Reykjavik and the Golden Circle Tour
29 July 2017
I couldn't believe it. I missed my bus yesterday. It rained much of the night on Thursday, so naturally I had trouble sleeping. Got up around 330a and packed up under the protection of my shelter tarp. Then I walked down to town and stripped down to soak in the hot spring. It was hugely popular when I arrived a few days ago, so I avoided it, but it was empty yesterday morning. I was naked and had the place all to myself with hundreds of folks sleeping a football field away. It was me, the rising sun battling the thick clouds, and the still-persistent rain. I stayed for an hour before putting on my rain skirt and running to the bathhouse. Used my shirt to towel off and took refuge there for almost an hour and a half waiting for the bus. I walked out at about 705a just in time to see a bus fording the river across the parking lot. Couldn't be mine, I thought. Took me a few minutes to realize that it actually was mine. My ticket said 720a departure time. The freakin' bus had pulled away 20 minutes early! I'd been up since 330a and missed a 720a bus? What in the actual f*ck?! I was absolutely livid. Missed my flight as a result of this bus leaving early. No service or internet. Trapped in the middle of nowhere with no connetion to the outside world. I tried hitching for about two and a half hours, but there were very few cars leaving and none headed to Reykjavik, of course.
I was way stressed, especially because if I wasn't able to reschedule my flight to Greenland before it departed that evening, I'd forfeit the whole fair. Instead I was able to get internet service from one of the other tour buses and reschedule my flight. With that, I had to rework my trip to Greenland. I'd hoped to YOYO the Arctic Circle Trail, but there are only flights headed to Greenland every few days, so I had to scrap that plan. Instead, I worked it out as a one-way and had to buy a flight back to Kangerlussuaq from Sisimiut. All told, that bus cost me $350. Part of me is excited for the flight back over the ACT, but not excited enough to be ok with what happened Friday morning. It's really challenging to travel alone in a foreign country, and at times like this- lonely.
Caught the 330p bus back to Reykjavik and arrived around 530p last night. Explored the city more and picked up some seafood for dinner. Cowboy camped in the park among the trees. It was quiet, but littered with trash and obviously a haven for unsavory activities. Fortunately nobody bugged me.
I've discovered many things I want to see and do in Iceland, but so much of the country is very difficult to access. It's kinda like the country got together and said "Yeah, we want tourism, but we want to keep them confined to just a few cool spots." The Laugavegur is incredible, and the handful of spots on the Golden Circle - Gullfoss, Geysir Geothermal Field, and Thingvellir National Park - also incredible. But I'd love to check out Dettafoss, Storurd, and a bunch of other places I haven't even heard of yet. It's a bit of a tease when you think about it. The whole place is a never-ending thread of amazing; I have no idea where to even begin. Instead I just took the easy way out and scheduled the Golden Circle Tour today. It's a total tourist trap, but it hits the highlights with minimal effort, which is cool. Really dislike this kinda stuff, because the timeline is rigid and there is never enough of it. Wouldn't do it again, but I don't regret it either. All in all, a great trip to Iceland! And way stoked to head to Greenland tomorrow!
Thorsmork to Landmannalaugar
27 July 2017
Long day. Yes, the k's. But more the weather. It started out beautifully- partly sunny and some truly gorgeous photos. It was early afternoon when I began the climb up toward Sodull and over to Storihver, an incredible landscape of boiling melting pots, steam vents, and geysirs. Overcast clouds were thick and it started raining lightly. When I gained the ridge, the wind started howling. It was the perfect compliment to an already epic setting. Difficult, and awesome. I kept myself warm simply by walking hard, and it mostly worked, but eventually the relentless wind and persistent rain brought on the shivers. Naturally I was getting all kinds of looks, smiles, and comments. Hard to tell whether folks thought I was nuts for wearing shorts in those conditions or silly for rocking my tye dye fanny pack. My legs were actually the warmest part of me. They were doing all of the work. It was my bare hands that were suffering. And finally, after hours of exposed ridge walking, the trail dropped down into some cover just above an old lava flow as it neared the terminus at Landmannalaugar.
