Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dreki --> Öskjuvatn, 12 km

Photos: (1) View of Herðubreið; (2) Mána the mountain woman (3-4) Various views; (5) Öskjuvatn, the deepest lake in Iceland at 217m;

It’s cloudy and foggy this morning, but the temps are mild. It was great to have a room to myself, although it borders on the kitchen and the walls are thin, so it was quite loud until close to midnight. And it’s official ... I have a cold. My nose was stuffed all night and I have a sore throat. I’ve felt it coming for quite some time now and it’s finally here. Good thing I’m not hiking the entire Öskjuvegur as originally planned. Also have a strong pain in my neck and shoulder again – something must be up with my backpack, but at least it’s not causing any headaches this time.
I’m not quite sure yet what I’ll do today. The park rangers offer another free guided tour of 1 ½ hours that meets at the parking lot of the crater Viti. The ranger offered to take me in her jeep since it’s 8km one way to get there.

I take my time in the morning, having breakfast in the hut and then paying for another night, and booking the bus ride back to civilization for tomorrow. The warden kindly gives me a few tea bags for my sore throat. And soon the weather clears and it turns into a sunny day so I decide to hike to the deepest lake in Iceland, Öskjuvatn. It’s situated in the crater of the volcano Askja, and was formed by the eruption in 1875. The trail begins quite steep right behind the hut. The trail will climb over 500 meters in elevation today, reaching 1300 meters at the highest point. So although the weather is mild when I begin, it can certainly turn nasty at that elevation. My daypack is stuffed to the brim with warm gear, rain clothes, plenty of water and a bit of lunch.

The trail is well marked, although quite steep in spots, and mostly sandy. I hike pretty fast on the way there and make it to the lake in just two hours. The views along the way are spectacular and I will take more time to enjoy them on the way back. Since I’m never sure what the weather will do, I want to make good time while it’s nice. In fact the sun is out and it’s warm even at the high elevations, and only at the lake do the clouds roll in and the wind pick up, forcing me to dress warmer. I have lunch on a large flat rock overlooking the lake and send a Spot message. The sides of the lake are steep cliffs all around and it doesn’t look possible to get near the water. However not far away is the crater Viti (meaning “Hell”), which is filled with warm geothermal water that some people like to bathe in, if they don’t mind climbing down 200m from the rim to reach the water. I spend a lot of time overlooking the lake, examining rocks (there are some beautiful specimens here, including obsidian) and deciding what to do. The weather has turned and it looks like it might rain, and I’m also not feeling too well, so in the end I decide to skip Viti and instead take the return route real slow and enjoy it. Besides it’s always nice to leave something unseen – it gives me a reason to come back.

On the way back I spend even more time examining rocks, taking pictures, and just enjoying the scenery. From up here, Mt. Herðubreið is clearly visible, and it’s great that I was able to see her from all different angles during my hikes over the last few days. Snowy Mt. Snæfell has been part of my view as well for the last few days and I can feel her magnetic attraction. I’ll have to get closer one day soon. ... At a particularly nice spot with a view of Snæfell I take a longer break and make a few phone calls. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that technology is so advanced that I can sit on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere and make a phone call with a normal cell phone.

I’m back at the cluster of huts by 3pm and the weather is still nice, so after having some hot soup I explore the gorge behind the hut called Drekagil (Dreki means dragon, so this is the “dragon’s gorge”). It’s a beautiful little gorge with a trail leading all the way to the end where there’s a beautiful waterfall. The trail is narrow and rocky and I wish I had my hiking poles, but I left them back at the hut. On the way back, I sit at the mouth of the gorge for a long time on a rock in the sun.

Back at the hut, there’s a jeep from the Discovery Channel in the parking lot, and as the evening progresses, more jeeps arrive. I take a walk around the camping area and am fascinated by the complex contraptions some people have with them for sleeping. I especially like the roof top tents. What luxury! Everyone is outside making dinner and all of the grills are going full force. In the hut I sit near a group of Polish people enjoying their barbecued food, and the aromas are absolutely delicious. I have a real craving for some meat or fish, or any kind of real food. I’m extremely tired of dehydrated stuff – soup, rice, noodles, oatmeal. Maybe if I smile at them enough and look hungry they’ll offer me a bite to eat …