Another day, another hike

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Hola!!

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve posted and life is still very fast paced. Uni is still going well, I’ve moved in to my new home and I also have a waitressing job 4-5 nights a week so I’ve been busy, busy, busy!!
The only highlights lately have been some fun and beautiful hikes in the Vancouver area… here are a few pics of my time!

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These were taken at Lynn Canyon (including the suspension bridge up top) which is a short hike in North Vancouver.

The following were taken at Quarry Rock in Deep Cove, north Van as well. This is a bit of a bigger hike but SO BEAUTIFUL. It looked just like Narnia and fresh snow was falling and I even fell on my butt!! This has been my favourite place so far hehe

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Stay tuned for more pics as the weather warms up and more hikes are had!

Pushing through.

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.

Glacier!

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. :))

Hiking Laugavegur Part Two

So, you are going to get a couple of posts a bit close together because I have found a little bit of a break in my schedule and am catching up on a few loose ends. From now on, I will probably start each post with a little bit of what is going on at the moment, but there are still a few things that happened *before* which I want to share with you guys, so there will still be a little bit of jumping around. Last time I was talking about hiking…

Blue sky. 🙂

After a very well deserved and peaceful night sleeping, day three of hiking Laugavegur brought a surprise. Blue sky. 🙂 There was summer here after all. And after the difficulties of the day before it was a very nice thing to start out the walk with a bit more colour in the landscape.It was a really pretty day of walking today. The trail wound through green hills and followed creeks and rivers for the most part. And although there were some river crossings, most of them weren’t glacial, so I just got wet feet – not frozen ones. At some rivers they even gave us a bridge. The walking was mostly flat and not particularly challenging, so it was nice to just amble along and spend a bit of time lazing around in the sunshine – there is definitely something to be said for the long summer days – especially when it is not pouring with rain!

One of the many pretty creeks I got to cross.

How to cross a river without getting your feet wet.

Flowers along the trail help brighten the day.

The nice weather made people a bit more talkative today too (including myself) so it was also nice to chat with a few people as I walked along the trail. And that evening I was greeted with one of the most beautifully set campsites I have ever had the pleasure to stay in.

How’s this for a place to be spending the night?

Day four from now on will be known as Gorge Day. And I am not talking of the eating kind. 😉 I started out the day strolling to the local gorge, Markarfljótsgljúfur, and just in case you were wondering I cannot pronounce it. But whatever its name is, it was definitely a beautiful place. And it was here that I got my first (distant) views of the glaciers I was going to be walking through.

Markarfljótsgljúfur…

…and mountains in the background.

Them be glaciers!

After leaving Markarfljótsglúfur it was onto the next gorge, the equally difficult to pronounce Syðri-Emstruárgljúfur. The scenery here reminded me a little of the desert areas in Arizona near the Grand Canyon, and I was soon to learn (from some friendly Icelanders) that the Icelandic highlands *are* actually the biggest desert area in Europe. This is due to a combination of altitude, harsh temperatures and the volcanic environment. Speaking of volcanic environments, today was the first day where i started to get close to some really volcanically active areas – near to both Eyafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010, and Katla, which is one of Iceland’s most active and dangerous volcanos, and who is “statistically due” to erupt. (apparently overdue) So every now and then signs were placed along the trail about “What to do if the volcano erupts”. Well, my first thought would be “Crap my pants”, but apparently the Icelanders are rather stoic about the whole volcano/eruption thing, which is probably a result of living in one of the more volcanically active places in the world.

Bridge over the Syðri-Emstruárgljúfur

And the view down the river from the bridge.

Where Syðri-Emstruárgljúfur and Markarfljótsgljúfur meet.

But despite the spectacular scenery of Gorge day, I think my absolute highlight was lying on the side of a hill eating wild blueberries with a couple of young Icelandic men, who were out hiking Laugavegur for the first time. Nothing like getting your hiking snacks fresh from nature. 😀 We had already spoken a couple of times along the trail, and I spent the rest of the day walking with them, getting a bit of an insight into Icelandic history and culture. One of these things is dried fish, and the Icelanders do this *really* well. I know it sounds a little weird, but try it. Yum. The lads were eating it with butter – and by this I mean spread on the fish as if it was a piece of bread.

Our lunch stop, complete with dried fish, was at the third gorge of the day – the pretty little Ljósárgljúfur. Then it was on to cross the widest (and coldest) glacial river of the trek so far – the Þröngá. (strangely enough this translates as “Narrow River” and it most definitely is not) Finally, we had a very pleasant stroll through an Icelandic forest (see Grandpa, they do have trees!) to reach our campsite.

N.B. – Joke I learned from one of the Icelandic lads – What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up!

A view of where we stopped for lunch

Þröngá – the ‘narrow’ river.

An Icelandic forest.

The place I was camping in that night was called Þorsmörk, which translates as Thor’s forest (the letter Þ has a ‘th’ sound) and if I was a god I would not be ashamed to have this place named after me. For two nights in a row I had the great fortune to camp in some spectacularly beautiful places. So, to finish the tale of “Hiking Laugavegur” I will leave you with a view of the sun setting behind the glaciers over my campsite. 😀

Hiking Laugavegur – Part One

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 road towards the cabin and campground.

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.

Starting out on the ravine walk…..

…and how it ended up turning out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Me happy to be out of Brandsgil.

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.

I loved the steamy rocks – but PS – they smell!

Some of the beautiful and steamy scenery on Day One.

All the volcanic activity makes for some cool splashes of colour. 🙂

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.

A more interesting portion of “the bleak”.

And “the bleak” in her full glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Me happy to have made it to the top and inside my *warm* tent.

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…..