What what a day! Apprently, it turns out, that Iceland is . . . . icy! It is now Day 3 of the rainshower that started on the second day we arrived. With brief spells of no rain, and some parts of no side-ways wind – we are certainly feeling the cold of the Almost Arctic Circle.
Leaving the sheltered grounds of the Jokulsargljufur National Park we are on the move towards Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall by volume and her sister Sellfos. Our route was to be a 36km 4wd adventure away from the coast and heading inland. The constant rain had turned some parts of the muddy track into a chain of ponds that erupted as we hit them in our large camper. It was 4wding Iceland style.
Before leaving the campground a road side marker informed us that it was 4ºC outside, combine that with rain and wind and it was probably more like -10ºC.
Clothing update: Today Tory was wearing 3 layers of pants combined with 5 layers of tops, Goretex jacket, beanie and rain hood. I was sporting very fashionable thermal pants, hiking cargo pants covered with the same wet wet weather pants Tory was running. Combined with thermal top, goretex shirt and rain jacket we were set for the worst. Or so we thought.
Leaving early gave us the advantage of having the entire track to ourselves. There is vey little traffic in many parts of Iceland and some time you dont see another car for hours. Arrving at Dettifoss we got the camera gear sorted, put rain jaket on camera and camera bag and ventued in the cold rain towwards the mighty waterfall. Within minutes my possum fur gloves (from a previous triup to NZ) and Tory’s cashmere lined leather gloves (from a previous trip to Venice) were soaked through. So much so that the black dye was running from her pair onto her jacket and staining her fingers a dark grey. The cold on our hands was nothing I’ve experienced before, painful and biting, losing feeling in our fingers, knuckles seizing, skin red*.
We arrived at the waterfall and the noise was deafening, the water seemed to explode from the end of the falls, ejected from the river out over the abyss from the curtain of water, flying forward, before tumbling into the canyon and churning away towards a further 3 waterfalls. It was hard to tell where the rain ended and the spray of the waterfall started. We took some pics and heading back to the car via Sellfoss a smaller waterall but equally imrpssive. Back in the car we sat with the heater on for a few minutes trying to dry ourselves and our gear out. Further 4wding was needed to get back to the main road via a new strech of road base on the way to Myvatn.
The area surrounding Lake Myvatn included several boxes we wanted to tick on this journey. Sites included a geothemal area comlpete with mud pools and sulpher rich steam leaking from every concevable spot on the rust coloured terrain. We got to drive past our first geothermal power station and up to Krafla Volcano which had only got covered in snow 3 days previously! It was my first real experience of snow up close. If only it wasn’t -15º! We wandered around Hvevir – a spectacular otherworldly landscape of steaming fumeroles (big ones sound like planes taking off, blowing constantly), bubbling mud pools (the sulphuric acid in the water dissolves the rocks and sand making mud), and sulphur crusted mud pathways. We also managed to hike up the face of 2 more volcanos with one them taking us high above Lake Myvatn below on a 5km round trip. It was a shame about the wet overcast weather as we couldn’t fully appreciate the view, obscured by cloud from our vantage point 529m above the surrounding land. The third volcano was the most spectacular – a perfect black cone rising from the plain with a perfect crater 1040m across. When we got there, the wind dropped but the low low cloud remained, creating another movie set environment of black caldera and shifting mists. We saw more lava fields, lava columns and lava pretty much on the ground everywhere. The entire region was decimated in 1727 when Krafla erupted over 2 years engulfing most of the region. Pseudocraters that dot the area were formed when lava hit wetlands causing explosions of steam and lava formations at Dimmuborgir (Dimmi and a burger’)were formed when a lake of lava formed a solid crust, then steam vents before collapsing. And to finish off our massive day we ended it the best way possible at the Myvatn Thermal Pools. Taking 10 minutes to strip off the layers, shower and don our bathers we joined other fellow travelers in the steaming mineral rich pools. Between 38ºC and 40Cº with eddies of 50ºC across the surface (ow ow ow!), the water soothed our sore joints. Rich in sulpher and other minerals from deep below the surface the water was a rich aqua blue. Te heat caused steam to rise from the water, combined with the cold rain falling on our heads and the occasional view through the mist of the surrounding mountains it was something else. At $25 a person it was worth every cent.
Our campsite in the local town of Reykhalid (‘Breakaleg’), Bjarg, is on the watersend – a lovely grassy location, and very well equiped. Shower and toilet blocks are unisex, the power supply is strong enough to charge the computer / camera / phone (unlike our last 2 powered campsites), rows of sinks outdoors have hot and cold running water for washing dishes or clothes, although the ‘drying shed’ is literally an open sided shed – no drying going on here in under 3 days!!
* Clothing Side note: After experiencing the biting cold earlier in the day we made our way to the main store in town. It was a supermarket / dvd store / hamburger joint. Our mission was to find some kind of arctic glove so that we could keep on going after soaking our own by 8 am at the waterfalls. Tory’s glove of choice was a combo deal. It comprises of 2 layers: a pair of knitted wool gloves and an outer layer of black industrial dishwashing gloves. She was determined not to get wet and cold like that again!!! My gloves of choice were a pair of Cold Storage gloves – thick rubber palms with a knitted exterior. The kind you would use on world’s deadliest catch or in a freezer unpacking frozen salmon. Both options seemed to work fine. Part 2 to the ensemble included a trip to a Souvenir Shop on route to get some better headwear. Tory picked up a nice fur lined hat with ear warmers and I settled for a full length balaclava. We should be warm now as we head up into the barren interior – we are told Askja crater (tomorrows destination) is covered in snow!