Distance covered: 30 miles

I set out in death-march mood. The sky is severely overcast but at least it’s not raining yet. This is a big help for a start.

Dark day in Myvatn

I wake up very early, swallow breakfast and start hiking right away. This is part of the plan: it’s a long way to the hut at Botni but I should be able to get there. It’s my safety net, valid for at least today. My only remaining concern is about the change in playground: no more road or trail walking, today I’ll be using highland tracks. So far they’ve only been a line in a map, today I’ll have the chance to find out if they belong to something you can actually hike on.

Not completely true about the no more road walking as I still need to get to the other end of Myvatn, 7 interesting miles where I walk past by the perfect Hverfell crater and the entrance to Dimmuborgir, a very interesting place where I believe the norwegian metal band takes its name from. I visited both back in Y2K. Today I’m on a different plan and I just walk past.

The expected rain does not arrive and I can’t complain. The breeze is gentle, it’s great hiking weather. I get to the southeastern tip of the lake, past a farm, off the tarmac onto a dirt road that takes to another farm. Past the last building, there is a good track and a sign with a name I can recognize (it’s on my map):

I’m fine if you take me there

This is my first contact with the highland “trail system” and it looks good. It would appear that there is a route that somehow gets to Sudurarbotnar. This helps boost my confidence.

Into the highlands

The terrain around me is grassy and featureless. It climbs steadily so there’s no views of what lies ahead beyond the initial few hundred meters. The only available landmark, truncated cone shaped Sellandafjall, is hidden behind low cloud. Occasionally the cloud lifts off the ground enough to reveal the base of the mountain so I don’t need the compass: my track is taking me where I’d expect it to.

Sellandafjall western slope visible in the lifting cloud

The weather is unsettled but not too tragic. It’s cloudy but not uniformly overcast. I keep checking north which is where the weather is expected from and where I have a better view anyway. It’s easy to see when a shower approaches. The rain is freezing cold but usually short-lived. So far, my death march is going much better than expected. It’s actually evolving into a beautiful, enjoyable hike.

As I go past the base of Sellandafjall, the terrain levels and I can have some views south. I’ve climbed enough so the vegetation is mostly gone, the ground is gravelly and the track rather faint but still easy to follow. No markers though.

Did I say flat and featureless?

Next is down towards a stream and the soil and the vegetation return. So do birdlife and even a few grazing sheep from the still nearby farms. I lose my views north so no more looking back. I feel increasingly relaxed and I even dare to stop for some sort of lunch, ending quick before the next shower.

I’m back to a steady, barely noticeable climb up, past the Sellandafjall southern shoulder and on to a wide landscape of nothing. The track is still very clear on the ground. I hike non-stop and it would seem that I didn’t move, such is the lack of reference points. The low cloud doesn’t help. My only landmark Sellandafjall is now behind me and I need to look back to be aware that I’m indeed making progress.

The best news is that I can verify that the lines drawn in the maps do exist on the ground. I wasn’t sure how they would translate. So far I hadn’t tried any of the off-the-grid tracks I went by neither did I try to locate them but if I ever took a look to where a track was shown in the map, I didn’t see a thing. That was back in the lowlands anyway. This is the highlands and it seems the track system is taken rather seriously. This once again is a confidence boost. I can see the terrain would be quite fine to walk through anyway but if the weather eventually gets tough it is so much easier if you have a track to follow. Tracks would work here mostly as a handrail in such conditions.

The lava fields

My map shows a junction and the live scene agrees but I don’t fully like what I see: both branches would take me to the Botni hut, one comes down to a river and follows it upstream while the other goes across lava fields. I had planned to follow the former and indeed the track ahead is good quality. The branch over higher ground is so faint it’s barely visible, yet there’s a sign pointing this way to Botni. In exchange for the faint trackbed, there’s a clear line of wooden post markers painted in bright yellow, the first trail markers I find in the highlands! I choose to trust the sign and markers and leave the perceived safety of the main track.

Yellow markers on the lava fields

The terrain here is mostly solidified lava. That means hard rock interspersed with black sandy pools. The rock is very strange looking, quite unlike any rock you’re used to. It really feels like it’s a former liquid turned solid, you can feel it in the way it waves around smoothly and at the same time shows extremely sharp, irregular edges.

Volcanic rock. Don’t get your bike tyres any close to this

The map representation for this track is the same as for the one I just left. It may be that they’re the same “category” and the difference is in the underlying ground. The sandy bits show tyre marks so it’s clear 4WDs actually use this track. I would picture thrashed tyres at first encounter with the sharp rocks but what do I know about 4WDs…

Wooden posts quickly go down in density past the initial stretch after the junction. Looking ahead and around, it’s all the same lava field so it’s good to pay attention to avoid losing the track. Fortunately paying attention is all it takes.

Botni

One further junction with signs and this is starting to look like a real trail system. I’m only left to find out about the Botni hut itself, I’m actually not sure if it’s open to the public but the fact that it’s marked on the signposts makes me hope it is. It appears sticking out of the lava field in a timely fashion.

Botni hut

There’s another backpacker in the hut who tells me it’s indeed meant for public use. Not only that, the hut is very well equipped. It felt a bit like that church building in the Guns’n’Roses clip for November Rain, Botni has a metal, austere outer that looks rather unwelcoming but inside it’s all lined with wood and it actually feels super cosy. As the wind howls outside and water drops hit the windows, it feels even cosier.

The other backpacker is a Belgian guy. He’s into a trip itinerary similar to mine with a more traditional packing approach and a more relaxed schedule.

The weather is not really any different than it’s been all along the day but now that I’ve stopped hiking it feels freezing outside. It’s great to be indoors.

Botni has a good size vestibule with a gas burner for cooking and plenty of lines to hang wet things from. Across the door inside is a comfy paradise with chairs, folding tables, cooking utensils and bunk beds with room for 16. There’s a petrol heater but we don’t bother trying to get it going. I later knew it wasn’t straightforward. There’s also a latrine hut outside.

Main hut and latrine at Botni

The hut feels great, both physically and psychologically. It’s probably the only hut I’ll be able to use if I mean to keep my intended daily pace but for tonight I feel as safe as feelings go. I relish the moment. Hardships may come around but not before tomorrow.

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series Iceland North to South
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