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Skógá River


Skógafoss is a magical waterfall where you can sometimes see rainbows in the moonlight. Ever since I saw Professor Brian Cox talk about this place, I’ve wanted to see Skógafoss. Today I got my chance.

Unfortunately for me, they drive on the right-hand side of the road in Iceland, and as you can see from this picture it’s pretty obvious I’m still coming to terms with that. Icelandic people are very patient on the roads, so I haven’t had any angry looks. Yet.

Spring is lambing season.  Lots of young lambs sat with their mothers by the roadside, warming themselves in the morning sun.  They quickly scampered off as I rode past.

My plan was to ride up an old farm track to the plateau above towards the Fimmvörðuháls pass (pronounced “FIMM ver thoo howls”), then follow the Skógá river back to magical Skógafoss (pronounced “SKOH a foss”).  The track was steep.

I had to push the bike up the hill for the first few hundred meters.

Eventually, the gradient eased up and I was able to turn the pedals and enjoy the view.  One thing that has surprised me about Iceland is the vast plains.  In some places, those flat expanses stretch as far as the eye can see, over the horizon.  When the icy wind hits them it stirs up violent dust storms that can block the sun and damage the paintwork on cars.  So if you hire a car here, it’s always handy to ensure you tick the box for dust storm insurance 🙂

In the distance, I could see the peak of Eyjafjallajökull – the volcano that erupted in 2010 wreaking havoc to European aviation.  Today she was quiet.

Most tv commentators were unable to pronounce this name.  It’s pronounced something like “AY a fyatla yerktl”.

Despite the recent eruption, there is a permanent glacier on the mountain top.  As an Aussie from a land of heat, it was exciting to see so much snow.

 

Where there are glaciers, there is ice and water. And in a mountainous environment, that means waterfalls.  Iceland has lots of glaciers, an amazing amount of fresh water, and uncountable beautiful waterfalls.

But despite all this water, many parts of the landscape, especially the lava fields (or “hrauninn”), have sparse vegetation.  Moss clings tenaciously to the rocks.

After about an hour, I finished my climb and was able to pedal more easily and soak up the amazing landscape.

Time for a quick break.  I sat down beside a waterfall and thought about how fortunate I was to be here.

The snow on the slopes of Eyjafjallajökull loomed closer.  If I was sitting here seven years ago, I would have been covered by rocks and volcanic ash.  It’s amazing how time changes things.

I had started the day riding on the wrong side of the road while Drangshlíðarfjall (pronounced “DRANGS hill the fyatl”) loomed above me. Now it was far below me.  I had climbed a long way.

Snow drifts started to cover the track in places.  I wished I had my fat bike.  I slipped and slushed through the wet snow.

I heard the rush of water under the snow, but the track led over it.  I’m not used to this sort of environment, and wanted to avoid any possibility of falling through snow into the river.  Wet feet in weather like this would really spoil your day.  So I looked for a way to avoid having to walk on the snow that was on top of the river.

Ah! So THAT’s what the bridge was for!

 

I slowly eased across the bridge carrying the bike.  Although I love this bike, I put it on the outside, while I clung on to the handrail.  If anything was going to fall, it was going to be the bike, not me.

My instincts were right – there were cracks in the ice and snow above the river.  I’m glad they put a bridge here.

The snow cover over the track grew thicker.  It didn’t make much sense to proceed on my skinny tyres.  Riding on snow is like ridig on soft sand.  You need fat tyres for it.  So I decided to turn around and follow the walking track home.

At this point the track disappeared.  I had the map on my GPS, and a helpful sign of the area.  There were also brightly colored poles sticking up out of the rock.  I figured if I followed the poles I’d be ok.

I found a hut and figured it might have been there as an emergency shelter.  But when I checked, it was locked.  Perhaps it housed weather equipment.

The further I progressed downstream, the more waterfalls I encountered.  The spring warmth was melting the snow.  In a few weeks much of this would be melted.

