A cluster of slender rock pillars jut out from the ocean’s surface, miles away from civilization. From a distance, it looks like a colorful bug has settled atop on the highest of the three rocks, called Háidrangur, or High Rock in English. If you look closer, you’ll see it’s a tiny red-roofed lighthouse, perhaps one of the loneliest in the world, and you’ll need wings to go to there, because the only access to the Þrídrangar lighthouse is by helicopter.
The whitewashed lighthouse is perched atop the tallest of the rocky cliffs, which stretches an impressive over 30 meters upward. It’s off the coast of the Westman Islands, which themselves are about 6 miles from mainland Iceland. Because of its isolation, some on the internet have jokingly dubbed the beacon a haven for introverts, or a wonderful placed to survive in case of a zombie apocalypse.
The lighthouse has also been an inspiration to literature, with best-selling thriller novelist Yrsa Sigurðardóttir using it in her novel “Why did you lie?” but, in any case, become keeper at this lighthouse is probably not the best job for anyone with a tendency to go sleepwalking!
Historically, the lonely lighthouse was built right before the dawn of World War II, and constructing it was no easy task, as helicopters had yet to take to the skies when the work began in 1938.
Then, builders scaled the cliffs to reach the pillar’s pinnacle, laying out the groundwork by hand. They faced slick rocks, rain, and fervent winds knowing that one slip could send them plunging into the frigid North Atlantic Ocean that thrashed and splashed below.
“The first thing we had to to was create a road up to the cliff,” project director Árni G. Þórarinsson said in an old newspaper article. “We got together of experienced mountaineers, all from the Westman Islands. Then we brought drills, hammers, chains and clamps to secure the chains. Once they got near the top there was no way to get any grip on the rock so one of them got down on his knees, the second stood on his back, and then the third climbed on top of the other two and was able to reach the nib of the cliff above. I cannot even tell you how I was feeling whilst witnessing this incredibly dangerous procedure.”
Now, thanks to advances in aviation, maintenance workers can take a helicopter to the remote beacon, that even features a small helipad to make landing there easier. Still today, visiting the Þrídrangaviti lighthouse, which translates as “three rocks” but also known by variations of this name such as Thridrangaviti or Thridrangar, is a daunting endeavor. One wrong step, and any unsuspecting explorers just may find themselves going for an unplanned swim with the killer whales that sometimes lurk within the waves.
Certainly one good way to escape the coronavirus pandemic!