To the serious Iceland fan no visit to the country would be complete without seeing spectacular scenery that the interior highlands have to offer, grand desolate and wildly beautiful as they can be. In fine weather any of the trails stunning routes. In the barrenness of the harsh beauty of the highlands is not just visual. These austere uplands have an awesome grandeur that can fill the traveller with ocaltition or dread and a whole gamut of other feelings, including that interminable space and absolute freedom.
The high plateau with an average elevation of 600m and mountains which on the eastern edge rise to more than 2000m is made up of plateaus and highlands with many complex rages. On the highest range are ice fields, forming the headwaters of many great rivers and huge tracts of bare mountainous country, but is none-the-less worth visiting, because the scenery is frankly magnificent. Much of the interior of Iceland is a trackless desert and many parts of the highlands unpenetrated by tracts.
Note that all travel in the highlands are recommended for 4-wheel drive vehicles only.
Tracks in the highlands:
The definition of a “track” in the interior is rather loose. In many cases they compare favourably with some of the lesser travelled roads in the lowlands, sometimes these tracks are only a line made across the landscape by the repeated passage of vehicle or in other instances, initially by a bulldozer or a road scraper. Following the right track is most often easy, as many are posted at intervals, sometimes with the absence of sign posts, only a map and general direction to the destination and good luck will take the traveller to where he desires.
The dates to the various tracks:
Due to heavy snowfall and different rate of melting, the tracks are not all open at the same time so please check beforehand to make sure the track is open.
At any time, except in the hight of summer it is advisable to enquire about road conditions from local Vegagerðin ( Iceland Road Authority www.vegagerdin.is).
The weather conditions on the highland plateau of Iceland are highly fluctuating and unpredictable. The weather, even at the best times could deteriorate rapidly with frequent changes. Snow conditions are rather unreliable.
Dress warmly, temperatures in the highlands are liable to change abruptly, nights in the interior highlands of Iceland, even in the hight of summer, can be chilly.
Travellers, for their own protections are urged to let someone reliable know of their intended route and the estimated duration of their trip.
For safety sake, travel in the company of other vehicles.
In the highlands there are no sanitary arrangements except those found in various mountain huts.
There are no fuel stations and no places that sell provisions, so stock up before you go.
Thorsmork ( Þórsmörk )
The route to Thorsmörk begins at the road junction east of Markarfljót river. Distance from the junction to Thórsmörk is 24km.
Pass Stóra Mörk farm, north of its hayfields is Nauthúsagil, a narrow precipitous ravine with small trees and scrubs growing out of crevices. In the deepest recess of the ravine, a high and beautiful little waterfall.
The drive proceeds over a relatively flat gravel plain which dips away at an imperceptible angle southward to the sea. On the opposite side of the valley lies the Fljótshlíð district stretching along the foothills which rise up to the ice-capped Tindfjallajökull.
Continue to Gígjökulslón, a water filled bowl shaped hollow beneath the glacial tongue coming down from the crater of the Eyjafjallajökull. The snout is steep and crevassed where it descends into a small glacial lagoon, with small slabs of ice floating on it. The deep river Jökulkvísl which flows out of the lagoon is forded.
Stakkholtsgjá, a magnificent rocky gorge, worn by water through soft rock. The rock walls rise perpendicularly to a hight of more that 100 meters are covered with moss, ferns and flowers. In a defile, at the head of the narrowing gorge, a beautiful waterfall tumbles down the face of a sheer cliff.
Krossá, a swift, deep river flowing and frequently changing over a gravely plain, fordable only by 4x4 high clearance vehicles. Its size varies widely with the amount of runoff. The best and the safest crossing of the river is usually opposite the mountain hut in Langidalur. Great precaution should be taken when crossing.
From the mountain hut and wardens station at the entrance to the valley like Langidalur, there are splendid views of Eyjafjallajökull glacier and even better from Valahnjúkur peak which offers marvellous panoramic views.
Here is an ideal starting point for walks geared to all levels of fitness and almost unending variety of interesting trails and terrain.
Thorsmork, nature reserve is a wild and picturesque mountainous and hilly terrain lying between the ranges which form the bases of two icefields, the Eyjafjallajokull on the east and the Tindfjallajökull on the west. Thorsmork is sheltered by surrounding high mountains and glaciers. The great glacial rivers east and west have protected the area from encroachment. The landscape is characterised by sheer escarpments, deep valley-like clefts, gorges, grass slopes dotted with low birch woods.
