Almost inconceivably, we had lived in Iceland for three months without having been on a glacier. These massive chunks of ice account for over ten percent of the country’s surface area, and exert an enormous influence over life on the island. Had we neglected them, our exploration of Iceland would have been incomplete. And so, on our final excursion, we struck off across the ice.
Not far from the Viti Crater on the northeastern side of Mývatn, we encountered the lavafield of Leirhnjúkur, which is part of the Krafla volcanic region. Nearly thirty years after the last eruptions, the ground here is still smoking and hot to the touch.
The Viti Crater is part of the Krafla volcano range just to the northeast of Mývatn. Viti is Icelandic for “Hell”, and we experienced some unreal weather on the morning we chose to visit.
After visiting the cliffs of Ásbyrgi, we hopped in the car and drove a few minutes south to the Vesturdalur campsite and the start of an extraordinary five-kilometer trail which would bring us through the Hljóðaklettar (Echo Rocks) to the foot of the Rauðhólar (Red Hills).
It was an early Monday morning when we visited the horseshoe-shaped canyon of Ásbyrgi. We were all alone in the park and during the two hours we spent there, we hardly spoke a word. It’s the kind of place which robs your voice.
While in Iceland, we’ve learned that bad weather isn’t sufficient reason for modifying plans. If you insist on a sunny day to do anything, you might be waiting a very long time. So, despite the terrifying storm front rapidly approaching from the south, we zipped up our rain jackets and set out on a hike from Varmaland to the nearby town of Bifröst.
Whereas we had enjoyed wonderful weather on our first day in Heimaey, our second day was marked by unrelenting rain. We tried to grit our teeth and ignore it, but eventually had to seek shelter. Soaking wet and in toxic moods, we burst into the Aquarium and Natural History Museum, never expecting to encounter a little fellow who would brighten our spirits immensely.
A stroll around the island sounds nice, we thought. A leisurely pace, pleasant weather, verdant hills, volcanoes, beaches, cliffs and a bit of puffin-spotting… a perfect way to spend the afternoon! Hours later, collapsed onto a couch from which we were physically unable to arise, we reflected on this early optimism. The ridiculous buoyancy in our step as we set out on an “easy stroll” around Heimaey. Oh, we remembered how cheerful we had been. We remembered with blackest hate.
The first half of our 25-kilometer hike from Skógar to Þórsmörk had been dominated by waterfalls, barren mountain vistas, and an unending uphill climb. But after passing between the two glaciers of Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, our path would start its descent, and the clouds which had been plaguing us all day would clear up, revealing the valley of Þórsmörk below us: one of the most stunning landscapes we’ve ever seen.
The 25-kilometer Fimmvörðuháls, or Five-Cairn Trail, leads from the Skógafoss waterfall, up and between two glaciers, and into the valley of Þórsmörk. One of Iceland’s most popular hikes, it’s often done over two days, with a night in the Fimmvörðuskáli hut, but we pushed ourselves to complete the whole thing at once. Ten amazing hours.