Iceland 2018: Travel report (part 2)

Previous part: part 1

The second part of our trip. (0.76MB)

The day before, we followed the Laugavegur and slept at the Fremri-Emstruá near the Bíldufell.

Day 4: Bíldufell → Innri-Emstruá

Because we haven’t made it that far the day before, we wanted to hurry up a bit. We stood up quite early because out hiking map showed that a larger ascend/climb was ahead: First 100m at once and then another 100m. All in all ca. 200m doesn’t sound that much, but it turned out to be steep and rough.

Cleaning day

Right before the first ascend, we found a small but beautiful waterfall. Because we wore our clothes for a few days now, we decided to take a break and wash us and our clothes.

The clacier Entujökull (rear right) with the waterfall (rear left) (0.69MB)

Closer look on the waterfall. (0.81MB)

There were even more waterfalls further along the cliff, but this one was the nearest and most beautiful one. The water was unbelievable cold, nevertheless it was a good feeling to be clean and put on a fresh shirt and socks.

We tied our wet clothes onto our backpacks in the hope, that they might dry a bit. Unfortunately it was slightly raining.

The ascend

The ascend was – as expected – very steep, especially the backpacks felt really heavy and caused us problems. Not helping either was the uneven and soft ground, consisting mainly of loose scree with some larger rocks in it. During the partly over 45° steep ascend, we focused on not climbing directly behind each other. It happened not rarely that a larger rock rolled down the hill and took further stones with it. When the stones became larger and the way more impassible, Kristina twisted her ankle quite badly so that we had to take a break.

After reaching the top, we had a beautiful view all over the valley we came from including the glacier. Looking forward, we only saw nothing but flat and endless land.

The view back to the valley and the glacier. (0.64MB)

Looking forward to the Mælifellsandur. (0.79MB)

The weather wasn’t that bad (light rain and some wind) but upcoming fog became more and more dense …

Fog and emergency camp

We weren’t able to see anything through the fog after a while. It’s also possible that it were some low flying clouds, the transition was smooth. Nevertheless we soon lost all of our orientation.

A map and a compass are very important withing thick fog!

With our map we knew that a larger river was somewhere near us. We decided to find and ford that river and camp on the other side but unfortunately we haven’t found that river. After a while of searching, we built up our tent behind a larger rock, which gave us some wind protection. Also the ground was not stony but more sandy here.

Day 5: Innri-Emstruá → Mælifell

We set up a “peeky-timer” for 6am to see if the fog is still there. Unfortunately it was as foggy as the day before and so we kept sleeping until 8am. While collecting all our stuff and taking down the tent, the fog was nearly gone. After waling a few meters we saw that the river, we searched for the day before, was about 50 meters next to our tent. So we sight was really not that good ;)

The a**hole river

The next big river we approached was the Innri-Emstruá. Until now it was the largest, fastest and deepest river we had to ford. At the time we went there (so end of July) the river was about 20 meters wide. When fording more diagonal, the distance was about 25 meter to ford through.

The water was very turbid (fed by the glacier near by) so we weren’t able to see how deep it was. Therefore we completely took of our pants, just to be safe. After storing all electronic devices, clothes and other equipment in plastic bags and loosen our belts, we started fording.

At the point we started fording, the water was about 80cm deep so that our underpants got wet. For me the water reached my crotch, for Kristina it reached hear hip. The forces affecting was were huge and we were only able to walk really slowly.

In addition to the sight, the water was very fast so that our trekking poles were carried away after sticking them into the water. We tried to place them way above our position to they touched the ground next to us. The ground however was full of large rocks making it impossible to find a stable stand – neither with the poles nor with the feet.

Rocks in the water: The water directly in front as well as behind a rock deeper. Additionally the water in front of a rock is dammed a bit. Behind a rock the water is a bit more calm, at the sides however even faster.

I found it the most easy way to go behind rocks with some distance to them.

Luckily we made it relatively dry to the other side but that was quite a tight thing. Next to the fast flow, deepness and bad sight, the water was extremely cold. Young glacier rivers have a temperature of about 2-3°C (35-37°F), so be prepared for a lot of pain when staying in there fore more than one/two minutes.

We neede for the distance of about 25 meters ca. 15-20 minutes.

The Innri-Emstruá after fording it. Even though it dose not look like it, it was sometimes deeper than one meter. The impressions are sometimes deceiving. (1.82MB)


We had two alternatives to not cross the Innri-Emstruá: A bridge of the F261 in the north and the glacier in the south.

Using the bridge would have cost about 15km (for us more than a whole day of hiking), which was actually a problem. The glacier was the other possible choice, but due to the lack of experience with glacier hiking, this wasn’t safe at all.

We wrote about the search of alternatives in our article about the planing of our trip. If crossing the Innri-Emstruá would not have worked, we had at least two possible alternatives.

