Álftavatn – Emstrur (Botnar)
Distance: 16 km | Estimated traveling time: 6-7 hours | Max Altitude: 608 m
Elevation change: 40m
After yesterday’s long haul, today promised to be rather more pleasant and easy in comparison. First off we would make our way across the Brattháls hills and then head eastward towards the Hvanngil gorge. Eventually we would cross the Bratthálskvísl river on foot (a much anticipated and feared prospect), then further on the Kaldaklofskvísl river would be crossed by bridge, and finally the Bláfjallakvísl would be forded again on foot. One thing was for sure we were going to get wet today!
Volcanic ash also promised to be our constant companion for this part of the trek and the landscape was sure to change dramatically between Álftavatn and the campsite of Emstrur, our destination for the night. Leaving Álftavatn was hard as the place is absolutely beautiful and the thought that anything could be better was hard to envisage.
We broke camp later than usual that morning at around 10am and before long we were crossing our first couple of brooks of the day. Almost immediately after the crossings we started to ascend an ashy slope before once again the surreal landscape of Iceland started to reveal itself to us for this the next stretch of the trail.
Snow capped volcanic mountains were going to be the order of the day. The sort that a kid would draw if asked to draw a mountain. Almost perfectly formed into a cone with snow on the top. If you were a landscape artist then this is the type of environment that you would dream of painting.
Alas as I’m no artist my photos will have to suffice instead, I hope some of them can do some kind of justice to the scenery that I saw, but I fear they all fall way short! Anyway here are some of my favourites….
At this point I think it’s about time that I introduced my fellow hikers into the story. I don’t usually talk about other people in my blogs but as I spent such an intense amount of time with eight other people during this trip I’d be only telling half the story if I didn’t mention them at some stage.
So in no particular order here are the dynamics of this merry band of wanderers;
Harry the oldest (he wouldn’t mind me mentioning that) but possibly the gamest member of the team was due to walk along part of The Great Wall of China for charity in a few months time and was using this trip as a kind of test run to hone his skills and fitness. I met Harry on my first night in Reykjavik and we became what was known as tent buddies (no not in that sense!, but we were teamed together to help each other pitch our tents) an arrangement that works quite well in the wet and windy environment of Iceland.
Gerry (a doctor) and Nic (a prosecutor) were friends and had come to see Iceland and hike it’s most famous trail after seeing the country showcased on TV. Gerry loved to chat – a good trait if you’re a GP – and Nic loved a tipple – a good trait if you are a prosecuting lawyer (I imagine), both were good company and had many an anecdote between them to pass the many miles of walking.
I later discovered Nic had been carrying contraband for the entire trail in his rucksack (I love that kind of thing) the extra weight a mere inconvenience compared to the joy of a whisky while watching a sunset in the mountains!
Mike and Jen were a young couple from New Jersey USA and doing a kind of european trip before they got married. I might be doing them a disservice but I felt that maybe they were more accustomed to 5th Avenue than the great outdoors, but fair play to them they threw themselves whole-heartedly into the hike and the camp duties and I think surprised themselves how much they enjoyed TGO.
Ka Fei was a lawyer from New York City and originally had thought of doing the trail solo and un-aided and I’m sure he could have done it with no problems. I often found myself towards the back of the walking pack with Kai both snapping away with our respective cameras as we crossed this amazing landscape. I’ve used some of his photos in my blog as I thought he had a real knack and understanding of his camera and obviously was as in love with the landscape as I was.
Oliver hailed from the Bavarian mountains in southern Germany and looked like he was very at home in the outdoors, he spoke little english and as my German is non-existent it was hard to talk at length but we did got chatting the very first night in base camp in the natural geo-thermal pools at Landmannalaugar. We are both from Graphic Design backgrounds and I sensed he appreciated the landscape as I did.
Marion was a fellow Brit from Scotland and obviously loved her outdoors hiking and took to the trail like a natural. A veteran of many a hike in the Scottish Mountains she seemed to take everything in her stride. Luckily for her being a Scot meant that she was more than accustomed to the very wet and windy conditions of Iceland.
So there we all were together a merry little band, but I still need to introduce one final member of the team, our one and only intrepid guide Gulli.
Now Gulli is quite simply a legend in Iceland and probably beyond. He looks the part of a rugged guide but unwrap him and there is a tender man who obviously loves what he does and it shines through in his work. He masterfully guided us through rain, sleet, a bit of snow, wind and sun from A to B and always with a smile on his face.
The day ahead as predicted would be characterised by a succession of freezing cold river crossings, mile upon mile of black ash desert, spectacular chasms and a landscape more a kin to Mars than the Earth!
The river crossings were as cold as they looked but they were also very exhilarating and a massively memorable part of the journey. Guilli as usual installed a confidence into us that would otherwise have been missing and the insanity of stripping off to bare feet and wading through a torrent of glacial water in the end seemed quite normal!
We had gone from rugged mountain trails to endless flat ash tracks that meandered for miles across the merciless black sand but by the end of the day we would be over two thirds of the way along the trail and the camp at Botnar on the gritty slopes of Emstrur was every bit as spectacular as Álftavatn had been beautiful.
We pitched our tents for the penultimate time and I foraged for a mountain beer which I eventually found at the Wardens office and after paying mountain prices sat once again in my tents porch peacefully looking out towards the far distance over a vista of ice-caps, volcanoes and green fertile valleys. I was content and felt completely at one with my new found landscape after my three days in Iceland.
Tomorrow though Iceland would throw the worst she could weather-wise at us and test our resolve to the max, before the day would be out I would be wetter than I thought humanly possible…..but that’s another chapter and another day and all for the next part of the story, so stay tuned.
Next up: The Laugavegur Icelandic Trek 2013 – Day 4…..15km to Thors’ Forest at Þórsmörk the end of our trail and time for medals and cigars!
Pics from Iceland here: http://www.fluidr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets/72157634601200683
Additional photography by Ka Fei Wong. Check his stuff out over at: https://picasaweb.google.com/112137180377365679482/Iceland02?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCMqW2qHF9puWuwE&feat=directlink