Trekking and backpacking Iceland off-path is in full swing, we are just starting the fourth, penultimate day of our outdoor adventure. This post comprises also the fourth day of trekking Iceland and a short summary. The summary is quite out-of-the-box, so give it a read!
Glacier at dusk and splitting headache – the ups and downs of backpacking Iceland off-path
Contrary to previous mornings, this time I wake up with a splitting headache located just behind my eyeballs. Probably it’s the aftermath of walking hatless the previous day. Even though it was shining and I didn’t feel cold, my head got too much wind. I feel so bad I nearly throw up even before the porridge. This is the first and only time when I take a painkiller in Iceland and luckily, the pain goes away after 30 minutes. Lesson learned – wear a hat when trekking Iceland.
Even though my head is in pain, I still manage to awe at the beauty of the Vatnajokull glacier at dusk. <3
A strange encounter in the middle of Vatnajokull National Park – we meet aliens
We are nearly ready to set off, when I see something absolutely strange – ALIENS. They emerge from behind a hill that we used as a shield from wind. The first alien that appears is clad in black and from the distance, looks like a deep sea diver. This female alien walks without confidence and seems to be exhausted. The second alien is also clad in black. What is funny, he wears rainproof trousers even though it’s not raining at all. The third alien that appears is wearing red clothing and seems to be in the best condition.
HUMANS! HUMANS! I shout to my fellow trekking friends but they are so preoccupied with getting ready with their tents, that no one pays attention. Also, seeing humans here is so improbable, that they probably ignore my shouts as being a joke. I am utterly surprised, so I shout again. It’s so bizarre to see humans after three days of being only in our little company. So bizarre, that no one believes it!
Who is that and what are they doing here? Well, the answer comes soon. It’s another trekking group from a different company. There are only two participants and they don’t seem to be happy. And there’s their guide, yet another Icelandic Viking that I meet.
They started the trek one day before us (I think, but my memory might be playing tricks) and our paths crossed finally. For the remaining part of the day, we will be seeing them two or three times more before we make a commitment to make a longer break and let them go ahead so that we can stay alone again.
What surprised me is that literally no one from our group seems to be happy about the encounter. Maybe except for Bryn, we all want to be left alone again.
Don’t look down when you’re crossing rivers!
The beginning of today’s trek is quite wet. We have three river crossings within the first hour. The first two are easy, but the last one is quite a challenge.
It’s a glacier river. What does it mean? It means it’s even colder than other rivers and it’s not transparent at all. The water is absolutely grey and even Bryn takes some time to check if the spot he wants to choose is safe. The challenge is that we can’t say how deep it is…
Bryn always walks first so once he enters the river, I notice that the water is slightly less high than my knee. Given that the current is quite strong, the water splashes well above the knee. I feel a pang of adrenaline rushing through my body. Bryn shortly instructs us to NEVER look down and focus our eyesight on the bank ahead. I follow his advice with one little exception.
He says that looking into the river messes up with your sense of balance. How is that possible? I want to try out myself. For a second when I peek into the river instead of the bank ahead, I feel my body loosing balance and I am literally unable to move forward without feeling dizzy in my head.
This is pure magic and I have no idea how to explain this, but it works. If you look into a muddy river like this one, you lose all sense of movement and balance is difficult to keep. Lesson learned! More on how to prepare for trekking Iceland is here.
Backpacking and camping by a nature’s temple
After crossing rivers, the rest of the day is quite easy. It’s actually the first day when we literally trek mostly on a flat surface. Mind you, flat meaning that we don’t have to climb, but the surface is still bumpy. We reach our “camping site” relatively early and there’s another surprise waiting for us.
Our camping site is absolutely shielded from any wind and it’s not possible to see it from a distance. It’s a small meadow surrounded by high walls with cracks. If you enter one of the cracks, a beautiful though very silent waterfall emerges. The waterfall falls into a little, super clean water pond. It’s a very special place, I would even call is scared, since, as Bryn tells us, some Icelanders come here to pray. Bryn also reminds to respect the place and leave no trail, although I find it unnecessary. We are all in awe when we see this hidden gem.
Then a typical camping life begins. It’s one of those evenings when talks are pretty long, but still, at one point I decide to go for a lonely walk to enjoy exploring Iceland on my own. This area is so incredibly vast, that when I imagine I am here absolutely alone, I feel excitement mixed with fear. The feeling of remoteness is incomparable with anything else.
If you are curious to read about my adventures during the previous days of the trek, click here.
Photographer’s delight when shooting Iceland – a very long golden hour
Golden hour in Iceland is absolutely spectacular and lasts longer than in Poland. I take a chance to shoot photographs during that time and am absolutely happy to be rolling on the thick moss in the golden sunshine. You can read more about it here.
When I hit my sleeping bag this night, I feel warm, happy, and absolutely calm. Such a pity tomorrow is the last day of this trek!
Trekking Iceland off-path – day fifth and last
The last day of the trek begins with yet another steep and long ascent on the hills that were surrounding us from the rest of the world. Leynn and me are the only ones wearing the full backpacks. Kim, Andrea, Rob, and Ben will continue the trek for the next four days and they need to come back to our camping site later in the day. I feel a pang of envy to see how lightly they trek without the additional weight.
