Articles tagged with "hike"
I’d been up the Valle de las Arenas before and it had been awesome. I’d wanted to go back for ages, and this weekend some friends were in the mood for a hike, so we decided to head up there.
It was incredibly different to my last trip. In late autumn, the valley was barren and we could drive a long way up it, so that we only had a couple of hours to hike to get to the glacier. Today we had to start from a lot further back, firstly because after a very rainy winter, the valley was still full of snow. And secondly because there was now a huge building site at the foot of the valley. There had just been a few portacabins there 18 months ago but now the road was blocked, and a sign said that cars needed permission to pass. We didn’t, so we parked and hiked up the valley from there. It was a fantastic hike in the thick snow.
I got up early the next morning, and was on the way up the trail to the top at 6.30am. It was a cool morning and I knew I’d made a good decision stopping for the night instead of climbing in the hot afternoon. I made fast progress, and by 8am I was at the only difficult bit of the climb, a rocky section over a narrow ridge. It wasn’t always easy to see the best way over, and I was really glad I had gone down to San Carlos de Apoquindo last year instead of continuing in the dark. It would not have been nice trying to clamber over the rocks by torchlight.
On the other side, it was a short and easy walk to the summit. I got there before 9am and felt happy to have finally got here. It had been my target for four years.
I headed down. By 11.30 I was back at my camp, and I packed up. At 12, three friends passed by – they were climbing in the one day while I’d preferred to spend a night camping. I said hi to them and carried on down. The way to San Carlos was steep and dusty, and with only one pole it was miserable going. I kept on slipping and progress was slow. Just after I’d slipped yet again and put my hand into a thorny bush, I met another friend who was heading to Alto del Naranjo. I feigned enjoyment, and carried on down. I ran out of water before I got to San Carlos and was incredibly thirsty when I arrived. Luckily there was a tap there and I drank several litres before heading home. I drank many more when I got there.
I found a great place to camp, with no-one else around. It was really nice to be up in the Sierra de Ramón with awesome views of the city. And even though I was nearly 2000m above sea level, it was still a warm night. I watched the sunset, saw the city light up, and the stars coming out, and after that I slept well.
I’d tried to climb Provincia before with three friends, but we’d set off too late in the day and only got as far as Alto del Naranjo before lack of daylight stopped further progress. A year and a bit later, I finally got around to having another go.
But again I left too late in the day, and this time it was summer. Setting off at 1.30pm was a huge tactical error, and it was compounded soon after I left Puente Ñilhue when one of my hiking poles snapped. So my hike was extremely tiring in the heat, and more difficult than it should have been with only one pole.
But after three hours I was at Alto del Naranjo. No snow on the ground this time, and the summer days were long so I still had plenty of time to get to the top. However, I didn’t have plenty of water. I’d refilled at the last opportunity, and I’d been carrying nearly 5 litres, but it was hot going and I was using up my supplies quickly. I decided to head a bit further up than Alto del Naranjo but not to go to the summit until morning when it would be cooler.
Summer has been very late coming to Santiago in 2015, El Niño giving us a huge amount more grey cloudy weather than normal. But today was beautiful, so I went to Cerro Carbón in the evening. I thought I might go all the way to the top and see the sunset from there, but I left a bit late, and only had time to get to Mirador El Litre before it was dark. A few hill runners came down after nightfall, and I could see a light on top of Cerro Manquehue. It looked like someone was camping up there. Meanwhile, the city lights came on, and Santiago looked awesome.
I drove on to Kona and spent a couple of days there. I went snorkelling in Kealakekua Bay, which was totally stunning. I’d never done snorkelling before and I was blown away by how awesome it was to float over the coral with thousands of fish swimming really close to me. And as an added bonus, it was a great hike from Kona down to the bay. Hiking back up was also great but exhausting after the swim. And then as I got to the top it started thundering, and in the downpour I got completely and utterly soaked to the skin.
I’d started 2014 with a trip up Cerro Carbón, and I did the same for 2015. I wouldn’t have minded climbing Manquehue instead or as well, but it was a hot summer’s day and these hills aren’t so much fun when it’s incredibly dry and hot. So I left the house early and was on the trail before sunrise. It was a little bit cloudy first thing, which made for a cooler start to the hike, and also created epic sunbeams over the Sierra de Ramón when the sun came up.