I took the scenic route through an extensive lava flow and ultimately hiked through Graenagil Gorge to get to Landmannalaugar. It was stunning. Arrived in "town," which is really just a hut and a bus stop, around 6p, a 12-hour day all told. It was still cold, and the best way to stay warm was to keep moving, so I did. I climbed Sudurnamur, which is a sweet little ridge walk with excellent views of the valley and "town" below. I finished around 10p, and now I'm stealth camping in the lava field above Landmannalaugar. I'm way paranoid about missing my bus tomorrow, because doing so would cause me to miss my flight, which would mess up my plans for Greenland. I'm imagining it'll be a restless night, but I've set 8 alarms just in case I do manage to sleep. After all, I am exhausted.
Kilometers Walked: 43.5 + 9
26 July 2017
Well, it turns out I mis-labeled my itinerary, which is something I always feel paranoid about. I thought I'd built in a "zero" in Thorsmork, but it was actually a "nero." I gave myself a little time to explore by only planning 33.5 k's today. Instead, it's 9p and I'm cooking dinner here in Thorsmork with kilometers to go before I sleep. Oops. Gonna be a late night. Ah well, what a day I've had! Started by sleeping in. Thirteen hours, and I was finally caught up. Emerged from my bag at 11a this morning.
I didn't really know where to start. Ya know, cuz I thought I had a whole day to explore. Started by fording a pretty sketchy crossing just below the saddle where I'd camped. Then I made my way up a narrow drainage I wanted to check out, which is where I met Jordi. He had read about a waterfall further up the drainage, and I was down to head that way with him. It didn't take long for the route to cliff out at a deep, fast river crossing, one that neither of us was willing to ford. End of exploration. We headed back together and got to talking. It was cool to make a new friend, and we ran into each other a few more times before he caught his bus back to Reykjavik. We split at the hostel, and I made my way up Valahnukur. What a sick view of the whole valley below. From there I saw a parking area at the head of a drainage that looked like it might lead to the base of a glacier and a sweet waterfall. Couldn't tell for sure from the top, but how cool would it be if it really went all the way?! Naturally, I hiked back down and headed over to check it out.
I got back down to the Laugavegur and realized my mistake in timing, but I pressed on anyways. Figured it was worth the extra effort, and I knew I could make up the time with a few more long days. Well, it didn't go all the way. That drainage also cliffed out at a high, sketchy river ford that I wasn't willing to risk. I turned around and headed back, none the worse for wear. And feeling nothing but stoke for the extra k's I got to explore. Then something even cooler happened: I was on my way back via another (less) sketchy ford and a local Icelander, Ahdi, picked me up and gave me a ride back to the hostel. Doesn't sound like much, but he literally drove me through deep, fast fords that I would've had to walk many kilometers out of my way to avoid. Fords that I never woulda risked on foot. The water came halfway up the doors as he plowed through. It was so epic. And even better because I'd thought about how cool it would be to ride through those fords when I'd seen others driving through them earlier today. I can hardly believe I got to experience it. It was awesome! I was high on adrenaline and ready to tackle a few more k's before making camp.
The first six or eight kilometers out of Thorsmork were comparatively unimpressive. I was happy to shred right along. Had to ford another river, but nothing too dramatic. Then the trail climbed up to a canyon rim and followed it with the river flowing way down below steep cliffs. I could see mountains all around me as I pressed on. It was stunning. I was feeling strong, but ultimately stopped because I couldn't bear to keep hiking and not capture photos. The sun set long ago, and while there's still enough light to see, there isn't enough for good photos. I've set up on a bed of moss high above the river and with uninterrupted views of distant mountains towering over me. It's 1230a, and I'm ready for sleep. Oh, I almost forgot the best part of today: I saw a blue arctic fox! Seems I always get to see the cool wildlife!
