Freedom of the hills

„Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.“ (John Muir)

The sailor and the mountaineer and the skier have a similar sense of freedom. On the open ocean and in the mountains there are no roads and we need no roads. We are free to choose our own routes and when we are gone the wake closes behind our boat and the snow blows over our ski tracks and no one will ever know that we´ve been there. We are dealing with the raw elemental forces of nature and have to rely on our own power and intelligence to survive. We are free…

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Since the first settlers arrived in Iceland over 1100 years ago our rights to travel throughout the country and camp overnight has been highly valued. The current Nature Conservation Act stipulates that everyone has the right to travel around the country and enjoy its nature as long as they are careful not to damage or otherwise spoil natural resources. It is permissible to cross uncultivated private property without seeking any special permission. Landowners may not hinder passage of walkers alongside rivers, lakes and ocean or on tracks and paths, but travellers should avoid taking shortcuts over fenced areas, pastures and private plots. State-owned land such as conservation areas and forestry areas are open to everyone with few exceptions such as restricted access during breeding seasons or during sensitive growth periods.

Camping with no more than three tents is allowed on uncultivated private land for a single night but campers should not camp close to farms and always use designated campsites where they do exist. It is allowed to collect berries, mushrooms, seaweed and other plants for immediate consumption on public lands and highland pastures.

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These historic public rights are under constant threat from landowners and government. Icelandic farmers, who traditionally were the largest landowners, have normally never tried to restrict access over their land. The farmers needed to manage their land in order to do their job and they didn´t like you to walk over their cultivated fields but otherwise you were welcome to cross their land. It´s only in recent years when town and city folks have bought farmland to use for summer cottages etc that they try to close off their land and lately try to charge money for the access.

We need to be vigilant and constantly fight to maintain our rights for free access to the Icelandic nature. But we know that there can be no freedom without responsibility. We can be free as long as we respect the environment that we travel in, leave no trace and do no harm. We avoid noise and pollution and try not to disturb wildlife or fellow travellers. And in a way these simple rules apply to the ocean just as much as the mountains.

Alone in the world?  Not quite but one of very few people on this part of the East Greenland coast.

„Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.“ (John Muir)

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