It was not as quiet as last year – there was someone camped at Mirador El Litre. But I still had the top to myself when I got there.
From Red Crater we headed down. If we’d have been coming this way in summer there would have been colourful lakes on the way but they were all frozen and buried under snow.
It was good weather again at the top, and we relaxed in the sun on the edge of Red Crater, which last erupted in 1926.
It had been sunny at first but then we had a complete whiteout for a bit. The sun started to come out again as we were nearing the highest point on the crossing.
It was a nice evening with much less smog that when I’d climbed Cerro Carbón a few days ago. I decided to head up the trail again, but just to Mirador El Litre, half way up the mountain, for some evening views of the city. I cycled from my house to La Piramide and realised when I got there that I’d left my bike lock at home. So I dragged the bike up the hill a little way, vaguely hid it in some undergrowth, and hoped there were no bike thieves around.
The evening views from the mirador were pretty awesome and I stayed until it was dark. Coming down the hill was scarier than I’d anticipated – my torch suddenly lit up two red eyes on the trail ahead of me, and I approached cautiously. Then, suddenly, as I got closer, there was an loud flap and the bird I’d woken up took off, almost flying into my face.
Back at the bottom, I found my bike still where I’d left it, and cycled home.
I climbed Cerro Carbón again with a group of friends. It was a cool winter’s day and the air quality was particularly horrible. At street level it was just a misty gloomy day, but from the top of Carbón we could see that there was a disgusting layer of brown all over Santiago. The top of the layer was just below the top of Cerro Carbón, and we stayed on our island in the muck for quite a while, not wanting to go back down into the filthy air below.
With three friends, I set out for a weekend climb. Our plan was to climb Provincia, and stay in the hut at the top. But we left a bit later than planned, and it took us a long time to get to the start of the climb. We waited ages for a bus to Plaza San Enrique, then decided to get a taxi instead, and then got another taxi from there to Puente Ñilhue.
It was the middle of winter but it was a hot day and the early part of the hike was tiring, climbing very steeply. After three hours we reached Alto del Naranjo, and it was already after 4pm. There was snow on the ground here and nice views of the cordillera. El Plomo was about as thickly covered in snow as it had been after the storm in February.
With about three hours still to go to reach the summit, we’d be arriving in the dark if we carried on. We had a brief argument with some wanting to continue and others wanting to go down, and eventually we went for the descent. We were near a fork in the path with one way continuing to the summit and the other descending to San Carlos de Apoquindo, and we took the path to San Carlos. We got to the bottom in darkness.
It was the world cup semi-final. I’d been to Brazil and seen two games live, and watched almost every other game on TV. But tonight, I’d missed Germany v. Brazil, and once we were on a bus back into town, I looked up the result. I thought there was some crazy error on the BBC when I read 7-1 for the score. Turned out that the one significant game of the cup that I’d missed was just about the most extraordinary game in world cup history.
Wanting to do an easy hike one day, I went to the Cajón del Maipo with Neil. After our adventures on El Plomo, we wanted to go somewhere where we almost certainly wouldn’t die, so we headed for the Monumento Natural El Morado. We knew the trail there closed in the early afternoon, so we made sure we were in time, only to find that the closing time had been changed to even earlier, and we’d missed it.
So we headed further up into the mountains, to the next valley, Valle de las Arenas. Confusingly, Monumento Natural El Morado contains Glaciar San Francisco, while Glaciar El Morado is in the Valle de las Arenas. We drove a long way up the valley on an incredibly rough track, then hiked up to the glacier.
It was an easy hike, and from where we parked, it was less than two hours to the top of the valley, 3200m above sea level. The path crested a small rise and we found ourselves by a chocolate brown lagoon full of icebergs from the glacier. In the mountains around us there were five or six more glaciers.
The storm passed before night fall. We talked to the other climber, Sixto, who was incredibly well prepared and was carrying enough kit for at least three other people. He even had a hot water bottle with him. He’d climbed El Plomo a few times before. He wore incredibly thick glasses and told us that he was actually virtually blind, with a prescription in the -20s. His retinas were damaged, and any head injury would probably make him lose the last of his vision.
