torstai 5. syyskuuta 2013

Walking from Hveravellir to Skógar (part V)

Days 14-16

Day 14.

Since we were ahead of planned schedule and the day before had been long and hard, we decided to have a resting day in Þórsmörk. We used the day mending our equipments and ourselves. We climbed up Valahnúkur next to the hut and down to the other side and went into sauna in Husadalur. We also had the chance to be the first ones to taste the new pizza "Eyjafjallajökull" in Volcano house (and got the picture in facebook). The day was sunny and clear and when we returned to Langidalur, we saw the glaciers for the first time appearing from the clouds. We were even thinking about leaving for Fimmvörðuháls and hike through night, but in the end stayed in the hut. Before going to bed we climbed once more to the top of Valahnúkur to amaze the glaciers and to plan our upcoming route.

On top of Valahnúkur

On top of Valahnúkur

In Husadalur. Sauna on the background.

Hut price: 5500 ISK each

Day 15.

It was supposed to rain during the night and in the morning so we didn't set the alarm clock very early and didn't hurry in the morning. For the first time, however, the weather forecast let us down, but with a good way: when we woke up, the sun was shining and it was as bright as yesterday. That gave us enormous load of energy and we packed our stuff (everything again dry) eager to continue.

We crossed Krossá through bridges near Básar and found the right trail up the mountain. Soon we had to stop and change clothes for the weather was so hot. It was an easy climb, a lot easier than we had expected. I guess we had had some training along the way! We reached the plateau and had lunch with a beautiful sight. After that we changed for rainproof shell jackets and pants for we were about to step in a cloud.

The only hard thing in climbing up Fimmvörðuháls was proper clothing since the weather changed many times and when we tried to act beforehand by adjusting our clothing, it changed again. We passed the point, where lava had fallen down from a cliff like a burning red waterfall and walked past Magni and Móði, the craters formed in the eruption in 2010. The craters are named after the sons of Þór and the surface of the rocks is still so hot that no snow will stay on the craters but melts immediately. Those two black craters were therefore the only snowfree things on the mountain. Their steep slopes rose just beside the marked hiking trail and we couldn't resist the urge to climb on them, take off our cloves and feel the heat coming from the ground.

The trail didn't always feel safe...

Ilkka on Magni or Móði

We were in high spirits but then we landed on snow again and walking became slow again. And the snow was soft and wet and slippery. We shambled half a kilometer off the trail to the hut near the glacier. The fog was so thick that we could see the hut only when we were ten metres from it. It was packed with travellers, but the warden said she could arrange some room for us, if we would like to stay. We weren't in a very social mood and we were eager to see the southern side of the mountain, so we thanked and decided to continue despite the wetness.

The hut is located at the turning point of the mountain trail and now it continued downhill for the first time. Walking downhill in the snow was as hard as walking uphill. We passed the emergency hut - or two of them. The older one looked more like a shack and not very tempting. My mittens were completely wet and it felt like I was wearing wetsuit cloves. Compared to them, I was quite dry otherwise. Since we were feeling like drowned rats, we didn't want to stop. Continuing on the road we arrived at river Skógá. Even in the rain the fierce river was beautiful and we were delighted to see that there was a bridge going over it. One problem though. The riverbank on our side was higher than on the other, so we could just walk on the bridge, but we needed to climb down somehow on the other side. When we reached the other end of the bridge, we noticed there were no stairs or ladders. So we had to take our backpacks off and climb down one by one.

I had expected that the cloud would end soon since the edge of the cloud on the other side had been at 1000 metres altitude. It, however, didn't happen and we continued in the rain. Those many gorgeous waterfalls appealed us less and less. Soon after the river crossing we started to look for a place to camp the night. We found one and retired in the tent. Our sleeping bags had survived the moisture. That was essential. If they hadn't, we should have continued to Skógar. We ate chocolate and candy in the tent and listened the hum of the waterfall next to us. We decided to wait for the morning and check the weather then.

Walked distance: 26 km                                                                      Visiting the hut: 400 ISK each

Day 16.

