Fabien Maussion bio photo

Fabien Maussion

Climate, glaciers, and scientific programming.

From Skaftafell to Hverfisfljót, Day One

Skaftafell Visitor Center – Blátindur

The bus from Reykjavík arrives at Skaftafell in the early afternoon. Although the original plan had been to spend the rest of the day in Skaftafell for preparations and some relaxed sight-seeing, we feel that we should take advantage of the magnificent weather. Unlikely enough, the forecast promises at least four more days of relatively stable weather with only little rain, which seems to us like a gift from heaven. We are well aware that the difficult terrain we will face over the next few days will be more than enough of a challenge for us. Starting this odyssey with the prospect of typical bad Icelandic weather with no visibility, horizontal rain and wind gusts knocking you over wouldn’t have been an option. So we leave the crowd of tourists at the Visitor Center and take off at 4 p.m. towards the Blátindur mountain.

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Morsárdalur and Morsárjökull.

The rucksacks are heavy with eight days’ worth of food and some extra three litres of water pressing down on our shoulders (we don’t expect to find much water until on/after Skeiðarárjökull). Fortunately, the first few kilometres are part of the normal hiking network and therefore well maintained and absolutely flat. This however doesn’t change the fact that we’ll have to climb just over 1000 m through pathless terrain (not entirely though, as we’ll happily discover) to come near our intended first camping spot.

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Towards the Blánúhkadalur valley with its small canyon.

Surprisingly, reaching the Blánúhkadalur valley demands skill in stumbling through waist-high vegetation while preventing birch branches from slapping into your face – one of the very few densely forested areas in Iceland. Patting off leaves and twigs, we follow the river through the valley staying on its eastern side. To our joy we even find a well-trodden path showing us the way further up, facilitating our ascent. Nevertheless, four hours into the hike Conni really starts feeling her back muscles aching under the weight of the rucksack. The terrain changes from a soft mossy underground into slippery gravel and the steepest bits are yet to come.

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The sun is already low and we're still far from our camping spot.

Since it was getting late, we were stopping several times to discuss whether we should just call it a day. We could just stay here, with a nice view on Blátindur peak from down below, nicely hidden from any wind. A good starting point for the following ridge and tackling the glacier tomorrow! In the end it turned out that an early stop would’ve been much too far away to attempt a glacier crossing the next day and therefore most likely would’ve cost us a day. But it wouldn’t be like us to stop before sunset anyway! Curiosity drives us further up the mountain – we really, really want to see that glacier in the last rays of light.

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The white peaks of Öræfajökull (highest moutains in iceland) west of Skaftafell. We will see them behind us for a large part of the trek.

But such experiences want to be well deserved and won’t be offered without stumping up steep snow fields and scrambling through the ever-sliding gravel slopes of Blátindur peak. Conni swears whilst making a single step just to slide three steps back down. The trick is to scramble more quickly than gravel can slide down beneath your feet. Nothing to complain about a tiny last exercise after a strenuous hike under heavy load surely? Damn you Blátindur!

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The terrain becomes steeper and the gravel is slippery.

Conni can barely stand on her wobbly legs when she finally reaches the ridge to be rewarded with a more beautiful glacier sunset than she could have imagined. It’s magnificent, intimidating, it’s cold. We’re lucky there’s no wind at all. It’s much too late to think of going any further: we pitch the tent on a rocky spot with a slight angle, and we congratulate ourselves for an excellent camp on one of the most exposed ridges in Skaftafell. Not quite like in the handbook but hey, there’s at least that tiny stone ridge potentially protecting us from being blown away.

Pasta, good night. There was no wind.

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Skeiðarárjökull glacier seen from our camping spot at Blátindur