An Iceland Expedition (part 3) : On Finally Finding Hiking Trails in Hengill and Successfully Getting Stuck in a Storm, walking from Þingvellir to Selfoss

Route
Day 17 : Þingvellir – Dyradalur (34.3 km / 21.3 mi)
Day 18 : Dyradalur – Reykjadalur (22 km / 13.7 mi)
Zero day 3 : Reykjadalur
Day 19 : Reykjadalur – Selfoss (28 km / 17.4 mi)

Total walking days: 3
Total km: 84.3 km / 52.4 mi
Average km per day: 28.1 km / 17.5 mi
Overall total km : 566.5 km / 352 mi


I left Þingvellir in the rain. Unsure of which direction to go, I had decided to take a chance and head to the area south of the lake Þingvallavatn, circling around it on the west side. I had previously found a map showing hiking paths below the lake, and I hoped I could explore some of those. I was unsure they would lead me in the direction I wanted to go. In fact, they didn’t seem to link up the way I hoped at all, but still, I took the risk, knowing that whichever direction I decided to pursue, it would prove a walk into the unknown. It didn’t really matter. 

The route I had planned passed the tourist sites of Þingvellir, some rugged cliffs and a waterfall. A little hub of activity, with a host of tourists walking back and forth in their ponchos and rain pants, anticipating the occasional shower.


Whilst everyone else finished their fleeting strolls and returned to their waiting buses and cars, I took a small path that lead away from the centre of it all, continuing down the west side of the lake, passing summer houses and cloudy views across the water that would have been pristine and romantic in perfect weather. 


My destination that day was still undecided. I didn’t know what the landscape would look like. I didn’t know what options I would encounter for camping that night. Maybe a stealth camping spot somewhere, maybe the one official campground on the southeast end of the lake, the only one somewhat in the vicinity, if I managed to walk a long day. I didn’t know. 

By the time I was walking next to a tarmac road again, the showers had settled into an ongoing grey misery. An unstoppable slosh of rain that permeated everything, rain gear and spirit. Reaching the south end of the lake, the nature was more abundant, and even though I hadn’t walked much yet, I was cold and had no desire to continue in this weather. I was desperate to find a place to camp. 


I had hoped for a spot near the lake, as I was running out of water and hadn’t encountered any streams or rivers, but there was no possibility to get close. Instead I went off road, trusting I could do without, the half litre I had on me would just have to do, and I tried to find a grassy spot that wasn’t covered in sheep poo, but soon crossed the land and ended up on a dirt road. I tried the other side of the main road, walking farther and farther and only finding bushes, low shrubs on the ground that resembled grass from further ahead. 


When I backtracked the sun came out and I made myself stop and sit down. I ate something, trying to feel better. It’s okay, I thought, I can do this. If only I feel a little warmer, I can do this. Maybe I can reach the campsite on the far end of the lake. Maybe I can reach it after all. And I kept walking. Rain and no rain, on and on. 


The landscape began to roll around green hills and I felt better, a little more energised after my brief break in a moment of sunshine, when I noticed a break in the landscape. An open area with a large hiking map stuck on a board. The paths I’d been hoping for. 

As I perused the trails, I saw there were numerous, and they all linked up. I could explore as I wanted, and I could go exactly where I needed to go. A hot spring in Reykjadalur, close to the town of Hveragerdi, where I would be able to buy food. But I didn’t think of that then. I had finally found hiking trails in Iceland, and I could start right there.


I shot a picture of the map and I went, into the green hills that sat right behind me. I felt charged, but also desperate. It was getting late. Now that I was on a trail, I would find it easier to find a spot to camp for the night. Everything was grassy and perfect for setting up a tent, but I didn’t know how popular or busy these trails were, so I kept going for a while, hoping to find a little hiding place. 


As I gazed across the tops of the hills, rugged and raw in the grey weather, I saw someone in a red coat, hugging a boulder on a pass beyond mine. He wasn’t on my trail, I wasn’t quite sure where he was. But if there was someone else, I needed a better hiding spot. I kept on going, the hills like a painting, green and bare and overwhelming in presence, the lake a watercolour in the distance behind me, a marvellous view, despite the cold and my pending urgency. 