In the morning we were still in the cloud. We had a big decision to make: whether to put on dry and clean clothes or to wear the wet ones. We got a grip of ourselves and wore the same as yesterday. It wasn't easy, but for emergencies one should always have an extra clothing that is dry. Besides we needed something to put on when arriving on Skógar.

The last 5 km's felt like they would never end. So did the cloud. After some walking people started to emerge from the fog. We met many hikers that were coming from Skógar. According to them, it was raining in there. That didn't particularly enhance our mood.

When we got nearer the town, the amount of hikers grew. The cloud didn't leave us before Skógafoss. Finally the river turned and stormed down from the cliff and we saw the sea. Just stairs down and we were there, at our journeys end!

Walked distance: 7 km                                                         Camping price at Skógar: 1100 ISK each

The journey through half Iceland was wet and memorable. It taught that no matter how well equipped or professional you are, the nature is always greater. Two weeks more or less without the sun affects the mood. I had hard time to recover from the hike - something I really hadn't expected - before I saw the sun again. Altogether we walked 270 km in 14 days. We didn't have to change the planned route, but we spent only 50 % of the nights in planned camps. We had no injuries and all our equipment survived more or less without further damage. I want to thank my friends in Iceland for making this journey possible.

Here's the video documentary of our trip, Highland hikers:

keskiviikko 28. elokuuta 2013

Walking from Hveravellir to Skógar (part IV)

Days 11-13

Day 11.

It was once again rainy morning, but the weather was expected to turn better and since we had only 13 km's ahead, we could spend the morning idling at the muddy camp. Originally we were supposed to spend a free day in Langmannalaugar, but the decision to spend it in Hólaskógur hut was better.

We retreated into the hot pool to wait the rain to end. In the afternoon the rain ceased. We had quick coffee at the mountain mall -van and packed our stuff. We chose the route at the edge of the black lava field. From that trail we shifted on the famous Laugavegur trail that took us up the mountains, over a plateau and finally to the hut at Hrafntinnusker.

If you can see the sign stick, tell me

The route went up the hill and every time we looked back, we discovered even greater view down to the Landmannalaugar valley. The sun was shining and we prepared mentally to have sunburns, but were amazed of how people walking past us seemed so shivering. Soon we understood the reason. When we got up on the plateau, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and wind started blowing. We had to pull extra clothing from our bags. Luckily the clouds were up and there was no fog and we walked briskly till Stórihver where we had a short stop. The last 3,5 km's were snowy. The goddamn white stuff was slippery and most annoying and walking uphill didn't help.

Clouds came and sat at the top of Hrafntinnusker and the neighbouring mountains, soon we would walk in a cloud. Suddenly we saw a memorial in the middle of the plateau. An 25-year-old man had died in a blizzard on this spot in June. It was like a warning. We knew we were the last to cross from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker on that day and it was already evening. Frightened we continued hastily before it would start to snow.

It, however, didn't start either raining or snowing before we reached the hut. At the hut we had delicious mountain dinner out of our own stuff: dried elk meat and smashed potatoes with Víking beer. All this with a good view to the snowy plains (could have had the mountain tops too, but the clouds were still there). Like Landmannalaugar, Hrafntinnusker wasn't a real camping place and the tents were put up around the house. We decided to stay in a tent and put it up on a free space next to the hut like the rest. We had no idea how the next morning would be like.

Walked distance: 12 km                                                                        Camping price: 1200 ISK each

Day 12.

The night was cold and in the morning it started to snow. According to the wardens in the hut it would probably snow the rest of the day, so we packed and left along the other hikers. The visibility was getting worse. The horizon 20 metres ahead was all white. We tramped slowly on the snow following the marks and reading the map. It really felt like February!

