat tours (unless you really want to be on a boat) when the colonies are free to see from land.

I wanted to see my seals.

We chose to stay the night instead of making our way back to Reykjavik.

The next morning, ice could be found floating through the air. We learned that Myvatn was about 3 feet under snow and they were starting to dig out sheep from the piles.

With my coffee in hand the counter lady at the hostel came up to me and said, “We received a report from our neighbors that the tire from your vehicle came off and is in the road.”


And as she said, “…in the road.” the tire cover came happily rolling outside the window across the lawn outside.

You gotta be joking me.

In a mad dash I ran outside in the sleet chasing down the tire cover as it bounced over hills and across a small creek. It was gone.

This was the point that I realized I had been running with the wind and when I turned around I was smacked in the face with ice needles. Sleet pierced my eyes, it felt like it was slicing my skin, and I was up against the craziest northern wind I had seen in my life. I had to walk at an angle in hopes that I wasn’t getting blown away.

We packed up quickly when we realized that we were now fighting the clock to get to Reykjavik in one piece. We literally threw our things into our backpacks in a rush and sprinted out the door.

Over bumpy dirt roads and huge gusts of wind we arrived to Vatnsnes – the location of the seals. By now the wind was even stronger. We made our way to the protected bay walking at an angle and holding on to my rain poncho for dear life as it was trying to be ripped off my body.

And as we rounded the corner, there it was in all it’s glory – everything we had been through to reach this point – the most metal of all birthday presents…



Except for massive amounts of seal poop.

Apparently it was too extreme for the seals and they were warm and safe in the 10C degree water while we were standing around like morons waiting for the Wicked Witch of the West to come flying by on her broom.


We somehow made it back to our car in one piece and made a mad dash to Reykjavik. We seriously thought we were on a roll. I mean, it was only sleeting and there were tracks on the road. We would be fine.


And then it turned to this….


And this… (In which Shaun’s knuckles started getting very white while grabbing the steering wheel.)


And finally this…


And we realized there was a reason there was a truck blocking the road. I still don’t get how he thought our vehicle would be fine making our way through the snow but we were here now and had to deal with our stupidity of staying the night for invisible seals.


We did make it to Reykjavik in one piece. As we came out of the snow my adrenaline ran out and I started shaking. I couldn’t believe we got into a situation like that. They ended up calling a State of Emergency and had to rescue people lost in the snow.


Austinites. In the snow. In the ARCTIC COLD.

What a way to end our trip.

Makes for a good story, right?

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