So I’m really trekking Vatnajökull in Iceland! I wake up with this thought stuck somewhere in my head to the sound of energetic footsteps and loud shouts “PORRIDGE!”. It’s six in the morning, all bright and sunny and the second day of my Icelandic off-path adventure is about to begin. I feel awesome.
Read the first episode of my outdoor Icelandic adventures here.
Table of Contents
- 1 The ultimate benefit of camping in Iceland – ABS
- 2 First morning of the Vatnajökull trek – chaos and vastness
- 3 Porridge. Kill me please.
- 4 Off-path trekking + lots of steep ascents = lot of sweat + faster heartbeat
- 5 There’s definitely more waterfalls than trees in Vatnajökull
- 6 The breakthrough. How I deconstruct my fear of heights.
- 7 Trekking off-path to experience the best of Icelandic landscape
- 8 The best water I’ve ever drunk in Iceland – yet another ultra clean spring in Vatnajökull
- 9 Camping at the bottom of a canyon in Vatnajökull, the first of many golden hours I experience in Iceland
- 10 The benefits of trekking in a group – outdoor socialising while drinking tea
- 11 The main takeaways from the second day of trekking Iceland?
The ultimate benefit of camping in Iceland – ABS
Getting dressed in a super tiny tent when you share it with another person is tricky. The tent is not high enough for us to sit down, so we have to dress, change, undress, and do anything else half-sitting, half-lying. Head and legs up, bum on the floor, I feel my belly muscles working. We make jokes with Andrea that after we complete this trekking, our abs will be well sculpted.
First morning of the Vatnajökull trek – chaos and vastness
As I roll out of the tent, the first thing I see is, surprise!, vastness. My strongest association with Iceland is not its temperature, not its winds, not its aurora, but VASTNESS. Bryn does his best to discipline us somehow and hurry us up, but the first morning is just pure chaos. How to stuff all the things back into my backpack? How to fit my fluffy sleeping bag into a tiny cover? We also take some time to dry our clothes still wet after the yesterday’s downpour and set off shortly before 9am.
Porridge. Kill me please.
I also have one embarrassing moment and I still hope no one noticed that. I usually eat oatmeal for breakfast but I like to have my rolled oats only dipped in hot water and drained. Then I add some fresh seasonal fruits and, voila, god’s breakfast is ready.
Bryn cooks oatmeal rather long for my liking making it look and taste more like a thick broth. I have bad memories of food of such texture dating back to the kindergarten times, so when I eat a few spoons of that oatmeal and feel it getting cold, wet and sticky, I nearly throw up<embarrassed look>.
I find it super easy to throw up, e.g. to the sight or sound of something highly unpleasant, so I know right away that the morning porridge will be a challenge. I have to eat it, though, to have energy for the first two or three hours of the trek. The next days it’s easier because I make it my personal challenge to eat it as fast as possible and forget. 😛
Off-path trekking + lots of steep ascents = lot of sweat + faster heartbeat
This day will be longer than the previous one. We start off quite early and have some good 15-17 kilometres to cover. The trek starts with a really tiring and long ascent. Mind you, we are not walking on any trail. It’s step by step through moss and grass. This day, I want to stay closer to Bryn to also keep his pace of walking. I am also curious to see how fit I am and our guide seems to be indestructible so it seems like a good match.
The most annoying thing with walking uphill is that you never see the full picture of how many hills there are behind the one you see right now. This way, I put all my energy into combating the first hill only to see that there’s another one just behind it. It’s steep and I quickly start panting. As I manage to notice, it’s not only me who finds it a good physical challenge. Everyone is quite short of breath after the first 15 minutes of the ascent. I keep the pace of Bryn and don’t let him increase the distance between us too much. I would have not expected there’s so much fuel in my legs!
After two or three high and steep hills, Bryn stops for a second to see where the rest of the group is and if no one is in troubles. This is the moment he says to me “You walk really fast!” I smile brightly and think to myself “I KNOW IT, RIGHT!”. Yep, every single person that I trekked with can confirm that. [I walk fast, don’t I Hanna ;-)] Anyway, it’s a nice complement to hear, especially that I felt like the worst wimp the previous day.
There’s definitely more waterfalls than trees in Vatnajökull
After a few of other hills which always seem to be the last ones, we finally reach the top. The reward is really cool – a thundering waterfall and a deep, rocky, narrow canyon emerge in front of us. I feel both tempted to lean forward and peek into the deep, dark abyss and scared to move by an inch closer to the ridge. Thank god, this time I don’t act on impulse and stay clear from the edge. I am so busy taking photographs and admiring the views, that I don’t notice when Bryn starts walking towards one of the edges of the hill we are standing on.
The breakthrough. How I deconstruct my fear of heights.
The brutal truth dawns on me only when he starts descending in a very confident way. A pang of panic rushes through my head and I pluck all the courage I have to say out loud that I will not walk down this steep bluff.
Silence. And a surprise on Bryn’s face.
I am sure he has experienced a lot of challenging cases during his trek and he later proves to be a really, really good psychologist.