The weather wasn't cold, though. I had my lopi sweater and I almost sweated. There were snow and at times also mud. In the end we got very frustrated and had already stopped hoping for better weather when we suddenly reached the top and saw the most beautiful scenery in the world. Below us opened fertile green and sunny valley with cone shaped hills and a blue lake and beside the lake our hut. We were standing on the cliff, at the edge of winter hell and in front of us spread the paradise valley. The most horrible scenery in the world, however, was that there were some storm clouds hovering above the lake, coming from the south they were dark and furious and running fast just to get to cover the beauty and wet everything and everyone.

Descending was hard and at the bottom of the slope there was a river which, according to its name, could have been straight from Mordor. There was a natural snow bridge and seemingly someone had already crossed it many times. Ilkka didn't want to try the bridge so we searched a place where the river ran narrow and jumped over using rocks.

The sun was still shining. We left the malevolent mountains behind and hurried to the Álftavatn hut where we had lunch. We had travelled the route from Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn faster than expected and decided to carry on till Hvanngil. On the way to Hvanngil hut, we waded cross a river, found a beautiful cave with a waterfall in it and inadvertently scared a rock ptarmigan out of its hiding place.

We reached the hut in light rain. On this hike we had broken almost everything that can be broken: Ilkka had snapped his shoe laces twice, there were holes in our tent (since I had stepped on it with my crampons), my shoes were leaking slightly, my trousers were leaking, Ilkka's jacket was leaking and my backpack's rain cover had holes.

It rained the whole evening and through night and we sat in the tent annoyed by the weather.

Walked distance: 17 km                                                                     Camping price: 1200 ISK each

Day 13.

Rain, rain, rain, wet, wet, wet. However, we cheered up when Laugavegshlaup ran past us. Laugavegshlaup is an ultra marathon competition held in Landmannalaugar. Competitors run via Laugavegur from Landmannalaugar till Þórsmörk, altogether about 55 km's. There were many kinds of runners with their colourful clothes that shined against the grey lava.

We walked along the runners to the hut in Botnar cheering to the people running past us. It was only 3 o'clock when we arrived at Emstrur. All the huts were full and we were completely wet. I asked the wardens to call the huts in Þórsmörk and they reserved a place in a hut for us in Langidalur. So we continued marching now the trail we were supposed to take the next day.
When you are in the wilderness at the mercy of weather, you start to forget how it is to live in a city. You stop thinking about it and soon you can't recall it at all and all the memories start to fade. Sometimes you don't think about the future either. In the end the only one that is left, is the present moment. Nothing else matters but this moment. Walking there riverside felt unreal. The reality didn't touch us until the first break when our feet started to protest. When we came closer Þórsmörk it stopped raining and the wind dried our clothes. We had also company when a small group of Germans reached us and asked for directions.

After 30 km's we reached beautiful Þórsmörk. Suddenly all the hurrying stopped and we strolled along the path that lead through green birch forests. After two treeless weeks we were in ecstasy. The last ford and the last hill. We walked slowly stopping once in a while just to sniff the vegetation or touch the leaves in the trees. Compared to this the ash desert felt sterile and scentless emptiness. The forest looked and felt and smelled wonderful! A perfect reward for walking crazy long distance.

Ilkka: "Nothing after that ford has felt real."

A bonfire awaited us in the camp. We had already seen the smoke few kilometres away. The group in the hut was in merry spirits and offered us food, games and songs by the fire. We were, however, too tired to stay up long and climbed into bed.

Sini: "They have an accordion."
Ilkka: "An accordion... Is there anything you can't find in this dream valley?"

Walked distance: 32 km                                                                         Hut price: 5500 ISK each

To be continued...

tiistai 27. elokuuta 2013

Walking from Hveravellir to Skógar (part III)

Days 7-10

Day 7.

I had been stupid thinking like Bilbo that the worst would be behind. We woke up in the stable. Wind had banged the door during the night waking me up every now and then. It had stopped raining and was chilly and windy morning. Clouds were speeding on the sky and we dragged our stuff outside to dry.

We were in better spirits than yesterday and started walking eagerly to the south, following marked vehicle track. The sun showed itself and the weather got immediately warmer. We saw arctic fox strolling in the distance and felt once again nice and relaxed. We were surprised that yesterday's exercise didn't bother our muscles.

