An Iceland Expedition (part 13) : Blueberries & The East Fjords, walking from Egilsstaðir to Egilsstaðir

Route
Zero Day 11 : Egilsstaðir
Zero Day 12 : Egilsstaðir
Day 62 : Egilsstaðir – Seyðisfjörður (34.4 km / 21.4 mi)
Zero Day 13 : Seyðisfjörður
Day 63 : Seyðisfjörður – Loðmundarfjörður hut (26.1 km / 16.2 mi)
Day 64 : Loðmundarfjörður hut – Kollur / Kækjudalur (15 km / 9.3 mi)
Zero Day 14 : Kollur / Kækjudalur
Day 65 : Kollur / Kækjudalur – Setá river /Route 14 (12.3 km / 7.6 mi)
Zero Day 15 : Setá river / Route 14
Day 66 : Setá river / Route 14 – Stórurð (27.3 km / 17 mi)
Day 67 : Stórurð – along Route 94 (25 km / 15.5 mi)
Day 68 : along Route 94 – Egilsstaðir (31.2 km / 19.4 mi)

Total walking days: 7
Total km: 171.3 km / 106.4 mi
Average km per day: 24.5 km / 15.2 mi
Overall total km : 1957.9 km / 1216.6 mi

The East Fjords was one of the areas I had been looking forward to exploring from the start. I’d found a good map showing ample marked and unmarked hiking paths all over the place so I’d be able to pick and choose my routes. I could disappear and have a little adventure and I wouldn’t have to spend endless days walking busy roads to get there.

But I’d lost lost my mojo. Just days before, I thought a mountain was going to kill me. I was terrified of getting into another possibly life-threatening situation and the idea of the East Fjords landscape now cast a chill over me. On top of that, Iceland had been a succession of bad weather, lots of road walking and I was losing gear rapidly. Only sporadically, was I treated to some impressively dramatic views, but it wasn’t enough to keep morale. Iceland was a struggle.

As a result my daily mileage was going down and I wasn’t feeling like myself anymore. It was going through an internal crisis of some sort, I was uninspired. I didn’t know if I wanted to hike the East Fjords at all. There was just one problem: I’d forwarded all of my much needed packages with replacement gear to Seyðisfjörður.

I stayed in Egilsstaðir for two days to catch my breath, until I decided to just get on with it and continue to the East Fjords after all. It was an easy route in. I followed the main road to Seyðisfjörður, until I reached a waterfall trail (route 51 on the Víknaslódir hiking route map) which led me into the picturesque town.

On the way, I watched the solid mountain ranges tower beside me, and I tried to recognise the pass on the mountain that I wasn’t able to cross some days before. I thought I could roughly pinpoint the right location, and wondered if the mountain was easier to descend than I’d thought when I was standing on the ridge line looking down, petrified.

It was difficult to judge from such a distance, but it did look steep. It certainly looked like you would need some courage to get close to the crest, up on those snowy slopes, although I’m sure that in the right conditions, and with some company, people do make it across.

My timing was bad. I walked to Seyðisfjörður on a Saturday, and had to stay in town an extra day, waiting for the post office to open Monday morning. When I finally picked up my packages I was ready to start the trails. Armed with a new rain cover, lithium batteries, tripod and socks, I dodged some loose running horses along the fjord and headed for the first trail (route 41) to the mountain hut at the next fjord along, Loðmundarfjörður.

After all those zero days I was happy to go again, but I was scared to start this hike. I had to cross another mountain, and I was really, really worried it was going to be as frightening as the mountain on the other side of Seyðisfjörður, the one that really didn’t want me to pass.

I drifted around the start of the route until I found the signposts. As I followed the signs up, I trod a well worn trail with amp switchbacks up to a mountain pass. It was completely different from the last experience. This was a normal hiking path.

The route followed the grey, cold and rocky mountain top, no different from the other bleak landscapes I had passed through so far, until it headed down to the next fjord. I was bored with the repetitive landscapes. I wished I could speed along extra quickly, finish the East Fjords, finish the hike and get out of Iceland, But all my frustration did, was make me move even more slow.

The following day was different. I woke up to a low fog hovering along the fjord. I watched it travel overland, move on to the campground until it enveloped me. It was quite a mystical sight. As I set off, the mist slowly lifted and revealed the start of a sunny day.

I followed route 38 up. The valley that revealed itself to me looked like a perfect spot for dwarves and elves. The views were so light and airy I didn’t want to leave. And for a moment, I didn’t. I took lots of pictures until I found blueberries. My first wild blueberries. Gorgeous and big and blue and perfectly ripe. I picked them until I really had to get a move on. I was starting to enjoy this place.

Soon the path led uphill again, affording some superb views over the fjord and the valley below.

I headed to the pass at Kækjuskörð. While vegetation and blueberries cleared way for rocks, snow and unruly weather conditions, the fog returned and swiftly began to close in on me again. I sped along, trying to stay ahead of the clouds, while they continued to obliterate more of the views around me, allowing just a few select glimpses onto the mountains behind.

When I reached the top, my view had turned white. Suddenly I felt the cold sting my face and stiffen my hands. I followed the signposts until I hit a steep ascend just before the pass, covered with snow. I looked around. There were cliffs to the far end of the snow. On one end was a rocky ascend towards the raggedy ridge line that marked the top of the mountain. On the other side was a steep incline towards a small peak. But where was the next signpost?

