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From Skaftafell to Hverfisfljót, Day Five

Eldgîgur – Brúarárbotnar

Our day starts in fog and with the prospect of having to cross the infamous Djupá, yet another glacier river that you can hear long before you see it. The water is a bleak grey in the white surroundings as we change into our neoprene socks. Preventively, Conni stuffs her trousers into her rucksack - a wise decision. The water is undies-wettingly deep but nothing to worry about in parallel-crossing mode. A second smaller river arm is crossed lightheartedly. We are immensely relieved. According to the map, this was the last serious river to cross for our entire tour. If everything goes as planned, we should be able to evade all the other monstrous streams via the imminent short passage over Siðujökull (mind that we’re not planning to cross Hverfisfljót, a decision we won’t regret). So let’s get onto that glacier already!

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Our last big rivier crossing is foggy and cold, but relatively easy.

But .. where the heck is it? Having followed the track further southward, our GPS insists that we’ve now reached the glacier and should be standing on ice. However, we’re in fact standing in a nightmare of a glacier swamp. Without any glacier in sight (well the bit of sight we have with all the fog) we’re surrounded by moraines, small lakes and the glacier-version of quicksand: fully saturated fine sand with particle sizes so small it turns liquid if the crust on it’s surface is broken by an unsuspecting hiker. Hence if you think it’s safe to go back the same way you came you’re entirely mistaken. You’ll sink in up to your ankles or worse and when you’ve struggled one foot free to put it on firm ground that ground won’t be firm anymore. All of a sudden it’s all just silt and you can’t entirely be sure whether the next step won’t mean to sink in all the way to your belly button. Once again Fabien is cursing, and rightly so since one of his shoes resembles an abstract sculpture made of clay with his entire sock nicely woven in. We’re feeling slightly trapped - not a new sensation on this trip but something you can’t get used to.

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Unless we walked on the glacier without noticing it, even recent images show a larger glacier than we've seen in August. The river we are trying to avoid, however, is clearly visible.

We don’t know where exactly we should look for the glacier and we’re standing in the midsts of patchy man-devouring quicksand! We’re voting for a semi-retreat from this battle field. On the way out Fabien sinks in deeply with both feet (again, he was bravely doing the pretesting), leading Conni to eagerly pull on his rucksack, forcing him to scramble on all fours out of the mud hole. Aah, don’t pull, let me go!, he complains. Not even the slightest gratefulness! Men!, Conni thinks.

Our hiking poles once again prove to be not only useful but necessary; in this case to check the consistency of the ground. Sticking to stone piles and ridges of moraines, we make our way back to friendlier terrain, heading further south. In the very moment when we cluelessly ponder about what to do next the fog slightly clears and finally gives view on the considerably retreated edge of Siðujökull. It’s towering on the top of a sandy slope that ends in an uninvitingly deep valley made of a muddy ice-sand mishmash, separating us from the saving ice. How come that nothing here can be simple?

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The "welcoming" sight of Siðujökull.

Walking up and down the ridge of our moraine, we find a spot to slide into the valley. Water is standing in ponds here and Fabien’s first step confirms the unstable state of the sand here. Looking around, we realise only now that a huge, dirty block of ice is lying to our left - broken off from the glacier. In fact, it seems like just behind the mud hole there is ice covered in the sand, potentially providing safe passage to the edge of the glacier. Conni really doesn’t feel like sinking in and is pondering about climbing the ice block to jump onto the hidden ice. Fabien however prefers to keep the craziness-levels down a bit. In large steps he makes his way over agglomerates of stones, which give the mud more stability. Slightly disappointed with the straightforward solution Conni hurries behind.

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What a friendly glacier!

Siðujökull turns out to be a perfectly friendly glacier in this area. With crampons on our feet, we speed-hike past glacier mills, dodging one or two crevasses if any. The easy passage sets us in a very enthusiastic mood and, feeling unburdened for the moment, lets us freely enjoy the privilege of being here, in this unlikely, beautiful, pristine landscape - where we don’t fit in at all. Sunshine is now breaking through the fog and turns the glacier into a bright glittering sea of white and turquoise.

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There are good reasons to prefer the glacier to its forefield: mud is one of them, and huge meltwater rivers are another. This particular one must flow right below our feet before being disgorged with violence.

In the distance immense rivers emerge from beneath the glacier tongue. We’re staring in awe of their dimension and don’t want to begin to imagine the force with which these rivers tumble southwards. We navigate in a direction that would hopefully allow us to leave Siðujökull exactly at a point where we could continue our journey parallel to any of these rivers - and we succeed! There isn’t even another scary mud hole waiting for us when we leave the glacier. Sticking to piles of stone and moraine ridges again, we reach a very low but unfortunately broad river that needs to be crossed. To spare us the hassle of changing shoes, Fabien disarms it by throwing a big rock right in the middle, beautifully adding the last step for a stone bridge.

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A lava field or a desert?

The second half of the day is an easy hike through the barren Fossahraun lava field under a suddenly blue sky. Again, we feel guilty to leave any evidence of our passage in this perfectly smooth and untouched landscape so Conni enjoys herself by walking in Fabien’s footsteps for a while. For the first time in days, we spot a flock of tiny birds hopping around sparse tufts of grass, finally confirming our approach to more habitable surroundings. Having climbed the Kálfafellsfjallsendi plateau, we get a wonderful view that allows us to trace back our previous days and to wave goodbye to the lava deserts, the glaciers and their mighty rivers.

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The Djupá isn't an issue for us anymore: it flows to the ocean in the South, we are going a bit further to the West.

Although we’re now following the elevated plateau, we entered a rather swampy area with the typical cotton grass sticking out its fluffy head here and there. Our goal is to find and make camp close to the start of the Brúará river, which is supposed to follow a beautiful valley. We end our day in a mossy meadow next to the river which is, judging from very well-fertilised areas, often frequented by geese and sheep. Today is definitely a micropur day!

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Our camp at the spring of the Brúará river.