Chocolate and mud
I wasn't really feeling scared, but in the pit of my stomach, a little bit of cold anxiety trickled out through the cracks that were forming in my hard-shelled positive attitude. It was in the middle of the night after all (although not dark, thank you Icelandic summer). We were tired. We were wet. It was windy. It was raining. We were on top of a mountain next to a glacier. The guy in the reception had said it might get quite cold in the mountains, that it had snowed the night before. For the third time we weren't finding the next piece of wood marking our trail. And we weren't finding the footsteps of previous hikers. The worst part though... our chocolate bar was in the bottom of Oscar's backpack, and we were way too lazy to get it out.
It started out being just a normal hike, but to a quite abnormal area. We had driven on a gravel road for 2 hours to get out to Kerlingarfjöll, a volcanic area in the highlands of Iceland. Although the drive was tiresome with all that amount of washboarding going on, the visit was worth it many times over. The hike we had started on went to a geothermal area in the Kerlingarfjöll mountains called Hveradalur.
This valley is like taken from another world. Orange and yellow mountains and sand ridges, speckled by patches of snow, and all of it immersed in the steam coming from bubbling streams and mud pots around the valley. Up close, the ground you walk on is a palette of sharply defined colors, mint-green, cobalt blue, pitch black, yellow, white, turquoise, purple and dark red, and where your foot slips in the colored mud you create a little bit of abstract art.
We were in the valley for hours, just walking around with our mouths gaping open and our clothes and gear getting wetter and wetter in the rain mist and water vapour enveloping us. Having pursued our own doctrine of exploring tourist areas only during the late evening and night, we were completely alone. Which is why when we chanced upon a part of a stream with just the right hot tub feeling, we actually got out of our clothes and took a bath. In hindsight, maybe not such a good idea.
When we finally decided to continue on the trail out of the valley, it was 10 pm and the trail took us upwards, ever upwards. Our backpacks were horrible for hiking, Oscar having only his camera backpack and me a normal day pack without any support. We had just literally strapped the tent and sleeping bags onto them, covered them in black garbage bags to protect from the rain, and ventured out. So at 10 pm, our backs were aching a bit. We had eaten some food and drunk water, but we were quite ready to set up camp and go to sleep. All we needed to do first was get out of the steamy air and off of the muddy ground of the geothermal area. Little did we know that we had looong to go before a decent spot to set up a tent would appear.
Back to finding neither next marker nor chocolate bar. By then we had hiked up a small mountain in the rain, the wind was freezing, and on several occasions we had struggled to find the trail. We still felt quite safe, knowing that the trail was supposed to lead down through a pass and off the mountain, and Oscar's phone worked as a GPS. However, the last stick we had seen marking the path had had ice forming on it, and now we were standing in front of a massive, quite steep and snow-covered slope that reached for as far as our eyes could see. We had retraced our steps several times trying to find the right direction to go onwards, but new snow had covered all footprints of previous hikers. The wind was increasing as we tried a new direction, but turning back did not occur to us as a viable option. We knew there was no place to camp where we had come from.
Finally, THERE it was! The ever so faint tracks of boots in the snow before us. So faint in fact that we almost feared it was just something our minds had made up, a footprint chimaera playing tricks on us. But it really was there. The mud that the hikers had walked in had tainted the bright snow slightly, and the weather had not yet had time to properly clean up. Lucky us!
Two hours later we were snuggled in our tent next to a geothermal hot spring area down in the mountain pass. After having tumbled down a steep gravel slope, refilled our empty water bottle, eaten hummus, set up camp, we were so, so ready to go to sleep, backs aching from the long hike.
(at this point we were no longer taking pictures due to weariness and wet cameras)
We found the chocolate but decided to save it for the day after, and when we climbed up the gravel hill using both hands to drag ourselves up, and counting the steps going up that snow-covered slope we had slid down the day before, we were really happy about not having devoured the chocolate in the night.
Coming back to the valley, we felt awesome. Really. We were so stoked. Empowered despite our tired limbs. We felt like we had scaled Mount Everest, and as if everyone we met could see the hardship we'd been through in our eyes. In reality we had not even been gone a whole day, and I'm pretty sure people just saw our misshapen backpacks clad in mud-specked garbage bags.
So I guess for next time, we're not going to underestimate the harshness of the Icelandic wilderness, maybe ask more exhausting questions about a hike's difficulty, and hmm.. perhaps also know when to turn back. And most importantly. Bring two chocolate bars.