I hiked until I realised I had gone too far. I reached a dirt road that cut through the park. I didn’t want to pass it. I was hoping to find water nearby the next morning. All the streams in the area had run dry and I still only had the half litre from before. But I had little options, so I set up my tent against a large boulder right next to the trail, just out of view from the road. As long as no one passed, it would be the perfect spot. 


The following morning things were looking up. The weather had calmed down, and the rain had stopped. I packed up and continued my way. I passed the dirt road, but there was no sign of water. So I kept going, hiking across fields of rock, up and down hills, trying not to slip on the black gravel and fall down steep inclines. 

After passing another road, I noticed the smallest stream hiding in the grass. I set down my gear immediately and began filling my bottles. It was a slow process, the water running flat and difficult to collect with my bottles, but I had water, at last. Now I was ready to continue my hike. 


That day I began to see what Iceland has to offer. I followed a blue, ‘main hiking trail’, that followed the border of the area and looked out onto flat plains to the west. I transferred to a black, ‘steep hiking trail’, where I soon passed small section covered in snow and streams poured right out from below. I navigated some climbs and steep descends, until I hit the red, ‘connecting trail’, which was the one that was going to lead me to the Reykjadalur hot spring and the town further on. 


Surprisingly, the red trail started out with some steep sections, a path barely carved out of rock and a steep wall of loose grind that I wasn’t sure I could pass without slipping and tumbling down. It wasn’t the ‘slip and die’ variety, but the ‘slip and cry and hurt yourself a lot’ variety, which I also wasn’t remarkably keen on. I managed both, but it alarmed me, knowing that one unlucky movement could cause me to lose grip and fall. It dawned on me that even though the trails aren’t difficult, it would still be easy to get hurt, and you didn’t even have to do anything stupid for it. And once it happened, you’d be on your own. I only saw one other person that day. 


For lunch I sat down in the most beautiful grassy spot, right next to a stream and surrounded by boiling hot springs, steam lifting in the air. I was in the Nesjavellir area, where geothermal plants scatter the surroundings, leaving funny shaped igloos near the many hot springs. 


But I couldn’t see those from where I sat. It was gorgeous in the sun. I ate some of my last food, wraps and mackerel that had gone off, and I felt relaxed and content. I wished I could camp there, but I had hardly walked any distance at all, so needed to keep going for a little while longer. 


It was early evening when I reached the hot springs. Suddenly it was busy, teeming with tourists who had walked the few kilometres from a parking lot on the other end and were now busily undressing and lowering themselves into the milky water. I really wanted to go in, but I also really didn’t want the hassle with all my gear and clothes while it was this busy. 

As it grew colder, I wandered off, deciding to camp nearby. After some struggle, I found a spot. I would get up early the next day and soak up those sulphurs in the hot spring while it was still quiet. 

The following morning a storm raged outside. Gale force winds and incessant rain. The ongoing downpour had created a fog around the mountains and everything was white outside. I was stuck in my tent. 


I had little food left and sat inside, listening to the storm flapping the fabric of my tent, happy at least that my Hilleberg was strong enough to be able to deal with these weather conditions. At one point the tent collapsed in a corner and for a moment I froze, terrified at what could be wrong, but it was just a peg that had loosened and let go due to the soil getting soaked in the rain. 

I thought of the reason I was stuck there in the first place. The hot springs. I’d really wanted to go. I should’ve kept on walking into town the night before. All this for the hot springs, and now I couldn’t even go. 

It took until the next afternoon when I found enough of a break in the weather to get all my wet things together and leave. I’d given up on the hot springs by then. I was cold and wet, and even though the hot water would probably be the best cure, I had no desire to unclothed myself in this weather and leave my gear to get even more wet on the side.

When I passed the hot springs I was surprised there were people. I hesitated, annoyed and a little jealous, and passed. I wanted to get to town so I could buy food. On my way out, I passed more and more people going in the opposite direction while the weather got increasingly better. Once I had passed the parking lot, and left all the day trippers behind who were making the short hike towards the hot springs, the sun came out. I sighed deep, damn it. 


At the supermarket I picked up my town treat: a half loaf of bread, potato salad and ham. I sat on the bench in front of the store and took out my titanium cutlery to assemble several huge sandwiches. I devoured them, people passing by looking at me, like I was a new breed of homeless they hadn’t seen before. I felt like I was on the outside. But I knew it wasn’t important. I missed my hot spring but I had food and that was enough. I had a tent in my pack and my clothes would soon dry in the sun. It was all I needed.