Gray is the New Black: Epilogue 3 – Víðibrekkusker

For the first time in two weeks the weather is really nice. Not just a hint of blue somewhere near the horizon, but real sunshine for most of the day. We are celebrating by climbing Víðibrekkusker, the mountain on the other side of the river.

Waterfall on Kollumúli

Waterfall on Kollumúli

Icelandic killer sheep ambush.

Icelandic killer sheep ambush.

An impressive dike along the way.

An impressive dike along the way.

As expected, the path starts out pretty steep, but zig-zags around the mountain and we gain elevation pretty quickly without too much effort. The views are stunning, and we enjoy the nice weather. Lunch on top of the mountain turns out to be an almost unpleasant, warm affair. It’s a good day to work on our tan.

About halfway up Víðibrekkusker

About halfway up Víðibrekkusker

The peak consisted of rather sharp gravel.

The peak consisted of rather sharp gravel.

On the way down we ran into a herd of reindeer who eyed us suspiciously before disappearing over the next ridge.

Reindeer ambush.

Reindeer ambush.

Jon high above the Múlaskáli hut...

Jon high above the Múlaskáli hut. ..

... and crossing the Öxarfellsá on the wobble hanging bridge.

… and crossing the Öxarfellsá on the wobble hanging bridge.

The evening turned out sunny and warm. Múlaskáli gets its water through a long black pipe from high up in the valley, and the sunshine warmed up the cold water in the pipe. We all enjoyed a free warm shower. Nigel told us about the Egiilssel hut, which is very nice, while Lutz spent the day hiking up the Tröllakrókar. We all had dinner on the deck.

Sheep trails on Kollumúli

Sheep trails on Kollumúli

We enjoyed the sunshine while it lasted. Later that evening clouds came rolling in from the South, making for good photographs, but promising another gray day for tomorrow.

Evening clouds.

Evening clouds.

back to the Tröllakrókar
onwards to Höfn and Reykjavik

Gray is the New Black: Epilogue 2 – Tröllakrókar and Egilssel

on our way to the Tröllakrókar

on our way to the Tröllakrókar

Today’s weather is not bad – not bad at all. The clouds are high, it is not raining and there are a few shreds of blue sky. We head out for a day hike to the Tröllakrókar, a series of impressive hoodoos. While already there we also plan to check out the trail to the Egilssel hut, one of the huts along our planned  Ljónsoræfi. So far the hiking was pretty rough. Trails are faint, maps are bad, and the slopes are steep. We’re trying to figure out whether we can do this hike with our students in three years when we intend to return to Iceland.

the famous Tröllakrókar, gigantic hoodoos that formed in volcanic tuff

the famous Tröllakrókar, gigantic hoodoos that formed in volcanic tuff

Now, let's see, what's for lunch? Dried fish, bítafiskur, more dried fish, ahhh, here we go: chocolate!

Now, let’s see, what’s for lunch? Dried fish, bítafiskur, more dried fish, ahhh, here we go: chocolate!

The ascent is steep, we fist follow the river along a sheep trail before we ascent the scree slopes. With day packs it is not too bad, with students we’d go the other way, so even with big packs it should not be too much of a problem. Around noon we arrive at the Tröllakrókar. Christoph takes pictures, while Jon has lunch.

Nigel, who proved to be quite a character, decided to do an overnight hike to the Egilssel hut. We meet him at the Tröllakrókar and, since he is noot the best navigator in the world, we accompany him across the ridge until the hut is in sight. The mountain tops are still covered in snow and Christoph’s boots get soaked once again.

Nigel and Jon at the Tröllakrókar

Nigel and Jon at the Tröllakrókar

On our way to Egilssel

On our way to Egilssel

Frozen lakes and ...

Frozen lakes and …

... patterned ground on our way to Egilssel. We are definitely in the Arctic!

… patterned ground on our way to Egilssel. We are definitely in the Arctic!

Soon we cross a big snow field from where the path to the hut is obvious. We bif Nigel goodbye and return to our hut at Múlaskáli.

More frozen lakes (in June) and the hut at Egilssel.

More frozen lakes (in June) and the hut at Egilssel.

