Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hornstrandir


Zodiac with hikers to Veiðileysufjörður
My bag was finally delivered at 9pm last night, and I was up until midnight organizing and packing things for my Hornstrandir adventure. I walk to the harbor at 9 am and passengers have already gathered at the pier. It’s a three hour boat ride for me since I am the last to get off. It stops first at Hesteyri and then Veiðileysufjörður, where the Zodiac is full to the brim with hikers ready to start their adventures.  I am the only one to get off in Hrafnfjörður and am both happy and hesitant about that. I am let off at the waterfall at the south side of the fjord, about 500 meters west of the emergency hut. The trailhead I intend to take is on the opposite side of the fjord. The sun is shining, I shoulder my pack and start off in a good mood. After a quick inspection of the campground at the shelter, I soon come across the first obstacle – the meeting point of the Blandá and Skorá rivers. It’s deep and torrential and I take my time scouting for a good place to cross. About halfway through I can barely hold my stand from the strong current and I start to worry and briefly think of turning back. But the distance to the opposite side is shorter than turning around and I am still full of energy and ambitious and I plow through to the other side. I continue to walk in my wading sandals for a bit until the adrenaline wears off. As I sit to put back on my boots, I notice a blue bruise and swelling on my ankle the size of a golf ball. It must have got smashed by a rock in the river. 
I pack the ankle in foam padding that I carry to relieve the soreness on my shoulders and hips when the backpack starts feeling heavy.After a quick snack, I continue along the northern tip of the fjord, choosing the upland route over the coastal one. I cross numerous smaller streams and spot several flat grassy areas that would make nice campgrounds, including a secluded spot by a small pond. Soon it’s time to take off my shoes again and wade through another river, and this one is easiest to cross at the mouth as it flows into the ocean. 

It’s wide but shallow and afterwards I spend a few minutes photographing the colorful flora. Now I can spot trail markers heading into Alfstaðadalur valley. The valley is full of lush green fields with beautiful flowers, moss and vegetation. It’s tempting to stop and camp here but I need to progress a bit further today. After another easy river crossing where I only have to remove my shoes and zip off the pants legs, the trail becomes more difficult to follow. At one spot, the trail marker is on the other side of a large snow field stuck up on a peak with rugged sides – obstacle number two. 

There is lots of snow in the valley and in most spots there are rivers flowing under the snow making it quite instable. I am very wary of walking on this snow, and even if I did reach the other side safely, I would have to climb straight up a rock face with my heavy pack. I look around a bit for a better option, and seeing none, I go straight into the challenge. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as easy as it sounds! The fear prickles on the back of my neck and my stomach is sick with the thought of what could happen. I make it to the other side, scramble up the cliff, and walk briskly until the adrenalin again wears off. 

Typical river covered with snow
I am not comfortable at all with the two risks I have taken so far. This is not my idea of a fun hike. This is beyond my comfort zone and I have no need to prove anything. As I climb higher up the pass, the terrain is full of snow and rocks, melt-off and rivers, and the ground is quite soggy. The trail markers disappear entirely and I’m on my own. When I see a flat grassy area nestled between a waterfall (covered with snow, of course) and a river, I decide to call it a day. I am not even close to reaching my target for the day, but my back is beginning to hurt and I am mentally exhausted from the challenges so far.

My campsite is beautiful though and the evening peaceful. The sun comes out and I treat myself to a tasty dehydrated meal of elk stew. I am fast asleep by 8:30 pm and barely notice the rain and wind that move in. I feel safe in my little red tent.