Thorsmork is amazingly rich in topographical diversity. On every side there is some pleasing view to catch the eye, trails to follow, mountains to climb. The hills and valley like defiles are covered with low birch trees and scrub and wild flowers abound.
The Fjallabak route
The Fjallabak route is one of the most scenic trails in the interior highlands of Iceland, perhaps the most colourful and diversified of the many interesting mountain tracks, rugged colourful landscape of unsurpassed beauty.
From the junction near Búrfell power station the road rises winding up the side of a low ridge. Above it, follows the Thjórsá, ( Þjórsá ) the longest river in Iceland with its sources in the inland ice fields. The river is fed by a number of tributary streams, principally the Tungnaá river, which along with Thjórsá is harnessed for electrical power. Thjórsá is crosses on a bridge a little below Sultartangi dam, which impounds the rivers spring and summer run-off and then releases it down to power stations during the meagre winter flow. East of the river the relatively flat terrain is covered by black ash from recent eruptions in Hekla volcano, which rises high to the south of the road. The surrounding landscape appears very bare and black.
The highway junctions with no 26 – Landvegur.
Continue past Hrauneyjar, a restaurant, guesthouse and a filling station. Here the highway 32 ends and junctions with track F32 across Sprengisandur and F22, the Nyrðra Fjallabak trail. Drive past the Sigalda Power station and the track for a long stretch is over relatively level land with a near desert like appearance, bordered by a low mountain to the south. Much of the land around is bare, eroded by the sand blasting effect of wind blown particles of sand and volcanic ash.
Frostastaðavatn, Lava impounded lake surrounded by colourful mountains. From a side road near the western end of the lake, s short drive up to the rim of Ljótipollur, oval shaped, lake-filled crater. From the surrounding hights are fine views of this very beautiful mountain area.
Along the twisted track there is a great diversity of colour on the surrounding mountains.
Landmannalaugar, nesting under the high edge of an obsidian lava flow. Here is a wardens station, mountain hut and a camping site. Near the hut is a warm water pool created by the confluence of natural hot water and a cold water spring which issue within a short distance of one another from underneath the high edge of the obsidian lava above.
The scenic interest in the area is tremendous. Mountains with super abundance of forms and colours, gashed by deep canyons and ridges. The mountains here are perhaps the most varied and colourful in Iceland.
A hike to nearby Bláhnjúkur, where the visitor has unobstructed view of the surrounding countryside is highly recommended, also to Jökulgil, a long rugged defile with several side canyons and tributary gullies. High up on the slopes above the lava under which the hut nestles is a colourful thermal area, springs emitting sulphurous odours.
Leave Landamannalaugar behind and drive along twisting route east. Around mountain-bordered lake Kirkjufellsvatn. Along and over a winding rough trail skirting the base of mountains and sometimes through narrow defiles where snow remains long into summer, with some marvellous scenery along the route.
Drive on over a rutted track, up narrow valleys. The track mounts a low ridge and a part of Eldgjá comes in view.
Eldgja, one of the most interesting sights in this part of the country. Here nature has run amaok to create a unique spectacle splitting mountains and valleys in its course creating a gigantic 30 km long gash into the earth which in some places is up to 200m deep and up to 600m wide. The volcanic fissure is considered to be the greatest of its kind on earth.
Only a small part of Eldgjá can be visited by car.
Ófærufoss, used to be one of the country´s most beautiful waterfall, framed by a natural bridge, arching over the rivers gorge tat collapsed a few years ago.
Continue driving east over rising and falling land through very hilly terrain where the road skirts low softly rounded hill. Come to the highway near Búland farm. A short distance further south the road junctions with no. 1.
The track junctions off no. 26 Landvegur, east of the river Thjórsá. This mountain track known as Landmannaleið is another approach to Landmannalaugar and junctions with the main track at the northern end of lake Frostastaðavatn.
The route is rugged and rocky in sections. The track passes through a wide variety of upland country canyons, valleys, over rock ridges and black lava, weird plain of lava rocks surrounded by captivating mountains. The mountain track ove Landmannaleið offers some of the finest scenic views available throughout this fascinating region.
Lambahraun, a relatively recent lava stream, with a sintery surface of black lava. Off the track there are various trails leading to the volcano Hekla, which is constantly in view to the south of the trail. The surrounding mountains are surprisingly verdant. The trail proceeds through lonely Dómadalur valley, up steep hills and ridges and cutting across some relatively recent lava streams. Come to Landmannahellir, a cave that runs some distance into a hillside. The trail junctions with a track leading south along the southern Fjallabak trail ( not described here).