It was cold in the hut. I was warm enough and acclimatised enough to sleep well, but my water bottle was frozen solid when I woke up. We got up at 4am to see if it was worth climbing, but the summit was covered in thick cloud and it didn’t look good. We decided to abandon the summit and head down. A lot of snow had fallen and the path was totally covered. If we hadn’t had a GPS record of the way we’d come up to follow, we’d have had a hard time finding the right way down.
We stopped at Federación for some lunch then carried on down the valley of the Cepo to Piedra Numerada. Up until now I hadn’t felt too tired, but the last leg from Piedra Numerada back to the car at Tres Puntas was horrific. I’d forgotten how much the path had dropped on our way into the valley, and now we had to climb back out. I was exhausted and walked painfully slowly. Getting back to the car was the hardest part of the whole trip.
Weather forecasts for the weekend hadn’t been great, but until now we’d seen no sign of particularly bad weather. It was getting cloudy as we stopped at La Hoya, and as we continued up towards Agostini, things got worse. It began to snow, and visibility began to drop. Then, in the distance, we heard thunder. At first I was not sure if it was an avalanche on the glacier or a storm brewing, but very quickly it became obvious that it was a storm.
The snow got heavier. I wanted to head back down, but Neil was sure that we were more than half way to the hut and persuaded me to carry on. We tried to go as quickly as possible but at well over 4,000m, that’s not very quick. And then suddenly we were in the middle of the storm, with lightning striking terrifyingly close by and thunder shaking the ground. I dived behind a rock. Static electricity was everywhere, everything was crackling, and I could hear my ice axe sparking.
I didn’t want to move. We were in huge danger and I was thinking that literally any moment could be my last. So we lay on the ground in the snow for a while until there seemed to be a lull in the storm. Then we got up and ran uphill. This was savagely tiring but fear of imminent death spurred us on. Then lightning struck close by again, the sky roared and we hit the ground once more.
In the gloom, another climber appeared, heading downhill quickly. He told us we were 20 minutes from the hut and then disappeared. So we decided to keep on going up, and actually we were more like 5 minutes away. I felt massively relieved once we caught sight of it. The storm continued and we kept on taking what cover we could when lightning struck nearby. We ran the last few metres to the hut and dived inside.
The hut was empty when we got there. Another climber arrived not long after us, shaken by his experience in the storm. It was snowing so heavily that he’d lost the path and thought he wasn’t going to find the hut. Then later on, three people coming down the mountain appeared, and told us that there were more people higher up, badly equipped, one of whom was having major altitude problems.
The snow had stopped but the air was still electrified. We stayed in the hut and I worried about the people higher up – it sounded like there was a serious possibility that there would be fatalities. We were relieved when they arrived at the hut a couple of hours later. They rested in the hut for a few minutes, the one with altitude sickness falling asleep straight away. We shared food and drink with them, and they headed down. They were much better equipped than the first group had said, and with the storm now passing, it looked like they would be OK.
The next day dawned stunningly clear. We had amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the glaciers on the face of El Plomo. Our target for today was Agostini hut, 4,600m above sea level. The first part of the day was straightforward, a climb over a ridge to El Hoyo, where a glacier filled a small lake and we could fill up with water.
On our second day on the mountain, we walked up the valley of the Río Cepo to Federación, 4,000m above sea level. It took about three and a half hours. In the night I’d felt the altitude a bit, waking up a few times when I suddenly had to take a really deep breath, but today I felt very acclimatised and found the going easy. We got to Federación in the early afternoon, at the same time as some heavy clouds. We were under the west face of El Plomo but we couldn’t see it at all.
El Plomo is the biggest mountain you can see from Santiago, 5,400m tall. I set out to climb it with Neil, who’d tried once before and not made it due to bad weather.
We drove to Valle Nevado and across the back country to Tres Puntas. We’d set off quite late from Santiago but our first day was very short – an easy two hour walk to Piedra Numerada, a broad green plain 3,400m above sea level in the valley of the Río Cepo. It was 8pm when we arrived.
The schedule for today was tight. We had to get to Pehoé in time for a ferry to be in time for a bus to be in time for another bus to be in time for our flight back to Santiago. Any missed step would be disastrous. So we packed up and left Campamento Italiano before dawn and headed off down the trail. It was a beautiful morning, clear and calm, and bitterly cold.
