15-16km down to 4km
6-7hrs down to 1hr
Walking (the remainder of the way) out of green land and into a strange black sandy desert with moss covered mountains and a glacial backdrop. A horrible day of weather to cross the black desert, but followed up by a grey, but dry day to see the stunning views of the glaciers and nearby canyon.
After the storm in Álftavatn, I wouldn’t say I really woke up until about noon. At this time the rain had finally stopped, and so I ventured out to get a weather update and advice on the trail ahead to Emstrur.
The same warden greeted me, she was always so friendly and helpful. She told me that her boss had driven past the river crossings and that he said they looked passable, but that one was up to knee height and the other was over knee height. The rivers had swelled after the storm.
It didn’t sound too inviting and when she heard I was alone and had no walking poles, she counselled me to pair up with someone to bridge hands and brace for the crossings. I didn’t expect many people to be walking though after last night.
It turned out that buses actually come right in to Álftavatn and Emstrur. I didn’t know that, but given it would only cost 2,000ISK to be dropped off after the above knee height ford, I opted for a little extra warmth and safety. It was very cold that day or at least it felt that way. Definitely the coldest I felt on the entire trek. The kind of cold that’s deep in your bones.
The bus came at 1pm and it took an hour to load everyone up. Many more people had come to take the bus than were originally expected (probably almost everyone at Álftavatn) and so we were already standing before we got to the campsite 5km up the road. All of those people seemed to want to board too. The bus driver refused to leave anyone in the cold and so we squished in.
They didn’t take money from us in case the bus couldn’t actually make the river crossings. The bus had to cross an even bigger river, which for pedestrians there was a foot bridge.
The scenery along the way was epic, but still cloudy, rainy and the windows of the bus were fogged up by the fifty cold puffing passengers.
When we reached the major bus crossing all the standing passengers were asked to take the foot bridge for safety while the bus navigated the ford. It was worthwhile as the crossing was incredibly bumpy and the bus rocked side to side like a boat on the open ocean. Its a good thing those buses have high clearance!
I wish I’d actually hopped out to take the foot bridge as seeing the bus cross the river would have been really cool. You couldn’t really appreciate it from inside.
After that, the bus went over “the easy one” that us hikers would have had to cross. It would have been a long walk with cold feet.
After that we wound through the landscape and crossed another bridge over a formidable river. Apparently, once a videographer filming for a documentary didn’t see the bridge and tried to ford the river. He escaped alive, but his car and all his work was trashed by the river. My theory is that he just hadn’t come up with any useful footage and he was trying to avoid a reprimand from his boss. Perhaps he would have gotten fired anyway if the car and equipment weren’t insured.
The bus driver was extremely helpful and compassionate for all us cold hikers. He drove part of the way down to Emstrur to make it easier for us. He didn’t have to. The wardens were also extremely kind and had helped organise everything to get the people out of Álftavatn. Everyone was immensely grateful. I’ll definitely remember her with her blonde hair in that crazy bun on top of her head and the other Icelandic warden who walked around barefoot in the freezing mud. They were really upbeat and positive people.
We were dropped off near Hattafell, a dominant mountain and a very clear landmark during the days ahead. I could see clearly it all the way from Thórsmörk some twenty off kilometres away in the coming days.
From here it was only an hour or so to walk into Emstrur. The black sand desert was soft and forgiving. You could bounce down the dunes on your heels like crisp snow on a glacier – it’s quite fun!
I arrived at about 5pm, in the rain again and with nothing to see, so I figured I should just get some rest after the previous night and make the most of any better weather tomorrow. Tomorrow was a better day.