Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

August 10

August 11th, 2016

August 10 Botnar to Pórsmörk (17 km)

 

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The Laugavegur Trek officially ends at Pórsmörk, but I had planned another 25 km to Skogár. On waking and inventorying my health, I decided discretion was the better part of valor and took my Georgia Tech friends (including Paul Kohn who was with this particular group) up on their offer of a ride back to Reykjavik. It meant an extra day in a hostel but the free ride made that almost a financial wash (buses are expensive). The day’s hike was different from the others as it was almost all an easy downhill grade on firm black gravel (with an occasional soft sand stretch that made my calves ache). As I was moving downstream, the rivers began to run deeper and faster. They were also starting to braid the way they do on the South Island in New Zealand. In this area most crossings were bridged, though there were a few fords. The last one was only three kilometers from the end, so in honor of my Te Araroa tramp, I crossed with my regular footwear, squished my way to the end. Yesterday there were several fords, one a little deep, wide, and very cold (I could see the melting glacier just up the valley). The cramps in my arches made me think of the summer of 1973 when my friends Jerry and Gregg and I painted an old farmhouse with a spring house out back. At lunch we would sit there in the cool, seeing how long we could stand in the freezing water. Like Nietzsche’s eternal return, I found myself standing in both the Grashagavist and an old spring house at the same time. Soon I arrived at Pórsmörk and settled in to wait for the Georgia Tech crew who arrived later that afternoon. Soon we had loaded up the three jacked-up white Land Rover Defenders, jump started the one with the dead battery, and set off driving on rough gravel roads regularly crossing rivers with water up to the floorboards. After an hour of fording we got to hard pavement and soon the rain that had threatened all afternoon came on, confirming my decision to get off the trail that day (the rain and the wind howled all night long but I was snug in a hostel bunk house, happy not to be in a summer tent and instead getting soft in a semi-soft bed). The students stopped for a few hours to explore a cave, so I was late getting to my hostel. Still grateful for a ride, I did regret not getting any supper, consoling myself with a fine nutritious pale ale before sleep. Thus ended the last trek on my year-long around the world walkabout.

T. Hugh Crawford

August 9

August 11th, 2016

August 9 Hrafntinnusker to Botnar (28 km)

 

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Bright early morning sun woke me, though I lounged in sleeping bag luxury for a while, trying to determine how sick I really was (pretty bad actually). Of course there was little choice, I had to hike out somewhere, so I continued on my path. Stopping at the hut to get water and eat a granola bar, I spoke with one of the expedition guides who remarked about how early I was leaving–it was seven o’clock, those hut folks are the ones luxuriating. Leaving first was a lagniappe as I had the tundra all to myself most of the morning. The walk was across a broad cinder plain rutted by deep cuts formed by glacier streams. For much of the year, those cuts are filled with snow, so walking is fairly level, but in August most the ice is gone, so there is a lot of up and down. In many places there remains some snow, but the guidebooks all warn about the fragility of those ice bridges which are hollowed from below and can give way under the weight of a hiker crossing. As it was still very cold that morning and there were no trekkers following behind me as yet, I crossed many an ice bridge gingerly. Still, the morning solitude was magnificent, the world was vast, bare, and empty. By mid-morning I arrived at the campground at Lake Álftavatn, stopping for second breakfast. I had gotten an email from David Knobbe, my old friend at the Georgia Tech outdoor adventure department, detailing the itinerary of a group of students from my school who were hiking at nearly the same time. At this point I was supposed to be two days behind and so I didn’t expect to see them, but on sitting down for late morning granola, I was greeted by David, his friend Chaffee and a group of GT students. Their itinerary had been adjusted a bit, so half of them were now on the same schedule as me. After exchanging pleasantries, I continued on to the next campground, Botnar, where I was advised to claim a tent site quickly as the place would soon be overwhelmed by campers, led by the dozens of British hikers I had passed who were walking to raise money for breast cancer research. One carried on her back a large rubber breast with the url copafeel.org. Following the same pattern as yesterday, I set up my tent, ate an early dinner, and dozed away the late afternoon. I was pleased with my hiking distance, but was still feeling ill, so early sleep was on my schedule.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