We made it back to Pehoé in plenty of time for the boat back. And all the other steps worked out as well, until we got to the airport to find that our 11pm flight was delayed by four hours. After four days of hiking we were not in the mood for this. There was another flight leaving at 1.30am, but LAN were very reluctant to let us onto it, so it looked like we would be getting home at about 8am. As I argued with the LAN people, ex-president Michelle Bachelet walked by. She was on the 1.30am flight, and eventually LAN decided that we could be, too. We trudged wearily onto the plane, brushed off some Torres del Paine twigs and dirt, collapsed into our seats and headed out of Patagonia.
We hiked back to Pehoé the next morning, and headed on to Campamento Italiano. The wind had dropped, the skies had cleared and we had two stunning days of sunshine and autumn colours. We hiked up the Valle Frances and watched avalanches roaring down the slopes of Paine Grande.
From the campsite, sometimes, you could hear the roar of the avalanches. They normally lasted 10 or 20 seconds On our first night there, we heard a roar but this was something different. It got louder and louder, much louder than the noisy river that we were camped by, and it just kept on going. I knew that there was no chance of any avalanche reaching the campsite. But did I really know that? As the roar kept on going, and getting louder and louder, I began to wonder. It was dark and there was no point getting up to see what was going on. So we sat in the tent, listened, and waited. Finally the roar died away.
We got straight out onto the trails. The W is the most popular trail in the park but we only had a few days, just enough time for a V only. We hiked out to Lago Grey and the Grey Glacier.
It was windy. It was unbelievably windy. We were lucky that most of the trail was quite sheltered, but on the open bits we could easily stand at 45 degree angles and not fall over. But the views over the lake were worth getting out onto the open bits for. I was wondering why on earth I hadn’t been back here since 2005.
This was my first serious hike for a year and a half. The last one had also been here, when I’d tried to hike up to Glaciar San Francisco with Suzanna and Ryan. We’d started too late and the trail had already closed for the day by the time we got to the start. With Dave and Andrew I set off for another go, and we made it well before closing time.
The hike started quite steeply but after an hour or so it flattened out. It’s a popular trail but it wasn’t too busy today. The higher you go up the Cajón del Maipo the more awesome the scenery gets, and the Monumento Natural El Morado is pretty high up, only a few miles from the 6,000m peaks at the very top of the valley.
But we didn’t make it all the way to the glacier in the end. We were almost there when the sole of one of Andrew’s shoes suddenly came apart, which put paid to any further ascending and made the trip back down a bit more difficult than it should have been. It must have been very uncomfortable for him, and the slap-slap-slap sound of the flapping sole got a bit tiring for Dave and I after a while too.
My previous attempt to see the Cajón del Maipo had been a bit half-arsed, relying on public transport and ending up in the nondescript hamlet of San Gabriel, instead of actually out in the mountains hiking.
So I tried again this weekend, with a couple of other ESO people. We hired a car, and left reasonably early. Having your own wheels definitely makes a big difference, and instead of spending hours on the bus chugging through all the distant Santiago suburbs, we were in the valley in less than an hour.
But we didn’t get everything right. We stopped in Baños Morales for a lengthy and tasty lunch, planning to hike to a glacier afterwards. But by the time we rolled up to the national park entrance, sated and sleepy but none the less keen to hike, we were told the trail had closed 20 minutes earlier.
So we had to find something else to do. We randomly ended up spotting a large red rocky outcrop, high up in the hills above Lo Valdes, and decided to go there. It was a good hike, scrambling up some steep and precarious scree slopes. The skies threatened but only delivered a few spots of rain. We made it to the outcrop without getting wet, and from it we got awesome views over the valley.
After we headed back down, the heavens finally did open, but we were safe in our car by then, and we drove down the valley as the sun broke through the rain clouds again.
Hiking trails led away from the cable car station up into the hills, so I decided to walk for a while. Quickly I was away in the quiet mountains. I headed up a steep path to a ridge, which looked like the highest point around, but once I got there I could see there was another higher peak further on. The path flattened and dropped, and then rose up to Mount Fløya, 671m above sea level.
The day had started out overcast but some sun had broken through the clouds. I was alone on top of the mountain, and I sat for a while, taking in the views over the wild countryside.
The only reason to come down was that I had to find my way to the airport for a flight back to Oslo. This was a very annoying business, first of all because I was extremely content up there and didn’t feel like starting my journey back to London, and secondly because it was the World Cup final, and in a moment of appalling planning, I’d booked a flight that took off at the precise moment the game started, and would last for pretty much the exact time football games last for. I could only hope it would go to extra time.