The evening brings a few new guests to the hut. First we watch a lonely hiker descend the trail from Illikambur. He is slow, and Jon predicts he is a German photographer – no idea where he comes up with that. Well, Lutz is German, but he’s just slow, after spending the last two days hiking in from the ring road.

The first batch of 200 sheep and 580 lambs.

The first batch of 200 sheep and 580 lambs.

The sheep are old hands and have no problem crossing the bridge.

The sheep are old hands and have no problem crossing the bridge.

Next come a bunch of sheep and their shepherds. The sheep get trucked and make their way down the steep trail from Illikambur. We get to talk to the shepherds, who encourage us to use the hut – for free, Iceland is expensive enough …
They also consider an empty flag pole a wasted flag pole, and since they didn’t bring an Icelandic flag …

No empty flag pole no more ...

No empty flag pole no more …

back to our first day at Múlaskáli
onward!

Gray is the New Black: Epilogue 1 – to Múlaskáli

downtown Höfn during rush hour

downtown Höfn during rush hour

Things are definitely happening in Höfn. Its claim to fame is that it’s one of the few (only?) good natural harbors on the southern coast of Iceland. It has a town hall, a public pool, a small fleet of fishing boats and a few bars. After an hour of strolling through the town we’ve seen it all and start recognizing the locals.

Höfn harbor

Höfn harbor

We continue our quest for the best hot dog in Iceland and so far the local Olís station is the clear winner. We have three dogs each and wash it down with some fine 3.5% Tuborg.

The next day at 9AM we meet Sissi our superjeep driver from Fjallastakkur, who takes us to the trail head at Illikambur. It was definitely worth the money! We cross an impressive river, which would have been a major pain to cross on foot. Lauren would have had a blast!

View from Illikambuur back towards the coast.

View from Illikambur back towards the coast.

The trail down to the Múlaskáli hut.

The trail down to the Múlaskáli hut.

Taking advantage of a warden-less hut.

Taking advantage of a warden-less hut.

After an hour we arrive at a small parking lot at the edge of a deep gorge. From there it is a short 30-minute walk to the hut at Múlaskáli. We share the hut and campsite with Nigel, a 50-something year old hiker from Hull in England. Since there is no warden or caretaker at the hut we set up our tent between some birch trees. The hut has a beautiful, flag-less flag pole and for the first time our Trinity flag flies high and proud for a photo op before we move it closer to our tent.

No need to start an international incident: the flag goes into a birch tree by our tent.

No need to start an international incident: the flag goes into a birch tree by our tent.

In the afternoon we go on a short hike up a nearby mountain. The weather is not particularly bad, but the clouds are low and the trails start out steep. With only a light daypack it feels like flying up those mountains.

View across the valley.

View across the valley.

Jon finds a new chair for his office.

Jon finds a new chair for his office.

No, we are not lost, but one member of he expedition is taking a long time to take photographs, leaving plenty of time to ponder the map.

No, we are not lost, but one member of he expedition is taking a long time to take photographs, leaving plenty of time to ponder the map.

We make it almost to the top, but reach the clouds and snow just below the summit. Since the inside of every cloud looks pretty much the same we turn around and return to our camp site.

Öxarfellsjökull, a small glacier coming off the Vatnajökull ice cap.

Öxarfellsjökull, a small glacier coming off the Vatnajökull ice cap.

Waiting for the photographer - again...

Waiting for the photographer – again…

Scree slope at the angle of repose.

Scree slope at the angle of repose.

At camp we explore the hut, which is very nice, cook dinner, plan tomorrow’s hike and go to bed early.

Making good use of the Múlaskáli hut.

Making good use of the Múlaskáli hut.

back to the regular trip
still not enough? onward to day 2 of our Ljónsoræfi adventure

Gray is the New Black: Days 11 and 12 – Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja in the rain

Hallgrimskirkja in the rain

Back in Reykjavik we have a full day to buy presents, wool sweaters, watch soccer games (surprisingly Columbia is still in the World Cup) and do laundry. Funny enough, even without a program or schedule we still run into most of our group while they are enjoying the city. It’s a small place after all. Very small indeed, on his way back to the campground Christoph runs into yesterday’s bus driver. Jon Cameron and Christoph catch the early bus into town and head to the Laundromat Cafe for breakfast and doing laundry.

