Friday, July 17, 2009

Þjófadalir --> Hveravellir (16 km/ 10 miles)

Photos: (1) – (2) Views from Strýtur, (3) Morning fog over the campsite, (4) The hotpot empty in the early morning

The temperature sinks to 2°C (35°F) at night – record cold for this trip. Last year I had record cold temps here at Þjófadalir too. At 5:00 am this morning, the thermometer still reads that low, but in just 15 minutes as the sun goes up the temperature warms to 15°C (59°F) and there’s not much wind. With the warm, sunny weather, I’ll carry more water today since the route is dry all the way to Hveravellir.

While climbing the first big hill out of the valley, I look back frequently to take in the sights as the hut gets smaller and smaller in the distance. At the top, I navigate the landscape for the best route since we plan to cut straight east to the crater formation Strýtur instead of following the relatively dull jeep track. We stay on the track to a short ways until we cross a small river, then leave the track. In the distance, the cone-shaped peak of a prominent rock near Strýtur serves as orientation along with the position of the morning sun. The landscape is strenuous on the feet and tiring. Lots of sharp-edged lava rocks close together with sand in between – the rocks are mostly too small to step on fully, which would be much easier, and too large and close together to avoid entirely. This causes lots of twisting and turning of the feet. We take two breaks before reaching the crater, one just a few hundred meters away in a soft mossy spot that’s perfect for a nap in the sun. It takes about 3 hours to reach Strýtur, including the breaks. First we climb up a secondary part of it for a few pictures, leaving our backpacks behind. Afterwards we climb up the main part for a spectacular view. We’re the only people up there for now, but already on the main path in the distance, the first human figures are visible. It’s a popular day hike from Hveravellir.

There’s a path along the 7 km from Strýtur to Hveravellir, so it’s easy walking and we reach the highland station at 4 pm. The grassy areas near the hotpot are blocked off this year and campers are asked to set up their tents a bit further away. In the hut, we pick up the bags we had sent ahead and they arrived just fine. The man who brings them is interested that we hiked via Strýtur, and tells us that they are talking of making a new hiking trail that leads straight from Hveravellir to Þjófadalir so hikers don’t have to use the jeep track. Some people are trying to get that route to continue from Stýtur, but others want the route to be more direct and thus shorter. In any case, the trail will be blazed with horses soon. Maybe it will be ready next summer already!

All in all, the hut has changed a lot since last year. There’s no longer a little shop to buy necessities – the old shop is converted into a private small kitchen now and every day, one warm meal (ISK 2100) and a soup of the day (ISK 1000) is on offer inside the hut, which has been turned into a little café with chairs and tables. They sell more alcohol, including whiskey and beer (ISK 700/can), and for some reason I don’t like the atmosphere inside anymore. Lots of people hang out inside now, talking loudly, and it reminds me of a bar. To top it off, the lady working inside is rude and more concerned with her socializing than helping guests. I will run into her a few weeks later here again, and her attitude will be even worse, contributing among other factors to my lack of interest in visiting Hveravellir again for quite some time

Camping costs ISK 1000, so inflation has obviously hit here too (camping price in 2007 – ISK 750). The water is still undrinkable but I have enough gas and will just boil it thoroughly before using it. After setting up camp, Henning and I try out the daily special, and it’s chicken with rice – both ingredients of which taste better in our backpacking meals. The hotpot is at least very hot this year, and it feels good to submerge my entire body in water. I return to my tent after about an hour, but Henning stays in his first hotpot of his life nearly the entire evening. At the tent, I make some hot chocolate and fulfill my obligations of getting in touch with civilization by making a few phone calls and sending some text messages when I hear a familiar voice – Peter has arrived!

Back in Þjófadalir I had told Peter about the more interesting route via Strýtur. Peter, who only had a compass and a large-scale map but a great sense of humor, somehow managed to get lost, ending up way north of Hveravellir at a different hut. Thinking we might worry, he returned to Hveravellir and arrived after an exhausting day that included crossing lots of very deep rivers. According to his stories, he only took off his shoes for the first river, and for the second he took off his pants, but for the third he was nearly naked and up to his armpits in raging water, with his gear on top of his head!
(Peter would end up in Greenland a few days later where he dislocated his shoulder while hiking, which merely caused him to rest for half an hour after popping it back in place and then continuing.)