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.

Dettifoss

Selfoss (or Selfiefoss if you’re Laurie)

Krafla

Leirhnjukur

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

Grjótagjá hot spring cave

Hverfell crater

Iceland – Day 1 – Double Rainbows and a Costco!

October 15, 2018

Keflavik (Reykjavik Int’l Airport) to Laugarvatn

Three weeks ago we decided to take our honeymoon in Iceland. We had planned on going to New Zealand in February but things have changed since.

So we bought 2 round trip tickets to Iceland on Wow Air for $500 total(!) flying nonstop from SFO to Reykjavik.

October is the shoulder season for tourism in Iceland, meaning there should be a slight dip in the number of tourists between the busy summer and winter months.

There is potential to see the northern lights and with less visitors ideally less company at many of the country’s many waterfalls.

With likely varied weather conditions (rain, sleet, sun and lots of wind) we didn’t plan much other than our first night’s destination. We wanted to be flexible to adapt to the weather.

This produced some anxiety for Laurie who is used to traveling with a set itinerary. But life is presenting many opportunities to work very hard on letting things unfold rather than trying to control it all.

Our flight was uneventful.

You had to pay for everything on WOW Air – blanket, pillow, water and no movies at all… but the seats were relatively comfy, had a lot of leg room and came with outlets. The 8 hour flight wasn’t horrible, however they never turned off the cabin lights. Next time we would bring face masks to be able to sleep!!

We snoozed and repositioned often – never sleeping more than 30 minutes at a time. We arrived in Iceland at 10:30am puffy eyed and delirious but excited.

We waited about 20 minutes for our shuttle to arrive and take us to our budget rental car off-site lot. We felt a little ashamed to be such typical impatient Americans but Andy had read that some of the local, smaller companies can drop the ball and people have been known to wait for over an hour for a ride. He wasn’t going to let that happen. So he called and they arrived 10 minutes later.

The first stop we made after picking up our Renault Cleo was to Costco.

Yup, Costco has a location in Iceland! Not having our Costco card with us we woke up Laurie’s godmother at 6am west coast time to read the number to us. And like that we were in!

We both like to save money where we can. We don’t eat out much and we don’t stay at fancy hotels, but we are okay spending $7 on blueberries. We stocked up on fresh foods (we had already packed freeze dried dinners, bars and snacks because we had heard that food is incredibly expensive in Iceland) and hit the road.

It was fun shopping at Costco in a foreign country. Some items were familiar (blueberries from Salinas, apples from Chile) but some things were not (peanuts referred to as monkey nuts).

We don’t know if this is what peanuts are called in other parts of the world too but we found it hilarious.

Iceland has a slower pace. Andy enjoys this. Even the automatic doors at gas stations and grocery stores open slowly. We both found ourselves prematurely trying to enter the supermarket “Bonus,” and giggled as we halted to let the doors open at their relaxed speed. The logo for “Bonus” is a pink piggy bank. It’s pretty cute.

We hit the road once more and were set to drive an hour to the small town of Laugarvatn where we had booked a room at a hostel.

But we were so tired. Andy pulled off the highway at a local park and we took 90 minute naps in the car.

Feeling somewhat human again after we woke up, we drove through Bláskógabyggð and Þingvellir National Park, Iceland’s first National Park. The landscape was stunning!

Volcanic, rugged and wild. Green moss covered mounds of dirt and volcanic earth. The clouds obscured the tops of mountains but we could see snow resting in the valleys. We “oohed and aahed” at the rainbows, the most vibrant and complete rainbows we have ever seen. We even saw a full double rainbow. It was incredible.

We stopped every 10 minutes to soak it all in and take pictures.

After driving through the park we made our final stop at a gas station next to our hostel. We needed fuel for our Jetboil and a lighter.

We easily got what we needed, drove to the hostel and checked in. We were both impressed how clean and cute the hostel was.

And we thought we had booked a room with a shared bath but we had a private one. We’ll take it!

We made dinner in the communal kitchen while chatting with a family from Switzerland.

Andy amazed them with tales of great hiking in their backyard that they had no idea was there. He got a kick out of this.

After dinner we joined the family in the dining hall to make a plan for the next two days.

Switzerland was playing Iceland in a soccer match and we enjoyed the distraction of animated kids as the game unfolded.

