Uni-Packing in Iceland: Day 6

I almost didn’t finish the route on Day 6. I woke at Þórsmörk tired and sore, with aching toes and crotch, not feeling up to hiking almost all of the 25 km and 1000 m that separated me and Skógar. But as I ate breakfast, resigned to an unplanned rest day, the clouds lifted and the sun shone on the Fimmvörðuháls pass. On a whim, I decided to do it. “Þetta reddast”, I giggled softly to myself.

Author’s note: this is post is included in a series of articles I have written about this trip. To read more, check out the links below or use the “Iceland 2017” category on the sidebar to filter posts:

Lastly, thanks to Michel and crew for the pictures of me riding at Baldvin! It was nice to get at least one of me actually on the wheel. 🙂

I’d learned the phrase “Þetta reddast” from two Icelandic tour guides during dinner the night before. Loosely translated, it means “It will all work out”. It was with this sense of optimistic fatalism—I was tired but no so exhausted I wouldn’t make it over the pass—that I snarfed the rest of my breakfast and scrambled to pack. The weather was good in that moment, but who knew how long it would hold?

The sun shone on the mountains, promising a good last day. Also, check out that crazy 4×4 bus rolling through the river. These beefed-up busses shuttled tourists and hikers several times a day to and from the Langidalur hut.

The trail from the Langidalur hut towards Skógar begins by running along the Þórsmörk valley for a few kilometers, past the Basar hut, before it ascends into the mountains. The vegetation quickly diminishes as you cross the infamous Cat Spine and eventually top out onto a massive plateau, where a glacier from the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap winks in the distance.

Know where you’re going?
Once again, no sunscreen meant I had to get a little creative with my skin protection.
The trail follows along mountain ridges, affording lovely views of the isolated creek valley below.
One of the rock sections had a rope to help you climp up.
The iconic “Cat Spine” section of the trail. Falling here is not recommended.
The trail eventually winds up to the top of a big, broad plateau. This is the view from that plateau looking down. The dark line in the hillside on the right is the trail.
This is what the view from the top of the plateau looks like towards the east. In the distance there you can see part of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap.

From the plateau, you then walk a narrow ridge to the mountainside. Then it’s more up. Up into the clouds, past two volcanic craters from the 2010 eruption, and into kilometers of snow. The fog was thick. Each time I got to a trail marker I wondered if I would be able to see the next one or if I would be stranded in an island of mist. But the posts kept going, so I did too.

Cool rock arch.
Not much for me to see in the Fimmvörðuháls pass.
Snowy and wet boots were the name of the game.

After a few hours of hiking, I topped out over a ridge and was surprised to see my halfway point—the Baldvin hut—standing right there. The uphill portion was over! The remaining half was downhill to Skógar. When I came over the ridge I surprised a group of hikers who were admiring the eerie scenery, with its red-colored rocks and prevailing mist. They told me I reminded them of someone from Mad Max, which is pretty much the biggest compliment you can pay me. They also took some pictures of me riding and were kind enough to send them to me after they returned home, which I really appreciate. If you’re reading this, Michel, thanks again for the cool snapshots!

Baldvin hut and the support Jeep.
This is how I carried the unicycle for the sections where I couldn’t push it (e.g., expansive snow or steep uphill). Michel also snapped a picture of me riding, which is the image featured at the very top of this article. With my bandanna up to protect my skin against the sun, I see now why they likened the scene to Mad Max.

I decided to have a warm and relaxed lunch at Baldvin. The hard part of the day was over, after all! The hut is relatively expensive—it cost 500 ISK (about $5) to use the facilities, even if you just want to fill a water bottle. (This makes sense: the hut is pretty isolated and there’s no water source so getting supplies there isn’t easy.) I knew about the cost in advance, so I had no problem forking over the money and relaxing in peace. After leisurely eating my food and drinking two cups of hot tea, I packed everything up and donned my still-wet gear for the last portion of the trip.

Unicycle greetings in the Baldvin logbook. Gotta leave a little note, right?
The trail followed a Jeep road from the hut, but there were so many big, loose rocks kicked up from the supply Jeep that I was unable to ride. That was kind of a bummer.
As I dropped, I slowly came out of the clouds and my clothing started to dry a little. Except for the sweat I was pouring out, of course. That’s a normal state of being for me.

The trail eventually left the Jeep road and began to follow the curves of the Skógá (the ending “-á” means river), which is the river that feeds Skogafoss (“-foss” means waterfall). Here, the trail was hard-packed earth through grass and moss, and there were more ridable sections. Also sheep.

Oh, and did I mention there were waterfalls?

The last several kilometers featured waterfall after waterfall after waterfall. Big, small, narrow, wide, even a double waterfall. Eventually I got waterfalled out and had to stop taking pictures of every single one or I would’ve never made it to the end of the trail. There were just too many.

Beautiful scenery.
If you see a big waterfall, why not take a picture with that majestic beastie?
Can you imagine standing beneath this big guy? I think you might die.

Classic Iceland colors.The closer I got to Skogafoss, the more tourists there were. So I stopped a few kilometers from the end of the trail to take time and reflect over the last six days, since I knew I wouldn’t have time to do it once I finished. It was…bittersweet. Obviously I was glad to get off the trail, get out of my too-small boots, change my clothes, take off my riding shorts. But I was also sad to be re-entering the world of cars and pavement and grocery stores. There’s something really relaxing about the isolation of nature. She doesn’t care what you look like or how you act, as long as you respect her. I was going to have to put my social face back on, and sometimes that takes a while to stick.

My mixed feelings are shown perfectly in this picture I took of myself during my “reflection break”. I’m normally either grinning like a dork or trying to have no expression at all, but here I’m smiling but not with all my heart. I was happy, but part of me wasn’t ready to go back.

The last two kilometers went quickly. The trail became groomed gravel, and I found a family to chat with while they were heading back to their car. All too soon I was at the top of Skogafoss looking down. Then I was at the bottom of the stairs, walking to the base of the falls. A few triumphant pictures were in order—both by myself and with random tourists—then a chat with some trail buddies, and finally I hit the road.

Or rather, I stuck my thumb out.

Skógar and Vík are about 30 km apart along the Ring Road. There was no way I was riding that. Luckily, I caught a ride about 30 minutes after first starting to hitchhike, and that guy took me halfway. I quickly got a second ride from a wonderful mom-and-daughter crew who dropped me off safe and sound in Vík.

I had made it.

Above-mentioned triumphant photo at the base of Skogafoss. I was so excited to have successfully completed the trip that I almost broke into tears a few times. Instead I settled for grinning so widely my face almost cracked in half.

Roadside lupines kept me company while I thumbed for a ride to Vík.
Safe and sound in Vík! It felt so, so cool to be back.
Round three of my fantastic celebration dinner at Sudur Vik (which I highly, highly recommend): brownies with strawberries and locally made ice cream. This was eaten after my first two rounds: fresh salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and wood-fired pizza. I was in heaven.
I ended my successful adventure by toasting all the people who had helped get me there—my family for supporting me, my friends for being good role models, and a tiny toast to myself for not giving up on Day 4 like I’d wanted to do—and to all the people I met on the trail. To old and new friends near and far: thanks for everything. This one’s for you. 🙂

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