Troll training wheels.

Troll training wheels.

After spending three hours on breakfast, extra coffee, and two loads of laundry Jon helps Sarah and Lauren to find the sweater of their dreams. Otherwise the day passes without any great calamities, disasters or excitement.

Ugly and expensive houses along the seashore.

Ugly and expensive houses along the seashore.

More lupines!

More lupines!

However, on our way to the bakery Jon and Christoph discover two additional hotdog places near the swimming pool and an entirely new dog: Tröllapylsur – Glútenfríar – gluten free troll-sized dogs. Cameron where are you when we need you…

troll dogs - gluten free

troll dogs – gluten free

The dogs were brats in a hot dog bun, with sauerkraut and hot mustard. Not bad, not bad at all. However, Pylsuvagninn í Laugardal still reigns supreme!

We also discovered a slushie brand that is unlikely to make it in the States.

Krap in two colors ...

Krap in two colors …

On our way to the airport we made the obligatory stop at the Blue Lagoon. The water was great, the silica peel did wonders for our skin and Puffling’s diving exercises almost got Cameron and me into trouble. in the locker rooms…

Puffling practicing his diving skills.

Puffling practicing his diving skills.

From the Blue Lagoon Puffling, Cameron and the students headed back to Boston, while Jon and Christoph took a gigantic plane to the town of Höfn, where they endured a few more days in rain and cold to plan our next Iceland trip.

Our jumbo jet to Höfn.

Our jumbo jet to Höfn.

Flying across the gravel spit at Höfn.

Flying across the gravel spit at Höfn. Look at that resuspended sediment on the Atlantic side. You bet you’ll see that slide again in ENVS 112L this fall.

Finally some space in the tent! It's amazing how much space Puffling took up.

Finally some space in the tent! It’s amazing how much room Puffling had taken up all these days.

back to day 10

For more about Christoph and Jon’s trip to the wilds of Ljónsoræfi stay tuned for the epilogue.

Gray is the New Black: Day 10 – back to Reykjavik

Puffins in the Mountain Mall

Puffling in the Mountain Mall

Throughout the hike Cameron brought a stuffed puffin along. Despite sharing a tent with Cameron for the past nine days Christoph hadn’t really noticed – until now. The little guy’s name is Puffling, and let’s just say Puffling’s life turned quite a bit more exciting today when he went on a few photo shoots with our expedition photographer. Too bad Cameron was keeping a close eye on Puffling during our last day in Reykjavik. Just imagine the possibilities…

...  staying cool - really cool ...

… staying cool – really cool …

... keeping an eye on Christoph's solar panel ...

… keeping an eye on Christoph’s solar panel …

... Nooooo, puffins - don't jump !

… Nooooo, Puffling – don’t jump !

... inspecting the showers ...

… inspecting the showers …

 

ladies man - oops ladies puffin and ...

Puffling – ladies’ man – oops ladies’ puffin and …

... intrepid explorer

… intrepid explorer

Our bus was expected to pick us up at 3:30, so there was plenty of time for some hikes, exploring the surrounding areas or some more hot spring soaking.

Brennisteinsalda

Lauren and Cassandra on top of Brennisteinsalda

Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar

the Mountain Mall

The Mountain Mall

Well, turns out the bus was supposed to pick us up at noon, so after our hikes, trips to the Mountain Mall, naps etc. we quickly broke camp and off we went, back to Reykjavik. Good ol’ Puffling made sure we didn’t get lost and Lauren enjoyed the numerous stream crossings.

Back to Reykjavik.

Back to Reykjavik.

We did the obligatory photo stop at Hekla, had a few hot dogs and Icelandic chips and arrived in Reykjavik later that evening.

Still no eruption !

Still no eruption !

Back in Reykjavik: Sarah's giving me "the look". Am I in trouble or what?

Back in Reykjavik: Sarah’s giving me “the look”. Am I in trouble or what?

Soon afterwards, most of us head to the English Pub (to watch the World Cup, of course), while Christoph meets his old friends Alex and Sieglinde and does what he does best: talk, talk, talk.

back to day 9
onward to day 11 and 12

Gray is the New Black: Day 9 – Hraftinnusker to Landmannalaugar

Cassandra and Lauren waiting for the group to get ready.

