The Jökulsárhlaup

Day One

Waking up to the soft battering of raindrops against my tent, I put off packing up and leaving the Husavik campground as long as I possibly could. Right as it got to the point where I really had to head to the harbor to catch my bus, the rain stopped. Of course, the eternal Icelandic clouds didn’t go away. 

Trail junction.

An hour’s bus ride got me to Asbyrgi, the northern terminus of the popular Jökulsárhlaup trek. While waiting for the hordes of Chinese tourists to use the bathroom and get back on their tour bus, I explored the Vatnajokull National Park visitors center. There wasn’t a whole lot in the building, and I killed extra time by using Whatsapp to send my Londoner friend instructions that if I didn’t survive the hike I wanted everything I had to be put towards running a cat sanctuary in the mountains.

The hike follows for two days a the rim of a gorge overlooking a powerful river, with campsites and lava formations along the way. Since the trek is in a national park, Europe’s largest, all visitors must spend the night in an established campground. There’s only one between Asbyrgi and the southern terminus of the hike, so it was easy to pick which one to stay at. 

The trail goes through the treeless tundra.

Pointing the way to the campground.

There are drones everywhere in Iceland.

Campground at night.

Day Two

I woke up practically sweating in my tent. To my shock, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky! That changed quickly, but it stayed pleasantly warm all day. For the the first time in Iceland I didn’t wear a jacket. 

Day Three

At 8am I jolted awake, still confused each morning by the sun being much higher and brighter than I’m used to at that hour. Convinced the others, who went to bed 12 hours ago, would be long gone, I was a bit surprised to see that I was the first one up. 

I packed all my things and left the free hiker campsite at Dettifoss, stocking up on the water the ranger kindly leaves each day. I thought it was a bit strange that a campsite next to Europe’s largest waterfall would be dry, but I’m guessing the water is too silty to drink. It looked quite milky during my walk the previous evening. 

The next part of the trail wasn’t marked, but rather a matter of cutting west and then south from the waterfall across grazing land. 
It was a bit rougher than I’d expected, since although the terrain was flat I had to hop from mound to mound of dirt across the dried up fields. 
A two hour break in the sun next to a large lake was one of the highlights of my day, without a soul in sight. I didn’t see a single other person that day (other than a farmer in a truck who kindly offered me some water) until I got to the Krafla mountain geothermal area. 

My home for the night.

From what I read at Krafla, there was an eruption in the 70s. The black lava fields were pretty neat to walk around in the evening sun, and they’re still emitting steam. 

Exhausted and unwilling to continue, I set up camp not far from the tourist boardwalk and called it a day. 

Day Four 

A lava field near my campsite.

More lava.

The Ring Road and campground at last!

I continued through more lava fields throughout the morning on my way down to Reykjahlid, a town of about 130 people on the shore of Lake Myvatn. It was my destination largely because it’s on the Ring Road and thus I could catch a bus to Egilsstadir, my next destination. 

After a few hours I reached the town, finally able to shower and eat Pringles. 

One thought on “The Jökulsárhlaup

  1. Just how popular really is this ? An hour’s bus ride got me to Asbyrgi, the northern terminus of the popular Jökulsárhlaup trek. How popular is this trek? How many trekkers are out there in rural Iceland ? Not going in cars or buses but walking and sleeping outside ?


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