I arrived at a great time. Visibility was pretty poor, wind was howling like it had somewhere to go, and the rain was coming down in sheets. It still looked beautiful in its own way though.
Being in Iceland for such a short period of time I figured there was no sense in splurging on a rental. After a bunch of emails back and forth I settled with SAD Cars. This ended up being a mistake. They did end up refunding my money when I emailed their head office with my experience so I suppose it was not a total loss.
A 15 meter footbridge named ‘Leif the Lucky Bridge’ takes you over the growing rift. The Eurasian plate is on one side and the North American tectonic plate is on the other.
These two plates are continuously drifting apart under massive forces. Rather slowly though, so no rush if you can’t find parking! It is pretty neat to be able to stand on two tectonic plates so close to each other.
It was a little difficult to take all of it in as the rain and wind was a constant beating force. One of my favorite portions was the black sand though. Short of coal dust, I’ve never seen black sand before and as odd as it sounds, it looked stunning!
Continuing the counter clock wise loop it was off to the Geothermal Park called Krýsuvík. Boiling mud and danger signs remind you that boiling mud is hot. There is a nice elevated walkway that was built above the geothermal pools to help prevent human interactions buggering up the natural beauty.
F road stands for Fun roads and in Iceland they don’t allow cars on fun roads. Only 4x4s. I happened to be in a Toyota Yaris so I was missing the rear diff and any resemblance of ground clearance.
Technically the F-Roads are a designation for the gravel and mountain roads where cars are not permitted due to a lack of bridges over rivers, their rough nature, and other unforeseen obstacles.
My next stop was supposed to be a cave. I could not locate it which resulted in about an hour of walking around in a windstorm with my cheeks fluttering like a pug who stuck his head out the window. A lot of tour groups were cancelled for the day as well due to the wind so I couldn’t even locate anyone to follow. Next time I suppose! A rainbow materialized though so that was rather pretty.
After that I went to track down another cave. The access road for it was blocked off though. The unfortunate part is I had now had to carry and fly with a bunch of caving gear that had no use for two weeks. The landscape was out of this world though, it would stretch as far as the eye could see in every direction and once you hiked a short distance from the road it looked the same in every direction!
In the village of Hveragerði, I stopped at the Bónus to pick up a few groceries. They have a café at the entrance with a lot of delicious looking pastries. Considering how expensive everything in Iceland is, this massive chocolate donut was pretty cheap, it was also very tasty.
After leaving Bónus I went to Kerið. Kerið is an ancient volcanic crater and at about 3,000 years old it is roughly half the age of some of the surrounding craters.
A hiking trail follows the perimeter of the crater. There is a cost of £4 to be able to see the crater. It is a little ironic that you can see some of the amazing sights for free yet to see a hole in the ground you have to pay. The crater sits on private land though so I suppose they want to monetize it.
As you hike around a couple smaller craters can be seen in the depressions which have been overgrown by the local grasses. The water in the craters center is about 7-12 meters deep.
I didn’t really get a chance to look into it, or have done any subsequent research on it, but there is a huge amount of horses in Iceland. At least in the southwest corner that I was in. I felt a little bad for them as I could barely stand up in the wind and here they were just munching away on whatever grass they could find.
As darkness started to arrive as there was no visible sun, I was nearing one of the stops I was really excited about, Black Pebble Beach. It might have been the atmosphere but it felt like driving into a Jurassic Park scene.
The pitter patter of the rain and the repetitive schwup sound of the windscreen wipers clearing off the glass was the only sound that broke through the ravaging wind. As I drove on deeper down the road and ever closer to the ocean I had to be mindful of the fact that there was not a soul in sight. If I got stuck in these rocks there wouldn’t be anyone coming to the rescue.
As the pebbles got looser under the tires I spotted a sign to the side which was the only visible break on the horizon. It appears to be the end for where I could take the car. I was very tempted to hike out the remainder and see the ocean. I was unfortunately already behind schedule though and needed to get moving. It didn’t seem like much but this was one of my favorite drives in this short span.
Heading back west on the ring road I made a quick dash into Reynisfjara, also called Black Sands Beach. In comparison to the barren landscape I just departed from, the couple dozen people here made it feel a little crowded. The blistering wind and rain didn’t deter people from checking out the beach.
Large basalt columns from ancient volcanic activity tower above the people on the beach.
