17-19km (about 8km on the trail)
8-9hrs (about 2.5 hours on the trail)
The sun actually broke the clouds for the first time in two days. Briefly at least. In the morning, the sun fit through the gap between the mountains and the cloud deck and glanced over our campsite. It showed promise of better weather to come so I woke early to make the most of the day (and night).
I probably overslept a good sunrise, but ten hours of sleep was worth it. I woke at 6am to find the sun breaking across the landscape and the mists finally gone.
I quickly pulled some layers over the top of me and headed up the hillside beside the campground to get a better view. There were glaciers here, but you wouldn’t have known it the night before.
I chowed down on some breakfast, packed some lunch and headed out assuming that today would be perfect for day hiking. Maybe even backtracking to see a little of what I missed yesterday in the bus.
At 7.30am I headed towards Markarfljotsgljúfur, Iceland’s biggest canyon apparently. A really easy to pronounce name by Icelandic standards. The warden the night before looked at me like I was retarded when she repeated the name three times and I still had no idea what she was saying. I think the difficult part is having no reference point for any of the syllables she was throwing at me, but she rolled her eyes because it was so easy for her.
I wonder if they meant “biggest canyon” in terms of length instead of depth because it didn’t seem like it would take long to fall to the bottom. It was only a 15-20 minute walk from camp, but I wandered down the canyon’s length for a while and in the end it took me two hours return.
After the canyon, I backtracked a little while towards Hattafell with the intention of climbing it after finding the crazy river crossing again. But then I realised something. Why was I back tracking through the valley, only to then climb a mountain (high with a great view no doubt) only to have an obstructed view of the glaciers?
So I turned east and picked out a noteworthy, but non-technical target to climb, Stóra-Mófell (851m). Along the way I became sure that I’d made the right choice with satisfying views of the track behind me.
Stóra-Mófell was actually a lot steeper towards the top than it looked, but with soft bouncy moss to climb on the western face it was pretty non-threatening. Rocks however, pulled away everywhere. I learnt never to fully trust any of the rocks in Iceland unless they looked like the tips of great icebergs buried beneath the soil. Oh anything less than 90% was under the soil it would betray you (slight exaggeration).
The view from the top gave pretty spectacular views of Myrdalsjökull and the glacial outflows. Well, that and everything else in a 360 degree view.
I went and climbed the pinnacle in the photo thinking it would make an epic adventure photo, but it turned out to be at least 50m away and so my camera remote didn’t work at that range. Risked my life for nothing! The cold Icelandic winter ice and moss efficiently splits rock in two. Everytime I’d search for a handhold the rocks would dislodge or seem to splinter. With no one else around and a steep drop off, I wasn’t trying that again.
After lunch on the mountain top I explored the moraine fields above the glacial river Femri Emstruá. I wondered how the rocks got piled there on a cliff. Did the glacier once push out this far?
I tried to descend down to the path to Thórsmörk. Oddly some of the hikers in the distance seemed to be moving very fast. Like double time. As I got closer, I realised that they were actually runners participating in the Landmannalaugar to Thórsmörk ultra marathon. That shit it is crazy! I got a little tired of saying “hello” to reach of them after the thirtieth one passed, though they were at the 40km mark and probably preferred not to waste their breath anyway.
I jumped a stream and returned to camp about 2pm. I was still trying to ration my food to last an extra day, so I only ate nuts and chocolate and rested a few hours. It began to rain again anyway so I saw no point in getting wet again.
I rested until 6pm and decided that I was done with following the rain’s schedule. I wasn’t ready to sleep and I wanted to try walking during the night for a change, so I packed up and headed off.
Since I knew there was a river right after camp I walked barefoot and carried my boots. There was no way I was jumping the stream this time with my pack. Walkers ending their day in Emstrur looked at me strangely. Come on, I didn’t look that disheveled and crazy!
As I started off towards Thórsmörk, a stray runner even passed me. He must have been hours behind and he was surely the last one. I didn’t see anyone else on the trail that night which was nice and the rain actually stopped soon after I left anyway.
After the two hour mark I was feeling tired and hungry. My eyes kept searching for potential camps, but my brain kept telling my feet to push on.
Eventually I stopped in an area called Fauskatorfur on a dry sandy riverbed looking across at a small building across the gorge. It looked so tiny near the prominent mountain Einhyrningur (641m), but mist still shrouded features in the distance.
I ate dinner considering the progress towards Thórsmörk and several hours of day hiking and hit the hay with no one around but a few sheep.