I am both relieved to the thought that I will be able to take shower tonight and sad that this wonderful adventure is coming to an end. I’ve learned a lot here and this experience enriched me more than I was expecting.
Trekking by Súlutindar mountains and a…horizontal forest. Iceland, are you OK?
We are trekking closer and closer to the glacier and the valley of Nupstadaskogur and the landscape is changing yet again. Some bizarre mountains emerge, the Súlutindar range, famous for its rocky structure. Bryn tells us how one of climbers wanted to win the thinnest of all the summits and he had to be rescued.
What comes next, surprises me beyond belief. OK, I know winds in Iceland are strong, but are they THAT STRONG? As Bryn explains to us, trees have virtually no chance to grow in that area and the only way for them to actually survive is to…grow horizontally! So we are now trekking through a forest on a surface as flat as a plate. :D
I eat a raw mushroom. Trekking Iceland turned into learning new tastes.
Bryn also picks up a mushroom. I can’t recall its name, but he offers us pieces of the mushroom and I taste it. It’s the first time I’ve eaten a raw mushroom and I’m quite proud of that. This doesn’t, however, mean I will continue that practice. Here, I trust that Bryn knows exactly what is edible and what is not.
We stop for the last lunch together and make a 30-minute break. It’s so silent, so beautiful that some of us take a nap. I don’t because there’s a glacier nearby and, yet again, I just can’t stop looking and admiring its greatness.
There’s one more steep descent, a very long one to be precise, but guess what! I’M LOVING IT.
Trekking to the never-ending valley of Nupstadaskogur
When we reach the valley of Nupstadaskogur I feel genuinely sad that the only thing awaiting me now is going back to Reykjavik. However, before the car comes, we have two hours to kill. Some of us talk, some go for a walk, Bryn takes a nap and then a subject of tea emerges.
I am the only one having a cooker and the guys took half empty gas bottles. So to make a nice ending of this adventure, we all drink tea. Eh.
Then a huge car arrives to the valley and a young Viking god emerges in front of us. This will never stop amazing me how the Icelanders can wear light clothes when it’s so cold out there. The Viking god is ice climbing instructor from Arctic Adventures and his response to my temperature/clothing question is…. “It’s summer!”. Well. :D
The drive back to Reykjavik is really nice, though quite bumpy at the beginning. At one point, I notice that we are closer and closer to a pretty large river. “That’s nice, I will peek and see what it looks like!” I think. Well, nope! I realize we need to swim through the river only when the car starts shaking like crazy and I see the water getting higher and higher. This is Iceland. <3
When the beautiful valley is behind us, we stop to pump the wheels. This is when I notice that the sky above the glacier where we trekked a few hours before is all hidden in dark, heavy clouds. This is the moment when I start enjoying the fact that I am shielded from the weather and temperature. I only feel sorry for my fellow trekking friends who probably got caught in a storm.
Trekking Iceland off-path – some summarising thoughts
1. Dreams without a deadline do not work. Ever.
This trekking was a breakthrough for me for many reasons. Long months ago, I wanted to finally get my life organized in the sense of health and fitness but I lacked motivation strong enough to keep me going. The deadline: AUGUST 2016, when I knew I will be trekking for a few days in a row, was like a space shift engine for me.
I got committed to change certain things in my life and… I succeeded. I improved my health, my posture, physical capacity, lost weight.
2. I can achieve anything I want as long as I don’t self-doubt.
But now I realized this is not my biggest takeaway. The best lesson I learnt is that I CAN. I FUCKING CAN achieve anything I want as long as I don’t turn myself into my own biggest enemy. Everyone has fears and doubts, but what I learned is to control those fears and doubts and not waste time over thinking. Action is the key. Do what you do the best you can and this is the biggest success and confidence booster. Results will follow anyway.
3. Little steps can take you farther than trying to over jump obstacles.
I planned how I want to prepare physically for this trek. I didn’t run and lift all the heavier weights all at once, but just built my capacity and strength with time. Little by little, one training to another one, I was seeing how things are getting better. This kept me motivated.
4. It’s never as bad as it seems. Fear of doing something is always bigger than doing it itself.
Not showering five days in a row, pooping in the open air, getting used to cold and harsher conditions than I normally experience, eating porridge every day, walking long, long distances with a heavy backpack, climbing and scrambling on walls previously inaccessible to me, getting on well with a group of unknown people terrified me at the beginning. And once those things actually happened, I realized they are not even half as bad as I thought. I actually had FUN during the whole trek and enjoyed it beyond belief.
5. Don’t say “no” to challenges.
Prepare for the challenge, say yes, and rock that boat!
Has travelling or doing some outdoor activity also been a breakthrough to you? Tell me in the comments, I am curious to get to know more stories like mine!
This post was brought to you in collaboration with Icelandic trekking specialists, Trek Iceland. Thank you guys for the amazing adventures and hope to see you sometime soon!