It is rather fitting I am writing this blog post today, because it is about taking opportunities, pushing yourself beyond your limits, and making hard decisions. This has been a bit of a recurring theme with my exchange so far, and this week a few things have happened that have meant once again I have to figure out how to go forward, and, as John Lennon said, to do this you have to know which way you are facing. So many good things have happened to me here – both Really Big Things and Really Good Things – things that I would never have got to do back home, and now I have to decide whether I need to choose between some Really Big Things and some Really Good Things, because I am not sure if I will be able to manage both at the moment. *sigh* But before I get too melancholy about having to choose between the amazing and the awesome (could be worse, hey ;)) I want to take you back to Iceland again…with lots of photos in this one!
At Þorsmörk, ready to set out – I probably look relaxed because I haven’t tried to lift the pack yet!
So, when I left you last time I was in Þorsmörk, having just walked the Laugavegur trail. Here I had the option of continuing on towards Skógar (a further 27km) or taking the bus back to Reykjavík. I was a bit torn as I really wanted to do this stretch of the walk (it was reported to be *awesome*) but I also wanted to be back in Reykjavík for the weekend, as they were having their famous Culture Night on the Saturday night (it was Friday). Being unable to choose between the two, I decided to attempt to do the whole walk in one day, and then take the bus back to Reykjavík Saturday afternoon. Never mind I had only been walking 15km max the last four days, and that the walk over the Fimmvörðuháls Pass involved the steepest and most technically challenging part of the walk so far. I wanted the best of both worlds. (and to set your mind at ease, I did make sure it was possible to camp at the top if both my legs and spirit gave out – the Ranger said it was possible but conditions were exposed, cold and windy) So, I got up nice bright and early, ready to leave at 7am – as it was not geting dark until around 9pm, I thought that would give me heaps of time. 😀
The walk started out nicely. It was a lovely day and the scenery was beautiful. One last big river crossing (helped by a strategically placed mobile bridge) and it was time to start the climb. I am not usually the best at hills, but today my legs felt great and I was barreling up the mountain.
A baby fox that was hanging around the campsite in the morning.
The last big river crossing of the journey. (mobile bridge not shown)
Climbing up – looking back from where I had come…
But, as I was soon to find out, this was the easy bit of the trail. The higher I got, the steeper it got, and the more *interesting* the trail became…
This is worse than it looks – it is less than 1m wide and drops off steeply on either side.
A number of spots along the trail had ropes or chains that you needed to use to help get up the steep parts.
And as it got higher I got a glimpse of what the bleak may have looked like with better visibility.
Eventually I made it up the worst of the climb (and by now it *was* starting to hurt) and I started the passage of the Fimmvörðuháls Pass. This was well above the vegetation mark, and was the closest to alpine walking I had ever done. It was wide and harsh and open and spectacularly beautiful. 😀
A waterfall on the way up.
Looking across the highlands.
The next stage of the walk took me through where the Eyjafjallajökull eruptions happened in 2010 – the ones that so disrupted all the European flights. As they had also had a (small) eruption earlier this year, the lava fields were still hot and steaming! It was a pretty surreal experience.
Steaming lava fields in the snow.
The path through the volcanic dust.
A mini crater amidst the snow.
From about here things started to get tough. I had already walked nearly 15km, with most of this being uphill, and a lot of it very steep. And I was starting to get pretty hungry. A couple of us, who kept crossing paths on the climb, had decided it would be a good idea to stop for lunch at the cabin at the top of the pass, which according to my map *should* have been about 1km from where the lava fields started, but I was soon to learn that maps are not particulary relevant when you are walking through an area that has been rapidly changing due to volcanic action. After walking past the main lava fields, I met up with a group going the other way, who told me I had another 3km at least until the cabin!. Two extra kilometers doesn’t sound like much, but when you are tired, hungry and thirsty it can feel very long indeed! And just because it had stopped going up didn’t mean the walking was any easier. This stretch of walking was through soft volcanic dust, rocky lava fields, snow, and glacial ice.
Some of the terrain at the top. Not easy to walk through!
You should just be able to see the amazing blue of the glacial ice.
I had to walk across this – see the yellow pole in the background?
