23 Oct 2016

East, North & North-East Iceland - Day 8: Hengifoss Again - Not Quite the Hike I thought I'd do

The storm from the previous evening had died down, but the weather hadn't improved greatly. I looked out of the window and couldn't see a great deal more of the mountain tops. This didn't bode well for my desire to do a 20km hike on my own. I decided to give it a miss - the second day in a row having to change my plans because of low cloud - and return to Hengifoss instead. The weather-forecast a little inland seemed to be better, so that seemed like a good option. It was quite a drive, a good 100km each way, back across the mountain pass, along the river valley to Egilsstaðir and then around the autumnal lake.

I set off late, after a nice buffet breakfast at the guesthouse with home-made bread and rhubarb and apple jam. The weather wasn't quite as bad as the previous day, but still not great. As I came around the edge of the nasty squiggly bit of road a patch of sun illuminated the hills on the other side of the fjord, giving me hope for some better light during the day.

I headed on towards the mountain pass and the cloud was definitely looking more patchy, increasing my hope even more. Perhaps I'd get to see these mountains today after all.

Obviously I had to stop a few times on the mountain pass, having totally fallen in love with its curves sweeping up into the clouds.

Looking back over the hamlet of Njarðvík the view was stunning, with patches of light above the hills.

I drove on upwards, stopping a few more times, including at the first trailhead to Störurð - there was no way I would hike alone in that weather. Safety aside, I wanted to actually see the mountain peaks that I was hiking beneath.

I reached the top of the pass, and drove past the second Störurð trailhead parking spot, past the pretty lake and down the other side.

I decided to stop at the last Störurð trailhead parking area to capture a pretty waterfall at the side of the road. The hillside was covered with the pretty red leaves, so I decided to take a few self-portraits too, the hike definitely off the list.

I was about to set off when a car with four guys parked up and they headed up the road. I asked if they were doing the Störurð hike and they were, leaving their car down at the bottom of the hill so that they'd get the big steep hill out of the way at the beginning of the hike. They asked if I was planning to do it and I gestured around and said I'd rather do it when it was clear. I guess I could've gone with them, but I wanted to do it alone, not at someone else's pace. Off they went, and I carried on, driving straight on to Egilsstaðir and continued on around the lake before stopping to capture some pretty autumn trees that I'd noticed the week before when I'd taken the same route. The patches of sunlight were intermittent.

Determined not to make the same mistake as the previous week - passing beautiful scenes without stopping - I made a point of pulling over a few times. Obviously the light wasn't nearly as good as on my previous visit, but that's life. I wanted to find a couple of spots I'd found on my winter trip in 2014 as I like to take similar shots on different visits - it's a bit of an obsession! The place actually looks a lot more picturesque with snow, but it was still rather lovely with the autumn colours. Oddly, even some of the fir trees turn orange in Iceland - not sure what that's all about!

I was rushing a bit, as I wanted to get to Hengifoss, hike up there, and still get back to the little waterfall just past Borgarfjörður-Eystri for sunset. It was around 1.30pm by the time I reached the car-park for the hike. There were a similar number of cars to my last visit - I certainly wasn't going to have this hike all to myself! I geared up and set off, racing up the hill on the normal track on the west bank of the canyon, overtaking a few people along the way. The sun had completely disappeared and it was mainly overcast bright white and grey skies above. My first stop was at the viewpoint to Litlanesfoss. From that side you got a much better view of the big drop of the falls, but I missed the view right above the basalt columns. But hey, it is actually an awesome view - serious basalt column heaven!

Next stop was Hengifoss, another 20 minutes or so of hiking beyond the Litlanesfoss viewpoint, at the speed I was going anyway. As you reach the last stretch of the river below the falls there's a massive boulder field - with brown striped rocks stacked randomly on the river's shore.

Along the trail other pretty waterfalls can be seen.

The falls are visible for a while before you get to the end of the trail, and you can never get all that close, as the river is almost impossible to cross and there are scree slopes blocking the way to the bottom of the falls.

There were quite a few people around, mostly pairs, who would get to the falls, take a few shots (including selfies, obviously), before heading back down the hill - Hengifoss, check! I noticed a guy on the far side of the river, which gave me hope that crossing the river might be possible after all. He jumped over some stones in the river to get back to the side I was on, via a little cluster of rocks in the middle of the river. I decided that I could easily make that section, but didn't want to risk going any further (falling into a fast-flowing river with all my camera gear would not be a good end to my holiday!). I got a few shots of him jumping over the rocks before taking his place at the cluster of rocks.

