What do Seljalandsfoss and Glymur have in common?
They’re both waterfalls, and I’ve been on top of both of them.
What don’t they have in common?
About 138 meters (450 feet).
So. . . yeah. That’s what I got up to this weekend. All 198 meters (650 feet) of it. As you can imagine, it was not an easy feat, but I did it, despite having no idea what I was getting into because the one person on the trip who did neglected to tell us anything that could be construed as helpful in preparing for this hike.
Glymur is a big ass waterfall about an hour northeast of Reykjavik. Luckily for us, the weather was unusually beautiful, if not a bit cold. But it’s October in Iceland, so if we expected anything else that would be, in a word, stupid. But it was the kind of cold that makes your nose and cheeks turn pink and that mattered very little when you got moving, so it was perfect hiking weather. And it wasn’t raining, which is nothing short of a miracle.
The hike started as these things do, until we hit the first view of the river. I stopped to take some pictures, and when I was done with that everyone was gone. And my phone has decided not to use its data, so I was well and truly alone. But after only a few minutes of panic, confusion, and a distinct sense of abandonment, I found the trail that goes into a literal cave, and inside that cave my party was breaking for breakfast. The pictures of the view were barely even worth the despair.
So Glymur was on the other side of the cave. We descended to the river bank, where Luca informed us that the only way forward was across the river. Because this is Iceland, the water was freezing and quite unappealing. But because this is Iceland, we pulled off our shoes and socks, rolled up our pants, and got our feet wet.
Luca had the foresight to bring a towel (which the rest of us might have if he had TOLD US WE WERE GOING TO HAVE TO WADE ACROSS A GLACIAL RIVER), and he was generous enough to share it with the rest of us. By the time it got to me, my feet didn’t even feel cold anymore on account of them being numb, but by the magic powers of wool and love imbued in the socks my Grandma knit for me, my toes warmed up in no time. And we were off again.
At this point the trail became very steep, and I was reminded how out of shape I am. At various points there were (distressingly wobbly) poles in the ground with rope strung through them to give hikers something to hold onto, because otherwise the death toll would be in the hundreds. Probably.
Eventually we hit a point where we could finally see the waterfall and judge how far away from the summit we still were. That bleak fact was mediated by the view itself, as well as the understanding that going up was better than going over the edge of the very sharp drops along the canyon.
We eventually made it up and up and up, with a few stops for second and third breakfast along with a few scenic overlooks.
Finally, we reached the top of Glymur. It is, to use the technical term, a “big boi.” There’s no way to connect with your own mortality and the endless processes of time like standing on top of a 200 meter waterfall and watching ice-cold water plummet over rocks and algae with no awareness of its own journey and power.
There’s also nothing like looking upstream at the very broad river and knowing your next task is to find the best place to cross it and then actually cross it. But we did. I think out of the five of us, only two of us took the same route, but we all made it across alive and mostly dry. This was no small feat, since the rocks up there were covered in very slippery algae and it’s hard to find purchase on slick rocks when your feet are submerged under glacial water and going numb. At one point I almost fell in; even as I was flailing around trying to find my balance, I was making peace with the seemingly impending reality that I was going to fall into an Icelandic river in the middle of October with my phone in my pocket and my pride tumbling down the cliff with the rest of the water. But miraculously, I righted myself and made it to the other bank without incident.
Now where the water actually falls in this waterfall, there’s a rocky outcrop that looked fairly easy to get to from the other side of the river.
So naturally, getting there was our very next order of business. It probably looks quite precarious, but it was a breeze to get to and hard to fall off of unless you’re an idiot. None of us are. You’ll notice in the preceding photo that there’s not a straight drop to see from that point, but the scenery from that height was nonetheless breathtaking.
I’m not sure what else to say about the other side of Glymur, since the experience I ended up having was not exactly the experience hikers are meant to have. The first part of the trek down is quite rocky and dotted with large cairns, which we assumed was to mark the way for hikers.
Well, all of us except Luca, who decided to take a “shortcut” to get to the trail below. The rest of us thought that seemed like a bad idea, so we resolved to take the actual trail down and catch up with him. The problem was, the trail we followed was not a hiking trail, or even a trail at all, unless it’s for the sheep we saw hanging out in the area.
What I’m trying to say is we accidentally climbed down a cliff and sauntered through a mini forest before we got back to the trail very near its start. I don’t have any pictures, because I was too busy trying not to lose my balance and tumble down what felt like a 90º, 100 ft drop but probably wasn’t quite that extreme. It was close, though.
The long and the short of it is that we all survived. My legs were sore for two days after, but my toes are all still attached thanks to Grandma’s socks, and I have even more appreciation for the wild Icelandic landscape. I think Pietro said it best when he talked about the gifts that Iceland has given him. The gifts it’s given me are too many to count and too precious to appraise.