Sneaker waves, or sleeper waves, are very common at Reynisfjara. This is due to the continental shelf plummeting suddenly relatively close to shore. This mixture creates large and unexpected waves. Large signage is posted repeatedly on the access road heading to the beach and also on the pathway from the parking lot. There have been a large number of fatalities in recent years due to people being swept away by the sea from unexpected waves. You should never turn your back on the sea and you should always keep a safe distance from them.
These waves come without warning and can reach substantially further inland than the preceding waves. At times it has been noted to cover the entire beach with onlookers being almost powerless to help.
One of the sights I wanted to see was the basalt sea stacks that seemingly thrust out of the ocean. According to local lore, these spires were formed by a pair of trolls dragging a three-mast ship to shore throughout the night. They didn’t quite make it in time and when the sun came up they turned to stone. A lot of large rock formations through out Iceland make reference to trolls.
The last stop of the day before heading ‘home’ was to see a plane. In 1973 a US Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and the pilot crash landed the plane on a picturesque black beach. This is kind of where the story takes a not so brilliant turn.
The sun was just about set, there was maybe about 15 minutes of twilight before the headlamp would have to get turned on. I’m told it’s about an hour’s walk from the parking area to the plane crash. You used to be able to drive right up to it, but the land owners have since banned all vehicle access to protect the limited vegetation and it is hike in only.
The rain is still coming down and the wind hasn’t let up. A dense fog is still lingering around as well. As I throw my backpack on and start heading to the trailhead, two couples are leaving and ask if I’m just starting. We make small talk and they point out that its really easy to find as these reflective markers go all the way to the plane crash.
I ask a few times to be sure…. All the way to the crash? Yep! It’s about an hour’s walk and straight line along these posts right up to the crash.
Well jeez. Considering the weather and time of day and the fact I haven’t checked into my hostel yet I could definitely move a lot faster if I wasn’t carrying all this extra weight. So, my backpack comes off… extra clothes, map, compass, GPS, tablet, don’t need any of that. The lighter I am the faster I can move.
I leave with my boots, water resistance pants, thermal top, fleece jacket, and a hard-shell jacket on top as I’m sure the rain won’t let up. I don’t bring a pack, just one camera with lens attached mounted on a tripod. I’ll just carry it in my hand. I toss a backup flashlight in the pocket just in case my headlamp dies.
The trail is in fact really easy to follow, arrow straight, posts every 50-100 meters, almost mind numbing as there is nothing to engage the brain. Just a straight path in the darkness with only a small bubble around you of visibility.
The flashlight’s pencil mode shoots a lot further than my headlamp so I use that to spot the next few posts each time I pass one. After what seems like quite a while I lift up my hand to shoot a beam of light and I don’t get a returning reflection…. hm… I must be there already.
I turn around and shine behind me…. No reflection either.
Well this is not good…
I head back the direction I believe I came from shining in a 180-degree arc and eventually find a post off to the side a bit up ahead. I head back to it and shine backwards to the previous one and get a bearing as to what ‘straight’ is.
There are no more posts so this must be it. I’m sure in daytime or on a reasonably clear night the big plane is pretty apparent on a beach of black sand. When you see 50 feet in front of you and that’s all you got. It’s not so apparent.
Now a sensible person would have said you know… safety first, I should go back. I though…. Am not a smart man.
I flew all this way, I walked for an hour, haven’t slept in who knows how long, I foolishly decided that I am seeing a plane.
I decide to figure out what ‘straight’ is based off the posts and I’ll walk forward and if I don’t see anything I’ll just walk back the way I came. Easy enough.
I end up finding the plane and make a mental note as to where I approached it from so I could leave the same way. Looking behind me, I definitely cannot see any posts and my lights don’t reach even a glimpse of one.
I wipe some water off the camera and setup the tripod. With no moon and no stars, it’s basically black out. Exposures took about 5-10 minutes each which basically gives you a LOT of time to stand by yourself in the dark while it’s raining and contemplate the life choices that you have made to bring you to this moment with no sure way of going back.
To speed it along as my anxiety is starting to creep a little, I would like to ensure I can find the return portion of this hike after all. I do a bit of light painting with my headlamp to expose the image faster.
I wrap things up, go back to the angle I approached and decide that that is that…. Into the abyss I walk shining away at what I believe is the horizon hoping a little beacon of hope shines back.
