The West Fiords 2003

The Annular Eclipse from Bolungarvík

The camp site in Ísafjörður is two miles back towards the tunnel mouth. It wasn't open yet, though someone at the golf club where you are supposed to pay very kindly allowed us to use their shower - a much welcomed luxury! Pizza 67 did well out of us as we spent the evening there again too. There were formulated a new plan. We would continue up the coast to Bolungarvík and there try to find some high ground where we could see over the top of Hornstrandir, the uninhabited stretch of land to the north-east which might otherwise block our view of the early morning Sun. The guy behind the bar said his friend was going to climb up to the radar station on Bólafjall at 500m - this seemed a good plan.

The following morning was the day before the eclipse. We were checking our cameras when a party of schoolchildren, who had been exploring the local waterfall, decided to explore us too. We explained to the teachers why we had come and what we were doing. One by one the children peered through our cameras at the filtered Sun. "Ég sjá ekkert" many of them said, but some were impressed by the small white circle of the Sun's disk. Soon after we packed and left.

We first visited the tourist information office. There we were told that in fact if we wanted to travel back to Reykjavík that it was much cheaper to fly than to go by bus. So we bought tickets for Saturday afternoon. The guy there told us about the NATO radar station on Bólafjall. "I can't recommend that you go there, because you're not allowed to, but of course you can try.", he said. After lunch in the high street burger bar, we cycled up the coast through Hnifsdalur (bless you) to Bolungarvík. What a wonderful setting! The town nestles at the end of a large U-shaped valley between two ranges of flat-topped, vertical cliff crested hills, so typical of the west fiords. And the weather was perfect too. Beautiful sunshine and no wind at all. OK, so it was only 9 degrees Celsius, but this was summer!

We found the camp site. We went to pay at the swimming pool reception, but the guy there was so impressed that we were camping in May that he let us stay for nothing! At least, that's what we assumed, but since he didn't speak any English it was rather difficult to know for certain. He seemed very friendly anyway!

Bolungarvík from Bólafjall An exploration of the more northerly hill, Bólafjall, led us to a plateau about halfway up. Perhaps we could view the eclipse from here.

In the petrol station for our evening meal (where else?), the girl behind the counter told us that everyone she know was going up to the NATO radar station to view the eclipse. She told us we could cycle up the hill but the thought of another 500 metre pass was daunting.

However, in the camp site, we met Caroline from France. She was to drive up to the top of the pass and then walk up to the radar station. She kindly offered us a lift and so we made our 2:45am rendezvous and went to bed rather early that night.

We awoke about 2:15am and were soon on our way up the pass. We arrived at the road up to the radar station - a chain across the road held signs which told us there was strictly no admittance, but that if we did go we had to be careful not to look directly into the radar horn - and don't go if we were wearing pacemakers! We parked the car and continued on foot.

It was a long climb. About half way up we saw one other person following us, but apart from that we were alone. Where was everyone else? If they didn't come soon, they wouldn't be able to walk up in time.

We arrived at the top shortly after sunrise, but shortly before first contact. The golden Sun was hanging low in blue sky just above a bank of cloud which seemed to stretch away beyond the Sun to the horizon. The only worry was a large jet vapour trail which the Sun was heading towards. Would it be thick enough to block our view?

About 15 minutes before annularity cars started to appear. They must have driven around the chain barrier. These were all Icelanders - all from Bolungarvík. Many people were interested in our cameras and were peering through them at the Sun behind the murk of the vapour trail. But the trail was thinning and as annularity approached it gave us a ready-made filter. So good in fact, that I was able to view the eclipse through my binoculars directly, with no filter. The colours were wonderful throughout - golds, yellows and reds - all would have been lost through a solar filter.

It was interesting to watch the onset of annularity. You could see the C-shaped Sun visibly closing up behind the black circle of the Moon until finally, there was the ring. The eclipse lasted three and a half minutes in Iceland (almost unchanged throughout the country). Someone told us that in fact it was cloudy almost everywhere else in Iceland apart from where we were. We discovered later that in fact there were a couple of spots north-east of Akureyri which were clear, and indeed "Mr Eclipse" himself, Fred Espenak, was there.

After taking a few photos, I watched the spectacle unfold through my binoculars. Gradually the ring narrowed on the left side until suddenly it was gone, and I watched the Sun open up again into a backwards "C". It was all over, and finally, after two failures, we had been successful - we had seen the eclipse.

Shortly afterwards, many of the locals went back home - to bed. Una from Bolungarvík told us that she and her friends had been partying all night. She also told us about Sjómannadagur (Seaman's Day) and the mad things Icelanders get up to on that day - like swimming in the sea. One guy told us that we were very lucky - that winter they had had no snow, and if they had, Bólafjall would have been covered in two metres of snow - even in May. Quite what the passes we had cycled over would have been like we can only imagine. Perhaps we had been very lucky indeed.