15 Oct 2016

East, North & North-East Iceland - Day 2: Waterfalls Galore in Mjóifjörður in the Fog & Drizzle

The clouds had truly settled in overnight and the forecast of drizzle and low cloud was not wrong. I was glad I'd visited Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss the previous day, as it involved a couple of hours of hiking, so today I could spend most of the day in the car, spotting waterfalls in Mjóifjorður from the comfort of my dry vehicle.

Obviously that didn't happen, and I donned my waterproof gear and stood around for ages in the drizzle taking photos.

Breakfast at the Birta guesthouse was provided on trays in the fridge, and they'd left me enough for my two days there (or so I thought) - a pot of Skyr (yum!), an apple, and some bread, cheese, butter and jam. Enough to set me up for a day's excursion in the murky east fjords.

The drive out of Egilsstaðir was beautiful, in spite of the weather. I remembered driving uphill out of the town in the snow on a strange almost-sunny day two and half years earlier, the roads covered in snow, a halo around the sun. I'd pulled over to take some photos and the road off to Mjóifjorður was closed. The reasons became clear to me today, as I drove uphill towards the cloud.

The further up towards the pass I drove, the lower visibility became, and as I reached what could have been the top of the mountain pass the visibility was very poor - only really being able to see the next yellow post (no photos, for obvious reasons, not even a cheeky one on the iPhone as I was driving). The road is fantastic, with endless hairpin bends, but I took it extremely slowly. When I can see I may put my foot down a bit, but this definitely required some care. The roads were, not surprisingly, completely empty, although I had passed one car pulled over at the beginning of the road.

Eventually I wove down towards the fjord and caught sight of the layers of the Klifbrekkufossar falls, just visible through the mist, visibility slightly improving as I descended. I pulled over and parked the car in a pull-out area and wandered down the wet path towards the falls to take a few shots. My shoes were soaked immediately, the hole in the top allowing the water-droplets from the shrubs straight in.

I looked around and water poured down every hillside around me too; I was surrounded by falls.

I decided that the drizzle wasn't too bad, so came back to the car and geared up (waterproof over-trousers and jacket, wellies, baseball cap and hat (good combination for keeping the rain off my face and my head warm, even if I look ridiculous), gloves, and rain-cover for the camera), carrying the heavy tripod with me. As I was about to set off, the car I'd passed earlier parked up and a middle-aged Indian couple got out, the man also laden with camera gear. He asked if I minded if he joined me at my chosen spot - of course not, I told him (if it had been a tour group I might have been less accommodating). I wandered down the wet path and set about capturing the beautiful falls, the top layers barely visible in the gloom. The man came too, with his wife standing around looking bored. This is why my husband stays at home, I told her, and she gave me a knowing look.

After a while I crossed a small river and continued up towards the base of the falls, the man following me (the wife went back to the car). The hills near the falls were covered in autumnal shrubs - every leaf covered in water droplets, and the hillsides flowing with tiny, unnamed, temporary falls. It was quite lovely, and the drizzle even let up from time to time (it's quite an effort to compose a shot with the raincover on, so the respite was welcome, albeit brief).

Along the bank beneath the lowest fall were rocky moss-covered cliffs. I played around with ND filters to change the exposure time and look of the water flowing, as well as the polarising filter to adjust the reflection in the water and on the rocks and vegetation.

It isn't the easiest set of waterfalls to capture, but I still loved it, and wished it was a lovely sunny day with the spray backlit by the sun and the mountains above visible (next time!). Could have done with the Indian guy wearing trousers without a luminous green stripe down them too. He was shooting with a wide angle lens with a pointless hood and had to wipe the lens after each shot; I was glad for the extra rain protection that the hood on my 24-70mm lens provided me. I still checked it for errant rain or waterfall-drops regularly.

Eventually I headed back to the car, stopping again to capture the beautiful autumnal hillsides around me.

I continued down towards the fjord, the sides of which I could barely see still - low mist clinging to every hillside. I soon reached the shipwreck but decided to stop on the way back, driving along the north side of the fjord first. The road was gravel and very poor in places, with bumps and muddy-water-filled potholes everywhere. My little car seemed to be doing okay, but I was nervous about running it aground! I drove along the fjord, without any real goal in mind, just exploring. The road wound around the edge of the fjord, where pretty ducks and geese bobbed around. About a third of a way along the road I passed the one small settlement, with a cute church sitting beneath fog-covered jagged peaks.

Shortly afterwards I drove past a little harbour, where it looked as if some fisherman were working (it turns out that there are some holiday cottages to rent there - might have to check them out next time!). I carried on down the side of the fjord for a while longer, thinking I'd just drive a little bit further, past that next blindhæd, round that next corner... but I just kept on going. I finally stopped at a pretty waterfall that flowed down into the fjord and took a few photos.

Although I wanted to go further, I got a bit nervous about the quality of the road at that point, so I turned round and headed west again.

I continued on, stopping again at a massive waterfall running under the road bridge. The fall is in the Hofsárgljúfur canyon. At the edge of the fjord grasses were covered in more water-droplets than I'd ever seen before. The fog was beginning to lift a little, revealing peaks towering above me. Another smaller waterfall trickled down the slopes nearby.

Eventually I carried on back past the settlements towards the shipwreck, the mist swirling around the hills on the opposite bank.

The shipwreck was quite stark, perched on the side of the fjord, the red paint still visible, camouflaging some of the rust. A couple of cars passed by, but I'd seen almost no-one all day.

The drive took me back past Klifbrekkufossar and as I approached the clouds lifted to reveal a very pointed mountain above to the south-west. I could only imagine how spectacular the peaks were without cloud, but they still looked pretty stunning with only a tiny amount visible!

After taking a few more shots near the falls I drove back up the winding road, now able to see a bit more of where I was going. Visibility was still limited but near the top of the pass there was a gap in the clouds and a great view back down to the fjord above the winding road with some inverted cloud hanging beneath me.

 As I reached the very top of the pass the fog was low to the road again, and I was soon back to driving slowly from one yellow post to the next.

The road back down the other side seemed to go on forever, especially since I could see very little. At one point I cleaned the windows and bizarrely came out of the low cloud at the very same moment that the wipers cleared the windscreen - suddenly everything was clear again!

I drove down on into Egilsstaðir and back to the guesthouse to chill out for a while. Again there was no chance of northern lights (or clear skies) that night, so at least I didn't have to spend the evening manically checking the forecasts and worrying about where to go. I wanted to eat at a restaurant near my guesthouse (Café Nielsen) but it was closed for refurbishment, so I drove the short distance back to Salt. I tried a tandoori lamb burger which was basically chunks of delicious marinated lamb - definitely a better choice than the previous night's prawn healthy pizza. As I ate a woman arrived on her own and sat next to me. Sandya was from San Francisco and also travelling alone and we spent the next couple of hours sharing stories of our trips and our lives. She'd managed to destroy the underside of her car by driving on a bumpy road and had had to abandon the car and be rescued. She'd been charged €5,000 for the damage, which she was hoping to claim back on insurance, but there had apparently been a sign saying "impassable" so she was probably liable. Ouch. That reminded me of how careful I needed to be with my little car. It was unusual to meet another sole traveller - I'm always amazed how few there are in Iceland. We had a great chat before tiredness took over and I headed home to my bed. In spite of the weather, another wonderful day on my beloved island.

Check out my first day blog here!
Check out my Day 3 blog here!

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