Continue around mountains and valleys. The track junctions with the main track to Landmannalaugar north of Lake Frostastaðavatn.
Lakagígar Craters – Laki rote
The route to Lakagígar starts from the road junction 6 km west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur on highway number 1. Total length of route about 80 km.
A rewarding, although a bumpy drive the scenery at the end of the trail makes it worth the effort as there are few wild and rugged natural wonders that equal the beauty of the Laki area.
The road into the mountains begins on the main highway, s short side road leads north to the Holt farm. From this point the trail enters the mountains. The going is rough and rocky in spots, deep-rutted wet and marshy in others. For the most part the route follows the serpentine up and down course. Two considerable rivers, Stjórn and Geitlandsá have to be forded. The drive is over rough grazing land and over wet marshy tracts. Small Hellisá river is forded before coming to the end of the trail near Mt. Galti.
At the end of the trail is well worth to hike in this strange but fascinating area, which must be exploited on foot.
This area has been the locality of intermittent volcanic activity in centuries past. Everywhere are vary-coloured volcanic ejecta with its scorched and multi-coloured volcanic crags, blistered with countless cone like craters, little and great colourful dunes of volcanic ash.
Lakagígar craters, named for Mt. Laki which the 25km long eruption fissure runs through. The craters are on a roughly south-west to a north-east trending line, the general line of fissure eruptions in Iceland. About two thirds of the more than hundred craters are west of Mt. Laki, while the remainder lies south of it. The craters were created in an eruption of five months duration and from them issued the greatest volume of lava in a single eruption within the historical times of mankind.
By now, most of the enormous surrounding lava flows are covered with a thick carpet of green moss. Under the moss are pricly and clinker – like pieces of lava. The whole area, scarred with colourful craters and volcanic debris has a character of grim beauty. The crater pitted surroundings show nature at its most rugged overpowering best and here is one of the most spectacular volcanic areas in the world.
Besides the enormous lavas that issued from the craters, estimated about 500 million tons of gases and ash was ejected. This created clouds laden with ash and pumice and a haze that hung over the entire country during the eruption. These ash clouds spread with winds high up in the stratosphere to encircle the globe and cause colourful sunsets in the northern hemisphere for the next year. From the craters issued mind-boggling masses of molten lava, flowing down to lower ground, in two broad streams, filling and levelling hollows, small valleys and the deep canyon of the river Skaftá on their way down to lowlands, where the broad lava streams spread out to destroy numerous farms. The volume of lava was estimated in excess of thirty billion tons and the area of land covered is about 565 sq km. The aftermath of the eruption caused the death of 1/5 of Iceland's population and most of the livestock.
The Kjölur Highland Track – Kjalvegur
The Kjalvegur route starts at the road junction just below Gullfoss waterfall. On a fine day, - an unforgettable drive of breathtaking magnificence and beauty. The track strikes inland, following roughly the upward course of the Hvítá river. The route travelled is an ancient north and south horse trail artery. Drive up the gradually rising incline of the highland plateau. Along most of the route, the only sight of mans handwork is the track and the line of pylons that carry high tension power lines.
Cross Sandá river on a bridge. North of the river the track junctions with a trail that leads 15 km to Hagavatn lake, with harsh upland scenery and a small glacier descending to the lake shore.
At lower elevations the terrain is to an extend grassy with extensive tracks of rough grazing land. Higher up the drive is over desolate windblown wastes, a harsh land stripped by ice age glaciers and later wind erosion to the rocky bone. The road rises up the steep slopes of Bláfellsháls ridge. The crest of the road is at 610m . From here are magnificent wide views. To the west the Langjökull ice field and the steep scree- sloped mountains that keep it in its bed, north rugged highland landscape and wide spreading lowlands to the south. The view east is blocked by the intervening snow covered peak of Mt. Bláfell.
The road crosses the bridge on the river Hvítá which drains southward out of Hvítárvatn lake. This large lake is in a beautiful setting with glaciers above and small icebergs floating on its surface, 28 sq km and situated 419 m above sea level. The track junctions 41, to the left with track for Hvítárnes mountain hut on the northern lakeshore with extensive grassy tracts and flocks of geese, swans and gulls.
East of the track a little further on is the prominent group of mountains collectively known as Kerlingafjöll.
