Hiking Ásbyrgi-Dettifoss

The first time I heard about this hiking was last year when I was in Iceland with my best friend, driving along the country in the ring road. We had 7 days off in November so we decided to drive along Iceland and explore the country. When we were North, I was looking at the guide -that was my job, I love planning and I have an excellent orientation!, whereas my friend was the driver- and saw an interesting waterfall: Dettifoss. We had to stop there at least for some minutes…it said it was the most powerful waterfall of Europe! And that’s when I read about the hiking. The waterfall was either the starting point or the final destination of the two day hiking along the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, which was 32 km. I thought immediately that that had to be amazing, so I wrote it on my bucket list for the next visit to Iceland.

Summer 2017. Here again, working in the Northeast region, so not far away from Dettifoss. I only needed two days off and a tent to do the hiking. I got both things on the last week of June, so I packed some clothes, food, water, my sleeping bag, the tent and the map and headed to the road. I hitchhiked to the starting point: Ásbyrgi, only 40 minutes from where I live and it was perfect. The first car stopped in less than 5 seconds…”Today is gonna be a good day!”, I thought. Even though the sky was cloudy and it was light raining in Ásbyrgi, it stopped as soon as I started walking and from then, it just went better and better.

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The canyon is 3,5 km from North to South and 1 km wide. The dark walls can be up to 100m high.

Ásbyrgi was most likely formed by catastrophic glacial flooding of the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum after the last Ice Age, first 8-10,000 years ago, and then again some 3,000 years ago. The river has since changed its course and now runs about 2 km to the east. The legend explains the unusual shape of the canyon differently: Nicknamed Sleipnir’s footprint, it is said that the canyon was formed when Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, touched one of its feet to the ground here.

I walked for almost 4 km along the rim of Ásbyrgi, taking some breaks to just enjoy the breathtaking views and get some air. I got the the famous point called Klappir, just in the middle of the canyon where the views are spectacular and had a little snack.

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There are other short hikings around the canyon, so I met with some other hikers, but from Klappir to the campsite (the next 9km) I didn’t see any other hikers. I only saw -and heard- plenty of birds, a couple of sheeps from far away and nature, nature and nature. I could also hear the sound of the Jókulsa á Fjöllum, that joined me for the whole two days. This river goes along the canyon, one of the deepest in Iceland: 25 km long, 500m wide and in many places 100-120m deep. However, it wasn’t until the last 5 km that I didn’t see the river because I took the option of hiking along the inner side. In Kvíar, where the two paths join, I stopped and enjoyed the views of the river.

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The path kept going a little bit far from the river, but I could still hear its sound. I walked through a more volcanic area with still some wild flowers and some grass. Suddenly the clouds fade away and the sun started to shine, making everything around me even more bright and beautiful and all the colors were more vivid. It was like a nice little surprise after the effort of the first day and the solitude of walking alone for some kilometres. At some point there was a crossroad that I decided to turn left and deviate from the main path. It leaded to Raudhólar (Red hills), a mountain which its beauty it is difficult to express with words! I was amazed by all the different colors I could see from the top and felt very alive and grateful to be there, to be able to enjoy that! It looked like a painting…

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After that I went down the hill and entered to the area called Hljódaklettar (“echo rocks”), a bizarre looking group of crater plugs, the remains of ancient volcanoes which have been heavily eroded by the foaming glacial river, depicting basaltic columns in different positions, creating all kind of patterns  – swirls, spirals, rosettes and honeycombs. I had never seen anything like that. Iceland keeps surprising me! This area is accesible by a road so some people had parked their cars in the parking spot and walked the short itineraries.

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The campsite of Vesturdalur was only 1km from there, so I got there in the afternoon and set up my tent. There was only one more tent there, but I never knew if the guy was doing the 32 km hiking or not. I washed my face and my feet in a little stream next to the campsite, ate something and relax for a little bit. Late in the afternoon, around 8pm, it was completely sunny so I couldn’t stay in the tent. I decided to take a short walk along the river. I saw a sign that marked a 2km hiking to a place called “Karl og Kerling” (The old man and the old woman), so I took that path and ended up in a two big rocks just on the bottom of the river.