There was no track, just poles over a field of rocks.  It was impossible to ride this section, so I pushed the bike.

The fields of rocks turned into fields of snow.  Equally unrideable but beautiful.  I had to walk downhill over the snow, and discovered if I dug my heels in as I walked, I wouldn’t slip.

Eventualy I reached the river bank, and was able to ride again.

As I rode, I kept wanting to stop and look at things.  The water was so clear, I just wanted to taste it…

…the river looked stunning.  I just wanted to look at it…

…and the glacier – it was always there.  I kept saying “wow” to myself.  The only problem was there was no one to say “wow” with.

Then Ash turned up.

“Hi!” I said.  “You’re the first person I’ve seen today!”

“Hi!” he said back.

His accent was strangely familiar.

“Are you an Aussie?” I asked.

“Yes – from Melbourne”.

How strange.  I travel to the other side of the world to ride the Skógá river, and the first person I met was a fellow countryman.  Ash works for “Rome to Rio”, a website which helps travelers get “anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and automobile.”

The sign said I only had 4.8km to go – I assumed I’d be home in half an hour.  I was wrong.

 

The waterfalls grew more dramatic  Now I heard their thunder before I saw them.

I was overwhelmed with the beauty of this place.

I yelled out “This is awesome” at the top of my voice.

 

Below me on the edge of a cliff, a couple of hikers heard me and looked up.

I rode down some tricky steep tracks to where the hikers stood.  They had gone before I arrived.

I met Ariel.  She was from the USA and agreed that this was a pretty awesome place.

The river entered a series of deep ravines at this point.  At some places, the cliffs were a hundred metres high.  Birds circled over the clifftops.  Mist rose up.  The sound of a mighty torrent thundered below.

This was stunning.  I was excited and frustrated at the same time.  Some experiences can’t be photographed.  No matter how hard you try.  I clicked off hundreds of photos, but I felt like a caveman trying to explain a symphony.  It can’t be done.

I finally caught up with the two hikers I’d seen earlier in the day.  Robert and Simon were from Sweden.  They had camped further upstream the night before and were on their way back.  Robert looked  very heavily laden.

“Swedes were Vikings too, weren’t they?” I asked my new friends.

They agreed.

They seemed surprised when I told them Travis Fimmel from the TV show “Vikings” was Australian.

“We thought he was English,” they replied.

We joked about it for a while, but we were keen to keep moving, so we said our goodbyes and rolled on.

The track was very difficult to ride in a lot of places.  It was rocky and rough.  I had to dismount and carry the bike in one or two places.

The waterfalls were coming thick and fast now.  The ground grew steeper.  I was nearing the end of the ride.

Again I tried in vain to capture the grandeur.

“You look like you’ve from an REI catalog” I heard a woman’s voice call out.

I looked behind me and met Kayla and Hunter who were out enjoying the area.

They were from the USA and agreed with me that this was an amazing place.

Kayla offered to take my picture.  How could I refuse?

I encountered more hikers as I neared the main waterfall.  This woman had the right idea.  Why try and capture it in   a photo.  Why not just sit there and soak it up?

The thunder grew louder.

I could see houses below the falls ahead.  I was at the top of Skógafoss.

I scrambled down the stairs with the bike on my shoulders, and rolled up to the base of the falls.

This ride covered about 21km in just under six hours. During that time I climbed about 780 metres in elevation and burned about 2,300 kcal. I was slow because of I stopped frequently to take photos and admire the view. Also, much of the second half of the ride was rocky or covered in snow. Plus there are about 150 metres of stairs at the end that I had to carry the bike down.

It’s technically difficult. I wanted to go further, but as with most activities in Iceland, it’s important to respect the weather.

I’ll rate this ride 8 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.

Thanks to Ásta Briem from Ice Bike Adventures for hiring the bike to me, and suggesting this course.

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