We landed, and I got a train back to Oslo. As I walked through the station, I heard a sudden roar, and found a pub where the game was on. It had gone to extra time, and Spain had just almost scored. The Norwegian crowd was definitely backing Spain, and when they scored with just a few minutes to go the pub went wild. Out in the streets of Oslo, a car full of Spanish people drove around the block a few times, hooting its horn. If there were any Dutch around, they were keeping it quiet.
I walked back to the hostel in the midnight daylight. The next day, it rained heavily all day, and I sat in a cafe watching the rain batter on the window and drinking coffee until I got tunnel vision.
The next day it was nicer. I walked across the bridge from Tromsøya to the mainland, and got the cable car up the hill to Storsteinen. It was a short ride up, and it wasn’t cheap. Nothing is in Norway. But it was worth it. There weren’t too many people around, and the views over the city and the mountains were pretty incredible.
We followed the river back towards Brodick. The walk in the valley was not as interesting as the hiking in the fells had been, but the scenery was still impressive. The interior of the island was impressively wild, with no significant signs of human habitation to be seen. It always surprises me, a world traveller but an insular London resident, that there are places like this in the UK. I should go to them more often.
After the meeting I went to the Isle of Arran to do a bit of hiking with another astronomer friend. We got the train to Ardrossan, and the ferry from there to Brodick. I didn’t know much about the island – we’d just picked it as somewhere easy to get to where we could do some hiking and climbing. As we pulled into the harbour at Brodick it looked like a good choice with rugged scenery.
Our target was Goat Fell. The weather had been beautiful when we arrived but was a little bit more overcast the next day. We hiked up to the 874m summit in a couple of hours, and got some fantastic views over the island. In the far distance, the ferry was pulling out of Brodick on its way to Ardrossan.
On the other side of the peak we took a route along a spectacular ridge, descended a bit and then scrambled up a very steep slope to a viewpoint on the other side of the valley. We could see some rock climbers tackling a sheer face on another nearby hill. Our aims were less extreme, and after a few hours of good hiking we descended back into the valley.
I didn’t go back for it. On the other side of the river was something strange and astonishing, an Icelandic forest. I’d never seen one of these before and I felt like I was in a different country as I walked through the woods. An hour or so later I reached a sign saying Þórsmörk and I was nearly done.
I walked to Langidalur. My guide book said there was a shop here. There was but it was closed, and the place was more or less deserted. A vehicle had got stuck in one of the massive glacial rivers here and was being pulled out by a tractor, but otherwise nothing much was happening. I walked to Húsadalur, home valley, and it turned out this was where everything happens at Þórsmörk. I pitched my tent and rested my weary feet. I was done.
Landmannalaugar’s hot pool is one of my favourite places on the planet, and my guide book said there was a geothermal hot pool here as well. I’d been looking forward to it. In the end, it was massively disappointing – it was hardly warm at all and far from spending hours in there recovering, I spent about five minutes in there shivering before I could take no more.
Instead, I went for a walk. In the late evening, when all was quiet, I walked to the Krossá. I sat and watched the raging glacial torrent carving its way through the Icelandic landscape. It was cloudy and gloomy and atmospheric. I’d finally made it to Þórsmörk. I’d considered pushing on over the Fimmvörðuháls pass to Skógar, another day or two’s walking, but my time was not unlimited and there were other places I wanted to see. I decided my hike was over, and in the morning I headed back to Reykjavík.
I left Emstrur early. I had just a few hours to go to finish the job I’d started ten years before, and I was in a good mood. The trail started with a steep descent, so steep that it required a little bit of abseiling, using a handily-placed rope. A bridge crossed the Ytri-Emstruá river, and then the trail reached the point where that and the Markarfljót joined. One was dark grey and the other was light grey, and the different shades flowed side by side.
I followed the course of the Markarfljót. The trail was flat, it was warm and sunny, and I made fast progress. Then the trail turned steeply upwards for a while, and the views got more and more amazing the higher I got. I reached a ridge, and far below I could see what looked like a modest river. The path dropped down towards it, and the closer I got, the more I could see how much I’d underestimated it. By the time I got to its banks I could see it was not going to be easy.