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I spent there more than an hour, I have no words to explain such a relaxing and inspirational spot. I sit on the rocks and just listened to the river and to the wind and let my body and mind flow with it. I really had my mind in blank, like all my thought were flowing with the rythm of the water and felt such a calm inside of me. Also very connected to the ground and the water and all the nature around me, as if it accepted me so well and we were all one. I thought about how cool would be to be or feel like a river, always. Just flowing all the time and if there are stones or curves on your way, do not stop and pretend them to move, just see them, accept them, and keep moving, keep flowing. I was so in the present thanks to the flowing water that anchored me to the present moment. It was magical. I walked back and went to “bed” feeling very alive and grateful.

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The second day, after a very cold night, was surprisingly sunny, very sunny! I was so excited to see a perfect blue sky that I rushed up packing everything just in case the clouds came again. But in fact it took them some hours to come back. I was wearing a t-shirt and had my trousers folded til the knees and despite of that, I was still sweating. “Am I in Iceland?”, was wondering for all the morning. I had 20km ahead. Today was the long day, but if the weather was like that, I could have walked forever. The first kilometres were wonderful, I was feeling fresh and the views were unforgettable, walking through a very green area full of wildflowers, little trees and bushes and crossing little streams very often with its wooden bridges. Well, not all of them had bridges. In one occasion you have to take your shoes off and cross the river Stálla, but with the warm weather, it was a pleasure! The time to take a break, eat something and refresh my feet.

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Everything is so well marked in the hikings of Iceland, all the paths and even when you have to cross a river.

After crossing the river the sky started to cover by clouds, but the landscape was still so idillic that didn’t matter so much. The river that I just crossed was formed by all the waterfalls that were on the way but I don’t know where they exactly came from. Everything was green again and smelled like freshness.

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After this big waterfall there were only 10km left to Dettifoss and the landscape changed a little bit. Even though I was still walking through the rim of the main river, the ground become more dry and stony and I was in a higher altitude, too. I started to feel the tiredness in my feet and legs and was calculating how many more kilometres were left. In between my steps I liked to breath deeply and capture the clean air of that place, also the quietness and the peace that I could smell. I felt so free, specially that second day that I didn’t meet with anybody. In my opinion the views were not as beautiful as the previous kilometres, but still at some points, where after turning on a curve I could contemplate the magnificence of the canyon and had to stop.

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I did a brief stop and ate something as contemplating those views but as soon as I knew that I was getting closer, my mind started to think about how I would come back. I had to hitchhike back but I knew that the road from Dettifoss had two directions, so I had to ways to come back home. I was also a little bit afraid of the possibility of not being picked up by any car, and that wasn’t very attractive to think about it after a long hiking, when you just want to take a shower and lay on the bed. But as always, I had to trust in the Universe and in life and think positive. It had always worked for now. The photo below shows how the last part of the hiking was, with the famous Dettifoss waterfall at the end of it.

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And yeah, after Dettifoss I headed to the road and waited for about 20 minutes before some American friends stopped and took me to the crossroad, where I waited for 2 minutes and a big group of Greek people picked me up and we drove all together for like an hour before getting home. When trusting…everything works out. I have no doubt.

Whenever you reach your goal after a hard effort, satisfaction is all you can feel. I had nobody to celebrate it with, but I was so proud of myself that that was enough. I was proud of do it all alone, of being brave enough to walk into this little adventure because it was the first time I slept on a tent alone in the middle of nowhere. And I like to do things for the first time once in a while. Set new goals and see where your limits are. Do those things that at first scary you a little bit. But then they turn to be the best ones. Do some physical activity surrounded by amazing natural landscapes, sing out loud and laugh with the trees and the birds and smile at yourself. And the most amazing thing of all: be with yourself, listen to yourself, to all the thoughts, to all your feelings…walking alone makes you look at yourself better and sometimes find out things you didn’t know. As if in every little step you became wiser. And more humble somehow. Definetely, one of my favourite things in life: hiking in the nature on my own. I was able to feed my Free Spirit. The one that thrives on solitary enjoyment of the wide open space only to enjoy the beauty within. Such a beautiful paradox.

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