Day 5 – Highway To The Thermal Zone

October 19, 2018

Seydisfjordur to Myvatn

In order to see the northern lights one must have all three of the following: solar activity, clear(ish) skies and little light pollution. Last night there was a slight chance (a score 3 out of 9) for solar activity and clear skies. Our hostel was on the outskirts of town.

That was enough for Andy to set his alarm for midnight with hopes to see his first northern light show.

There were a few stars out at midnight so Andy got dressed and headed outside. He looked up and immediately saw a shooting star.

He was happy. It wasn’t too cold and the sky kept clearing. He was hopeful. He called his parents, blogged and saw a few more shooting stars.

Around 1:30am the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, but Andy persisted.

At 1:45am he thought he heard chickens. Fearing he was hallucinating, he thought it was time for bed but he kept hearing them and remembered the hostel offered fresh chicken eggs for 50ISK. Then he heard the ducks calling.

He couldn’t help but laugh.

He returned inside around 2:15am disappointed but content with the multiple shooting stars. Laurie was sound asleep spread across the double bed but easily moved over to let Andy in.

We both had trouble opening our eyes when the alarm went off at 7 am. We bargained with one another and finally got up at 8. We opted to eat on the road to save precious time and daylight. It was going to be another jam packed day.

Our first stop was a waterfall just past the hostel in the opposite direction. The morning air was fresh and only a few clouds hung in the sky. We scampered up the hillside, Laurie aching to just keep hiking.

The constant feeling of needing to keep moving to see it all has been the hardest part of this trip. The weather makes it really hard to plan and there is just too much beauty to see in 10 days.

Essentially this trip feels like a scouting trip so we will know where to come and spend more time next time we come. (And there will be a next time – this country is amazing!!)

We stopped off at Gufufoss waterfall on our way back up the hairpin turns.

On the way down from the pass we noticed a car on the side of the road facing us at an awkward angle. We slowed and stopped to help an older French couple who had veered off the road and buried their wheels in the steep bank.

We were the first of 7 cars to stop and try to help. It was amazing to see how helpful everyone was. Andy and another gentleman attempted to push the car out but the wheels spun and dug deeper into the loose soil.

Ultimately a suave Icelandic driver backed the car down further into the ditch to level it out a bit and gain traction. He then slowly and methodically drove backwards partway up the bank. A big rig positioned itself on the narrow 2 lane road to pull the car out. The locals strapped one end of a tow rope to the car and one to the truck.

As the truck driver slowly inched forward and Mr. Suave slowly drove in reverse, the right rear wheel of the car came off the ground. After a few tense moments all four wheels were on tarmac once again. All the bystanders applauded the efforts of the friendly and helpful locals.

From here it was a long 2 hour stretch through snowy alpine tundra and along a river.

We have been checking the road conditions religiously since we are not in a 4wd car. The road to Dettifoss indicated there were patches of ice but it was fine to drive. We were reassured to see the road was paved all the way to the west side parking lot.

Dettifoss is the largest waterfall in Europe. It is much wider than most and the amount of water that thunders down is insane- according to one guidebook 500 cubic meters (17,700 cubic feet) of water spill over the ledge every second.

The area around the falls is all volcanic and it was fun walking around what felt like a Mars like environment.

Selfoss was a 1 km walk upstream and was a smaller but similarly powerful waterfall. While Dettifoss is a singular and long waterfall at a ~45° angle, Selfoss is more of a bowl shaped waterfall and very pretty in its own right.

Back in the car we drove to Krafla, past a power plant and up to the caldera which was formed during the volcanic activity of the 1970-1980s known as the “Krafla- fires.”

On the way down we saw a bunch of cars and one tour bus parked in a snowy parking lot. Tour buses are our indication of something interesting so we followed the muddy footprints through the snow to the colorful crater of Leirhnjukur.

The sulphur smell was strong but the light blue water and surrounding orange clay provided a nice contrast to the dark molten lava and snow.

