Trekking Vatnajökull in Iceland with a group of unknown people instead of exploring some mountains in the south where it’s warm – what was I thinking while planning this year’s trip? This thought briefly crossed my mind when I was walking down the Laugavegur street in Iceland heading to the meeting point at the Grey Line Bus station where I was about to meet my fellow trekking friends.
Table of Contents
- 1 Trekking Vatnajökull in Iceland – the ultimate challenge
- 2 Meeting the trekking group
- 3 And here emerges the Icelandic guide – or shall I say an army sergeant?
- 4 Trekking Vatnajökull – final preparations before setting off
- 5 Let’s take ALL the food! But who will carry it for me?
- 6 Icelandic hotdogs – yummy!
- 7 Bye, bye civilisation, you won’t be that missed! Hello Vatnajökull, let the adventure begin!
- 8 Everything comes with experience – how I do all wrong during the first day of the trek in Vatnajökull
- 9 Vast like “Vatnajökull”
- 10 Trekking lesson number one – UNDERDRESS
- 11 Let’s just not use words for a while, ok?
- 12 Sleep is for not to be weak! Vatnajökull lesson number two.
- 13 First river crossing so let’s just get stressed. Bravo me.
- 14 Vatnajökull is unpredictable. Pitching the tent in a downpour.
Trekking Vatnajökull in Iceland – the ultimate challenge
The answer is simple: I wanted to do something extraordinary and something challenging. I wanted to see how I behave and manage in tougher conditions and if months of working out at the gym did any good.
Meeting the trekking group
When I arrive at the meeting point, the majority of the group is already there. Two other girls, Kim and Andrea, both come from Germany, though I don’t know that yet as we speak English. Two tall guys, Ben and Rob, one from England, the other one from Ireland. And Lynn from South Korea.
We introduce ourselves and there’s one moment when my heartbeat stops for a second. It’s when one of the girls says that she had been training for this trek for the past 8 months. Although I have no reason to start doubting my abilities now, hearing that before we even set off is slightly uncomfortable. I make a commitment in my head to do my best and not be a wimp.
And here emerges the Icelandic guide – or shall I say an army sergeant?
A few minutes later, a large 4×4 car arrives and we meet our guide, Bryn. I must admit now that I was surprised to see a bold man somehow resembling a sergeant in the army rather than a guide. I was yet to see how brilliant sense of humour Bryn has and what vast trekking experience he will share with us. It always amazes me and makes me admire someone who just knows his thing in and out. I still have an impression that when it comes to outdoor sports, surviving in the nature, knowing how the Mother Earth works, Bryn knows it all.
Trekking Vatnajökull – final preparations before setting off
The first stop on our way is Arctic Adventures’ headquarters in Reykjavik. I visited them the previous day, but this time, instead of heading to the office, I head to the back door to the warehouse where we will have to repack our backpacks and fit food for five days, tents, hiking poles, etc.
Let’s take ALL the food! But who will carry it for me?
Food takes the most of the space and I am literally using my KNEE to fit it all into my backpack. I feel like leaving half of it behind and am only grateful later when Andrea, my tent partner, advises me to take it. “You will need even those cookies, trust me” – she says something like that and I decide to follow her advice. Normally I don’t eat sweets, but trekking with backpack on such an uneven terrain, uphill and downhill all the time, consumes A LOT of energy and I am later so happy I took all the food.
It takes more time than expected because everyone, including me of course, seems to have more stuff than place in the backpack. I will only later learn that packing for trekking is A SKILL and it comes with experience. My backpack for the first day of the trekking is a disaster and I will soon feel it on my back.
We also take a few moments to discuss the route, weather, and all other safety stuff. In fact, we are heading to the most off-the-path place possible – Vatnajökull National Park and once we’re in, we just have to manage. I will also frankly say that I feel a little bit of pride at the back of my head – I am just bout to do something absolutely off-path and trek Iceland in places where mass tourism does not reach. This is what I love and if it takes a lot of effort, I am more than happy to take it.
Icelandic hotdogs – yummy!
Once we’re all ready, we head to the car and have a good few hours of the drive ahead. We need to reach the area near Laki lava fields from where our trekking starts. On the way, we stop in Vik to grab a coffee and something to eat. Legendary Icelandic hot dogs are really that good and when I will be coming back from the trekking, I will buy two at once. To my surprise, coffee is also very tasty. In the restaurant, we are practising our names. This is quite funny, since Bryn’s full name is absolutely unpronounceable to me. No matter how hard I try, I can’t even REMEMBER all the consonants he puts there and for the rest of the trek, I will resign to calling him just “Bryn”. Energised, we head back to the car.
Bye, bye civilisation, you won’t be that missed! Hello Vatnajökull, let the adventure begin!
