The West Fiords 2003


So we flew back from Ísafjörður to Reykjavík - it took forty minutes, and we decided to spend the weekend there. We toured the old harbour area, browsed some of the shops, ate out and I sampled the wonderful outdoor swimming pool next door to the campsite. There is the standard 50 metre "lengths" pool which is connected by a narrow channel to a much warmer area for lazing around in. There are several hot-tubs including four down the side of the pool whose temperatures gradually increase, from 36°C to 42°C. I managed the 40 degree one for a few minutes, and I saw no-one in the hottest pool while I was there.

In the evening we ate in the restaurant "Hornið" and then viewed the wonderful exhibition of aerial views around the world in the main square. Reykjavík on a summer Saturday evening is a very busy place.

On Monday morning, we caught the early Austurleið bus along the south coast through Selfoss. In Hvolsvöllur we changed buses for the four-wheel drive bus to Þórsmörk. The only other passenger on the bus was a quiet Japanese man, who did not speak much English. On the way we picked up a French couple - they were on honeymoon and were going to walk from Þórsmörk to the hot springs at Landmannalaugar - three days to the north. The bus driver was very helpful telling us about the various streams we had to cross. It seemed quite straightforward - none of the streams was too deep to paddle across apart from three. Two of those had wooden bridges - only the Krossá (pr. cross-ow as in "cow") river was uncrossable on foot. The driver strongly suggested that we asked the warden at the campsite to give us a lift over that on our way back - too many people had been washed away to their deaths in the icy water of the Krossá for us to risk it, he told us.

The view from the top of Valahnjúkur After pitching our tent and brewing up some lunch, we decided to go for an afternoon walk. We climbed the nearby 805m hill "Valahnjúkur") which took about forty minutes. The view from the top was stunning. In front was the wide flat and grey braided-stream valley of the Krossá, beyond were jagged green hills, and high up behind to the south and east were the two glaciers of Myrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull. Back to the south-west the grey flat valley broadened out and headed for the sea, over 25 miles away.

After admiring the view for around half an hour, we descended to the east, towards the hut at Skaftafjörðsskali. There we spoke with the warden - he had only been there a week - who was expecting another coach party of schoolchildren any time. We watched their bus lurch across the Krossá river towards us. We walked up the green wooded valley of Slyppugil, past what must be the smallest youth hostel in the world - even our summer house is larger, realising why this area is so popular with Icelanders. Nowhere else in Iceland can they experience this green sheltered landscape, full of trees and meadows. We wandered back to the campsite for our tea. There we met two more schoolparties - from a primary school in Selfoss and a secondary school in Hafnafjörður.

The following morning we set off. It was our intention to walk as far as we could along the path to Fimmvorðuháls - the head of the pass between the two glaciers - halfway to Skógar on the south coast. We crossed the Krossá on the wooden bridge 1km south of the hut at Skaftafjörðsskali, then headed east. Just beyond the hut at Básar, we started to climb. The views were breathtaking - jagged green peaks with dark shady areas, the deep grey valleys with braided streams in them and the bright white snow of the glaciers above and beyond. After a long trek along a narrow path halfway up the mountainside, we rested. Peter was feeling weak again and we decided only to go on as far as the next summit.

Suddenly, from behind, appeared the little Japanese man. He was well equipped for the severe Icelandic weather in the mountains - he was wearing his grey anorak and if it rained he would use his telescopic umbrella! We wondered how long that would last in an Icelandic gale. Instead of maps he had notes in Japanese (written by a friend we wondered?). One has to admire the adventurous spirit of such people - to go alone to such wild places, hardly able to speak English. What a contrast to daily life in Tokyo. We learned that he in fact was living in London and had travelled overland and sea through Scotland, the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Faeroes to Iceland.

That evening we spoke more with the teachers from Hafnarfjarður and Selfoss. Peter gladly shared some of their lamb barbecue - being vegetarian I declined their generous offer. We learned that it is tradition, at the end of the school years (particularly the last year) to take the children out into the wilds, to give them an experience to remember. What a nice idea, we thought.

It had always been our intention to cycle out from Þórsmörk, so the following morning, despite the rain, we packed our tent and asked the warden about being taken over the Krossá. However, at that point the bus arrived, and the driver offered to take us over instead. He was going to show the drivers of the school coaches where to cross as for the unexperienced such river crossings can be quite daunting.

So we were dropped off and left to cycle back to the coast, with several rivers to cross. The first one we came to looked much deeper than we had remembered it. I took off my cycling shoes and socks, put on some canvas shoes and started to cross with my bike. Very soon, the bike was horizontal, the panniers giving it boyancy, and the flow was pulling it and me downstream so strongly it threatened to pull me off my feet. Even with Peter on the other end of the rope, I didn't fancy being dragged along in the icy water. It was time to think again.

Off came the bags from the bike. I would cross with the bike alone. That was much easier and I got across to the other side within a minute. My feet were cold - very cold. Peter followed with his bike. By the time I had crossed five times (once with the bike, back again, once with the first two panniers, back again, once with the other two) I couldn't feel my feet and had to run up and down on the spot to get the blood flowing again.

After loading the bikes, Peter said, "Oh look! There's the bridge." Sure enough, about half a mile upstream was a wooden bridge. Suddenly I remembered the bus driver pointing it out on the way up. Shame we had both forgotten about it. The rest of the streams were miniscule in comparison - the rain stopped and the sun almost came out. We took our shoes and socks off to stop them getting wet, which slowed us down somewhat, but was probably worth it. Soon we were cycling at speed with no more streams before the ring road (Road 1) at Seljalandsfoss.

The bus had stopped here on the way up, but only for ten minutes. The driver had told us that if we walked behind the waterfall we could make a wish. A wish for dry clothes, perhaps, as spray from the falls covered the path. It was quite a photogenic waterfall though. A Danish man delighted in telling me that my chain needed oiling. I tried to explain that it had all been washed away in the river. I don't know if he understood.