As I approached the top of the hill I suddenly had a brainwave. I was planning to do the same as the Belgian guys and leave the car at the bottom of the hill, walking up the road at the beginning of the hike when I'd have more energy. My brainwave was to leave my heavy tripod and water at the top of the hill, so I didn't have to carry it that additional 3km. I could have probably left all my gear up there, but I was nervous to do that - the tripod and water would be fine and were unlikely to be stolen (I'm sure I could've left my whole bag and wallet too and it would've been fine). Another car was parked so someone must have started the hike ahead of me. After dropping off the heavy goods I drove down to the bottom car-park, got my gear ready (changing socks to thick ones as the thin ones made my wellies rub against my heels - yes, I was doing a 20km hike in wellies!), and headed off. It was already 11am, but I'd have plenty of time to complete the hike before it got dark.
The first stretch was tough - steep uphill, but the views down to the coast and across the river plain were delightful. There was an enormous expanse of black sand, dotted with grasses, and the sea was a beautiful blue. In the valley a blue river meandered inland, and the mountains above were covered in fresh snow. If those views had been the only ones I'd seen it would still have gone down as a magnificent hike, but a lot better was to come.
I had hoped that a car might have passed that I could have hitched to the trailhead with, but the first car to go past me was when I was about 30 metres from my destination! As I neared the top of the hill I noticed a coach pull in to investigate a couple of new huts that were being built; I'd noticed the workmen there when I passed the previous day. I also decided to have a look, and reached them once the coach had continued on. They had massive glass windows overlooking the valley, but I couldn't work out what they were going to be for - no plumbing or separate rooms, so definitely not cabins; perhaps some kind of museum or monument.
I reached the lake at the top after about 35 or 40 minutes and walked a little further to pick up my tripod and water (glad to have a good slug of it!) and head up the trail.
Ascending the trail the views just got better and better. I had a fantastic panoramic view of the road winding up from the flat valley and down to the fjord at Njarðvik on the other side of the pass - it was just beautiful. The roads and rivers snaked across the landscape. Perhaps the road designer had seen the rivers and wanted to mimic their path...
It was truly glorious and even the wind had dropped at the top so it was pleasant and warm. I took a few self-portraits of me enjoying the wonderful view.
Exactly two hours after I set off I came around a hillside and got my first glimpse of the strange Dyrfjöll mountain - the pointy one with the gap in it.
I almost raced the next section, keen to see the mountain in its full glory. It didn't take me long to come over the brow of the hill and the whole of the impressive range was there in front of me. Again, the view took my breath away! When I'd seen pictures of it and even got a glimpse the previous evening I'd thought it was a rather ugly mountain, but in the flesh, with a fresh covering of snow, in the sun, it was just stunning!
The sun was hidden behind some clouds, so the pointy peaks were in the shade, but soon it came out. Down the hill slightly was some incredibly intensely green moss, so I set my tripod up and took a few self-portraits, wowed by the view ahead of me. The green is real!
I reached the bottom of the hill, and there was a huge, flat grassy area, with a river flowing downhill. I crossed the river and headed towards the pools, following the signs for a Stórurð loop hike. It took me to the turquoise pools that I'd seen in pictures. They were indeed an incredible colour. Everything here was really mind-blowing!
I stopped and ate my packed lunch, but was keen to continue as I knew I had at least another 8km to get back to the car (and I still had a fairly long drive). Before I headed on I wanted to find a viewpoint where I could see the blue pools with a backdrop of the peaks; I hadn't really passed such a view on the loop walk. I went back to the beginning and then crossed to the other side of the boulder field and clambered up in between a few, finding bits of path here and there where others had presumably tried the same thing. I found one area that was nearly what I was looking for and took a few shots. It wasn't quite perfect, but it'd have to do for this visit (this was somewhere I would definitely be coming back to).
I turned round every few minutes, stopping to take more photos. No more, I'd tell myself, then have a sneaky glance over my shoulder to check out the view, stopping again to take just one more shot of the view. The landscape covered in red leaves didn't help my cause. It was just idyllic. The clouds over the mountains were growing, but the sky was still mostly blue.
The path seemed to go on forever. The light was beginning to fade and the ISO was getting turned up to cope with the lack of light.
Eventually the road loomed into view - I had turned that corner. It was a sight for sore eyes (and legs!). The last bit didn't take too long, now I had my destination in view, and soon I could see my little white car.
I zoomed back towards town and took the turn-off just before you reach it that heads up across yet another mountain pass. It was almost sunset and I stopped at a pull-out at the top of the hill to look down across the town, under a rather pretty sky. From that point I could see the whole of Lagarfljót and the mountains beyond - visibility was amazing in comparison to the past few days!
The pass took me across a high flat area with a large lake. There were some snowy mountains, glowing vaguely in the dusky light, but there was no opportunity to stop. Before I knew it I was winding down the usual switchbacks and hairpin bends and heading towards the little port town.
The Post-Hostel was at the far end of the town, near a little harbour, and I checked in before having a quick drive around to scope out potential spots for northern light spotting later on. The road became gravelly a little further on, but it looked as if there might still be too much light pollution from the little town. I then drove, rather lazily, to the centre, and parked opposite Kaffi Lara El Grillo Bar, where the two girls from San Francisco I'd met at Möðrudalur had recommended, telling me that it had an awesome beer selection. I was rather disappointed not to have spent longer in the town, as it was such a quaint place, with pretty wooden houses, and a pale blue church, with its own rainbow pathway leading up to the front door. The restaurant/bar was cosy and I ordered a delicious lamb dish, washed down by an extremely expensive limited edition Borg beer (AYC Ayia - an Indian Pale Ale for Kr 1,600 - about £11!!). Just as well as I was driving, as I didn't want to order any more of those, even though it was tasty.
After supper I headed back to the hostel, a pleasant-enough place, and got my gear ready for my last chance at aurora spotting. Obviously the clouds had grown as the sky had darkened, leaving very few patches of clear sky, but most of the cloud was very light. I wandered across the road first to the harbour to see what I could see. There was a vague green glow above the fjord, but not a great deal to write home about. I took a couple of shots of the boats too, but the lights from a couple of houses drowned out everything!
I tried a few shots of the Milky Way above the mountain pass and noticed a strange orange glow low on the horizon, which must have been from the "city" lights from Egilsstaðir - it was quite eerie.
The cloud came back, getting thicker and thicker. Together with that and the lack of hood and thick scarf meaning my neck was constantly cold, I didn't manage to stay out long, calling it a day at 11.45pm. Besides, I had to come home and pack, as I had an early start the following morning to get back to the airport at Egilsstaðir - I also wanted to have a quick look around the town in daylight.
It had been such a fantastic day - one of my best in Iceland, starting with a beautiful morning, one of the best day hikes I've ever done in my life, some awesome roads, a pretty sunset, tasty food and beer, and finally a little spot of northern lights to see me on my way and remind me of why I keep on coming back...
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