An Iceland Expedition (part 15) : Going North, walking from Mývatn to Ásbyrgi

Route
Zero Day 17 : Mývatn
Day 80 : Mývatn – Krafla (25.7 km / 16 mi)
Day 81 : Krafla – Dettifoss (32 km / 19.9 mi)
Day 82 : Dettifoss – Vesturdalur (21.5 km / 13.4 mi)
Day 83 : Vesturdalur – Ásbyrgi (15.2 km / 9.4 mi)

Total walking days: 4
Total km: 94.4 km / 58.7 mi
Average km per day: 23.6 km / 14.7 mi
Overall total km : 2422.4 km / 1505.2 mi

One of the last sunny days I would enjoy in Iceland was during my final rest day in Mývatn. I had walked the long stretch from Askja in the highlands, and had arrived in Mývatn in the pouring rain. I was relieved to dry out during the warm rest day, knowing my time in Iceland was finally drawing to a close.

I was headed to the unmarked route from Mývatn to Dettifoss, and I was to continue on to Ásbyrgi afterwards.

I had long been contemplating where to finish my walk around Iceland. I changed my mind a lot: somewhere east, somewhere north. Ásbyrgi had been my final destination for a long time, a spot in the north of the island, reached by a two-day hike from the popular Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls, but the idea never entirely satisfied me.

I changed my mind not long before arriving at Mývatn. I decided to finish my Icelandic journey in Akureyri, Iceland’s second biggest city, adding another week to my walk. I liked that I would’ve walked over 2,600 km by then, and that I could say I walked the equivalent of Iceland’s ring road, twice.

So here I was, a week and a half removed from finishing the hike. Mývatn was beautiful, and the local campground was situated on the lake. It was painfully expensive to resupply, but it didn’t matter much: I was almost done.

While organising my food and carefully measuring accurate meal portions into ziplock bags, I noticed several one-man tents erecting around the campsite. It was a long time since I’d seen fellow solo travellers.

Before long, the German from the tent closest to me came over and offered some of his excess muesli. I was so shocked someone was addressing me, and I stumbled over my words. I’m talking to another human! I thought, this is crazy! Even more unexpectedly, he was planning the same hike to Dettifoss.

He subtly suggested hiking together and I wondered, should I? Was I up for sharing this experience with someone else? A hiking buddy? An initial jolt with anticipation was soon replaced by a feeling of stress. What if he hikes too fast or too slow? What if we have nothing to talk about? How am I going to take all the pictures I want to take? I didn’t know if I fancied buddying up with someone. Camping together, yes. But hiking? After all this time on my own, maybe it wasn’t for me anymore.

Mývatn to Dettifoss

The next morning I woke to dark skies and heavy rain. All my gear had finally dried and here I was, back at square one. The German traveller went off, clad head to toe in Gore-Tex. I told him I was going to wait for the weather to improve, and I might see him along the lake that breaks up the two-day hike.

I waited until just before noon, checkout time. The forecast showed no rain at all, so I hoped the downpour was just a glitch and would soon clear up. It did, just before checkout, and I packed up hastily and went on my way.

Within fifteen minutes, it started pouring down again. Unfortunately, all I could do at that point, was go. I walked in the rain and followed the main road, passing a milky blue hot spring, close to Mývatn’s popular nature baths.

Not long after I turned off the road and into a hiking path, leading over a mountainous range alongside the flat road that leads towards the Krafla Viti crater, the start of the hike to Dettifoss.

The path was slow in the rain and I wondered if I’d been better off just walking the road. The route would’ve been nice in good weather, with impressive views over the valley below, but that day the rain and wind made the trek a cheerless ordeal.

I felt miserable, but it was no more than typical of my time in Iceland so far. Soon I felt the damp and cold seep through my rainproofs and I regretted leaving altogether. I was freezing cold.

Krafla appeared to be a popular tourist destination. Cars moved in and out, and groups of people wandered the muddy paths up to the crater.

After Askja, this crater was not as impressive. It wasn’t as big, blue or characterful as the Askja ones so I swiftly moved along, making my way towards the rocky terrain that would take me to the waterfall of Dettifoss.

The rain had stopped, so I wandered some existing tracks that had been formed by people or animals, using my GPS to adjust my direction as I went along. The landscape didn’t have many redeeming features. It was rocky and grassy and rather monotonous. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before.

After some hours I had warmed up a little, and my body heat had helped to dry out some of the wet gear. I set up my tent in a field of blueberries, unable to make it all the way to the lake where I had hoped to meet the German hiker.

It would’ve been a good place to spend the night had I begun my hike at Krafla, but the distance from Mývatn was quite a bit longer. I never saw him again.

The next day I was happy to wake to sun. It would be the last bright day I experienced in the country. I continued along a barren landscape of sand dunes and elongated fields of rock. It was slow walking and I was exhausted by the time I reached Dettifoss.

I even managed to walk in the wrong direction when I finally reached the road leading to the waterfalls. I was so tired and desperate to get to the camping ground that I tried to half run the last few kilometres.

As painful as it was, when I finally reached the rocky canyon I forced myself to walk the touristy walkways to view the waterfalls, Dettifoss (which is a beast) and Selfoss (which is the beauty.)

My feet were in such pain that I was absolutely delighted to finally settle in the strangest campsite I have ever seen: a lifeless field surrounded by rock, with a plastic bucket containing the sole water source for the campers. It was the most barren place I had ever seen.

Dettifoss to Ásbyrgi

After the wasteland that was the Dettifoss campsite, I had little expectations of the hike to Ásbyrgi. I had envisioned a sumptuous paradise for the trail but as per usual, I was wrong. There was only rock. This time, the difference was that the rocks were big. Very big. A huge canyon lead the way from Dettifoss all the way to Ásbyrgi, and the day continued like the ones I had experienced most: grey and rainy.

I couldn’t help but consider last minute thoughts of changing direction, but there wasn’t really anywhere for me to go. As I slowly moved north, the mess of rock grew into a majestic gorge, the cliffs leading down to envelope a luminous, single vein of water.

Jökulsárgljúfur canyon grew increasingly impressive as I walked on, at one point even introducing scenes with small trees and waterfalls, adding a feeling of autumn to the otherwise bitter day and harsh scenery.

I took two days for me to walk to Ásbyrgi, although it would’ve been possible to do it in one long day. The cold and rain kept me from going faster, and all I wanted to do was crawl into my tent and hide.

I broke up the two day hike in the valley of Vesturdalur, which proved another unexpected gem. Basalt rock formations hinted at an ancient, ruined city. Formed by volcanic activity, I felt as though actually it had once been a lost city to the hidden people. A place where the trolls ruled and the elves fled. Something mysterious, something old.

I reached Ásbyrgi after a short day which felt far too long. By completing this section of trail, I had finished all the official hiking trails that were part of my walk around Iceland.

All I had left to do, was road walk to my final destination. But as the weather was getting increasingly cold and dark, and the rain refused to stop, I knew the final chapter of my Icelandic expedition was not going to be easy.

Something had to change.