On September 11, a state of emergency was declared in Northeast Iceland. A couple of days earlier, a fierce and unexpected snowstorm hit the region leaving sheep, still in the mountains for summer grazing, buried in record snowfall. It was expected that thousands might perish, so, day and night, farmers and around one hundred members of search and rescue teams dug sheep out of snowdrifts, amazed to find most of them alive.
Published in the 2012 October-December issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.12. Words and photos by Páll Stefánsson.
“The Icelandic sheep are stubborn creatures. They have lived here for more than a millennium and are well adapted to harsh conditions. I think they can survive for more than two weeks trapped under snow and ice,” says sheep farmer Arnór Erlingsson from Þverá in Fnjóskadalur valley. “We feared the worst after the blizzard, thought we had lost hundreds of sheep, but found only ten dead. We dug out a great number of sheep which had been stuck for five days. And they were alive and kicking, just ran away as if nothing had happened. Unbelievably strong animals.”
In the early summer, the farmers in Fnjóskadalur drove their sheep—6,000 in total—northwards to pastures in Flateyjardalur, a 40-kilometer (25-mile) valley, which was abandoned a century ago. Lined with steep mountains on either side, the valley also has a high heath in the middle. The area is too cold for modern agriculture but the moor is perfect for free-range sheep.
You can read the remainder of this article in the 2012 October to December issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.12. Four times a year the print edition of Iceland Review & Atlantica brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson's latest images of the country’s majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe and here to browse through a selection of pages from the current issue.