Off the bikes and between two icecaps!
Trip Start Jun 17, 2011
36Trip End Aug 26, 2011
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Next on the agenda was figuring out if we could fit the wilderness essentials into the pannier-packs that would substitute for real backpacks. With additional dry bags strapped to the outside, it was proven possible. With the OK to leave our bikes and the other 80% of our gear in safe keeping at the tourist info office, we rested in ease and fell asleep to the pounding of Skogarfoss nearby.
Setting out late the next morning, we discovered just how horribly uncomfortable the pannier-turned-packs really were, as Melissa and Benji who we borrowed them from forewarned is about. Lacking a waistbelt, all the weight hung on our necks and the hard plastic frame dug into our backs. You would think that Ortlieb could come up with a better design with all of the other excellent products they produce. The only way to make them tolerable was to lean forward in a slightly hunched over fashion so that we looked like Homo sapiens de-evolved a few million years, especially when going uphill, which was all the time. We wished for a stray Icelandic horse to trot by that we could coax into carrying our burden for us. When that didn't materialize, we contemplated balancing them on our heads African porter style.
No matter though, it's ONLY a fifteen mile hike with over 3000 feet elevation gain and loss. We tried our best to look past the discomfort, and later the pain, to the rewards that our efforts provided. Starting at sea level, we climbed alongside a river with more than twenty waterfalls, most with a companion rainbow. Leaving the river, we crossed a windy, ashy moonscape at which point Matt's back seized up without warning. We took an extra long lunch break while he lay prostrate in the volcanic gravel. It seemed certain that our journey would end here and we began making plans for retreat down the mountain. But rest, vitamin I, and magic mint chocolate worked together surprisingly well. The painful spasms passed and we were able to continue onward and upward.
Soon we were traversing snowfields and slushfields that served as a pass between the icecaps Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull, not that we ever saw them as we were hemmed in by thick fog the entire time. Lacking a proper map (but we did have a compass!), we would walk to a post resembling a giant matchstick and wait until the clouds lifted enough to see the next one. This system worked great until we absolutely could not find the next one and were left with the only other option of literally following in the footsteps of those who came before us. After several hours of trudging through the snow in the cold and blustery clouds, I began to feel a bit clausterphobic, as though the entirety of existence had shrunk to my range of vision. It was a very strange feelingarhat was followed by a huge sense of relief when we crested small ridge that marked the boundary of the long pass and descended into the clarity of a whole other world. We had a sweeping view of the Myrdalsjokull icecap and the sun just about to set behind a mountain on the other side of a massive river valley.
Already tired, hungry and achey, but still too cold and windy to take break, we began a seemingly never ending descent to the valley bottom that outlasted the lengthly show of sunset colors. Sliding straight down snowfields, lowering ourselves down rock faces by fixed ropes, and keeping our balance along razor thin ridgelines were all part of the marked route. Finally reaching camp at midnight, roughly 12 hours from departure, we were too tired to cook dinner and tried to fill up on crackers and cheese before curling up in the sleeping bag.
We didn't emerge from the tent until late the next morning. After oatmeal breakfast, we packed up camp and wandered over to the hostel complex. We confirmed that we could catch a bus from another hostel a ways further down the valley at four, so we began to hike that way. However, lacking a proper map, we took the wrong trail and by the time we had corrected our mistake we were sprinting to catch the bus before it left.
After two weeks of freedom from schedules due to our self-propelled transport, I felt both irritated at the constraint of depending on that bus and grateful for the ease with which it forded bicycle-prohibitive rivers and tackled rough road to whisk us back to Hwy 1. But we paid dearly for that convenience, about $2.00 per kilometer in fact. So we opted to hitchhike the remaining stretch of road that would reunite us with our bikes back in Skogar, where we also camped for the night.
Despite the fact that we could barely walk the next day and our backs showed proof of the pannier-pack abuse, it's certain that our overland journey to Thorsmork will always remain one of our lifetime favorites.