Monday, August 2, 2010

The trek begins: Skælingar --> Hvanngil, 16 km

Photos: (1) Skælingar hut; (2) Remnants of the jökulhlaup; (3) The river Skaftaá; (4) Blautulón

It’s pouring rain and I’m sitting here in the Skælingar hut. It’s already 9am and I’m eager to start my trek. But the rain is relentless and the wind is strong.
I arrived in Iceland just two nights ago in a warm and sunny Reykjavík, but headed straight for Eystri-Sólheimar where I picked up the supplies I sent from Germany. Yesterday a friend drove me here to the Skælingar hut to begin a long trek that will include my first glimpse of Langisjór before continuing along the Breiðbakur route to Landmannalaugar.
Skælingar is empty – no signs of life. The late afternoon was pleasant and dry when I set up camp, but the weather worsened as the evening progressed. I took a walk along the Skaftaá, observing the remnants of the recent jökullhlaup (a glacial outburst flood). The river banks were muddy and soggy from the receding water and I kept a respectable distance. The hut’s surroundings are beautiful with interesting rock formations, though the hut itself is a bit primitive and not very cozy. It’s a mild 15°C when I finally crawled into my sleeping bag last night.
But somewhere in the realm of sleep, the rain and wind moved in, and after moving basecamp from the tent to the hut for breakfast in the morning, I start getting restless. I’m alone now, my friend has left and there’s no turning back. I’m torn between apprehension and excitement. Visibility is close to zero with the fog and thick clouds, and on this first day, the route is mostly unmarked through the mountains to the hut at Sveinistindur. I’m unfamiliar with the area, which adds to my insecurity, but I’ve memorized maps all winter long and am armed with a GPS and compass.
I wait another hour or so and finally decide to brave the elements. The road leads north behind the hut and gains in elevation. Visibility is poor and at times I have trouble recognizing the jeep track and catch myself straying from it. At the top of the pass I’m supposed to leave the road and navigate without a trail. I give it a try, relying on my GPS but quickly give up and struggle to find the road again. What a shame, this is supposedly one of the prettier routes in the area and all I see is wet fog and the ground beneath my feet. I trudge on, and need a break, but the whipping wind and rain make it impossible to take a break. I catch myself walking too fast because of the weather, and to stay warm. My clothes are soaked despite good rain gear and my shoes are soggy. I set the goal of reaching Blautulón, just 9 km after Skælingar, and hope I’m able to take a short lunch break there. My pack is very heavy since I’m carrying more than 10 days of food, hoping to spend ample time exploring the areas I pass through. (Little did I know at the time that the constant rain would push me through in just six days.) Unfortunately I can’t see much of the landscape. The clouds hang low and the rain is thrashing the left side of my face so that I walk with my head down and turned to the side.
At Blautulón the weather gods have mercy for five whole minutes and I’m able to set down my pack and chomp down a handful of nuts before the rain starts again. I can’t rest for long anyway because I’m getting cold and don’t want to put on more clothes because they would just get wet. The area is beautiful though, even in the rain. The jeep track runs right through the eastern edge of the lake but I walk just above the shore on the sloping grass. Shortly afterward, I reach the more frequented route F235. So far I haven’t seen a single person or car, but I expect this road would be much more frequented and constantly think that a jeep will pass me by. (Actually I was secretly hoping to hitch a ride, my morale was quite low and I was very wet and cold. But little did I know at the time that I wouldn’t see a car for at least 2 days.)
F235 is bleak and black and sandy, and there’s no real place to rest. I plod on with my back beginning to hurt terribly for lack of a real break. I’m hungry and my initial enthusiasm has hit rock bottom. The pressure of having to be at Langisjór the next day to meet a friend keeps me going, or I would have stopped long before and crawled into a dry tent. Finally some larger rocks come into sight, I sit for a few seconds, and plod on, and sit again, and plod on, and sit again. And while sitting I realize I’m at a river, a ravine, and it’s green and looks like a nice place to camp. So I set up my tent in the pouring rain at Hvanngil after 16 km. It’s extremely early in the day, only 2 pm, since I took no breaks.
After pitching my tent, I crawl into my sleeping bag to warm up and put some music on the headphones. It’s a real storm outside, the wind is rattling the tent and right now I just need to rest and get warm. I shiver for a long time before I’m finally able to sit up and take in the situation. My gear is absolutely soaked – shoes, socks and everything I was wearing. Luckily I have a dry set of clothes to wear in the tent. I make some hot soup and stuff some of my clothes into my sleeping bag to soak up the body heat. I realize that I took hardly any pictures today. I guess I was too preoccupied with everything else going on! :-)
I doze on and off all evening and through the night. At 3:30 am the wind stops and I crawl out of the tent. The rain has diminished to a strong drizzle. The clouds still hang thick in the valley with no sign of it letting up. Back to bed …