Ryan Richardson & Hailey Playfair Ryan Richardson & Hailey Playfair

It’s easy to imagine why so many tales and folklore of mystical creatures originated here. Vast, inhospitable, and volatile, Iceland’s landscapes are unlike anywhere else on earth. In an effort to protect it, two photographers will be attempting to hike across Iceland’s highlands, documenting the entire experience.

The Place

The landscape feels strangely enchanted. Especially after days of not seeing any other hikers or vehicles.

The highlands of Iceland are home to truly unique wilderness ecosystems. The landscape is fragile, yet unforgiving. The highlands have never been inhabited by people or developed—it’s a nature lovers paradise.
The first time my partner Hailey Playfair and I were introduced to the highlands, it was absolutely unforgettable. We were on a backpacking trip through the famous Laugavegur trail.

As photographers, we couldn’t imagine a more diverse and dynamic landscape to immerse ourselves in.

Ryan descends into the Grashagakvisl valley by nearby Eyjafjallajökull glacier.


Orange mountains, natural hot springs, volcanoes and mysteries lava tunnels. It was a hikers dream and a photographer’s paradise.

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The Laugavegur trail begins in Landmannalaugar. Landmannalaugar is accessed from the south via “F-roads”, otherwise known as 4×4 vehicle access only. The beginning of the famous hike is in the small Fjallabak nature reserve, a small area within the large expanse of the southern highlands region.

 The entire highlands region is a wilderness area covering over 40,000 sq. kilometres—nearly 40% of the entire country’s land mass. The highlands are one of the largest territories in Europe, and are considered to be one of Europe’s last great wilderness areas.

 It’s here in the highlands of Iceland where our passion for conservation was ignited. It’s also here where conservation is so desperately needed.


Hailey traverses along a small patch of snow next to a hot pool feeding a small stream.

The Problem

Like so many of earth’s last remaining treasures, the highlands are now under threat of being developed for the first time in human history. Hydro interests in the area threaten to dam countless rivers, erect thousands of electrical pylons, and lay asphalt roads throughout the region.

Last year, Hailey and I learned about the Highlands National Park conservation initiative (Halendid) http://halendid.is/#viljayfirlsing . The initiative aims to create a national park in the region to protect the incredible unique area. From the moment we learned of it, we knew we had to be involved.


Hailey and Ryan traverse one of the many snow covered sections of the Laugavegur trail.


Our conviction to help comes from learning about the scale of degradation to nature as a result of our modern society. We’re the first generation in history to be presented with undeniable truths of human impact on nature and wilderness.

While some people might think this is an Icelandic issue, I assure you it’s not. The Arctic regions are all being affected by climate change and devolvement faster than any other places on the planet.

The truth is, The health of our environment doesn’t see borders or care about politics—and neither do we. We simply see an opportunity to help. If we can lend our skills and help better equip this conservation initiative with helpful visuals to tell their story, then not only should we, but I believe we have a responsibility to.


Hailey captures a wintery scene near Hrafntinnusker.


The Plan

Our goal is to walk across the entire country from north to south, starting in Akureyri and finishing just south Skogafoss. We want to capture the essence and the beauty of what the highlands possess in an effort to raise awareness for the region. While highlighting the beauty of the region, Hailey and I also want to shine a light on our individual experiences among complete wilderness, something that’s getting harder and harder to find. With the help of our amazing partners, we hope this short film will help sway individuals and governments into believing these wild spaces need our help, and our protection.

Hailey and I are pushing beyond our comfort zones in this attempt to cross Iceland. We have been on many adventures before, but nothing that compares to this. The exposure to the elements, remoteness, and the variable weather are all major factors. The physicality of lugging cutting edge camera equipment in addition to all of our trekking gear will also play into the challenge of crossing Iceland.

In just a few days we will be traveling to the east coast of Canada where we will warm up and train for our journey along the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland. A low stakes “dry run” that will hopefully better prepare us for the harsh Icelandic wilderness.

What the trip will hold, we aren’t sure—the only thing we do know for sure, it’ll be an adventure. Follow us on our journey, and get out there and explore places that inspire you – and fight to protect them —we can’t wait to share the rest of our story.

Ryan Richardson and Hailey Playfair will be live tracking their progress crossing Iceland on their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/lifeoutsidestudio/

To help support their film, visit their GoFund me page. https://www.gofundme.com/Backpacking-Through-Iceland-Highlands

For more information on this project visit Life Outside Studio’s website. https://www.lifeoutsidestudio.com/iceland-highlands-project