Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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 🙂

Skógá River

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.

 

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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

 

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

…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.

Skógá River

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.”

Skógá River

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

 

Skógá River

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.

 

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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.

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

Again I tried in vain to capture the grandeur.

Skógá River

Skógá River

“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.

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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?

Skógá River

The thunder grew louder.

Skógá River

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

Skógá River

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

Total distance: 21.18 km
Max elevation: 658 m
Min elevation: 16 m
Total climbing: 1035 m
Total descent: -1014 m
Average speed: 7.61 km/h
Total Time: 05:44:31
Download
More data

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.

Skógá River

2 Replies to “Skógá River”

  1. Wow! We walked the Skógá river from Skógafoss to the bridge this Oct and I can’t even BEGIN to imagine doing it on a bike!! And that’s even WITHOUT the snow!! Your picture of the bridge blew me away, really drove home the dangers, the completely hidden river, wow. Really enjoyed reliving it with your take and photos tho, thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Lee-Anne
      I got goose-bumps reading your reply and remembering this day. This particular ride along Skógá River was the trip of a lifetime for me. It was challenging but incredibly beautiful. It’s good to discuss it with someone who was actually there. Weren’t those deep gorges amazing? I tried taking photos of them, with the river below, and the birds circling above, and no photo did it justice.
      Replying to you has made me want to return even more 🙂
      Neil

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.