Suddenly a dunlin appeared in front of us. It behaved strangely, ruffling its feathers and peeping pitifully. Then it flew few metres away from us and started again. Finally we saw the reason: three to four little chicks were hurrying away from us on the other side of the track. The mother tried to distract us while the little ones hid between shrubs. We also saw shy sheep and a curlew that was chased by two black skuas.

Walking along mountain ridge we saw Kerlingarfjöll, which had finally appeared from the clouds, towering in the north, Bláfell in the west and ahead some unknown hills. Hekla stood calmly on the left hand side. Its peak inside a cloud it was a majestic sight.

In the late afternoon it started to rain. We reached the ford in Fossá and waded through. Not so far down from the ford Fossá drops about 122 metres at Háifoss, the second tallest waterfall in Iceland. There were others at the waterfall too. Tourists in three cars stared at us in astonishment as we walked out of the fog completely wet, again.


The journey from the waterfall down to Hólaskógur hut lasted eternity. The hut was full of horseback riders, but we were lucky to fit in. Not everybody had been that lucky, though. The warden in the hut told us about the day before yesterday, when it had rained so much, that no-one had moved anywhere. A group had arrived in completely full Landmannalaugar, where everybody were sitting inside, and had to retrieve back to Hólaskógur.

We got a room of our own inside and got our stuff dry again. Since we were again running in schedule and it was predicted to rain the whole next day and the next day was my birthday, we decided to have a resting day in the hut. I think thanks to that, we were able to carry on our journey till the end, for it was close that we'd have finished our wet journey in Hólaskógur.

Walked distance: 20 km                                                                                Hut price: 4000 ISK each

Day 9.

The weather was most excellent when we left the hut in Hólaskógur. The sun was shining in the clear sky and the air was completely breezeless. We walked in a sweaty and hot weather towards Landmannalaugar and almost died in the attack of black flies. "Kesä ja kärpäset" ja erityisesti ne kärpäset!

We walked through suffocating, hot ash fields, ran into fences and climbed over one hill to reach our next camping spot beside the lake Sauðleysuvatn. Originally we were supposed to stay beside Hrafnabjargavatn, but the soil wasn't good for tenting.


Walked distance: 29 km

Day 10.

We left our mystic and misty camping site just in time before it was covered with white thick clouds. The way to Landmannalaugar was like walking in a dream. Bright green coloured hills had patches of silvery snow here and there and the whole landscape was just like it had jumped out of a painting. When walking towards these fells, we couldn't believe they were real.

Golden plover on a run

Sheep on a pasture

Horse riding tracks
Walking up, walking down, then descending into a valley engulfed by many meltwater brooks from a glacier. After jumping over running streams about a km and then walking across a lava field another km we were tired and happy to reach Landmannalaugar camping site.

It's not a very good camping ground. Just ever wet sand and stone. However, the place has a naturally hot pool and pretty good facilities let alone a "mountain mall" -van parked at the corner. We soaked in the hot pool for an hour after which I felt cleaner than ever before on our trip.

Walked distance: 20 km                                                                    Camping price: 1200 ISK each

To be continued...

perjantai 23. elokuuta 2013

Walking from Hveravellir to Skógar (part II)

Days 4-6

Day 4.
I woke up at six o'clock, but it was still raining outside so I went back to sleep. There was still some dripping at eight, but we got up anyway and managed to leave the camping place at ten. We intended to take a shortcut since we wanted to have a bath in the hot pool nearby the camping area. The pool was quite a disappointment: cold and dirty and disregarded, and Ilkka refused to wet his swimsuit at all. Furthermore it appeared to us that it was impossible to follow the river until Reykjadalur. So we climbed back on the marked path.
Black flies were there always when the wind calmed down. This time we reached Reykjadalur which is a sandy river valley between the mountains filled with hot springs and boiling mud pools. The sand slopes are coloured with different shades of brown, red and yellow and white steam is rising from hot spots. There we had lunch and got acquainted with new people.