Eventually I started to feel I was making progress. I found the “new” cabin, where I would have stopped to camp if I chose, and I was also able to fill up my water bottle here. And then, there was the “old” cabin. 🙂 Somewhere to stop, sit down and get out of the wind, which had picked up massively in the last hour. The cabin was dirty and full of rubbish, and had obviously not been looked after for quite some time, but it marked a major point in the day. Here I met up again with some of the people I had crossed paths with on the way up – a couple of Czechs and a Slovakian – who very kindly insisted I eat a hot lunch with them – curried chicken and rice – awesome!
The new cabin – note the rope!
The last stretch of “volcano dust”.
Lunch stop! *grin*
The lunch stop was also going to be the place where I made the decision whether to keep going or cut my losses and set up camp. Now, when I say “lunch”, it was already after 4pm by the time we finished lunch, so it had been 9hrs since I left that morning, and from our calculations it was about 12kms further until we got to camp. But as there was still 5hrs of good daylight left, the rest of the walk was all downhill, and the top of the pass definitely did not look like an appealing place to camp (especially the cabin!) I decided to give it a go. Worst case, I had a tent and I could just find a place to camp on the way down. 😀
I am not going to say too much about the walk down, except that it was tough. Really, really freaking tough. My feet were hurting, my shoulders were hurting, my back was hurting – in fact, most of me was hurting. I have done a fair bit of endurance stuff in my past, and it had got to the stage where the body had had enough and now it was up to the mind. I now had to set mini goals – if you make it to this landmark you can have some water – if you make it to this spot you can take off the pack for 5 minutes – if you make it to there you can have something to eat. Then I started counting my progress by poles instead of landmarks. And then by steps. And finally, I sang out loud but I kept losing track of what I was singing – I think at one stage it took me about 30 minutes to get through one complete song.
On the bright side the walk down was very beautiful. There were two alternate paths to take down – one that was a trail that took you past around 15 waterfalls, or the main track, where you went past around five of them. Considering I was walking alone and pretty buggered, I decided it was the safer option to take the main track. But really, who is going to complain about only seeing *five* waterfalls? 😀
A bridge I stopped at on one of my rest breaks.
Following the river along the trail to camp.
One of the many awesome waterfalls on the way down.
Finally I made it into camp just after 9.30 at night. I don’t believe I have ever finished a walk in such bad shape as I did that night. I had been on my feet over 14 hrs and had not eaten or drunk enough and had been carrying a pack that was way too heavy. Seriously. Bad. Planning. But I had made it. :)) My first task was taking my shoes off, and to my dismay my feet felt just as bad – if not worse – outside of my boots. Unfortunately I had scored a pair of massive blisters on my big toes which made it extremely painful to walk – even without shoes on cold soft grass. After getting my shoes off, the next step was to set up the tent, fill up my water bottle, get off my sweaty clothes and crash out in my sleeping bad and try and get some food into me. I was shivering like anything, but my skin was dry and burning hot to touch. Not good. It took me a little bit to realise I had managed to get myself rather dehydrated and probably had a mild case of heat exhaustion. That totally explained my difficulties on keeping enough concentration on the way down to even finish a simple song. 😦 I decided not to cook, but made myself get a decent (but not massive) amount of water down, and finished off the rest of my scroggin to get my sugar levels back up somewhat. Then I fell into a deep, deep sleep.
*Disclaimer – the next bit of the post involves images of my feet, which are not pretty at the best of times – let alone after 5 days of hiking – feel free to skip it if you want!*
Some blister fluid post “op”.
I woke the next day feeling substantially better, having slept for over 12hrs. Unfortunately my feet were still buggered, and there was no way I was going to be able to walk properly, let alone wear shoes, in the shape they were in. So there was only one thing to do. Pop the blisters. So I set out to work, sterilising some safety pins and my skin (with alcohol wipes, and squeezed the fluid out of those nasty buggers. Strangely enough I had only managed to get blisters on my big toes, and they were so full of fluid my toes looked deformed. But releasing the fluid made a world of difference – an immediate release of pain. 🙂 And of course I remembered to leave the skin intact to protect the delicate tissue beneath. 😉
So would I recommend the walk from Þorsmörk to Skógar? Abso-freakin-lutely – just make sure you are more prepared than me and have a much lighter pack – or are craploads fitter than I am! It was some of the most spectacular and diverse scenery I have ever walked through. And as a reward for those of you who got past my feet (well done!) I will leave you with a picture of one more waterfall – the one at my final campsite, which was the first thing I saw in the morning after waking up – the beautiful Skógafoss. :))