We are cozy in our twin beds listening to the rain batter the windows. Only one day in and already Iceland has captured our hearts.

Tonight we are grateful for patches of sunshine and double rainbows.

Backpacking in Vegas – Day 2

Bushcamp to Trail Canyon Trailhead

Miles: 13.4

Elev gain/loss: +3307 ft/ -5309 ft

We woke up around 6am feeling rested. Knowing it was going to be a long day, the night beforewe had decided to get up early and be walking by 7am.

Like on the PCT, Andy got out of his bag first, retrieved our food and cooked breakfast while Laurie snoozed a few moments longer.

As the sun rose, we savored its warmth while packeding the final pieces of our gear and continued on the switchbacks at 7:30am.

When we reached the saddle we choose to bag Griffith Peak without our packs. We stashed them down the hill, chugged some water and hiked the half mile to the 11,060 ft summit.

Five years ago the Carpenter 1 fire burned a sizeable chunk of the Spring Mountains, including much of the west side of Griffith Peak. Ten years ago when Andy had been there the forest was lush. But the burnt landscape had no effect on his satisfaction for being there with Laurie.

It was windy atop Griffith Peak so after taking a few photos and signing the register we turned around and went for Charleston Peak. We exchanged pleasantries with the only other human who camped on the mountain the night before and continued along the ridge through the burn area.

Andy loved looking toward the west and into Death Valley.  He knew Mount Whitney was out there, in the distance beyond Death Valley but it was not visible in the haze.

We stopped for a snack a few miles from Charleston Peak, then continued along the burn area. The trail runner who had passed us early in the morning was now on his descent. He informed us that the weather to the peak was stellar from here on out. That was good news as the winds can be quite fierce in this range.

After crossing the last of the burn area we were able to see Charleston Peak again. “It looks so far away” Laurie said dejectedly. Andy reassured her that with no switchbacks we were less than 2 miles away. All we had to do was keep truckin’ along.

“Slow and steady.” That is the motto that Laurie’s mom used when taking her hiking as a kid. Whenever at elevation or feeling sluggish that is what repeats in Laurie’s mind.

We came to the site of an old plane crash. Laurie continued on the main trail while Andy took some time to investigate.

Apparently the plane crashed in 1955 with 14 people on board who perished instantly. Andy later described walking around the debris as very eerie. He found it strange that major components of the plane have just been left on the mountain for so long.

We kept chugging along until we reached the top of the 3rd highest peak in Nevada! We felt proud and accomplished. Andy soaked in the views while Laurie took off her pack and took a break inside the man made wind-protected shelter.

It was so well insulated she became too warm and came back out a few moments later. We snacked, took a few photos and briefly chatted with two day hikers who arrived a few minutes after us.

Before noon we shouldered our packs and began our descent to the Trail Canyon Trailhead via the North Loop Trail. Long switchbacks cutting into the mountain above treeline are still one of Andy’s favorite features.

After the switchbacks we found ourselves back into the trees and on a VERY long traverse. The drop offs along the cliffs on the north side of Charleston Peak are so immense that the trail traverses north for 4.5 miles to a saddle where one can continue on the North Loop Trail or down to the town of Mt. Charleston via Trail Canyon Trail.

Laurie lost steam as the trail wound on and on. The views continued to be spectacular and the drop offs in a few spots were downright frightening for Andy, but the heat and the long miles were starting to wear on us both.

We quickly forgot about our tired legs and the heat as we once again crossed through the beautiful orange and yellow quaking aspens. We could see this patch of color from the trail the day before and thought it was beautiful then, but it was so much more magnificent up close.

After walking through the beautiful aspens, we took a shoes-off break at Cave Spring – which still had a steady flow. We snacked, drank more water and continued onward, knowing we were only 2.7 miles from the car.

After a relatively uneventful downhill we reached the trailhead and our car.

Andy really enjoyed sharing this experience with Laurie. These mountains held some special memories for him and he was delighted to have the opportunity to come back here so many years later and experience the beauty of these mountains again – only this time together.

Today we are grateful for ‘healthy’ Pringles and downhills that eventually end.

Griffith Peak (Elev 11,060 ft) and The Strip in the distance

Looking for Telescope Peak in Death Valley

Charleston Peak – Elev 11,916 ft