Cassandra and Lauren waiting for the group to get ready.

group shot in front of the Hraftinnusker hut

group shot in front of the Hraftinnusker hut

We got a late start today. The hut was just a tad crowded and we intended to let the British Army go first. However, they were not the most organized breakfast crowd, so we had plenty of time watching them pack, spill their breakfast over their sleeping bags and finally head out. A few minutes later we followed suit. Jon led us over the pass into the clouds.

off to Landmannalaugar

off to Landmannalaugar

Lia - birthday girl

Lia – birthday girl

It was Lia’s 21st birthday, so we serenaded her on top of the ridge amidst the clouds. I think by that time we had eaten all of the cake, but later that day Cameron gave her “the best birthday present EVER”: a shower in the campground.

one of the many hot springs along the trail

one of the many hot springs along the trail

Soon we passed through the Stórhiver geothermal area and a few snowy ridges later the clouds lifted and we could almost see the hills of Landmannalaugar.

photobombed !

photobombed !

The giant lizard: First view of the lava flows at landmannalaugar

The giant lizard: First view of the lava flows at Landmannalaugar

crazy-colored hills and ...

crazy-colored hills and …

... steam vents in the lava flow

… steam vents in the lava flow

As usual, the last miles took a bit longer than expected, but soon we saw the hut and famous hot springs, passed the hut and set up camp at a big gravel plain. Not the best campsite but FINALLY THERE!

two happy professors

two happy professors

Yes, that really is blue sky in the back!

Yes, that really is blue sky in the back!

The Mountain Mall, two school buses retrofitted into a store with adjacent cafe, did a brisk business with beer and Pringles. Later that afternoon we soaked in the hot springs which made us (almost) forget all the rainy miseries of the previous days.

Yes, the sun did shine for more than twenty minutes!

Yes, the sun did shine for more than twenty minutes!

back to day 8
onward to day 10

Gray is the New Black: Day 8 – Álftavatn to Hraftinnusker

Lauren all bundled up.

Lauren all bundled up.

Group shot in front of the new Álftavatn hut.

Group shot in front of the new Álftavatn hut.

Just because we had an hour of somewhat nice weather last night did not mean that the weather got better. This morning it was all gray again. We had a rainy breakfast, stopped for a quick group shot at the hut and then we were on our way. Today’s hike was not particularly long or difficult, but it would bring us up onto the Jökultungur plateau and we would spend a lot of time in snow and fog.

On our way to Jökulltungur.

On our way to Jökultungur.

Sarah was sure happy that we ordered nice warm fleece hats before the trip.

Sarah was sure happy that we ordered nice warm fleece hats before the trip.

Soon we reached the steep slope of Jökultungur and we slowly inched up the mountain. Several hikers on the way down warned us that it would soon turn very muddy – they were right.

Déjà vu: up to Jökultungur

Déjà vu: up to Jökultungur

As soon as we reached the geothermal field the trail become very clayey. Heavy wet boots got even heavier, the clouds dropped lower, and we hiked through a wonderland of fog, steam, mud and snow.

Hot springs in the mist.

Hot springs in the mist.

Lia pondering her next steps.

Lia pondering her next steps.

selfie time!

selfie time!

Soon, however we left the mud behind and reached the home stretch: the long snow-covered plain that leads up to the hut at Hraftinnusker. The GPS claimed it was less than three miles, but it could have been forever. The clouds hung low, and visibility was rather poor. We followed old tracks and went from trail marker to trail marker.

rest in the clouds

rest in the clouds

Hiking across a snow bridge.

Hiking across a snow bridge.

Luckily the snow was still deep enough that many of the annoying gullies could be crossed easily. After an hour or so we finally saw the hut sitting on an obsidian hill.

almost there

almost there

We had reservations, but the wardens had bad news for us. The hut was severely overbooked. He expected 70 visitors for about 50 beds. However, we did pretty well: all the students had one big room, and the professors slept out in the hallway.