We were happy we made the side trip but yet again there was so much to see and it was already 3:30pm. With 2 hours of daylight remaining we opted to skip seeing more geothermal mud pits and instead turned toward the underground hot spring of Grjótagjá.

Unfortunately it is too hot to swim in but to the hands it was nice and the water was incredibly clear. On the way out Andy hit his head on a rock neither of us saw, resulting in a sizeable welt on his forehead (what Armenians call a shishka).

Laurie of course started laughing as Andy asked rubbing his booboo, “Ah, what was that?”

“A rock probably” spit out Laurie amidst giggles.

“Yes, definitely a rock ” confirmed Laurie after lightly hitting her head on the same rock.

Our last stop of the day was the 3,280 foot wide crater of Hverfell. We hurried up the steep path along the side of the crater trying to stay warm. The strong wind whipped sand at our faces near the top.

Once at the top we stayed long enough to take one picture before turning our backs to the wind and heading down.

We checked into our bed and breakfast and went out to eat a nice, tasty farm to table meal.

The restaurant was called Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe. They use the word “cowshed” quite literally as there were cows eating hay right next to the dining room, but that did not stop us from ordering a burger.

We split that and a lamb flank. With so many sheep grazing about we had to try some of the local cuisine.

We are now cozy in bed in our tiny little room with a wall of windows. Fingers crossed for an active evening of northern lights! Today’s score is 4 out of 9 so there may be some green lights overhead..

Tonight we are grateful for sunshine and farm to table restaurants.


Selfoss (or Selfiefoss if you’re Laurie)



Leirhnjukur hot shower (there’s a sink next to it too!)

Grjótagjá hot spring cave

Hverfell crater

Wet Weather Training

We hadn’t hiked in months.

Work and the holidays had consumed our lives.

We were itching to get outside.

To hike again. Rain or shine.

A friend joined us for a 14 mile loop hike in Mt. Diablo State Park.

With rain in the forecast and it being a Friday, no one else was in the Mitchel Canyon Visitor Center parking lot at 10am.

We laced up our shoes and headed for the fire road, hopeful the rain would hold  off.

The fire road twisted and turned up the mountain. The forest was green, fragrant and alive.

As we gained elevation, it started to sprinkle. Then, the skies opened up. It felt as if we were were being pelted by the driving rain.

Gusts of wind up to 40mph made for slow going on the really step sections of road.

After three hours, we reached the Mt. Diablo Summit and sought shelter inside the visitor center.

Once inside, we look off our rain gear and had lunch in the video viewing area.

At 2pm, we left our cozy shelter to re-enter the windy, wet gray world. We took the North Peak Trail and loved wandering down a narrow path lined with manzanita trees and mushrooms.

Though we’ve never been, we imagined this is what hiking in Ireland must be like. For moments the clouds would part and green rolling hillsides popped into view.

Shortly after, we turned into Bald Ridge Trail – another fabulous but steep trail. Soonafer we found ourselves on the muddy and slippery Back Creek Trail. If you want a good workout, take these trails up to Mt. Diablo.

Our last turn was onto Bruce Lee Road. It was stunning!

But then it turned muddy for about a mile. But no matter. We hiked with heavy boots until we reached our car.

Feeling accomplished, we cleaned our shoes with the scrubs provided by the park (thank you state park!!) and headed home.













Hike stats

Miles: 14
Hours: 7
Elevation gain: 3,479 ft

Trail: Mitchell Canyon Road > Deer Flat Road > Juniper Trail > Summit Trail to Mt. Diablo Visitor Center

Return: Summit Trail > North Peak Trail > Bald Ridge Trail > Back Creek Trail > Bruce Lee Rd > Mitchell Canyon

Yosemite!! – Part 2 – Half Dome Night Hike

Note: this write up is from our hike in June, 2015

We drove to Olmstead Point with permits in hand feeling excited and tired. We had already hiked 15 miles today, and in a few short hours we would hike another 16 miles.