After a total of 4-5 hours of driving, we finally reach the starting point of our trek. It’s a little parking spot somewhere at the national road 1, after Kalfafell. The empty table with benches looks somehow symbolic, the last sign of civilisation we will see for the next five days.
Everything comes with experience – how I do all wrong during the first day of the trek in Vatnajökull
The first day of the trek is also the toughest one, at least in my opinion. I still have no idea how many layers to put on myself so I put on too many at once and start sweating like a pig only a few minutes after we started walking uphill. My backpack is somewhat clumsy and there are heavy clouds hanging over our heads. To be precise, those clouds hang precisely in the place where we are heading to. Brilliant, I think.
Vast like “Vatnajökull”
The views in the Vatnajökull National Park are spectacular right from the beginning. We walk on a soft, thick moss and although it takes a bit more effort, it’s actually fun. We approach a hill overgrown with thick, almost knee-high grass and a view over a canyon emerges. VASTNESS is the word that best describes Icelandic landscape. The view is basically unobstructed, each way I look; I see never-ending fields of moss. Comparing with such an immense space, human is really, really insignificant.
Trekking lesson number one – UNDERDRESS
The first break comes really fast since each of us is panting rather hard. I learn my first lesson and undress. Rule number one for trekking: dress lightly and put warmer stuff only for the breaks. After a few minutes, we continue the walk. We are exchanging some comments, but basically it’s not a loud group and I am ultra happy about it.
Let’s just not use words for a while, ok?
I am an introvert. A very social introvert, meaning I LOVE spending time with people, I like being in the centre of events, but after some time of intense socialising, I need to be left alone to recharge myself. And when this moment approaches, I can’t stand anyone talking to me. Here, I feel comfortable because walking distances are not too large, but large enough to enjoy the silence and closeness with nature. There’s literally nothing better than experiencing this sublime vastness without the words cluttering at the back of my head. Although I have known those people for a few hours only, I feel good in their company since we seem to be in agreement on what this trek should look like.
Sleep is for not to be weak! Vatnajökull lesson number two.
I feel generally good as we walk, but I feel way too tired than I should. What’s wrong with me? I have eaten, I am not expecting my period, I worked out in the gym and yet I feel the energy draining from me like crazy. I don’t remember when exactly, but I talk about that with Andrea at one point and she opens my eyes to one fact. SLEEP. It’s not a trifling matter and since I was so sleep-deprived from the past two nights, no wonder I feel weak.
First river crossing so let’s just get stressed. Bravo me.
After a few good hours of walking, breaks, we approach the first river that we need to cross. It’s quite shallow so no need to take of the shoes. This is the first time I have to do anything like this and it makes me a bit stressed. I can’t remember if the shoes I bought were waterproof or not. Stupid, isn’t it? 😀 But I really forgot and was super careful to step only on stones above water level. At one point, somewhere in the middle of the river, I noticed the river got a bit deeper. And this moment one of my legs slipped and fell into the water. I felt a brief pang of horror and decided to just walk super quickly, paying no attention to whether I step on stones or not, to stay in the water the shortest time possible.
I basically rush through the river and emerge on the other bank… completely dry! Woah! So I DID buy the waterproof shoes, clever me, I feel huge relief overflowing in my body. Another lesson learned. This stressful experience actually helps me relax and somehow gather my wits.
Shortly after crossing the river, Bryn says we are close to our “camp site”. Once we reach it some 50 minutes later it, it’s already early evening. And guess what? We have been getting closer to the big, thick, dark cloud for the whole day and now, just when we are about to pitch our tents, it starts raining heavily.
Vatnajökull is unpredictable. Pitching the tent in a downpour.
Thank god Andrea and I pitched the tent earlier in the day, back at the Arctic Adventures’ office, so now we knew exactly how to do it fast. But when it’s raining heavily and it’s rather windy, it all takes a bit more time. My clothes got completely wet. Even my underwear was soaking wet. My backpack got wet because I stupidly put face down, so that the waterproof cover face the earth while the back was exposed to the rain. Bravo me. 😛
The embarrassing story of me getting into the tent and exposing my butt is here. You can read it but at your own risk. 😉
Once in the tent, Andrea and me got changed and slipped into the sleeping bags. Bryn was courageous enough to prepare dinner in this downpour, but we didn’t even leave the tent, only stuck out our hands to get hot water and ate inside. After food, we just relaxed and talked about life and miraculously, after two hours, the rain stopped! I literally jumped out of my tent to dry my clothes, drink tea and brush my teeth. Without all this rain, the area we stopped at looked really picturesque. Around 8 or 9 pm, we all went to sleep. This night was very refreshing after two nights of nearly lack of sleep, so when I got up the next morning, I almost wanted to shout of joy “LET’S GET THE PARTY STARTRED!”.
Hungry for more Iceland?
Big thanks to Trek Iceland who invited me to participate in their off-path adventure!
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