Kilometers Walked: 16.5 + 13.5
Skogafoss to Thorsmork
25 July 2017
My alarm buzzed at 530a, and I headed over to the falls to capture a few more shots. The light was a little better, but still pretty overcast. Actually made for some cool photos. I finally got packed up and headed out around 7a this morning. The Skogar Trail started with a staircase that climbed to the top of Skogafoss. And off I went following the river upstream. The first 10 or so kilometers were just waterfall after waterfall every few hundred yards. It was unreal; I couldn't stop taking photos.
The next leg was a short road walk on a 4x4 road that headed up toward Eyafjallajokull, a volcano that erupted just 7 years ago. The trek climbed up onto the glacier covering the volcano and through endless thick fog and clouds. I was traversing the stable skirt of a freakin' glacier on top of a freakin' volcano. Truly the land of fire and ice. And all of that with the epic backdrop of...nothing. I could hardly see a thing. Then the fog broke, and the weather started to clear. I was in another world. It was a complete 180 from the lush river and waterfalls of the morning. I began the descent toward Thorsmork about an hour later. The wind had been challenging since I hit the 4x4 road, so I was stoked to find a spot on the way down that was sheltered from the wind, offered views both back toward the glacier from which I'd come and forward toward the valley to which I was headed. My camera battery had died, so I plugged it in to charge and took the opportunity to journal and enjoy a short nap. I was still high on adrenaline and exhausted all at the same time. When I woke up, I just sat there for about an hour appreciating it all- the weather, the view, the intermittent solitude. Then I left, finally. I landed on the valley floor 30 minutes later and began exploring the nature preserve at Thorsmork.
Again, I found a spot to stealth camp near the hostel. It's a perch high on a cliffed-out saddle overlooking the valley, and it's awesome. I'm cowboy camping with no backup plan. The air is light and crisp with an ocassional light breeze. The air isn't thick with rain like it was last night in Skogar. Wow, that was last night. Seems so long ago. I've had an incredible experience these last 40 k's, these last 11 hours. It started overcast and chilly along the river above Skogafoss, then the thick, wet fog on Eyafjallajokull, then finally a bright sunny day as I dropped into Thorsmork. Grateful for the varied experience this trail has already offered and hopeful that the weather rocks the rest of the trip.
Kilometers Walked: 42
24 July 2017
Maybe small potatoes for y'all, but getting my passport stamped as I exited the Reykjavik airport this morning was pretty dang cool. First time traveling abroad, and all alone. Here we go, I thought. Had some time to explore the city before catching my bus out to Skogar this afternoon. Pretty cool, but nothing compared to the anticipation I felt about finally trekking the famed Laugavegur.
I had planned for the unreliable weather and wanted to give myself some flex at the cooler sites. One of those was Seljalandsfoss, which is an epic free falling waterfall that you can walk right behind. When I arrived via the bus, there was just a 20 minute layover to explore. The weather was cloudy and moisture hung thick in the air. I was grateful that I'd purchased a ticket on the next bus, which gave me about 3 hours to explore. The clouds were thick, but I got lucky with a few intermittent rays of sunshine. So worth hanging out in the cold and wet without shelter. Then, finally, I got on my last bus of the day arriving in Skogar about an hour later.
Skogafoss is another epic waterfall. Two in one day; it's pretty indicative of how epic this country is. There's a reason it's so popular with tourists from all corners of the world. The weather at Skogafoss wasn't awesome, but the clouds just made for a whole different tone in the photographs- more ominous, more epic.
I found a spot away from the campground to stealth camp. I'm stoked to be doing the Skogar extension, and I want to start fresh tomorrow. Can't wait to see what it entails! For now, just trying to stay dry. And recover from my long flight that included just 90 minutes of sleep. I'm so freakin' tired and completely amped on adrenaline all at the same time. I can hardly believe it: I'm here.