I woke up to a misty morning, made coffee, and headed towards the fall. My plan was to sit in peace. I walked a few steps and jumped a little ditch without spilling a drop. I found a nice spot in the grass. I sat down and looked towards the glorious water dropping from the high cliff. Ah, heaven! I heard a noise and a car drove across the ditch and sped past me. The driver continued along the river bed and straight for the bottom of the fall and parked. WTF! I didn’t want to look at a car! I wanted to look at the frickin’ waterfall!
There was a sign posted that forbid camping and driving near the water. Who was this idiot ruining my morning ritual? I stewed in anger and sipped my brew.
After a while a guy got out of the car and washed out a coffee cup in the river . A local wouldn’t disregard a sign and drive on what must be sacred ground, would they? I hoped he had finished breakfast and would leave soon.
I suspected right. He got in, turned his car around and drove towards me. As he pulled near, I completely mad-dogged the kid. He waved and wore a goofy smile. A twenty-something hipster type. I stayed stone faced. I glared at him. He stopped beside a sign which showed a picture of a car in a circle with a big red slash across it! I looked at him then to the sign and back to him again. He looked confused. A blonde girl sat beside him. She was tired and embarrassed. She got it, she understood. The guy pulled past me and I turned to look at the back of the car. I was just curious if it was a rental. Sure enough, it was. He caught me looking. He put the car in reverse and backed up past me and waved again, only this time with more determination. I looked at him and shook my head. He put the car into gear and drove off.
I’m not a saint, but hell, when I go to a country, I respect the place I’m at. I follow the rules. Iceland is beautiful. Think of the most pristine, sacred National Park in the world. Would you go there and trash it? (The correct answer–NO!). You’d better not, cause if you do and I see it before my coffee and meditation, you’re gonna get one hell of head shake from me! And my head shakes are mean and hard. I live in Germany and Germans have got the head shake down. If you do something remotely wrong and get a head shake from them, you feel it–it hurts!
Guilt crept in. I tried to wash it away with mantras and caffeine.
Miriam woke up after a restful night. It was a big day with big plans. Something I had looked forward to since we put this trip together six months earlier. There’d be a bus to catch so we had to repack for the adventure ahead. We ate, broke camp and drove back to Seljalandfoss where we’d leave our car for a couple of days.
We were headed to Þórsmörk (Thórsmörk) which is in a valley situated in southern Iceland between the Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers. The translation of Þórsmörk is “Thor’s Forest”. You can access this area only with high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. It was early June so there’s only one bus in and one bus out daily and we wanted to be on it. Our plan was to get into the valley to hike and camp for two days. I was extra excited when I found out that the campground at Básar (pronounced: bowser) was open this early in the season. Icelanders prefer this camp, so I figured it must be special.
The bus pulled to the side of the road and the driver helped us stow our bags in compartments filled with sacks of potato and onion. This was not a normal passenger bus. It was the size of military vehicle. Big tires and very high clearance.
I struck up a conversation with the driver. I was curious about the drive into the valley. I’ve heard it could be dangerous at times. Crossing glacial rivers and runoff is no easy feat. I learned that our driver had served in the Polish military as a heavy-equipment operator. He’d been in country for 20 years now. He told me that the river we’d soon cross changed it’s course rapidly and often.
“How often?” I asked.
“Somedays, hour by hour. You see? There’s no road here. I look for the safest place to cross”, he said.
“And how do you know that?”
“It’s a feeling!”, he said.
The water wasn’t particularly deep this day. Summer was holding off and the glacial melt hadn’t begun to flood the Króssa river yet, but still many smaller off-road vehicles were stopped at the water. The drivers unable to cross.
We’d left civilization behind and stared in wonder. After about an hour the bus stopped at Þórsmerkurvegur. There’s a very popular campground there called Volcano Huts. I’ve heard it gets crowded between mid-June and August. The majority of the passengers got out there. We went inside the main building and looked for maps of hiking routes in the area. The driver unloaded the potatoes and onions. Other bags too. Buses serve as mail delivery and later we’d find out that sometimes the postal trucks serve as buses too.
We got back on and recrossed the Króssa again at a different spot as the river had already risen since we’d been there earlier. We continued towards Básar. Our driver stopped and pointed. “Very beautiful canyon” he said. .
Next stop was another hut/hostel/campground. I think it was called Valahnúkar and this is where the remaining passengers got out. We rode alone to the end of the line, Básar. We wanted to explore the area, camp for the night, and hike back the way we’d come to Þórsmerkurvegur for our second night in Þórsmörk. The Ranger told us that the hiking trails on his side of the valley were still closed due to snow and the paths were muddy, slippery, and dangerous. This forced a change of plan.
We decided to hike back the way we’d come and cross a movable bridge that spanned the most dangerous part of the Króssa. We had to look for safe places to ford the river in other areas. The map showed a primitive campground across the river. When we arrived a rusted garbage container greeted us.
Miriam and I prefer primitive camping over campsites anyway, so we staked out a place on the hillside next to some pine trees. Ah, so there are trees in Thor’s Forest! The Eyjafjallajökull volcano dominated the view. We made camp and did a long hike following the flow of the Kóssa and then up into the mountains and circled back to the hills behind our camp. It was an amazing trek and we were completely alone. It snowed, it rained, and “the winds of Thor [were] blowing cold”. Then the sun came out and blasted us warm, we had it all. We climbed and descended steep trails as well as had level paths through birchwood forests. The rocks and boulders resembled giants. Caves coaxed stories of monsters. We even visited Trollakirkja, The Troll’s Church high above the Króssa Valley. We passed a sign with info of “What to do in case of volcanic eruption.”
After many miles of walking, we arrived at our tent hungry and tired. We ate Chili con carne with handfuls of Fritos mixed in. Around 10:00 p.m. the skies cleared and the sun shone upon us before it set. It was wonderful there and not a soul to be seen. Just the trolls, the elves, the giants and ghosts.
We weren’t afraid.