I was glad to meet a couple of Dutch hikers who had just crossed. If I fell and was swept away to a grim death, at least someone would know. They had found a decent place to cross, and they shouted back across the raging torrent to direct me. They also threw me a pair of flip-flops – until now I’d just crossed all the rivers barefoot. I tied everything to my pack and ploughed into the waters.
The rivers until now had been ankle-deep at worst but this one was over my knees straight away. In the middle it was up to my hips and the current was pushing me downstream. A slip would have been disastrous but luckily I made it across. I thanked the Dutch couple and gave them back their flip-flops. Then I realised I’d left one of my socks on the other side of the river.
When I got up the next morning it was raining hard. I spoke to the warden at the hut, and he reckoned it would start to clear in a couple of hours. So I waited before setting off. I tried to write my journal but my hands were too cold, so I wandered along the lake as the drizzle eased off.
The warden was right. After a couple of hours it was no longer raining, so I set off. The going was much easier than yesterday, and I set a furious pace again. Having started late, I found there were quite a few people on the trail in front of me. After a steep climb down to a bridge over a wild river, I found a huge dusty expanse in front of me, with five or six groups of hikers strung out across it. I like targets when I’m doing things like this, and I chased them down during the day.
The trail crossed a few more rivers. They were all brutally cold but not too difficult to cross. They were quite welcome, amid the desert-like scenery. Grey dust blew about, and there was hardly any vegetation or colour to be seen. The skies matched the ground, a uniform slate grey as far as I could see.
Later on it got less forbidding. A vivid green mountain came into view, looking to me like it could be the crazy home of some Norse god. On this part of the trek I could easily see why Icelandic folk tales have it that every other rock in the highlands is home to a spirit or goblin of some sort.
Eventually I crested a rise and found the Emstrur hut beneath me. I was two thirds of the way to the end.
I cooked up some lunch on the veranda of the hut. As I ate, the clouds suddenly parted, revealing a couple of hikers heading out across a huge snowy expanse, ringed by mountains. A roar away to my right turned out to be coming from a huge steam plume jetting straight out of the ground. I finished my food, grabbed my pack and headed out.
Hiking across the snow was fairly tough going but I knew the hardest bit of the day was already behind me. I’d climbed 500 metres and now I would drop 500 metres to Álftavatn. The weather was beautiful here, and I was alone on the trail pretty much the whole way. I was in an Icelandic dream but I did not let up my pace for a second. I marched pretty much as fast as I could, somehow fearing that if I slowed down I might not make it to Þórsmörk.
Later the weather turned. I descended into a verdant gorge, and crossed my first river. It was only ankle-deep but bitingly cold, and I walked gingerly for a mile or so afterwards until my feet started to feel again. The cloud was thickening and eventually I could only see the trail and a few feet either side of it. Sometimes in the murk I could hear volcanic springs rumbling and bubbling but I couldn’t see anything. It began to rain.
Finally I reached a flat grassy plain where I could see that vehicles sometimes drove. A few minutes more walking brought me to the shores of Álftavatn. I set up camp and then walked along the shore in the midsummer gloom, listening to music. I was a third of the way to the end.
Early the next morning I got up and left. The word yesterday had been the the wardens would try to stop anyone setting off who didn’t have a GPS system, the weather was that bad. I didn’t have a GPS; I just had a map, a compass, three days of supplies and a wild desire to trek. So I looked shiftily about, saw no wardens, and hurried onto the trail.
I set a blazing pace. The early part of the trail was extremely familiar and I felt like I remembered every footstep as I crossed an old lava flow, to a heavenly meadow on the other side where I remembered thinking it would be awesome to camp. In 40 minutes, I was at the ignominious spot. I passed the spirits of three defeated youths, reluctantly picking up their too-heavy packs to trudge back to the hut. I gave a thought to my younger self and pushed on into unknown parts.
The trail climbed. Soon I had incredible views over ancient lava fields and hills coloured red and green and all sorts of colours that rocks normally aren’t. I passed Stórihver, a hole in the rocks which belched out jets of steaming water, and soon reached places where snow lay on the ground. Higher and higher the trail went, and eventually I reached the clouds. Cairns marked the route but occasionally I had to wait for a few minutes for a break in the thick fog to show me the way ahead. I slogged across what seemed like a huge snowy plateau, cairn by cairn, and the cloud was so thick that I almost walked into the Hrafntinnusker hut before I saw it.
