Saturday, 13 October 2012

Porsmork: Iceland

I had decided I deserved a day off; yesterday had been a hellish slog on the bike through wind and torrential rail to arrive bedraggled and saturated in Selfoss. Here things only marginally improved as I found despite my best efforts I had to bail out the tent after putting it up such was the amount of water falling out the sky.

The following day dawned fine and rather than slog back to Rejkavick I decided to grab a bus the other way and visit Porsmork Nature Reserve. The coach trips which run to the reserve from the capital every day, pass through Selfoss early in the morning and it is easy just to hop on mid trip, at least in low season rainy September. The first thirty or so km eastwards along the ring road is not particularly special, a flat green farmland stretching into the distance, but as you approach the Eyjafjallaokull icecap the land begins to rise up and a long westward facing rampart stares out across the plains. 

Here meltwater from the icecap cascades over the black cliffs to in a series of spectacular and much photographed waterfalls. Seljandfoss adorns many a magazine page and leaflet produced by the Icelandic Tourist Board; even in todays drizzle under leaden skies it's a spectacular site, falling seventy meters into a shallow plunge pool free from the steeply undercut cliff. Walking round the back of the falls into the blizzard of spray is quite an experience.

Here we must change buses, the fact that you are going somewhere a little special dawns as soon as you see your new vehicle, the big off road tyres and high ground clearance suggest that the terrain over the next few miles might be a little challenging. The road to Porsmork barely quallifies as such, being little more than a track picking the best line through the ever changing flood dalta of the River Krossa. The route can change from day to day and often needs to be bulldozed following spring thaws which can move thousands of tonnes of gravel around the delta.

The myriad of gossemer thin waterfalls running off the icecap to our right build into a series of fast flowing gravelly streams and rivers which the bus cautiously fords one after the other. We briefly stop to see the stark remains of what was once one of the most beautiful glacial lakes in Iceland; a pool of water cradled in the arms of the terminal and lateral remains of the Gigjokull Glacier, which usually sported a number of miniature icebergs.

This all changed with the eruption of the Eyjafjöll volcano in 2010 (that one that payed havoc with air travel in Europe). The meltwater from the eruption pouring off the plateau overwelmewd the terminal moraine washing it away over a length of 300m and draining the lake for good in a flood of awesome proportions.

There was a lake here two years ago.

Just before we enter Porsmork proper it becomes apparent that the rivers we have waded through so far have only been an aperitif for what is to come now. Here the Krossa river comes bursting out of the canyons of Porsmork fast and deep; this crossing our cheerful guide informs us " has swallowed more cars than any other in Iceland".

The coach driver gets out to have a good look at the riverbanks, judging the ingress and egress points and the general mood of the river today. Then he hops back in straightens the bus and off we go, slowly bouncing and crawling across the river, unsure that at any moment our bus may decide it would rather be a boat and sail off downstream. Nothing so exciting happens today however as the bus climbs out of the river shrugs itself off from this last challenge. 

With those treacherous waters behind the last bastion of Porsmork's defences defences has been brached and the coach drops me off at Husadalur a plesent valley base with guest cabins, campsite, and cafe selling drinks, snacks, and even wifi!  With limited time to explore before having to catch the bus back to Selfoss a quick climb to the summit of Valahnuku on the ridge which splits the two valleys of the nature reserve is the obvious choice.

The trail leads through a narrow col on the ridge that splits Husadalur from Langidalur in the parallel Krossa valley. It's sheltered enough for trees and shrubs to grow here in a riot of plant life which is notably absent from most of Iceland. Langidalur is the end point for the Laugavegur Trail probably the countries most celebrated trek, a four day hike between Landmannalaugar and Posmork through a spectacular sucession of wild volcanic landscapes.

From the base at Langidalur where mountain huts stare out of a spectacular black river delta scored with slivers of silver water the trail turns begining to climb and with each step the scale and majesty of the landscape increases. The peaks are raw and geologically young, towers of dark brown-black soil and rock to which dark green moss and grass struggle to cling.

It's only about 250 meters of accent but the summit is such a prominent point that the view is quite spectacular. The vast mountain wilderness to the north, the view west to the coast, and the towering icecap lost in cloud to the south all streach out into the distance. Despite the wind, which is biting and chill the panorama just holds me spellbound exploring the horizons, and standing staring into the jumble of peaks reaching into the interior.

The upper reaches of the Krossa and Hvanna Rivers

Looking down stream towards and the "road" in With the towering ice-capped flanks of the Eyjafjöll volcano on the left.

All too soon it's time to leave, the last bus out of the reserve departs soon after four and having left my tent and bag back in Selfoss I'm not too keen on spending an un-intended night out. Looking down from the summit the coach arrives in the valley crawling slowly along the back sand and gravel of the river delta, a tiny toy which resonates the scale of the landscape.

Posmork is a bleak beautiful place, to me it feels like a young Scotland but on a slightly bigger scale. The few hours I've spent here today has just illustrated the vast amount of wilderness there is in Iceland; visiting Porsmork I've just taken a peak behind the curtain of whats out there to explore.  I've already promised myself I will come back and complete the Laugavegur Trail and take a first real bite out of wild Iceland.

Looking inland along the line of the Laugavegur Trail

Spot the bus

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