Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Álftavötn --> Strútslaug (20 km/12.4 miles)

Photos: (1) Waterfall near Álftvötn; (2) Trailhead to Strútsstigur; (3) First river of the day; (4) Typical example of today's scenery; (5) Hólmsárlón; (6) Camped just a river away from the steaming hotpot

It’s warm in the tent all night and now in the morning the sun is out. The day continues to be warm and sunny, almost too warm for hiking. But it’s the perfect weather for exploring this unknown trail to Strútslaug. I enjoy the use of a real toilet before we break camp, although it has to be flushed by filling a bucket of water from the hose next to it. The hike today follows a visible trail for most of the way, the scenery and landscapes are different than the previous days. In fact, each day so far has been unique in its own way. After leaving the Álftavötn area, and where the track F233 crosses, there’s a faded green sign marking the trailhead of Strútsstigur. It reminds me a bit of Kjalvegur, being a grassy, multi-rutted track, but going mostly uphill at first. Soon there’s a river to cross, and it’s not clear where the trail goes on the other side. We take a short break afterward and I scout out the trail going uphill just a bit upstream. The track continues as a tire-track road and is easy to follow. The scenery is green with lots of rivers and waterfalls, and the warm sun invites for frequent rests. The bare mountains are dotted with patches of snow in the crevasses and the neon green of the moss along the rivers is dazzling. The snow gets thicker in places as we progress, and at times we have to carefully cross a patch of it. The warm weather and melting snow give us need for caution on the snow. Soon Hólmsárbotnar comes into view and the many arms of the river spreading from the lake Hólmsárlón are beautiful from our vantage point above. The blue sky and sun looking down on the rivers below give an idyllic impression and no indication of the difficulties to come in trying to cross the river.

It’s late in the evening as we reach the raging river, with the warm, inviting waters of the Strútslaug hotpot on the other side. We walk up and down the river for a long time, looking for a suitable spot to cross. The wild currents prevent a clear view of the bottom, and we have no idea of the water’s depth or the consistency of the bottom. Again, I would probably just put up my tent and wait for morning if I were alone. But my companion is persistent, and since I'm also eager to swim in the warm waters, I'm easily convinced. Unfortunately, I also let myself follow suit in leaving on my hiking boots for a better grip and they are quickly soaked through while trying to find a spot to cross. The first half of the river is doable in several places, but the second half is just impossible for me to cross. After about an hour, Henning (bigger and heavier) makes it across. Obviously excited about the prospect of taking an evening dip, he does his best to coax me over. I dismiss his offers of coming to get my backpack or carrying me across with a smile. I carefully scout the river up and down for another 45 minutes before deciding that I just can’t make it. As I begin to put up my tent, Henning returns and patiently puts up his tent as well.

That evening, we quickly slip out of our wet boots and socks and try to warm up. The sun dips quickly behind the mountains and it gets quite cold. The Icelandic family at the hotpot that watched our antics trying to cross the river packs up their tent and heads towards Strútsskáli. In the night, I have one ear tuned to the river, and already just after midnight I hear the rushing reduce. I sleep well the rest of the night, confident that it will be easy to cross in the morning.