Laugavegurinn Day Four: Botnar to Basar (Thorsmork)

I am sitting in the morning sun, which has just broken over the nearest hill. The night passed well – not such a good sleep as the night before, but Avi was the perfect bunk-mate. It’s twenty to eight, and I should think about making some breakfast, packing my kit and trying to fix my sleeping bag zip. It stuck last night, as I pulled it up. This followed the bulb on my Maglite blowing – I now have no light for the duration – so it was probably inevitable that something else would go wrong; I’m waiting to see what will be the third thing.

Last night, Jon Karl told us that tonight, at Thorsmork, we will have our own cabin and we will, in teams, have to produce ‘an entertainment’ for the group. I think I have been assigned to a team with Priska and Anne-Sophie, with Avi and Michel.  I have no idea what we’re going to do, but I guess we’ll work that out under way today. The clear blue sky might make that easier.

My feeling of well-being was dented rather more than it should have been by the sleeping bag zip and the torch bulb – having felt suddenly so chuffed at, in Nathan’s words, ‘MacGyvering up’ the light for the table, I felt just as quickly humbled by its death. But now that well-being is restored – I chatted with Arne as the sun came up about how this trip has exceeded our expectations. Thus far it has been fantastic – the group is great, the walk demanding enough and rewarding beyond measure. And Iceland is sublime.

* * *

Sitting in the sun, under the glacier’s end, by a gorge full of boiling, icy, grey water forcing its way through the gap, I’m eating fresh blueberries from amongst the heather. The first raw, fresh food I’ve eaten for days, and they’re good. I’m going to keep eating.

* * *

After the blueberries, we went down to the river and crossed on a footbridge, reached by ‘abseiling’ down a short rope. The trail then wound around and through sand to where the river met the canyon we’d seen the evening before (Krokagil?); the hill we’d stood on was visible across the chasm, but not the giant’s face.

The path wound down alongside the combined rivers, rising and falling with the terrain – more sand, more hills. We stopped for lunch by a stream, an idyllic, lush setting. The idyll was only interrupted by Janeen slicing her finger with a paring knife, instead of the salami she was aiming for. A bit of first aid washed up the blood and her finger was encased in three people’s bandages.

Then on to our first river crossing of the day – a cold, grey, fast flowing channel picking its way through a wide gravel bed. I became one end of a guide rope to help others across. Standing in the freezing water, the rope tensed around my waist, I braced my body against the current with my stick. It was going well, until two people crossed at once, and one decided that pushing down on the rope was a good idea, creating a tension I wasn’t prepared for or indeed braced against – I thought I was going face-first into the stream. But I managed to avoid providing the group with a big laugh, that way at least. When I got out at the other side, my feet were numb.

As we pulled up out of the valley, there were trees for the first time. A steep incline, then a ramble through low birch trees – bushes? The vegetation became more diverse as we rose to a plateau, from which we had views back to our point of departure that morning, down towards our destination, and out along the river delta to what I assume was the sea. At this point, everyone (me included) thought it was an easy ramble down through the trees to the hut – we could see two of them from the hill, so felt confident one of them was our destination. But there was another surprise for us.

We arrived at a hut complex by the southerly river of the Thorsmork area (the Krossa), which was clean and positively luxurious – there was even a shop, selling beer…  Many, perhaps including me, were disappointed when we had to move on toward our actual destination. A couple of us bought some cans for the evening – maybe to make the evening’s ‘entertainment’ go by more comfortably, definitely to toast the end of the trail. Even Arne’s solemn revelation that it was ‘weak’ beer (2.5%) couldn’t dampen the mood – we had beer (and a drop of whisky in it would make up the lack of alcohol) and we were almost there, just a quick trot around the headland.

Except it wasn’t. It became clear that we had to cross the Krossa – the first stream by footbridge, then, after a few hundred metres across the gravel bed, a ford across a 20 metre wide channel – knee deep, grey, fast, and numbingly cold. Jon Karl raised the stakes by stressing that we had to follow exactly where he went. He crossed, dropped his bag and boots, and came back to give the two children piggy backs, as the rest of us snaked across the river, Arne and Katrin barefoot. Janeen was very unhappy about this last treat: once safely across, Nathan described her face as a scowl the like of which he had never seen.

The trip ended with a few hundred metres along a gravel drive to the hut at Basar, the most pristine and civilised so far. Nathan, Arne and I sat down with some 2.5% beer, pepped up with whisky and gin, and toasted our arrival. I’m now sitting among the debris, while others prepare for this evening’s entertainment. There is a real party spirit (I’m a bit mellow, to be honest) and the festivities are getting underway, so I shall stop and join in.

A more complete set of photos is on my Flickr page

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