Well, today I had my first exposure to the Swedish examination system, which in my case involved a 5hr exam which was worth 100% of my marks for the subject. Makes the situation back home seem a little relaxing. :p But to catch up on some old news…..
For being a small country, Iceland packs in a lot of wilderness, and after having a festival weekend I was keen to get out and experience some of it for myself. And what better way to experience the countryside than by foot? So I got myself a return bus ticket, picked up some food and last minute odds and ends from town and set out to walk Laugavegur, one of the most frequently travelled and famous trails in Iceland. In fact, it is world renowned for it’s diverse landscapes, and has been compared to great walks such as the Inca trail.
Those of you who know me well know I am quite into hiking. I have been bushwalking with my parents since I was old enough to walk, and grew up in guiding and scouting, so am quite comfortable lugging a pack and sleeping in a tent. I started to get into solo walking in my early twenties, and although it is something I have not done so much in recent years, it is something I enjoy immensely when I get the chance. So it would be fair to say I am an experienced, if slightly out of condition, walker.
But those of you who know me really well would also know my organisational and planning skills are not exactly top notch. Also, I have this amazing ability to overestimate my capabilities, coupled with a near disabling stubborn independence that makes it challenging for me to accept help, or admit when I actually need it. So it was probably not really surprising when I broke one of the big rules of hiking before I had even started – only take what is necessary – and headed up to begin this walk with my walking gear *and* my travel gear. So I had my big backpack on my back and my little backpack on my front. Counterbalance. No worries. If I can lift it, I can carry it. Right?
The walk started at a place called Landmannalaugar, an area in the centre of Iceland surrounded by colourful mountains and lava fields, and natural hot springs to chill out in. And as I got here relatively early in the afternoon there was plenty of time to do a bit of day walking to stretch the legs before starting out on the hike proper the next day. The first walk I did was up to the highest peak in the immediate area, Háalda, which was a nice walk but unfortunately the weather was a little to grey and foggy to get any really great views. Still having a bit of time on my hands when I got back to camp, I decided to check out Brandsgil, a ravine walk described in my guidebook as “easy and entertaining”. So I started out walking along the river flats, with coloured mountains around me, and the trail was definitely easy – as it was following the riverbed it was nearly dead flat. And there were many river crossings (my trusty book recommends rubber boots, although most were fairly straightforward to cross without wet feet) so that was definitely interesting. And walking in ravines is pretty cool – you have these great walls of rock around you that get narrower and narrower as you get deeper in. And there were no trees. Just lots of rocks and snow and water.
Now I’m not sure if it’s because I watched “The Grey” on the plane a week ago, or if it was the hidden people in Iceland getting narky about me entering their territory, but I started to get the heebie jeebies. And the deeper I got into the ravine, the worse it got. I felt like I was being watched, and the message I was getting was “You don’t belong here. Leave. Go back.” By the time I had got an hour in this feeling was palpable. It felt as though a heavy weight was resting on my shoulders and I was seeing shadows moving between the rocks. So I did what any good logical scientist would do in this situation. I listened and turned back. 😉 And as every step into this place pressed a weight down upon me, every step away from it lightened my heart. This was one walk I was happy not to finish.
The next day I started the walk proper. This started out as a ramble through lava fields and hot springs, with a background of coloured hills. Even though the weather was overcast (I was starting to believe there was no sun in Iceland) it was still very beautiful.
Eventually the road climbed up, leaving the colourful lava fields below. The climb was not particularly technically difficult, but due to the overcast conditions the higher I got the less I could see. This was made even more challenging as in the higher parts of the trail the path itself was not particularly well defined, and walking was done from snow pole to snow pole. And you couldn’t see the next snow pole from the one you were at. So it was a case of head away from your pole in what you *think* is the right direction until you spot the next one. To make things even more interesting, some of the walking was actually above the snow line.
By the time the walking had become like this, I was in a part of the trail I affectionately christened “the bleak”. The surrounding scenery may have been quite beautiful, but due to the limited visibility I couldn’t really say. And what I could see was, quite frankly, rather depressing. Nothing. Some gravel and some fog. But I should let you judge.
I finally made it to my campsite, which was cold, windy and rocky, although they had kindly built us wind shelters out of rocks so my little tent didn’t get too buffeted. Although I was tired enough I reckon I would have been able to sleep even if the tent had been blown down the mountain with me in it!
The next day I woke up and it was raining. Again. *sigh* So in order to keep my gear as dry as possible I decided to strap my little backpack to my large backpack so they could both fit under my rain cover. You may think this seems like a good idea, and so did I. Until I tried to lift the pack onto my back. I couldn’t. Well, this is not quite true – I could lift it about two feet, but that is a lo-o-ong way from where my shoulders are – at 178cm I am not a short woman! Logic told me that as long as I could get the pack onto my back, I could carry it – so I managed to maneuver the pack up the wind break that protected my tent overnight and we were away!
There are not any photos for this day as my camera was safely packed away in the dry interior of my pack, but even if I had been able to, I do not think I would have taken many photos as this days walking was rather challenging technically. The first half of the day was crossing a number of glacial ravines, most of which were (fortunately) not snow filled this time of the year. But it resulted in a number of (20+) steep portions of ups and downs in and out of them. And that combined with the wet weather, slippery muddy tracks, and my seriously back-heavy pack meant it was not the most fun day of walking I have ever done. And when I say steep, I am not exaggerating. You had to make little ledges in the trail/mud to get up (or in some cases down) the rises, and in some sections it was hands required also. Then there were the really fun ravines that still had some ice and snow in them, which were not only super slippery, but you had to be careful of the path you took so as to not risk falling through!
After this section was passed, the next super-fun part was an extremely steep downhill section, which I had to take *really* slow to avoid falling down the side of the mountain. Actually, I did slip over once, which considering I was wearing a pack I couldn’t even lift, was..interesting. (imagine a wet grumpy upside-down turtle) Finally reaching the bottom of the trail, I was overtaken by a group of four french hikers *running* down the trail. *sigh*
The next challenge of the day was crossing a knee-deep, fast flowing, glacial river. So by the time I got to the campsite, cold, sore, and dirty, a shower was definitely in order. Which lead to the final challenge of the day – waiting in a queue for over an hour for the only working shower. 🙁
To be continued…..