Our first full day in Iceland was spent in the Landmannalaugar region of the highlands in Iceland. On the long drive out, we stopped for the night in a privately owned campsite for a bit of sleep. Then the next morning we started out early to head into the Porsmork region of the highlands.
There are highland roads you can take that connect the two regions. But we decided to ere on the side of caution considering we didn’t end up with the high clearance vehicle we had reserved. We had done a bit of research, and concluded that particular route involved some serious river crossings we didn’t want to attempt.
As it would turn out that was the right decision. We met a couple who had come through there, and he still had a wild glassy-eyed look when he described the dicey river crossings they had done.
It’s also good to mention your vehicle insurance doesn’t entirely cover you when you venture into the highlands, or on any of what they call the F-roads in Iceland. These roads are ‘off-roading’ and they’re rough involving river crossings that can turn dangerous with inexperience or sudden rain storms/glacier melt water at the end of the day.
Basically you need to know if you happen to drown your vehicle in the river, or break and axle, or any other countless damages to the vehicle that can come from off roading, it’s coming out of your pocket. At least that was how it was explained to us before we started out. It’s also worth noting if your vehicle isn’t listed to go on F-roads, you’re not covered at all if anything happens. So while we love going to wild and remote areas, we wanted to do so in a ‘managed risks’ sort of way.
Getting back to the story, this day started off a bit rainy. But we knew from the forecast, it would be clearing up part way through the day. We used the route into Porsmork that starts alongside of the all popular Seljalandsfoss waterfall. As I mentioned in my last highlands post, we had to go extremely slow due the fact we had next to no suspension in our rental vehicle.
So a few hours, and I think around 20 river crossings later, we arrived to the farthest point we could go with our vehicle. The hike we wanted to do, (Tindfjöll Circle) started off from the Volcano Huts which lie across the powerful Krossa river. And I can’t emphasize enough this is one river crossing you don’t want to do. Countless people have completely wrecked their vehicles in this river, and it can be life threatening. You can reserve a spot on the buses to go in, or join an organized tour.
We were planning on the third option available which is to use the footbridges in place to get into the Volcano Huts and start our hike. We knew it would add about another hour roundtrip of walking, but we figured that beat the expensive seat on the bus. However things were about to backfire on us. Normally they pull the footbridges out at the end of September, but for some reason they pulled them out early, leaving us without a way in.
After hanging out for about an hour uploading photos to my portable hard drive waiting to see if we could still catch a ride in, we realized this isn’t going to happen. I did remember that you could keep driving up the road in to the camping area and hike, a couple miles into the Volcano Huts. So we started off in that direction, only to come to another dead end. We had to stop just short of the last river crossing because it was too deep for our rental van. And again… the footbridge had been taken out.
We were definitely disappointed, and even more so when we saw a Toyota Hilux truck waltz right through the river we couldn’t cross with our van. I was definitely having a hard time not being upset that we didn’t end up with the Toyota Hilux we had rented. But we both reminded ourselves it could’ve been worse, and we were lucky to even have a rental vehicle after someone had crashed the one we reserved the day before we got there.
Since I never accept defeat, I turned to my extensive notes about things we could do in each area, and came up with a new plan. Even though 1/2 of the day had be taken up already in dead ends, I figured if we didn’t dawdle, we could still hike into the beautiful Stakkholtsgjá canyon.
Trip Tip: Have hard copies of your itinerary/maps/hiking directions because even your in vehicle Wifi signal isn’t going to be there when you’re this far our – you’re definitely ‘off the grid’.
The trail leads in about 2km along the right side of the river. Sometimes the trail is great as shown in the pictures above, but most of the route in is just picking your way through the rocks, (see photo below). When you get to the place where the canyon separates into 2 directions, you’ll want to head across the river and to your left.
There were no markers or obvious trail beyond the river when we were there, and we just made an educated guess based on the terrain that turned out to be right. The river crossing you have to make on foot is serious enough you want to have waterproof hiking boots, and maybe polls/a hiking stick for balance if needed. Both of us had waterproof shoes that were only up to our ankles, and we didn’t want to get wet.
So while Tyler got the drone out for a flight, I found a route across the river we could do in without getting our shoes wet. It involved crossing it in 4 different places, but since dry feet were a priority, it was worth taking the extra time to route find. There’s a much shorter obvious crossing place that works beautifully if your boots are above the ankle.
