Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hiking the Tindfjöll Circle and Rjúpnafell Mountain

On my first full day in Þórsmörk, I decided to hike the Tindfjöll Circle, a hike of 4-6 hours.* It's the longest of the recommended short hikes in the area - the longer ones being the two treks that end in the valley.

From the hut to the riverbed (2km) is pleasant but nothing exciting. From there one picks up the Tindfjöll trail.**

The trail climbs gently up through a canyon to emerge on the north face of Tindfjöll, with spectacular views in every direction. My phone was hard-pressed to capture them, although I hope my proper camera did better. The trail heads east towards Tröllakirkja, a rock outcropping that looks rather like two hands pressed together in prayer. 

Not far past this point, the mountain Rjúpnafell is visible. It sticks out quite  obviously from the land around it and is also obviously quite steep; the trail switches back and forth up the side of it. For some reason I decided it would be a good idea to climb it.***

After heading downhill to a pretty mountain stream, I began the ascent. It was steep to begin with and got more so, until I was using my hands as much as my feet.

Finally, I did something I don't do very often; I decided to turn around before the peak. I was at least two-thirds of the way up, and technically I probably could have done it, but it wasn't fun. The views weren't going to get any better - I was already on the side of a bald mountain. And all I was doing was worrying about getting back down again.

So I climbed down and set out to finish the Circle. The trail here is a little dull (relatively speaking), until the river valley comes into view. From there it is ludicrously spectacular, with viewpoint after viewpoint, descending to the river. The trail then follows the river back to the beginning of the loop.****

All in all, it was a lovely hike. It's in need of some maintenance, which I believe it is undergoing, but Icelandic weather is rough on trails. My best guess is that I hiked 5-6 miles, with 3,238 feet of elevation gain. (The latter being derived from the altimeter on my watch, although as it is based on barometric pressure it is basically useless in Iceland.)

* This is my first of many pet peeves about the Icelandic trail maps; the one sold through Volcano Huts lists distance only in time. You can only estimate imprecisely with the key.

** Theoretically. My second pet peeve is that the Volcano Hut maps color-code the trails, but in different colors than the trail markers. Blindly following the markers led me to cross the river quite unnecessarily, although to be fair it was quite obvious from the map that I shouldn't.

*** My third pet peeve is that the VH maps indicate steepness with "xxxxxxx" on the trail, ignoring the perfectly good convention of contour lines. Here the official Iceland area maps do a much better job, although they are worse in almost every other way. They make great guides to the local birds, though. Which is exactly what one looks for in a map.

**** On one online forum, a user complained that the trail in fact did not follow the river valley, which was impassable. Here I am inclined to give the VH map a pass, as (a) there was a trail and (b) the watercourse changes from year to year and season to season. Mind you, I extend no such charity to the Iceland map, as it doesn't show the river trail at all.

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