From Reykjadalur we were supposed to continue an easy path running between the mountains. The path was marked on a map, but we couldn't find it in the valley. For a while we were confused and a bit lost, but then decided to follow the marked path as long as it would take us to the right direction. We also gave up and put on the GPS device for the first time. We climbed up the hill something that felt forever and from the top we could see both, the Kjölur area: the Langjökull glacier in the west, the Hofsjökull glacier in the east and the stormy clouds covering the mountains in the north, and the – not too dry either – part of Iceland south of Kerlingarfjöll.

We followed the track until it disappeared behind the mountains. We saw now where we were and took a shortcut straight towards the Klakkur hut. It was easy downhill walking and we had some fun with downhill sliding on a snow using our backpacks as sledges. However, before long we ran into a miserable scenery: there were two rivers meeting at the root of the hill, both at the bottom of a deep carved canyon. There were no point to get down and no point to cross the river.
We stopped and thought, as so many times before. The cliffs were steep and slippery and our backpacks too heavy for extreme rock climbing. The feelings started to be a little bit desperate since both of us were very tired. Finally, after some searching, Ilkka found not so steep passing which was partly covered with snow, small river running underneath. We were ready to try that and managed to get down to the river not so far away from the joining point of the two rivers.
We crossed both rivers and climbed back up on the other side. It was already almost ten o'clock in the evening and we had walked already quite a distance, so when the first decent, dry and soft looking place to put up a tent came across, we decided to stay and camp there the night.
Walked distance: 17 km

Day 5.

On the fifth day we had nothing but bad luck. It rained through the morning and till lunch time. By that time we had walked through windy and sandy plains and were completely wet. On lunch break near Litli-Leppir we decided to search for refuge in a nearby hut in Leppistungur. My back was sore and the way to the hut was difficult and trying: mud, Icelandic quicksand, deep ditches and bumpy terrain. It felt like forever to reach the cabin.

We found the cabin closed. It was late afternoon, the wind was getting stronger and there was no end for the rain. We sat down in miserable feelings. There were phone number on the door and since we had very little options, we decided to call the owner.

The owner charged us 5 000 ISK each to sleep in the cabin ("Is there a massage included?" I remember muttering). Fortunately I had that amount in cash and we got in. The place was cold and gloomy, but we were happy to find out that there was a fireplace that could be heated with wood and there were also logs for it!

We hung out our stuff to dry and started to plan our next move. Leppistungur located further in the west, almost 10 km's from our original camping place and, because of the sudden change in the plan, we were running late in the schedule. The next shelter would be at Sultarfit, over 30 km's from Leppistungur. Nevertheless, we decided to try.
Walked distance: 13 km                                                                                Hut price: 5000 ISK each

Day 6.

We woke up at four a.m. and had good breakfast before leaving. I had woken up several times during the night and seen the sky in many manic colours. At three o'clock the sun was in the northern horizon colouring the sky with purple. Now it was as grey as the day before and as wet, but the wind had somewhat calmed down.

We started toddling towards our next destination. The day was so long, wet and horrible that I didn't even use my camera, although there were some beautiful moments, e.g. when the sun had a quick look on us between the clouds and for a second the whole wet world was full of shimmering stones and brightness.

We walked first uphill to the east, back to the planned track, then to the south and past Grænavatn. The track followed the river Stóra-Laxá which apparently (according to its name) had at some point been big and had salmon. The wind grew towards the evening and was coming this time from the south. We pushed forwards one after the other through sand and rocky plain, cursing the wind and the rain. The wind was exhausting, so strong that it was difficult to breathe or walk any faster. Though good thing was that we stayed quite dry because of the wind.

After 12 hours, over 30 km's we reached the hut in Sultarfit. Before the hut we had to take our shoes off for two river crossings and between those we got completely covered with a rain cloud that wet us thoroughly. So we were wet once more, weary, sore and so miserable that even the fact, that the cabin was again closed and empty, couldn't make any difference. There were phone numbers but for the first time there were no signal.