I learn one important thing about myself in the next 10 minutes. And it’s that I can do whatever (the fuck) I want. I had been avoiding steep ascents and descents for the past few years because of a pretty sudden and strong fear of exposure and heights. It annoyed me beyond belief because I felt I have pretty tight limits. The worst moment and the time when I nearly gave up was on a thin ridge in Albania when I felt so afraid to make the next move, that I literally couldn’t lift one of my legs. I was basically paralysed with fear. And I really didn’t want to perform such a show in Iceland.
Bryn finds a perfect way to make me stay in the present moment without falling into panic. So what he does? He resorts to using REASON. I hate hearing bullshit like “you’ll be fine” or words diminishing the danger or my fear. This doesn’t help at all. Reason and logical explanation of HOW to do something helps.
So Bryn, without being too petty or merciful, calmly explains to me how I should approach descents like this one. It’s actually easy. Bend your knees, lean to the higher side, use one hiking pole only, and move forward only if all your other limbs have good support. Step by step, calmed by his voice, I make my way down this wall.
Real life starts where fear ends – the best takeaway from trekking Iceland
Once I’m down, I turn back and look how my trekking friends are doing. I see now that it looks way less scary from the bottom than from the top. I feel like the chains I was wearing for the past years let me go and a pang of adventure, not panic, strikes me.
Now, a few good weeks after trekking Iceland, I can say that my fear of heights is gone and I LOVE steep ascents and descents. It’s a perfect exercise for me, I feel well in sync with my body and the adrenaline adds energy instead of draining it. Face your fears and conquer them, real life starts where fear ends. That’s my message today.
Trekking off-path to experience the best of Icelandic landscape
Although a lot of sweat has already left my body, this is far from the end of today’s trek. The landscape and terrain change quite quickly. Sometime in the middle of the day, after we have lunch, we reach a really magical place.
To the right, there’s a cute, green waterfall and green meadows. This is where we stop to take a longer break. Some of us take a nap, I stay awake. Not because I don’t feel tired. I stay away because I can’t stop looking at what lies ahead of me – the glacier. This is the first time ever when I see it “face to face”. The glacier is still quite far away, but it’s so grand, so HUGE that it’s really well visible. After a vast belt of darkish ice ends, a white mountain emerges. The longer I look, the less I can tell if it’s the sky or still the glacier.
I have seen many beautiful mountains, but glaciers are a different cup of tea. There’s something inherently grand and dangerous about them that I feel I MUST pay another visit to fully experience and appreciate this massive sign of nature’s power. What surprises me the most is how high the glacier seems to be. I imagined it to be a vast desert of ice and it’s more like a huge iceberg.
The best water I’ve ever drunk in Iceland – yet another ultra clean spring in Vatnajökull
The other amazing place within my eyesight is a little water spring. The water squirts on a plot of light green moss. This green is impossible, I have literally never seen such a vivid green ever before in nature. The water is clean and tastes amazing.
We are walking towards the glacier when it’s time to find a spot for the night. It’s afternoon, we have walked a lot today and feel tired already. There’s a beautiful canyon in front of us. A river meanders calmly in between high and steep walls. Some of them are overgrown with moss, some are made of pure gravel and ash. This time I am not even surprised to see that we are actually going to walk down this canyon. Unlimited by any fear, this time I walk confidently myself and need no extra support. The way down is tiring because I have to stay focused all the time. The wall is nearly vertical and hadn’t it been for the moss, the descent would be much more difficult.
Once we reach the bottom of the canyon, an even better view emerges. It is so peaceful and quiet here. Once we were up, it was getting very windy and wind makes you feel it is even colder. Down here, there is no wind. Just pure blue sky and sunshine.
Andrea and I dry our tent and pitch it much faster than the previous day. It’s called experience. 😉 I also make a commitment to finally control my belongings and not make such a big mess in a tent. All my friends who have ever travelled with me know that my things just get out of hand. They colonise my hostel beds and the floor surrounding it. I try super hard not to make a mess in the tent this time, especially that Andrea is super organised and I can actually learn from her.
We spend a really cool afternoon today. Rob and Ben keep sitting near their tent, which is also near our tent, same for Andrea and me. Kim and Bryn join us and we spend a nice time chatting. The sun goes down and light gets incredibly beautiful. I see Kim laying down on the moss reading a book and this image is absolutely captivating. This is how I imagine perfect holidays. It’s the second day of my cell/internet rehab and I feel how my head is getting tangibly clearer.
As the sun moves behind the surrounding hills, it’s getting colder and colder. I am wearing all I have and I feel like my bones are about to start shaking with cold. Not good, I think. To somehow control the situation, I start doing squats. And jog. And more squats. And guess what? It works. I jump into my sleeping bag, this time with more charm than the previous night, and have yet another good night’s sleep. Gosh, I am starting to love Iceland!
The main takeaways from the second day of trekking Iceland?
I got rid of my fear of heights and no words can emphasise enough how glad I am about that. It’s as if someone unblocked part of my brain and I just feel now I can do SO MANY more things. Bryn, thanks for that! The second takeaway is that I got crazy about glaciers. Walking and climbing a glacier landed on my bucket list and I hope to do this in 2017. Another shy but growing thought in my head is climbing something high and more difficult, but let’s wait and see what this would be.
This post was brought to you in collaboration with Trek Iceland. 🙂
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