August 8

August 11th, 2016

August 8 Reykjavik to Landmannalauger by bus, to Hrafntinnusker on foot (12 km)

 

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Up early for walk to the bus station and a four hour ride to the trail head of the Laugatvegur Trek. The landscape was unsurprisingly similar to parts of New Zealand’s North Island, both the product of recent volcanic activity. The American and Eurasian plates are tearing the island apart at a rate of 5 centimeters per year, so there are many earthquakes, hot springs in everyone’s back yards (it is how they heat), and regular eruptions blanketing the landscape with lava rocks and fine dark sand. In the uplands the primary plants are mosses. Trees are small and scarce. Arrival at Landmannalauger quickly disabused me of the notion this would be like hiking New Zealand unless it were the Tongariro crossing where the crowds tend to overwhelm the experience. Landmannalauger was a tent city full of trekkers preparing for the trail or relaxing in the hot volcanic pools after completion. As it was already noon and I had at least 12 km over Mount Brennisteinalda before camping, I headed straight out. Still suffering from the effects of illness, I hoped to leave the circus behind. The path was full of Laugavegur trampers but also day hikers and families up to see Brennisteinalda, the island’s most colorful mountain. It was jaw-dropping, on one flank were slides of different colored gravels forming a rainbow pattern. I had purchased a low-resolution topo map at the information center which I completely misread and, like a rookie trekker, after summiting I followed a path off the back side of the mountain to the valley floor only to discover I was heading in exactly the wrong direction, so I had to climb it again–a really rusty long-distance hiker. It is hard to write of the landscape as it was unlike any I’ve ever seen–color, texture, pattern–and luckily the light was perfect. Some fields were covered with broken rocks that looked like obsidian, black glass shining in the Arctic sun. After my initial mistake, the trail was easy to follow, packed as it was like the Camino de Santiago. Before long I found myself at Hrafntinnusker, a campsite the trekkers call the windy place. The tent sites were surrounded by low stacked stone circles to help cut the wind. There are huts with tent sites every 12-15 km along the trail where expedition companies do a thriving business ferrying luggage and cooking food for wealthy slack-packers. Life down in the tent sites was a little more spartan. Since it was a fairly short trek and you cannot fly with fuel and since I had shipped my Jetboil home, I opted for cold food– trail mix, chorizo, and crackers. By late afternoon my tent was up, half a chorizo was eaten, and I found myself napping in my sleeping bag out of the cold wind. Soon the circles filled up and, lucky me, I found myself next to some loud Americans. I still don’t understand the need for so much volume, often seems like children begging for attention. There was no waiting for dark as it stays light very late (and gets light very early), so I soon drifted off, listening to the light ticking of minute raindrops on my tent. Lying there I was reminded how much I enjoyed the simple pleasure good equipment offers. A good Zpack tent and a great sleeping bag were the definition of real comfort putting in stark contrast the last six weeks in an apartment with a big bed, bathroom, kitchen, etc. It is amazing how soft you can get in such a short time living like that.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

August 7

August 11th, 2016

August 7

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Flew out of London heading to the in-between–the inter-esse–that is Iceland. Definitely European but distinct in climate, manner and custom. I guess it is appropriate for my last stop in a year-long walkabout to be both novel and familiar. Like many smaller airports, Keflavik has a pre 9-11 feel, reminding me how pleasant and inviting airports can be when the stress-level is reduced. On boarding the bus to the terminal there was the unmistakable smell of manure drifting across the blank landscape. There are more horses than people on the island, all descended from the first horses brought many centuries ago. In the terminal arrivals and departees mingle in the common area before passing the passport station manned by a welcoming and polite agent. Those simple gestures made my entry–however transitory– memorable. A long bus ride brought me to the Oddsson Hostel, and a short wander to the old city center brought seafood soup– a staple in a maritime country. I continue to suffer from an upper respiratory infection and sore throat, so two bowls of fish soup and an early bedtime were on the menu.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

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