Unplanned Adventures in the Land of Fire and Ice
We started to regret our decision to extend our camper van rental six hours into our hike from Skógar to Þórsmörk. Soaking wet and freezing cold, we were poorly equipped for the relentless wind, rain, and hail. We could have spent our last day in Iceland relaxing at the Blue Lagoon and sleeping in a cushy Air BnB in Reykjavik. Instead, we were trekking over volcanic rock and glacial ice, unsure if we were even on the right trail.
It had all seemed so easy that morning. We sauntered up the stairs at the magnificent Skógafoss, coffees in hand and a spring in our step. A storybook landscape greeted us, lush undulating hills salt and peppered with white and black sheep alongside a rushing glacial river. Around every bend was a “foss” more stunning than the last.
Leaving Skógafoss, a little too cocky…
Waterfalls for miles, and our first site of a glacier.
By the time we reached Mooi and Magni, the two craters formed by the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano, our mood was decidedly less chipper. Visibility was so bad we could barely see the next trail marker—a bright yellow pole sticking eight feet out of the ice—and we wondered if we were in over our heads.
In over our heads? Other hikers in the distance, across the crater.
A rain-soaked map of our location on the glacier, part-way through the hike.
Driving to Snæfellsnes peninsula
When we arrived in Reykjavik four days earlier, we were giddy to get out of the town and into the highlands. The first day we charted a course to the north, following roadside signs for local attractions and thermal pools along the way, with a little help from the free Wi-Fi onboard. We stopped numerous times to take photos, feed hay to the horses who guarded the land, and napped off our jetlag by the river next to Hraunfossar.
First day adventures… and relaxation.
Limitless daylight allowed us to cover nearly 300 kilometers in our first afternoon, and by midnight we arrived at Kirkjufell mountain on the Snaefellsnes peninsula. We camped alongside fifty-five species of birds (but sadly no puffins) at the photo turn-out for the seaside mountain. The next morning, we made a strange sight for our fellow travelers, brewing coffee and eating Skýr in the parking lot in our pajamas. We received several odd looks and a couple questions about our mode of travel, and made quite a few people envious of our comfortable and flexible accommodations.
Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss
With the comfort of the campervan and the beauty of the countryside, getting from natural wonder to natural wonder was our primary activity each day. As we headed back down south on the second day, a fortuitous wrong turn onto route 47 gave us one of our favorite moments of the trip, and our motto: “when in doubt, go off route.”
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We ended up at the entrance to the trail to Glymur, a waterfall we had both heard about but didn’t think we would get to see. A gorgeous hike through a verdant canyon ended in a 198-meter waterfall (the highest in Iceland) flowing into the river below. Rounding the final bend, we stumbled upon a quintessential Icelandic scene—three sheep grazing on the cliffs next to the falls.
All smiles on the trail to Glymur.
A quintessential Icelandic scene—“foss” and sheep.
After the hike, a blitz down south brought us to Landeyjahöfn for the night, where we camped next to the beach, looking out on the Vestmannaeyjar islands. Windy and cold the next morning, but warm and cozy in the van, we decided to skip the ferry (and potential seasickness) and explore the local terrain. A trip to Seljalandsfoss and Skalakot farm offered more photo opportunities and cemented our desire to extend our time in the countryside.
We had heard about the trek from Skógar to Þórsmörk from a friend who recently visited Iceland, but we weren’t sure we would have time to do the hike and make it back to Keflavik airport in time for a 6:00am flight the next morning. After some debating, we decided sleep was over-rated. We cancelled our Air BnB, made the call to Campervan Iceland, and prepared for our last (and longest) day.
That night, the rain beat down on the roof and the wind howled outside, but we were snug in the van and full from our standard California camping fair of sautéed vegetables with rice, beans, and salsa. Not a traditional Icelandic meal, but warm, tasty, and satisfying, nonetheless. We were ready to take on the mountain.
Hiking in Iceland
Twelve hours later, we no longer felt so prepared.
Finally, after twenty kilometers of climbing, the trail began to even out and gradually descend. The rain and hail let up, and the ice on the ground diminished. We picked up our heads and through the gray saw the first splash of color since that morning: fluorescent dotting the moon-like landscape and the hint of a rainbow. As we closed in, the sun brightened and a full arc emerged, framing the trail and marking our path out of the glacier.
Light at the end of the tunnel.
We bounded down the final five kilometers through the most stunning landscape we had ever seen, shocking green mountainsides nestled below the glacier. Our surroundings humbled us, and we felt privileged to witness the beautiful secrets of the mountain. That view and a celebratory dinner and beer at the Volcano Hut, made the hike more than worth it.
The majesty of Þórsmörk.
The campervan allowed us to choose our own adventure and go at our own pace. It instilled in us a sense of freedom and exploration that would not have been possible through traditional hotels and a rental car, while still providing us with safety and comfort. Every day held nothing but possibility to change our plans, drive into the countryside, and go off route.
Dana Smith & Thomas Whitaker
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