Our room in the hut

Our room in the hut

hanging out at Hraftinnusker

hanging out at Hraftinnusker

We shared the remainder of the attic with a bunch of Brits, and considering how many folks were squeezed into one small space, we spent a rather restful night.

good use for our flag

good use for our flag

back to day 7
onward to day 9

Gray is the New Black: Day 7 – Emstrur to Álftavatn

A common sight: our hut in the morning rain.

A common sight: our hut in the morning rain.

Since we wake up to a steady drizzle there is no real rush to get out of the hut this morning. We enjoy the dryness, have breakfast and just as we want to head out all the spigots in the hut run dry. Even in pouring rain dehydration is a serious – potentially deadly – issue on the trail, so Justin gets sent off to call the (at this time still very sleepy)  warden, who fixes the water supply, we fill our bottles, and a few minutes later we are on our way.

Hiking across the snowfields on our way to Álftavatn.

Hiking across the snowfields on our way to Álftavatn.

Low-hanging clouds hide some of the most impressive volcanic peaks.

Low-hanging clouds hide some of the most impressive volcanic peaks.

The path crosses some extensive sand deserts.Many of them are covered with snow, and the low-hanging clouds hide many of the nearby mountains. Around lunchtime we reach Bláfjallakvísl, a glacial river that has no bridge across it.

Now, who holds the NESCAC triple jump record?

Now, who holds the NESCAC triple jump record?

Bridget hopping across the rocks.

Bridget hopping across the rocks.

Usually the crossing is no big deal, but this year the meltwater is pretty high, and we had to jump over quite a few streams already.

Meltwater streams.

Meltwater streams.

Rest along the trail.

Rest along the trail.

Now Jon is the first to check out the deepest channel. Crossing a bit upstream from the regular ford is not too bad, and we all make it across safely. But it was sure cold. So cold indeed that Christoph hands out some extra chocolate rations.

Jon crossing the Bláfjallakvísl

Jon crossing the Bláfjallakvísl

Like mice we huddle on the other side to stay warm.

Like mice we huddle on the other side to stay warm.

Soon we reach the hut at Hvanngil where we take a short break behind the bathrooms. Then its another few miles to today’s camp site, the hut at Álftavatn.

The group near Hvanngil

The group near Hvanngil

Mountains at Álftavatn

Mountains at Álftavatn

Our camp site at Álftavatn.

Our camp site at Álftavatn.

The trail is easy now, but we still have to get through two small streams. They are mostly annoying, neither particularly deep or cold, but we still have to take our boots off. The last little trickle is within sight of the hut. Some don’t bother and cover the last hundred yards in their wading shoes.

Swimming in the lake proves to be tricky. The lake is so shallow that Christoph and Lauren have to wade forever to even get their knees wet. After some hundred yards or so they both give up and take a shower at the hut.

Towards dinner time the weather turned almost nice. We had maybe an hour to enjoy the setting evening sun.

Cameron and Jon supervising dinner.

Cameron and Jon supervising dinner.

Dinnertime!

Dinnertime!

back to day 6
onwards to day 8

Gray is the New Black: Day 6 – Þorsmörk to Emstrur

The Þorsmörk hut in the morning rain.

The Þorsmörk hut in the morning rain.

Today’s hike is mostly along the Markarfljót to the hut at Emstrur (or Botnar). The trail begins with a walk through beautiful birch forests. Many of us know this part from their frequent excursions to the Volcano Bar over the past two days.

Birch trees and wildflowers on the trail to the Emstrur hut.

Birch trees and wildflowers on the trail to the Emstrur hut.

Soon, however, do we encounter our first stream crossing. The Þröngjá is a small braided stream that originates from nearby Merkurjökull. That makes the water milky and cold.

Water temperature: close to 32 degrees, Jenna's face - priceless!

Water temperature: close to 32 degrees, Jenna’s face – priceless!

Dylan stays cool during his first crossing.

Dylan stays cool during his first crossing …

... but Shaina is NOT happy.

… but Shaina is NOT happy.

Nevertheless, after a lot of hemming and hawing we easily cross the main channel and soon thereafter we’re back on the trail, gaining elevation slowly but steadily.

Nonexisting views along the trail.

Nonexisting views along the trail.

Along the Markarfljót river.

Along the Markarfljót river.