The guy was wearing cowboy boots, which apparently had a hole in them, which meant the whole process hadn't been very comfortable for him. In my wellies I had no problems! It was a good little spot and when the other few people there had gone I took a few self-portraits myself, with the camera on 10-second timer, giving me enough time to jump across a few rocks to get into position.

For once I decided to actually face the camera and get a shot of me from the front, rather than my usual looking-off-into-the-distance shots. One for my mum :)

A few girls arrived and I felt a little self-conscious doing the selfies, but I carried on for a bit until I got some I was happy with. Time was ticking on so I eventually packed up my gear, jumped back across the river, and headed downhill. I wondered whether I'd be able to get a little closer to Litlanesfoss from that side, so did a little detour towards the canyon. I was pleased to find that I could see the top of the falls and the tops of the basalt columns so perched on the edge trying to get a few shots.

I noticed some people walking along the top of the canyon which gave a good sense of scale of the enormous basalt cliffs below the falls.

Having managed not to fall down the cliff I continued downhill, stopping one last time to capture Litlanesfoss in its entirety. You can see the grassy patch above the falls to the right - that's where I perched on my previous visit, perilously dangling the camera over the edge.

I hurried down towards the car-park, stopping a few times to capture the wonderful canyon, in places filled with rich autumnal colours.

Upon reaching the car I decided to drive back along the north side of the lake, past the spot where I'd first really seen the northern lights two and half years earlier. It's a gorgeous drive on that side too, with good views now visible of the freshly-snowy-covered mountains to the south. I stopped when I noticed a sculpture - not sure it was there on my previous visit. I looked up who the monument was dedicated to - it was Jóhann Magnús Bjarnason, an Icelandic novelist and poet who emigrated to Canada.

I only stopped once more on that stretch of road, where I'd taken a few shots in the snow. It had been an overcast day, but there was some sun and light snow falling. A small patch of grasses had poked out of the snow and the shadows were exquisite. I found the grasses, but they didn't look special at all without the snow. The road, too, looked rather ordinary.

I passed through Fellabær and Egilsstaðir and onto the route 94 back towards Borgarfjörður-Eystri. The clouds had lifted from the mountain tops a bit, so I was hopeful that I might finally get a glimpse of the impressive jagged mountains - including the gappy bit - that lay ahead. The light still wasn't great but I did get to see the peaks that I'd been hoping for.

The views were great as I wound around the top of the mountain pass, even though it looks more mysterious when the mountaintops are shrouded in cloud.

I snaked down the hairpin bends and switchbacks, reaching Njarðvík, along the bendy coastal bit, straight through the town to my little beach on the other side - Kolbeinsfjara. I tried to find a way down to the beach but all of the small cliffs were slightly too steep to navigate down. I wandered along to try a couple of other places, but still no luck.

I noticed a possible trail down next to the waterfall, so tramped through the damp grasses to the top and managed to get down pretty easily. It was a lovely little beach, covered in black pebbles, rocks and seaweed. At the far end was a small waterfall that I'd seen the day before, and in the distance the tops of the mountains were just visible in the fading light. There was no sunset to speak of, but some of the clouds turned a little pink and a little blue.

The light faded fast and the blue hour set in. It was great to be back on a beach again - I realised that I'd been lacking beach visits on this trip - lots of waterfalls and winding roads, but almost no beaches! I stayed until I could barely see anything, glad for my torch to help me climb back up the trail to get to the car.

For supper back at the guesthouse I ate the remains of the enormous pizza - it had been keeping me going for two extra days! Once it was dark I took a Myrkvi beer (the delicious Borg coffee porter) down to the hot tubs. There were two tubs - one rustic, clad with wood, and one plastic. I sat in the bubbling hot water, alone, watching the waves crash against the rock, enjoying my tasty black beer, worrying about work back home. The clouds had - yet again - come over, so no chance to see the northern lights. It would have been an awesome place to see them! I stayed out there for ages, thinking how nice it would be to live somewhere with a view of the sea and the noise of the waves crashing against the shore. Eventually my skin was shrivelled and the beer finished, so I headed back up to my room, still glad to be able to hear the sea outside. The weather forecast for my final full day in Iceland was good, so I set my alarm reasonably early before getting an early night.

Check out my Day 7 blog - a rainy drive and missed mountain passes