Þorstein Ásgeirsson started travelling the Highlands with the legendary Guðmundur Jónasson at the age of eleven
Award-winning photographer, Þorsteinn Ásgeirsson [b. 1952], at the age of eleven, started travelling Iceland’s majestic Highlands, the largest undeveloped area in all of Europe, covering some 40,000 square kilometres of Arctic desert, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, geothermals and mountains. They are a point of pride for many Icelanders. It was during the early sixties. Þorsteinn had the best possible teacher in Iceland’s legendary bus-driver and highland-explorer, Guðmundur Jónasson [1909-1985] from Múla in Húnavatnssýsla – Bearcub Water County – in the North. The youth listened intently to his teacher telling stories of the land and its people. He bought his first camera and started photographing at early age.
In one of his first travels with the grand old man, they went to the amazing Landmannalaugar – Land-Men Warm Pools. The young man would listen intently to how the first generations of Settlers would herd sheep into the mountains for the summer and that Landmannalaugar was then already a meeting place. He learnt of Hattver at Jökulgil – Hat Place at Glacier Ravine – deep in Landmannalaugar, where Torfi (the rich) Jónsson from Klofi in Landsveit sought shelter from the Plague in the late 15th century. Close by is Frostastaðavatn – Freezing Place Lake. Late into the 19th century or even 20th century, people would be wary of the útilegumenn – Outlaws, who were claimed to live in the Highlands.
Neil Armstrong & Sir Edmund Hillary
When NASA chose Iceland as their training ground for the first moon landing in July 1969, due to its lunar style landscape, Guðmundur was chosen to take them into the Highlands. It was 1965 when he met with Captain Neil Armstrong [1930-2012] and his fellow astronauts. The young teen followed the news intently since, for obvious reasons, he was not allowed to accompany them. Armstrong’s words on the Moon would travel the world: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” When Sir Edmund Hillary [1919-2008] had visited Iceland back in 1954, Guðmundur had guided Sir Edmund, who had climbed Mount Everest the year before. Such was Guðmundur’s status as a true legend, the world’s trailblazers would meet him when visiting Iceland.
Punched the great man in the nose
“I learnt a lot from that great man. I’ve often wondered why we became such good friends; I, a teenager and Guðmundur, a seasoned legend. I remember him picking me up by my ears. It was quite common at the time that grown-ups would do such things. I was twelve and it hurt so I punched him in the nose. I believe that was when our friendship got stronger”, Þorsteinn Ásgeirsson says, smiling in the interview with the Icelandic Times. “The majesty and the freedoms of the Highlands would draw me again and again to the bounteous and serene wild. I became a pípulagningamaður – pipe laying man or plumber – known as Steinipíp, butmy passion was exploring the Highlands with my camera in hand”, he continues. Steinipíp – Stone pipe – has become his artist’s name. Steinipíp feels that there are dark skies on the horizon, as the Highlands are in danger of being run by all-controlling autocrats, using sweet-talk to hide their true intentions.
National Highland Park
The government of 2017-2021 wanted to make the Highlands a national park, with the stated goal of improving and strengthening Iceland’s image as a nation supporting the preservation of pristine land and wildlife for the benefit of those who visit Iceland; a sanctuary for those who wish to enjoy the natural environment of the central highland, take pleasure in outdoor activities and relish experience of nature. Many feel that this is meaningless sweettalk hiding a takeover. Establishment of national park is being advocated by the far Left-Green party, formerly the Communists. Those who oppose it have been called “a whining minority” by former Parliamentary Speaker, Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, the founder of Vinstri-græn, or Vg as the Left- Green party is referred to.
However, Icelanders who have travelled and enjoyed the freedoms of the Highlands for decades are sceptical and have put up concerted criticism of the plan. They are putting up a fight against the State taking over the Highlands and, many feel, basically everything in the country. They feel that the signs are there already, controlling bureaucrats, overreaching their powers. The establishment of the national park was met with heavy resistance in Parliament and the plans did not go through before the Parliamentary Elections in September.
Municipalities, not a paralyzing State
Steinipíp is highly critical of plans for a Highland National Park. He says that he has met with landverði – land-guards – overreaching and abusing their powers. Steinipíp has written on the issue and warned against the State taking over the Highlands. “It is absurd that people can’t travel the Highlands without having controlling guards policing all over the place. It goes against the very nature and freedoms of the Highlands. The all-controlling Left wants to take over the country and the Highlands included. People have to be wary of their intentions. It is a much better solution that the Highlands are administrated by the many municipalities involved and have an interest in promoting their local treasures such as Landmannalaugar, instead of an all-engulfing, paralyzing State, the municipalities with invested interest would ensure respect for our national treasures, promote competition and divide power”, Steinipíp claims. -HH