Distance covered: 33 miles
Now that I’m fully aware of how important the weather still is, my first, early morning thought is for a sky update, pee and breakfast will come only later. It turns fairly quiet, cloudy but not overcast and it doesn’t rain. That’s good enough. Let’s go hiking.
So why the F26 does this ridiculous loop when there’s this side track that cleanly short-cuts? My rational mind tells me there must be a reason. I check the map looking for one, the only potential obstacle is a river that must be crossed but it doesn’t look like a big one. I take the side track. It will save me a few miles.
At that time I wasn’t yet aware of the map representation of rivers being only part of the story. Some are represented as a light blue, wide area and it can be understood that these are big ones but that doesn’t mean the rest are just minor streams that can be easily forded. When I get to the necessary crossing, I meet this:
I can see my track going into the water and coming out the other side. How cars can cross this is beyond me. Humans could at least swim.
I can also see the F26 a short distance beyond on the other side, not the road itself but the occasional traffic. It’s so close I can nearly touch it, yet so far. I can’t see how I could cross this. There’s a plan B which is not backtracking but nearly: I would follow the river upstream until I meet the F26 and see the how the cross is. Being a main track, there must be a bridge or a really wide, much shallower ford.
I proceed upstream with a close eye on a potential crossing point. Shortly after, the river braids on two branches and I decide to give it a try. I waterproof every sensitive item and get in the water.
I make it through the first branch and reach the island midway on the riverbed. The second branch takes about 2/3 of the water. I go for its wider section where it’s shallower but wilder, with waves that suggest a rocky bed. I make it halfway but the stream is too powerful for a safe crossing. I try not to panic as I make a hairy retreat to the island.
The other side is too close to give up without exhausting my options so I try the opposite strategy and go for the quieter channel where the stream flows smoothly. This is gonna be deeper but I need to see how much. I get less than 10 yards from target but the water is already up to my crotch and the current strong. The poles are shaking and so am I. I probe with my pole, the next step is gonna be deeper. This time at least retreat is not too scary.
I resume the long, cross-country trudge upstream looking for answers until I see the bridge on the F26 in a section where the river squeezes in between two rocky outcrops. Now I see the reason for the odd loop in the road and I learn that there’s more than map representation to preview a river crossing. Storaverskvisl flows out of the Hofsjokull icecap and it comes a long enough way to become a hardly passable beast for an insignificant backpacker. That’s a lesson learnt.
The whole operation did cost me some 2-3 additional hours which didn’t look like too big a deal in front of the potential disaster of being swept away. I bet master Yoda would approve.
A while later a vehicle comes along and stops, it’s a ranger behind the wheel. He asks about my trip and whether I registered with ICE-SAR…
“Sir, yes, sir I registered, activated monitoring and I carry a PLB” I answer with a smile so I don’t look like unnecessarily formal. I tell him about my aborted attempt at crossing Storaverskvisl, he agrees it’s a dangerous one and reports about water up to chest height. I guess he refers to the track ford that I didn’t even try. It looked that deep. Chest deep would be fine for a quietly flowing stream, I’ve done that before, certainly not in a swift glacial river.
The ranger brings good news about the weather staying rather stable in its own instability for the following days with mild southerlies and occasional showers. This is more than good enough. We wave goodbye.
The F26 shows noticeable improvement after the Storaverskvisl bridge. Before it was pretty much one more highland track, one vehicle wide, bumpy and rough. After the bridge it’s wider and smoother, looking more like a road. This is kind of bad news for the hiker, the long, straight sections over featureless desert requesting a quick progress that the walking cannot deliver. Further south and the road gets a solid gravel surface that makes things even worse. By then, it’s starting to wear down on me and I’m not anymore the happy hiker with no worries. The sky darkens together with my mood and I turn to waterproofs once again.
The long awaited sight of Thorisvatn doesn’t help much. The lake is spectacular though, one of the biggest in Iceland. It’s oddly placed in a high area from where I get a last, distant view of the conical peaks around Hagongulon that I walked along the day before. This gives me a great perspective of the territory and my trip through it.
As I start coming down, I see power lines and a concrete dam together with a tarmac road that gets there. This would be a rather common sight in Europe but it comes as a shock in Iceland. Dark hills, dark skies and a dark mood to suit. On a positive note, I see pointy mountains in late season snow fashion in the far distance but I won’t get there until the next day.
6 days later I step onto tarmac again, if only briefly before I take another dirt track through some dark, barren hills. This time the search is more for flat land than for shelter but I eventually find both. I’m used to camp in less than scenic locales on this trip, it’s all fine as long as I feel safe and once more I do.