I walk and walk…. And walk some more. Definitely a lot more than when I took to get to the plane. Still no post. Nothing in any direction.
I pause and listen. I can hear the ocean crashing away on my left. I believe I should be heading north though so the ocean should be behind me… unless it’s a bit of a peninsula than in that case I’d be all wrong. I decide to head to my right instead of straight.
Onwards I walk shining away with not even a glimmer in the distance.
Eventually the weight of the situation starts to press on me. The wind is constantly blowing from different angles giving me not much of a direction to go on. Everything looks the same. Nothing but black rocks and small shrubs litter the landscape.
I start to see ditches and large depressions. Nothing that I saw on the way in. I’m really off the mark now.
I continue on, shining into the engulfing darkness in hopes that with every step forward there is suddenly a flash in the distance.
Like a wanderer in the desert I start seeing little mirages. Little reflections in the distance, they get my hopes up, almost like a little fire that’s starting in my chest. As I get closer, that fire gets extinguished as I realize it is just moisture on a rock that was at the perfect angle to reflect.
The landscape below my feet starts changing further, trenches which seem to go down a few meters. From the distance I don’t know what they are, just large black voids that cross along my path. It’s not until I get closer when my light can shine down into them that I see what they are. So far, they are all crossable.
I start to debate to myself if I should just hunker down and wait out the night until the sun brings new perspective.
I’m kicking myself for leaving everything that I need to get myself out of this situation in the car. Not just what I need, even backups to what I need in case the first options fail! All sitting very usefully in the trunk of my car all wrapped up in the confines of the backpack.
At that point it hits me… the watch that I’m wearing. Now this watch is a Casio Pathfinder. Runs on atomic time, solar powered, can measure barometric pressure, altitude, sunrise/sunset times depending where you are in the world, very many neat things.
My dad bought it for me as a gift maybe 6-7 years ago. I’m not a watch person. I have skinny wrists and large watches just don’t look that great in comparison. The Pathfinder is quite outdoorsy looking and not something I can wear to work. Ultimately, I wore it on a couple day trips when I first got it and it’s regrettably sat on my desk for years.
For some reason, I decided to bring this watch with me. I put it on when I left the house in Canada and had it on me since. It fit quite comfortably that day for some reason.
The magical thing about this Pathfinder is that it had a compass. I stare at it in the rain trying to recall how to do any of the functions on the watch besides tell time. I don’t know if it needs calibration over the years or if I’ve accidentally magnetized it at some point but this is all I got.
I exit and go back into the compass a few times just to ensure I am at least getting a consistent reading. It might be a wrong reading, but at least I’m heading in one direction.
The wind and your natural stride actually moves you around a fair bit when you have no indication of what straight is. I would feel like I am going perfectly straight, yet when I would check the compass I was now heading almost perfectly west.
With North set, I shift to that direction and keep on moving. It takes a fair bit of time and quite a bit of doubt lingers along the way as to if I’m actually going the right way or not. No markers ever shone back and none of the terrain was familiar.
Eventually I see a car crossing the horizon. It has to be the highway. I end up reaching the roaring glacier run off that heads north to south just west of the crash. With that and the compass I ended up making my way to the highway. Naturally, not before I had to cross over a barb wire fence, 10 feet from the road.
Back on pavement, camera and tripod still being carried in hand, soaked from head to toe, I start down the highway to the parking area. Unluckily there was no other traffic so I couldn’t try and hitch a ride with anyone.
I ended up making it to the car at about 01:15 and bee lined it straight to the hostel. Coincidentally it’s called Nicehostel and one of the few accommodations along the southern end. A little note was waiting for me on the small cluttered desk that told me to call a number to check in. As I wait for my blackberry to boot up, a young lady comes out and asks if I’m Peter. Headlamp still attached to my head and water streaming off me onto the floor I whisper that I am.
We tip toe around as she shows me around the place. A hot tea was quite welcomed and a hot shower never felt so good! The one big thing I want to point out, their blankets… are awesome. I’m big on blanket size in relation to bed size and hostels are by far… awful at this. Nicehostel in Iceland, blankets substantially bigger than the bed and I can tuck myself in like a sausage. A+ to them. Stay there if you’re in the area. Peter approved stamp for sure.
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