Then there’s a small amount of easy ‘bouldering’ if I can use that term loosely. It’s just a short section of hands on easy scrambling up to the viewing point. But as with any canyon, you always want to be careful of slipping on wet rocks.
Once you reach the heart of the canyon, it becomes all dark and mysterious, (see 2 photos above). The mossy green canyon walls and the multipart waterfall are nothing short of magical! And I felt like I could spend ages in there trying to capture the beauty.
But as you might imagine, we were loosing daylight. So we packed up and started the long walk out. While 2km isn’t usually very long, don’t underestimate how long it can take to pick your way out through all that river rock.
As we were nearing the end of the hike, we could see the sky was turning into all kinds of cotton candy amazing. And so we made awesome time on the way out not wanting to miss the sunset! When we broke out of the canyon, these sunset photos were the breathtaking site surrounding us.
Tyler got the drone out again for another flight, and I grabbed the camera to get going!
Time passed in a blink of an eye, and pretty soon we had just the barest amount of daylight left, and some decisions to make. Of course, true to form, we hadn’t had much to eat that day. Breakfast had been a bit of Icelandic yogurt with my homemade Maple Cinnamon Granola, and I think there might have been a power bar at some point, but that’s it.
We were definitely running late at this point, and we didn’t want to give up the next day’s sight seeing since we were still deep in the highlands. But we really needed to eat and sleep too, so what to do?
In the end, we decided we were confident enough to drive out in the dark, and then just make dinner at our campsite for the night. And I just want to say this is where I’m just telling you our real story, but by no means am I advising or encouraging you to drive in the highlands at night. Any wilderness activity is always at your own risk, and you have to know your own abilities if you want to stay alive in some of these areas.
So we started the several hour drive back out with 20+ river crossings in the dark! We’re both good at route finding, and the rivers weren’t flowing high, so we knew we’d be ok if we worked together to keep safe. Our main problem was our headlights were so weak we couldn’t even see across a small river.
So I strapped one of our hiking headlamps to my head, rolled down my window, and stood up with most of myself outside of the van whenever we came to a river crossing. From there I would use the other headlamp as a light for Tyler to see across the river. And with my headlamp I would route find, shouting directions back into the van over the noise of the rushing water, to tell him which way to steer to avoid any rocks that could damage the vehicle.
We crossed all 20 rivers like champs without any problems. But on that note I forgot to say, we have a system we use that works great for us in situations where we’re not sure what to do. For instance in this situation, we didn’t know if river crossing in the dark would work, but we knew the first river was small. So we decided to cross 1 river, and then take stalk of whether or not we were both comfortable to proceed. This is little technique we’ve developed over the years that works for us, to help keep us from getting in too deep, (really no pun intended here) and stay safe.
We started talking dinner options as we neared the end of the F-road since we were both famished at this point. But no sooner had we started talking about food, then the whole sky broke out with a beautiful aurora. Obviously in our minds, the only choice was to pull over on the side of the road and get the camera gear out again!
Time passed as it usually does – at the speed of light, and pretty soon it was well passed midnight. And if you’re reading this right now thinking we’re crazy, that’s the general consensus! We’re both so passionate about photography, it’s hard to slow down, especially in Iceland where it seems to be non-stop views, day and night.
Since we knew were getting up before sunrise, we decided we could definitely do without dinner. So we broke out the power bars again, and drove to the Seljalandsfoss parking lot. At the time we were there, you can park overnight in the parking lot, but there is a parking fee of $7. And as a bonus, there’s a bathroom there open 24 hours a day, which is nice. You’ll find on a trip to Iceland that finding a bathroom is kind of a big deal, and it’s not unusual to go 3-4 or more hours without seeing any options.
We were planning on getting some night shots of this waterfall since it’s so popular by day. But when we got there, they had it lit up like some sort of movie set. It was kind of neat to see in person, but it definitely wrecks your ability to get any photos with good stars in it since it’s so bright.
At this point we were 3 days into our trip with only a couple hours of sleep, (total) and I was starting to joke that Iceland was going to kill me because I just couldn’t stop going with so many amazing sights to see. So after taking this quick shot, we meandered back to the van to get a couple hours of sleep before Day 4 – Waterfalls Galore in Iceland!