I’d been here before. Ten years ago, we planned to hike the legendary Laugavegur, a three day crossing of some of Iceland’s wildest scenery. We’d given up after a matter of a couple of hours, not through any desire of mine but because my two travelling companions didn’t fancy it. In retrospect I could see we would have had a miserable time if we’d carried on but still I left with a powerful sense of unfinished business. If there was one thing I wanted to do on this trip, it was to finish the job.
So I got an early morning bus to Landmannalaugar. Even if the hike had been a failure, Landmannalaugar had been one of my favourite places in Iceland. The weather was unremittingly foul and bleak and that only made me like it more. The sombre mountains just seemed so atmospheric and wild to me then. Wallowing in nostalgia, I listened to 7:30 by the Frank and Walters as we rumbled along the Fjallabak road to the back of beyond.
It was almost like I’d just rewound ten years. Rain was battering down on Landmannalaugar, which looked as familiar as if I’d been there yesterday. I really, really didn’t fancy camping – our night here on the gravelly campground had been horrible. So I went to see if I could get into the warm dry hut. By great good fortune I happened to reach the warden’s hut at the same time as some people who had one more reservation than they needed. I gladly took it off their hands. And then I made straight for the most heavenly location on Earth, the hot pool. Bathing in hot volcanic waters in the remote hinterlands of Iceland while it rains steadily is just too awesome to describe.
It was my last day on Ammassalik Island, and I wanted to do a good hike. My outrageously expensive map had details of a few, and I decided to take the Bassisøen loop. It started with a long walk up the fjord, past icebergs bumping against the shore, to a valley which headed away inland.
The first half of the walk was on trails. I followed the course of a river upstream, past eerily semi-frozen lakes which somehow to me made the jagged peaks around look dramatic and threatening. At the top of one lake I passed a couple of other hikers, who were on the other side of the river. I should have realised I was on the bad side of the lake – I’d had to scramble over a huge rockfall which blocked the trail, and now I had to take a perilous leap over a powerful river to get back onto the path. It was not an easy jump and I was glad to get over unscathed.
The trail continued until two valleys met. I turned left, around a large mountain, and carried on. This next valley was quieter, colder, and snowier than the previous one, and I was back in the dreamy wilderness, with no trails and nothing to restrict where I went. I trekked along the shores of a large frozen lake, and for no good reason at all started wondering if there were any polar bears around. Apparently they’re not uncommon here in the winter but rare in summer. For a few seconds I convinced myself I’d seen something white moving about on the opposite shore of the lake, but I soon decided that was ridiculous and carried on.
Eventually I reached the end of the lake, and my trek was nearly done. I just had a couple of hours to walk back down a valley to the village. After a little while I reached a jeep track which I followed for a while. I passed a small hydroelectric station which was covered in graffiti. I was still miles from anywhere. There really can’t be very much to do in Tasiilaq when you’re growing up.
I scrambled along the ridge back towards town. When I reach Tasiilaq I saw that there was a football game about to start on the town’s dusty pitch, and I decided to watch. I was not sure if it was a Greenlandic league game or just a village kickabout, but it looked pretty organised. A small but very vocal crowd cheered the teams on when the game began.
The game was extremely one-sided. The team in red played stunningly badly and I honestly would not have played any worse than them if I’d gone on. I may not be able to control the ball well, tackle people without kicking them or escape from markers, but I can put the ball into an open goal from within the penalty area. The reds couldn’t, and the stripy team raced into a four goal lead. I didn’t stay for the second half.
Once I’d recovered from my caffeine deprivation, I was in a position to appreciate just how incredible Greenland is. I went for a walk up Blomsterdalen, a valley running from the fjord up into the hills and mountains of Ammassalik Island. A few locals were out for picnics at the town end of the valley but further up there was no-one. I passed the cemetery, as bleak and haunting as all Greenlandic cemeteries are, and followed a river up to a series of frozen lakes.
On my way back into town I decided to head up into the hills. Hiking here was a dream – no trails, no people, just pure wilderness. I climbed up to a ridge and looked down over the fjord. A ribbon of clouds drifted past the bleak mountains across the water, and icebergs drifted down the fjord.