Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn

11-12km
4-5hrs

Leaving the foggy lands of Hrafntinnusker and heading into the greener pastures of Álftavatn. Unfortunately a big storm was coming, but you could see that the views would have been spectacular on a sunny day. It was so surreal it almost looked like a magical place from fairytales. Icelandic folklore does talk a lot about elves after all.

Given the crappy weather I just slept in. I’m not sure what time it was when I finally woke up to eat my museli, but it was certainly a whole lot later than if I was hiking with friends back home. Normally we’re up before dawn, the first up and first out on the track. Sunrise right now happens around 3.30am so perhaps I won’t be sticking to that tradition.

I went to the hut to get some advice and information on the weather. Either I didn’t speak to the warden or he was a bit of a joker. He pointed me to a sign on the wall which looked like a kindergarten kid’s art work. It was a picture of a sun behind the clouds saying “50% cloudy”. Later I realised that maybe this was permanently the forecast for this misty region.

I was also told not to bother trying to climb Háskerðingur (1,281m), but it was foggy anyway so I suppose that advice made sense today too.

I met a guy called Iain who was also looking for a weather update. He was hiking alone too so I invited him to walk together. He was a Canadian guy from Calgary. The cool sort of Canadian that loves the Rockies and has a taste for hiking and outdoor adventures so we got along pretty well of course.

We left late, maybe 10.45am, and headed down the misty trail. With nothing to see it was one of those days that’s just a bit of a slog, but good company made the time pass quickly.

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Not the same Misty Mountains that I remember from the movies

There was a lot of snow to cross. I found it easier to step onto my toes. That way if I slipped, I slid forward and gained momentum, rather than backwards and faltering. Momentum is important when hiking to keep your spirits up.

There was a steep but short climb to get up onto the Jökultungur spine where we rested a bit and then carried on down the gentle winding path.

We passed some geothermal vents and some funny little puddles. On the left it always seemed like there could be a great view, but it never really revealed itself more than this.

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I don't think this was Háskerðingur, but it looked like a Mt Kosciuszko bump

As we really started to descend the view got even better! I told Iain that if the weather cleared up that I would gladly hike back up here. Unfortunately it didn’t.

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Descending from Jökultungur down into the green mossy lands of Álftavatn

We rested after the steep descent of Jökultungur and all the slipping and sliding. I found that rocks and gravel were particularly treacherous in Iceland. Particularly the volcanic rocks like pumice. Because they are so light and airy, they never counter your weight like you expect and the soft terrain always falls away beneath you given that nothing holds it together except moss (if anything). Here was not so bad I guess compared to Fimmvörðuháls.

We rested for lunch in a low point near Grashagakvísl and sought refuge from the winds that seemed to get worse as we came down. It was too cloudy and rainy for it to be worth climbing Torfatindur (806m) or Brattháls which you can see here. Again, “If the weather clears up..”, I told Iain.

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On the home stretch now. We just had to cross a sketchy snow bridge or two after the big tour groups.

We arrived after 3pm at the Álftavatn campsite (537m). It was rainy and windy. We were surprised to see just two tents there before us despite the huge groups we saw on the way down. We should have known something was amiss, but we just grabbed as many rocks we could and setup our tents quickly. A bunch of French guys had taken just about all the rocks for themselves. They were friendly though and just trying to survive like the rest of us.

When I went to pay, the warden advised me to move 5km down the track to another campsite with more shelter or move into the hut. Strong winds were expected to get worse and worse throughout there night. I had already pitched my tent though and I was foolishly interested to see how strong it was, so I just tied down some extra lines and scurried around very industriously looking for more rocks. I felt a bit like a beaver building a lodge adding rock after rock and patting everything down to make sure it was secure.

Iain wasn’t feeling great and had no means of cooking himself hot food so I cooked him some rice. Ahh, Mexicana, the best rice flavour ever invented, and this transcends the Uncle Benny brand!

The storm set in at about 6pm. The warden was right, it certainly did get stronger and stronger, all the way up until 2 or 3am.

My tent flapped violently in all directions. The poles facing the wind flexed like I never even thought they could without buckling, so I tried to bolster them with my tripod and pack.

The inner layer of the tent bellowed in and out as huge gusts of wind ripped under the outer shell. I thought the stitches would burst and that they would blow inwards. They swelled like a balloon and seemed to stretch as they filled full of air.

The outer later was torn about in the wind like a broken sail. I moved all the heaviest rocks to the worst side and so the other side ripped about freely. The tension in the tarp caused it to snap like a whip. Gusts of wind were lifting the tent up at all four corners so I spread everything I owned around me in an ‘L’ shape and setup my mat on the other side with my feet pressed against the inner layer.

I think I slept in very short spells. Maybe. I tried to relax and just trust the tent, but every now and then huge gusts would hit the tent and I’d find myself using my feet to try and push the tent back outwards or monitoring the state of the pegs holding things down.

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Reinforcing the tent with my bag, tripod and err... socks for counterbalance...

During the night I used my phone as a bit of a mirror under the tent to see what was happening. As the night went on more and more tents disappeared or were abandoned, but I’d say at least half were still there in the morning. I was surprised!

Checking out who was still alive

The warden said that the gusts had exceeded the 75kmph forecast and I’d have to agree given the way it blew human bodies around. It reminded me of the day we skied at Perisher with 90-100kmph winds which could literally blow you back up the mountain. Icelandic houses are built to strict standards to survive the most extreme winter winds, our tents were not.

The winds died down towards 10am and I finally got some sleep. Finally, it was just gentle rain pattering on top of my trusty tent. It survived with just superficial damage and I hoped that was the worst weather that Iceland was going to throw at me. For this hike thankfully it was.

The next day I think we all opted for safety and a bit of warmth on the next section of the Laugavegur Trek and took a bus most of the way from Álftavatn to Emstrur.

To see the rest of my July 2016 trip to Iceland click here.

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