Around 8pm we made our way to the Happy Isles trail head parking lot. With the windows cracked open slightly for ventilation, we tried to sleep. Laurie – being the champion sleeper that she is – was out like a light in 10 minutes. But with a steering wheel between my legs and constantly worrying about rangers patrolling the parking lot I had a difficult time turning off my brain.

With cars constantly entering and leaving the parking lot, and the rangers checking for people sleeping in their cars every half hour, I didn’t sleep even for a moment.

By 10:30pm I’d had it. Laurie woke up yet again from my fidgeting and we decided to get our gear together and start hiking.

We were on the trail by 11:30, feeling wired with excitement.

The critters really do come out at night. I saw many insects I never do during the day – like this scorpion.

We turned right onto the John Muir Trail and soon realized that although there was a full moon out tonight, it wasn’t going to light our way. We would need our headlamps.

The first few miles came easy. We enjoyed walking in solitude, hearing only our breaths as we climbed.

The temperature was wonderful too. Upper 60s to low 70s.

Half way up the switchbacks on the JMT I began to feel really tired. I could have taken off my pack and napped on the trail. But instead, I ate a bar (or two) and kept walking.

Laurie was feeling great and enjoying herself too.

Around 2am we reached the bridge near the intersection of the JMT and the Mist Trail. Feeling good and with the moon finally above us, we enjoyed a few miles of headlamp free hiking. Once in tree cover again, we turned on our headlamps as we turned left towards Half Dome at the trail junction.

Around 4:30am we neared the base of Sub Dome. We were tired and wanted to wait for day break before heading up, so we took a 30 minute nap. We found flat ground to the left of the trail and laid out our deflated air pads on top of our Tyvek ground sheet. With our dirty, sweaty hiking clothes we got into our sleeping bags and were fast asleep.

Laurie’s alarm woke her up. But I didn’t hear it. When Laurie woke me up, I had no idea where I was and what I was doing. Feeling cold, Laurie threatened to leave without me if I didn’t get up asap.

After coming to, I got up, packed up and we were on the trail 5 minutes later.

We reached the cables as day broke. Another spectacular day in Yosemite was upon us.

I’ve hiked Half Dome twice before and I still got the butterflies standing there gazing up the cables. This piece of granite scares me. The cables scare me. The exposure scares me. The height scares me. But I still do it. I love taking deep breaths, telling myself I can do this, and then doing it!

Laurie had hiked Half Dome three times before – two of those being night hikes. Half Dome does not scare her.

The bright orange sun and the claps of three women greeted us at the top of Half Dome. My forearms were burning and I was panting, but I didn’t care. I had overcome my fears once again.

On top of Half Dome we celebrated with hot soup thanks to our Jetboil 🙂

An hour and a half later we were ready to head down. I went first, facing Half Dome. For whatever reason, I feel more comfortable hiking down with my back toward Sub Dome. Laurie had lots of time to wait as I slowly made my way down and took a few photos capturing the steepness of the cables in some sections. I can’t believe some people hike this rock when the cables are down.

We passed many, many day hikers headed up as we made our way down the trail.

The John Muir Trail was the route of choice on our descent as well because of the gentle grade compared to the Mist Trail – which is shorter but steeper. The waterfalls are beautiful and we recommend the Mist Trail if you’ve never hiked it before, but we chose to save the pounding on our knees.

After a quick break to enjoy the views of spectacular Nevada Fall from the JMT, we continued down the trail.

We were exhausted by the time we made it back to the car. After changing into cotton t-shirts and flip flops, we went to Curry Village for the most disappointing burgers we’ve had. The chips and hummus though were delicious!

Eager to beat the Bay Area traffic, we hit the road shortly after. But we were really tired. A few miles past the 1,000 Trails campground junction, I pulled over on Highway 120 and we napped for 20 or 30 minutes before continuing on.

We love playing in Yosemite and look forward to returning soon – maybe for some winter activities…if we get any snow.