Friday, 13 September 2019

My Icelandic Saga Part Two: Water and Wind. . .

Some more pics from walks we did on the first and third days of hiking in Southern Iceland:

Iceland has a LOT of stunning waterfalls.  This is the Skógafoss  which is 60 metres high. You can climb up to the top of it via some stairs and then follow the river's course as it meanders through the moorland. The parallel trail passes many more waterfalls but the eye also stretches away to some amazing landscape. 

Initially, we'd intended to keep hiking up to a mountain pass where we'd stay for the night but high winds made it too dangerous, so we retraced our steps and our guide made other accommodation arrangements. It did allow for a stop at one of the country's most famous waterfalls - Seljalandsfoss.

It's famous because you can walk behind it.  All the water originates from the Eyjafjallajökul glacier.  Can I also recommend the refreshments truck located at this tourist site - it has really tasty doughnuts Actually Iceland gets top marks for its doughnuts;they are tasty without being too sickly sweet. They understand that it's all about the dough - not the icing. I sampled quite a few in Reykjavik and they have their own version called a kleiner which is twisted with no icing at all. Delicious. 

Our last hike took in some amazing rock formations all sculpted by the wind and rain. I felt we were walking in nature's art gallery.

We found a great sunny, mossy place to sit and knit too. With a glacier in the background. We also foraged for blueberries and wild mushrooms, both of which became part of our supper that night.

Next up: the wool!

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

My Icelandic Saga Part One: A Walk to Remember. . .

This year I had one of those milestone birthdays and to celebrate, I combined my two passions and went on a hiking and knitting holiday to Iceland.  It had been eleven years since I last hiked in the country and I'd been eager to get back ever since, especially since at the time,  I'd not taken up knitting again and somehow missed all the wool (don't ask me how - it's everywhere!).  But more on the knitting in a future post. This one is all about an epic hike that has catapulted into my top three favourite days of hiking ever.  Possibly, just one of my all-time favourite days.

We had intended to do a point to point walk from one mountain hut to another, but high winds on the first day closed the mountain pass and so our first walk only included part of that trail before we turned back (that walk was all about waterfalls - I'll post photos in another post).  So this second day's hike was a little longer and instead of being linear, involved retracing our steps after the finishing point.  But what a finishing point and what a landscape to retrace in!


You may have remembered the Eyjafjallajokull volcano that erupted in 2010 sending ash all over Europe and suspending flights for several weeks. Two new mountains were created by that eruption and climbing one of them  - Magni - was our ultimate goal.  To get there from the Basar mountain huts, we walked through the most stunningly beautiful scenery and we were extremely lucky in that one of the women in our group was a geology professor who had also worked with NASA.  It was incredible to be able to ask her questions about everything we were seeing. 

We left shortly after 9am for our nearly 14 mile hike, and this is near the start of the walk on level ground (this river is low - three days after we left, the water had swelled so high that no vehicles were able to ford them - we would have been stuck at the huts!)

This is a landscape moulded and shaped by nature - wind and water in particular.  

This is the start of the ridge known as the "Cat Spine".  No photos on it - I was too busy concentrating on not falling down the precipice on either side.  It's not as long as Striding Edge on Helvellyn, but just as scary.

This is maybe a third of the way up. We stopped to have a coffee and get our knitting out.  We were so lucky with the weather - the winds had completely died down and it was dry the entire day.

Behind me is the Eyjafjallajokull glacier.

And up we went. . .

At this point, I turned to the geologist and asked her if this field of rocks was similar to the moon. "It IS the moon", she replied.  Same rocks, similar surface; astronauts did some of their training in Iceland.

Round about this point was another scary precipice, hence no photos. I have to admit, my heart was pounding. The ledge was narrow, quite sandy and slippery with a long drop beneath and while there was a chain to hold on to, one of the posts it was attached to had come loose, so it wasn't entirely reliable.  Depending on the age of the rocks and thus the rock face, the surfaces can be very crumbly and come apart in your hand - also not confidence boosting.  Suffice it to say there were a lot of deep breathes and hugs when we all got safely past this point although in the back of our minds was the knowledge we'd have to do it again when we returned.  I just mention it here, in case anyone is thinking of doing this hike and suffers from vertigo.

A bit more uphill and then it wasn't too long before we were getting really close to the lava fields.

And our first glimpse of Magni.

From afar, the lava looks black.

But up close, it contains the most amazing variety of colours.

And after crossing some snow and turning a corner to start the climb up Magni, we were met with the most amazing colour palette of all. These photos don't do justice to all the shades of red and rust in the ground. Couple them with the greys and blacks and white surrounding it all and wow, just wow. 

From the top of Magni.

It was a long day - we didn't get back until after 7pm and we had to conquer our fears and get through the two scary bits again, but everyone was patient and supportive and we all did it! I felt euphoric and emotional and very, very humbled amidst the majesty of this world. And quite frankly, guilty.  I was standing on the top of Magni and looking at two glaciers, on either side of me, wondering if they would still exist in my lifetime, and by being here, was I contributing to the problem? Inevitably I must have, although the country also relies on tourism for a good chunk of its economy and to provide money for environmental projects to help maintain its natural areas. I don't have the answers but it didn't sit easily with me.

This is not a walk I will ever do again, but the memory of it will last a very long time. And I have been knitting a sweater in which I will try and evoke the unique colours of that lava landscape, using Icelandic Lett Lopi wool of course.  I am about to start the yoke - stay tuned.