Danger of frostbites and nerve damages

There are four grades of frostbites (medical term: congelatio). Wikipedia says:

  1. grade (congelatio erythematosa): numb and pale skin, swelling of the skin, pain
  2. grade (congelatio bullosa): red or blue-red skin color, swelling and blisters
  3. grade (congelatio gangraenosa): (nearly) dead tissue
  4. grade: completely destroyed and/or frozen tissue

We were able to see the missing blood circulation in our legs after fording the river: They were nearly white and stayed so for an hour or another. After this river, I had also numb feeling toes for half a year.

Endless expanse on the Mælifellsandur

After the Innri-Emstruá the trip was quite relaxing and also the weather became better. After a short ascend we arrived at a lake near the bottom of the Sléttjökull.

A clear lake at the bottom of the Sléttjökull. You’ll see the top of the Mælifell in the background (distance is about 10km). (0.64MB)

We relaxed a bit at the lake, filled up our water bottles and continued via the Mælifellsandur towards the Mælifell.

The vulcanic sand plain was – with some exceptions – very dry. At the horizon the Mælifell. (0.53MB)

This plain was very flat, walking on it was mostly quite comfortable and so we were relatively fast. There were some smaller streams we had to cross but that was possible without even taking off our shoes.

Very wide but also very shallow: We were able to just walk through them. (0.52MB)

Right before the Mælifell we encountered a larger river we had to cross – probably the Brennivínskvísl. After that we finally arrived at the Mælifell after seven hours of volcanic plain.

The Mælifell from the F210. (0.53MB)

As it should be for photogenic highlights, thick low hanging clouds came up and cloaked the green mountain.

The Mælifell with clouds coming up. (1.00MB)

The Mælifell after half an hour. This was the moment we found a name for our blog ;) (0.34MB)

After a 16-hour hiking day we directly fell asleep after lunch.

Day 6: Mælifell

We stayed at the Mælifell for a day to get some rest. This day was planned in our timetable, so we didn’t fell behind.

After sleeping quite long, we climbed up a near hill and had an awesome view over the whole landscape.

Far left is the rain covered Brennivínskvísl, to the right the glacier Öldufellsjökull and in the middle the Mælifell. (0.30MB)

We were told that the mobile reception is better when staying on a hill. This was true unless – due to Murphy’s law – you want to send an SMS or call somebody.

Me trying to send an SMS. (0.55MB)

Day 7: Mælifell → Hólmsárlón

Today we continued to the lake Hólmsárlón.

River delta and waterfall

First we went along the Brennivínskvísl towards the Strútur where we had to cross a large river delta we already saw from the airplane. The rivers were not that deep, fast or difficult, however the ground was even more difficult. There was a lot of quicksand we sometimes sunk in up to our knees.

If the ground starts to bubble when stepping on it, the probability is high that this is quicksand.

The river delta we crossed. To the right is the campsite Strútsskáli. (0.30MB)

The river delta as we saw it from the airplane. To the right of the engine you can even see the Mælifell. (0.42MB)

Because the Brennivínskvísl flows directly next to some hills and the river bank is quite steep, we just went over these hills. The rest of the trip was very beautiful and easy. After some time we arrived at a cascade of waterfalls, which were not marked on our map.

Small but beautiful waterfalls at the Brennivínskvísl. (0.73MB)

From there the landscape became more and more green and next to the moss there was even grass growing. Finally we crossed the river Hólmsá which was quite cold but not that difficult. Further upstream the Hólmsá flowed through a canyon with further waterfalls.

Canyon of the river Hólmsá. (0.41MB)

Red crater

After hiking along side the canyon for a while, we arrives at an old volcanic crater, which was very beautiful with a mixture of red, green and turquoise colors.

The “red crater” of a former volcano. (1.25MB)

In the small crater lake there were many rather shy birds swimming (probably ducks).

For the further route we had two options: Crossing the river coming out of the lake or climbing up to the top of the crater edge. Because we didn’t want to ford another river, we decided to go up to the edge and walk around the crater. A decision we didn’t regret.

Great view from above the crater with Sléttjökull and the Kerlingarhnúkur mountains in the background. (0.32MB)

Fruther on the top we followed some sheep paths leading to the lake Hólmsárlón.

Strange circles in the moss. (1.11MB)

All over Iceland, you’ll find these strange looking circles in the moss, which are called Nornabaugar (witch’s rings). They are a result of a mushroom growing in the moss, which unfortunately also kills the moss. Due to the seasons, the moss cannot always grow and this builds these circles.

Camp on the lakeside

The slopes at the lake were very steep and we used the valley of a smaller stream to go down to the shore. Even though the stream was less steep, it was very slippery.

The lake Hólmsárlón at evening. (0.58MB)

As we learned later, there were a lot of fishes set free in the Hólmsárlón lake which bred very fast. Due to the lack of predators controlling the population and the lack of food, they all died. Therefore there are no fishes anymore in the Hólmsárlón lake.

Although there’re no fish in the lake, we camped directly at the water and washed us and our clothes. Clearly the water was way to old to swim.

Next report (part 3)

I hope you liked this report and the photos.

Next part: part 3
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I'm a software developer from Hamburg, Germany who loves hiking and beeing outdoor active. When I'm at home, I work on this blog and other software projects, contribute to OpenStreetMap or watch tons of series ;)
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