I saw nothing. Fog moved in and out, speeding along with the wind. I waited, hoping for the the fog to disperse and grant me a view across the landscape around me. It was freezing and I began to feel uneasy. I was at the hike’s most crucial point and I couldn’t see where I was supposed to go. Was I stuck, again?

Suddenly I could see another signpost. It was across the snowfield. But there were no posts showing the route in between. Instead I found footprints marking a track through the snow, so I climbed down a small bank and followed them. With each step I realised how much steeper the slope got. When I reached a few rocks peeking out from the ice, the steps disappeared. I was nowhere near the other side and there was no way I could continue without a track. I would slip and tumble down the slope. I turned back.

Again, I was faced with the impossible option. There were no other footsteps to follow, no clear trail. I decided the steep incline towards the crest was my best option. The soil was loose, muddy and rocky. It was as though I was rock climbing a vertical wall while holding onto loose rocks, pressing them against the wall for a deceptive sense of security.

When I reached the top, I was in luck. It was an easy walk down the other side and I soon found the trail again. I had definitely taken the wrong route, but I’d made it across the pass. The trail continued in the fog, and the weather continued to deteriorate.

I descended through a landscape of small streams meandering down the hills, surrounded by huge rocks scattered about. This area was mentioned in elf legends. I wished the fog lifted, so it would be less eerie and more magical. This time I was not in luck. I saw no elves.

It got windier and colder so I decided to camp along the way. The mountain huts in the East Fjords are situated along the coast, quite far from where I was. There were none along my route. I’d seen signs urging people not to wild camp but I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to get through the area if I didn’t. I found a good patch of grass and set up camp.

When I woke, Iceland was doing what it does best: bad weather. Consistent rain, wind and a cheerless fog made it impossible to see more than the immediate surroundings. I had a bad feeling the weather wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon. It was as though I’d had one good day and Iceland was taking its revenge on me. How dare I enjoy myself!

I was stuck in my tent for three days. On the second day I tried to hike on, but after just a few hours, got inundated by the cold. I was soaked up to my underwear and deeply miserable. I was forced to find shelter and set up my tent on a sideways slope somewhere alongside the trail. It was the only bit of grass that hadn’t turned into a swamp.

On the fourth day the weather cleared. The wind blew hard but the sky occasionally revealed small patches of blue. I was close to a road and decided to get off the trail. I had only just entered route 14, but figured it was safer to backtrack and continue on the road towards the town of Bakkagerði, in case the weather turned again.

It was a horrible feeling to put on my wet clothes and gear again. As I walked, my hands and feet were so cold, they hurt. But by the time I reached the road, I’d passed a family on a day hike, warmed up, and the weather had continued to turn for the better. Basically, I wished I hadn’t left the trail. I couldn’t believe the East Fjords were proving such a dramatic experience.

I checked the trail map. If I hadn’t been stuck in my tent, I could’ve checked out the elf communities on the other trails, close to the sea. Now I didn’t have enough provisions left for another big loop, and I didn’t trust the weather, so I continued on the road a little more until I turned to the next trail, route 13, towards Stórurð.

Stórurð translates as The Giant Boulders. It’s a collection of boulders, meadows and bright blue ponds. You can walk a loop to get there, which is a nice day hike, (following routes 9 and 8) but I was coming from the other direction, and followed route 13 over the Dyrfjöll mountains to get to the narrow, green valley.

After a gradual descend I found myself wandering around round black rocks that looked like giant warts. I wondered if I had made it to Stórurð already. I was looking up at black cliffs covered in snow, and the biggest field of rock I had ever seen. Everything was dark and reminded me of a descend into hell. At the time I didn’t know I was only just crossing the Dyrfjöll mountains, and Stórurð was all the way on the other side.

It turned into a bit of an expedition when I lost the trail. As I skipped across the many rocks, the signposts disappeared once again and I had no idea where to go. The map I carried wasn’t detailed enough, but it seemed as though I had to get out of the rocky valley and get to higher elevation.

I searched the almost vertical walls hovering beside me, until I located the best possible way up, shadowing a stream so I could use the numerous big boulders to pull myself up. I sincerely hoped I wasn’t mistaken. I’d have problems getting back down if I needed to.

Once I was up I could feel how high I was. Everything grey and dark. I jumped over streams of meltwater from the small glacier that was right there and was almost surprised when I actually found the trail again. I climbed up piles of rock and meandered tiny trails around more of the big warty rocks.

When I finally looked over Stórurð from high up on the mountain, I recognised it immediately. A narrow valley with meandering streams, tuff boulders and turquoise blue water. The weather was grey, but it was still gorgeous. An oasis of calm.

The descend down was steep, and I waited for the last people to leave and camped close to the boulders.

The next morning I packed up just in time before the first day hikers arrived. I’d hoped for sun, but the sky was covered in thick grey clouds. Still, Stórurð was pristine. A serene, intricate beauty. I spent an hour wandering the trail that looped around the ponds.

I took the easy trail (route 8) back. A muddy slog out of the valley, eating as much blueberries as possible, until I reached the road that would take me back to Egilsstaðir.

The road quickly left the hills and lead through a flat expanse. Boring and rainy. I camped in a field of blueberries that night. It wasn’t until the last day of road walking that the weather improved again. How typical!