In my last post I described the first few days of Iceland, which involved a medical emergency, some car rental drama, and the northern lights. Check it out if any of those peak your interest, otherwise, I’ll pick up where I left off.
Day 4, Finding our way to Þakgil
After a pretty chilly night, we got up quite early thanks to our sheep friends who would serve as our alarm clocks for the rest of the trip…..baaah (I was really able to take my sheep impression to the next level). While we were taking down the tent, a woman in her early 20s asked us if she could hitch a ride out of the campsite. This would actually be our second hitchhiker of the trip so far (we gave a young Polish couple a ride a couple days before). We really had no business turning anyone down, after all we were driving a LAND CRUISER that could easily hold 5 people and all their stuff.
We decided we were going to get as much use out of this tank as we could, so thinking we were ready to graduate from F roads, we took a jeep road out of the park. This was a risky move because there were a number of river crossings, so theoretically, we could get a couple hours into the drive and have to turn around if a river was too high. Once again though, we found ourselves driving through some pretty amazing landscapes.
It was a bumpy ride and there were a few pretty steep sections. I was wondering if our German friend was having second thoughts about coming with us, but she seemed happy not to be walking since she’d been backpacking for quite awhile. One thing about this woman is that she has travelled and backpacked a lot (often times alone), especially for being so young. It seems like in general taking long periods of time to travel, especially after high school, is encouraged in parts of Europe, and I really wish we did the same here. It’s insane to me that we expect 18 year olds to decide what they want to do for the majority of their life. Spending a few years traveling, volunteering, or learning a tangible trade just seems like a much better way to help a young person start to shape their interests and navigate the world than throwing them into a four year institution (given they even have the resources to do that) where they’ll most likely spend their time stressing about not knowing what they want to do, drinking heavily, and racking up student debt. Anyway, I digress.
Just as we were nearing the end of the F road, we saw what looked like a pretty deep and rocky valley with a river running through it……shit. My stomach flipped at the thought of having to turn around after coming so far. Luckily, as we got closer, we saw the road actually went around it and we would make it to the highway after all.
We parted ways with our German friend, filled up the Land Cruiser with some $7 a gallon diesel (ouch), and headed to our destination for the day, Þórsmörk. We were hoping to camp here and do some of the epic looking hikes we’d seen and heard about. According to the map there were about 9 to 10 river crossings on the way, but at this point we were feeling pretty cocky about our badass river crossing driving skills.
We got really close before we were shut down by the biggest, deepest river we’d seen so far. It might not have been that deep, but there was no way to tell since the water was moving so quickly and wasn’t clear. We deliberated for awhile in the car, trying to think of something that would help us get across this damn river. I thought, hey, maybe I could just start to cross it myself and then we’d know how deep it was. Then I thought back to that article about stupid ways people have died in Iceland and figured I’d rather not make the next edition. We begrudgingly accepted our defeat and turned around.
The rest of the day was spent driving in a bit of a daze on the Ring Road while trying to figure out our next move. We tried to find another hot spring but we just ended up on some farm land where a bunch of people were hiking to a lukewarm spring in the rain (meh). We kept driving and ended up going into a visitor center. Inside, there was a guy working who looked part Dothraki (eye liner, man bun, and tattoos included).
He was pretty impressed when we told him where we drove from and how close we got to Þórsmörk, and made us feel slightly better when he said that even if we had crossed that river, there would have been even bigger crossings down the road. That was when we learned about a very important symbol on our map that indicated major river crossings. Ya, that would have been nice to know. I will say in general though, there are a handful of map and road sign symbols in Iceland that are pretty baffling to me. Here’s a fun sampling:
They just leave so many questions. Why an upside down pretzel? What is a thunderbox and does it mean what I think it does in reference to a toilet? Is that a bugle and what does it have to do with a post office? So…many….questions.
Anyway, despite Mr. Dothraki giving us suggestions on where to go next, we decided to call it a day and drive to a campground Bret had researched beforehand called Þakgil.
At this point, I was sick of being in a car and watching people take selfies next to horses by the road (because tourists take selfies next to just about anything). I had been mindlessly eating trail mix and other carbs while barely moving all day, and my mood was really deteriorating.
That changed as we got close to Þakgil. The landscape started to change into this beautiful green, fairy like place with rolling hills and glaciers visible in the background. The campground itself was incredible, tucked away, and far removed from the Ring Road. There was a babbling brook running through it, a cave with a fireplace and lit candles where you could cook and eat dinner, and showers….glorious showers!
I went on a trail run before the sun set and I was completely alone. I felt like I had this special place all to myself for a little while, except for the fairies and elves of course.
Day 5, Glaciers and Getting to Skaftafell
Waking up in Þakgil was equally as special and I had a hard time getting myself to leave, but we had some hiking to do. We ended up exploring a trail within walking distance of our campsite and hiked up to a glacier that really left me speechless. In all honesty, I probably wouldn’t have gotten as close as I did, but a German hiker (Germans really know how to get around) told us that we had to hike an extra 20 minutes to see what he thought was one of the most beautiful places in Iceland. We later learned that he has been to Iceland at least a dozen times and has done some pretty extensive exploring, so, the dude knew what he was talking about.
I will say that this was one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever experienced in my life, and we hardly saw a soul the entire 6 hours we were walking.
We eventually had to leave this magical place, BUT our next destination was Skaftafell national park which is home to one of biggest glaciers in Europe (Vatnajökull). After getting my socks knocked off by the first glacier, I was ready for the next one.
We got to a our campsite later that evening (not nearly as picturesque as Þakgil, but it would do) and jumped into our routine of cooking dinner. One of my favorite parts about this trip was cooking dinner at various campsites. Most campgrounds had a general kitchen area where people from different countries convened. Cooking amongst people from all around the world, speaking different languages, and making their own variations of dinners (some of which were pretty elaborate compared to my mac n cheese with summer sausage) was a really unfamiliar yet comforting experience.
The next morning we planned to hike one of the peaks in this national park, called Kristínartindar Mountain. It wasn’t exactly going to be a piece of cake so we planned to go to bed early and get an early start. After brushing my teeth I found Bret in the tent studying our Iceland map intensely. He had a realization that the rest of our trip plans were probably going to be pretty difficult given the amount of area we’d have to cover driving wise. This led us to completely replan the last half of our trip and lose a deposit on a hostel we’d booked. I only mention this because while it’s nice to have general idea of what you want to see/do, you’re going to get a much better feel for a place once you’re there and you want to make sure your plans are flexible and can be changed. For us, we realized that driving for hours along the Ring Road was not our idea of a good time and we’d rather try to cover less ground and have more time to explore a few select areas. If I could do this again I would just take time beforehand to study a really detailed map of the country, and pick out a few places to spend longer periods of time in.
You live and you learn.
Alright, I promise to wrap this trip up in the next post, part 3 of 3. If you’re curious, I plan to go into a little more detail about Kristínartindar, which DEFINITELY was not a piece of cake (for me at least). Also, more hitchhikers, and some closing thoughts.