Bathroom break - for one of us...

Bathroom break – for one of us…

A Ptarmigan - who says I photograph only dead stuff?

A Ptarmigan – who says I photograph only dead stuff?

Luckily we get to see most of Christoph’s favorite mountain along the trail: Einhyrningur, a mountain that distinctively resembles a rhinoceros.

Einhyrningur shrouded in mist and clouds.

Einhyrningur shrouded in mist and clouds.

Black basalt sand desert.

Black basalt sand desert.

After a  few hours we reach the confluence between the Markarfljót and the Fremri-Emstruá. By now both rivers run in deep gorges and a few of us hike to the cliffs overlooking the confluence.

lunch break

lunch break

above the confluence

above the confluence

By now we are about half a mile from the hut – as the crow flies, and maybe two miles – as the rest of us walks. Since the hut is on the opposite side of the canyon we have to descend a couple of hundred feet, cross the river on a bridge, and head back up the other side. The original trail is still buried under snow, so we climb the “Botnar Step” on a new path that zig-zags across a scree slope.

The view towards Entujökull

The view towards Entujökull

Up the Botnar Step! (which is not quite as dramatic as it sounds...)

Up the Botnar Step! (which is not quite as dramatic as it sounds…)

After about six hours of hiking we make it to the hut. Usually the path past the Botnar step is easy, this time, however, due to the high snow we have some difficulties and our boots get wet one more time. At Emstrur we have reservations for a hut and soon we’re all in a comfy warm room, watch Jon and his eager helpers prepare dinner, read a bit, write into our field notebooks, play cards or just sit there and enjoy the warmth. After a day out in the cold and rain it doesn’t get much better than this.

In the Emstrur hut.

Dinner at Emstrur.

Rock frmations near the Enstrur hut.

Rock formations near the Emstrur hut.

back to day 5
onward to day 7

Gray is the New Black: Day 5 – Þorsmörk

The Krossá unbridged.

The Krossá unbridged.

Today was a day of rest. Many of the group slept in, others went on short hikes, nobody did much in particular. Christoph and a few students decided to explore a nearby waterfall that was described in one of Christoph’s German guidebooks. Alas, the Germans kept their secret: the bridge was washed away, and nobody felt like hiking a few miles upstream to the bridge at the Básar hut. Some of us went on a  little photo hike to one of Iceland’s native birch forests, others decided to head up Valanúkur, a smallish mountain just off the hut wit an amazing 360-degree view and only an additional twenty minutes to the Volcano Bar at Húsadalur.

If you ever get llost in an Icelandic forest ... stand up. Unfortunately this might not work around here.

If you ever get lost in an Icelandic forest … stand up. Unfortunately this might not work around here.

Twenty minutes to free Wifi, real beer, an all-you-can-eat buffet and a pretty mediocre hotspring.

Twenty minutes to free Wifi, real beer, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and a pretty mediocre hotspring.

The birch forest has some impressive trees in it and the old saying :“Should you ever get lost in an Icelandic forest…” might not be all that useful. Christoph recalls getting “sort of” lost here thirty years ago when he hiked the Laugavegur for the first time.

Cassandra sketching.

Cassandra sketching.

There may be no bugs i Iceland, but there sure are flies!

There may be no bugs in Iceland, but there sure are flies!

The hut at Þorsmörk. Our yelow tents are in the foreground.

The hut at Þorsmörk. Our yellow tents are in the foreground. The flagpole is supposedly the third-highest in Iceland. No, somehow we didn’t quite have the guts to fly our Trinity flag on it.

Jon raved about the view from Valanúkur and the beer in the Volcano Bar in Húsadalur. The often advertised hotspring at Húsadalur: not much to write home about – a lukewarm concrete contraption.

The trail up Valanúkur.

The trail up Valanúkur.

Dinner was delicious and expertly prepared by Dan and Jon, who had it down to a science. The dessert would have been a chocolate cake, but Dan carried it for three days at the bottom of his pack, so we had to make do with chocolate crumbs.

Dinner at Þorsmörk.

Dinner at Þorsmörk.

Dan and Jon - master chefs.

Dan and Jon – master chefs.

back to day 4
onward to day 5