There was empty stable on the yard and we retired in that. We decided to put up a tent inside. The floor was dirty, but we were so tired that we didn't really care. At least the tent would stay dry.
Walked distance: over 30 km
To be continued...

torstai 22. elokuuta 2013

Walking from Hveravellir to Skógar

Days 1-3

Day 1.

After the most sunny and lovely – and above all, fantastically chilly weathered – Reykjavík, we took a bus to the highlands. The bus travelled approximately 6 hours stopping briefly at the geysers and Gullfoss after which we abandoned fertile and green land and headed towards the Icelandic wilderness. Soon we discovered lone and forsaken ash and stone desert which continued till the horizon ahead. The bus drove through this desolation running the Kjölur track number 35 that goes up to the north and is the shorter one of the two main highland passages.
Landing on Keflavík

We chose to start our journey at Hveravellir in Kjölur and make our own route down to Skógar passing Landmannalaugar and Thórsmörk on the way. I was thinking also Springisandur, which is the longer one of the two  passages. When we left on our journey, Springisandur route wasn't open for cars yet. This was at the 1st of July.

The bus took us to Hveravellir, which is a camping site basically in the middle of nowhere. Placed on a lava field next to puffing hot springs, it is owned by Reykjavík Excursions and is therefore visited by many tourists. At the camping place, there is also a hot pool.
Silene acaulis

The weather was cloudy and soon to be rainy. We put up our tent, prepared our delicious evening meal out of rice and self dried chicken and vegetables and took a stroll around the place. After the hot tub and a hot chocolate in the reception we were ready to bed but just before that we had an opportunity to amaze the ice-cream van that had just appeared in the middle of the highlands.
Camping price: 1200 ISK each

Day 2.

Our first hiking day started in grey and cloudy weather. Fortunately average wind was coming from the north and was at our back. We decided to take the marked route through the crater Strýtur till the mountain Kjalfell instead of walking along the riding path further east. Soon we discovered that the warden's dog had joined us and followed us past Eyvindarhellir until the crater. We had quick lunch at the crater and managed to get up just before it started raining.
We climbed the crater's high cliffs.

From the crater we headed straight towards the east slope of Kjalfell using our compass for the first time. Though the visibility was good and getting better all the time, since the rain was passing us more to the west, it was wise to take compass bearing just in case.

The terrain was easy to walk changing from sandy slopes to fields filled with soft moss. When we reached Kjalfell, we could see our destination for the day: a hut beside the river Svartá. The rest 10 km would be gently sloping downhill. However, the hut disappeared almost immediately when we started walking towards it. We didn't follow any paths anymore and now we didn't even see our destination anymore so it was orienteering only with a map and a compass. We were quite sure somebody had stolen the hut...

Finally we arrived and found the warden inside. The warden offered us beds inside but we decided to stay in a tent. It rained rest of the night.
Walked distance: 18 km                                             Camping price (with kitchen): 2100 ISK each

Day 3.

We woke up in sunshine. The sun and wind had dried our stuff so we could pack everything and head towards Kerlingarfjöll mountains. The weather was like in our dreams and we found one of the many lovely places on our journey. It was small river valley filled with green vegetation and flowers. Oasis in the middle of dry desert. We wondered little pink Silene acaulis flowers that grew in patches forming tight balls everywhere on the ground. Ilkka picked up some dragon glass against White walkers, but it seemed really that the only walkers were us.

We thought it would be the easiest way to cross the rivers by the road. So we headed towards the busy road F347. At Gigjafoss black flies attacked us. We walked along the sandy road and got frustrated of the sun, the sand, the cars and the flies. After too much climbing and walking on the road we arrived at Ásgardur.

It was only afternoon so we decided to have a walk on the mountains, even though the weather was supposed to change. We headed towards Reykjadalur but didn't make it before the gods of the weather decided to bring cold shower over the mountains. We saw it and got wet – again, and headed back to the camp.
Walked distance: 20 km                                                                    Camping price:  1700 ISK each


To be continued...