Hiking Stakkaholtsgyja and returning to Reykjavik
15 kilometres hiking in 4.75 hours
3 buses and a taxi van in 4.5 hours
Saturday, June 18, 2016
I was up at 7:30 AM even though Paulina said we would not be having breakfast until nine. I guess those who did the longer hike wanted to sleep in. I did my morning yoga for the first time in more than a week. It felt great in the morning sunshine on the wooden deck. Brian came out to do yoga as I finished. Everyone was up earlier than anticipated. We had our breakfast, packed our bags, made lamb sandwiches for lunch and cleaned the bunkhouse ready for departure.
As we started out for our third hike, this one fourteen kilometres, and mostly flat, to the delight of all (yesterday’s big hikers were feeling their muscles) the sky was changing rapidly. It was eerie. The glacier at the end of our valley was obscured by wind-driven ash and cloud. The forecast was for a big storm by 2 PM with winds of 120 kilometres per hour. Paulina assured us the winds would not descend to our level but she did not recommend any ledges this day.
As we hiked the valley floor the wind changed directions a few times and more than once we wondered how we would stay upright. To cross the Hvanna River we had to take off our boots and socks and don water shoes. Brian and I had brought these; so, it was good to be able to use them. Some had flipflops, Martin went barefoot. I can only recommend water shoes or hiking sandals for that rocky crossing. Although we rolled our pants above our knees, the icy water dampened our trousers. The current was strong. It was a relief to dry our feet and put our boots back on. It only took twenty minutes to feel our toes again. We knew we would have to cross back over the river later.
There is only one “road” through this wide rocky valley. The road changes places each spring depending on how much the rivers change their courses. Snow melt has a lot to do with that. The valley is about a kilometre wide. The Hvanna and Krossa rivers twist back and forth throughout the valley causing ruts and holes as they run. Only four wheel drive vehicles can make the several river crossings. On our way to our bunkhouse on Thursday four people abandoned their four wheel drive rental car at a river crossing and boarded our bus.
We walked this road for nearly five kilometres to get to the Stakkholtsgyja Canyon. This meant we had to climb off the road whenever a car was coming. Brian and I were a little concerned that our fellow walkers were going so slowly on the way out because we wanted to be back before the storm and we wanted to make it back in time for our bus to Reykjavik. Paulina seemed unconcerned. We kept looking back over our shoulder as the sky continued to darken and change.
When we arrived at the canyon we were already an hour behind schedule but we picked up the pace and Paulina was determined to take us to the end of the canyon. We were glad she did because it was magnificent. We climbed boulders where the canyon faces almost touched and where one large boulder was lodged high above us. A beautiful waterfall dropped in a strong torrent from at least eighty feet above us.
We made our return to the bunkhouse much faster although we still had to wade through the icy river. We ate some of our lunch as we walked because we were so hungry. What was to have been a three hour walk took four and three quarters. We walked fifteen kilometres. We had one additional stop en route at the “marriage cave”. Two of our group trudged up the ashy slope then slalomed down it. Paulina said that a number of locals had been married here, but that the number of weddings had begun to fall off as most of these marriages ended in divorce.
Our return to Reykjavik was much the same as our beginning but in reverse with three buses and a taxi van. The rain did not start until we were safely inside the first bus. We did not envy those who were dropped off at campsites. One young woman was picked up at a campsite to return to Reykjavik. She was visibly shaking with cold and I am sure I could hear her teeth chattering. The young ticket taker loaned her his jacket.
The Airbnb we have for two nights is the least appealing of any of our accommodations on this trip. We accessed it through a basement door from the back garden of a house in serious need of a paint job. We were looking forward to our hot shower since we were very dusty from our hike. There was a tiny two piece washroom for the three basement rooms rented. We had to look for a shower. Just when we were about to despair we found one on the other side of the laundry room…a concrete space with exposed pipes and a hand held shower head for which the holder was broken, a bunch of tiny empty shampoo and shower gel bottles littered a basket, a too long pink shower curtain covered the doorway. The good news was that the water was hot and plentiful. There was one good large bottle of shampoo and we had our own shower gel. Our room is the smallest of the three but it is clean and the bed is comfortable.nthere is a large window right at street level so we see legs walking past. We were close to the harbour and found, quite by accident, The Sea Baron, a hole in the wall style of restaurant. Customers were lined up out the door. We joined the queue and were rewarded with excellent lobster soup and a basket of fresh bread with butter at a lower price than expected for Reykjavik. We will return!
We found the cheaper grocery stores, Netto and Bonus. The former is open twenty-four hours, the latter had already closed at nine o’clock. We bought some juice, tea, pastries and Skyr for breakfast. Our tiny kitchen at our lodging had lots of coffee but no tea.
Two guys from Ohio have one of the other rooms. They had just arrived from ten days of driving a Suzuki four wheel drive rental around the island. They loved the western fjords the most but thought the country could splurge and install a few guard rails. They said driving there was very scary but magnificent.