The track junctions right with a 10 km long track for Árskarð at the foot of the Kerlingafjöll range. The mountains are noted for good snow conditions in the summer. Here is fine skiing on majestic sweep of snow-clad slopes.
Kerlingafjöll, a colourful range of rhyloite mountains, their highest peak rising 1477m. This is a true mountain wilderness of spectacular peaks, canyons and hidden here are strange and colourful thermal areas. Exploring here on foot is the only way, brings the thrills of all sorts of unexpected discoveries.
Due to the Kerlingafjöll´s relative central location on the plateau and their height above the surroundings, their peaks are famed viewpoints, there are extensive views of mountains of all sizes and shapes, the two ice fields Langjökull and Hofsjökull and the terrain to the north and south. Many hot springs are active on the slopes and in the ravines and in several places here are solfataras.
Retrace back to junction.
The drive proceeds over wasteland with low ridges and mountain outcrops.
Close to the track and close to the water divide at 672 m stands a strand of columnar basalt, erected in the memory of a leading highland travel person. From here is a fine spot to enjoy the wide views and the grandious landscape.
The water divide of the country is formed by the crest of the plateau., whish falls roughly on either side of an imaginary line drawn diagonally from Hornafjörður in the east and Gilsfjörður to the west. To the south of this line the rivers drain to the Atlantic to the south, to the north the flow into the Arctic Ocean.
Kjölur, "The Keel", a broad rocky lava covered pass between the giant icefields, Hofsjökull and Langjökull, rugged, mountainous and wind-torn table and broken by ridges and low mountains. The drive continues over rock and boulder-strewn tracks. To the right Hofsjökull ice field 994 sq m., the third largest in Iceland, roughly round glacial shield, a vast dome of ice which rears up in steep, ice-clad slopes and inperceptable moving, crevassed glaciers. Its highest point is 1796m.
On the left Langjökull ice field. The ice cover which is in places more than 300m deep of varying width from 15 km up to 25 km and about 50 km in length. Its highest point is about 1350 m. The Langjökull icefields contain the headwaters of several major rivers.
The drive is over barren rocky land. To the left of the road lies Kjalhraun, a wind blown, partly sand filled lava.
Hveravellir, altitude 672m, a picturesque hot-spring area on the northern fringe of the Kjalhraun lavafield, in a shallow valley-like depression. The majority of the springs are situated on two silicious plateaus, divided by a narrow stretch of marsh along which a brook winds its way. The springs are surrounded by multi coloured sinter terraces and display different colours and a variety of forms.
Next to the mountain hut there is a small swimming pool ideal for a dip in the thermal water.
After Hveravellir the landscape becomes for a while a little dreary and dull with the denuded upland rising in waves of rocky ridges. Gradually as the tracks runs north, the undulating country becomes a little greener. Grassy moorland tracts entirely different in character from the rugged country to the south.
Near the small lakes Friðmundarvötn the mountain track junctions with highway 732 which runs north over lake strewn tracts from the high grassy moors into the innermost reaches of Blöndudalur. The road follows the course of the river Blanda, a major glacial river harnessed for electrical power. The river is close to the road and in the upper reaches of the valley the river flows through scenic Blöndugil gorge. The fast flowing river tumbles here between sheer walls of rock.
The road runs through a narrow but gradually widening Blöndudalur valley, which slopes steeply on both sides to the Blanda river, crossed where it is intersected byu the tributary stream Svartá. The road junctions with no 1 near Bólstaðarhlíð.
The Sprengisandur trail
The highland track F 28 starts at the Sigalda Power station.
On a fine day the route over Sprengisandur provides a splendid trip through the magnificent interior of Iceland, with spectacular and far reaching views. The route follows roughly the ancient horse trail that linked southern and northern Iceland. It affords a good cross section of views of the interior highlands. Much of the landscape along it consists of a desert sand, gravel and wind eroded lava beds. In total it has a grandeur of its own, a haunting quality of size and emptiness, above all, the sense of space and freedom, tranquillity and grim beauty.
Leaving Sigalda on a well constructed track built for transport of material for the near by dams and power installations. The track goes west of lake Thorisvatn ( Þórisvatn ) with an area of 70 sq km., it is the second largest lake in Iceland. The lake, on a high elevation and holding an enormous volume of water, posses a great water power potential. Near the southern end of the lake the track junctions right with a track leading to Veiðivötn and Jökulheimar.
A short description follows:
Veiðivötn, a number of lakes, strung over a compact area of about one sq km at an altitude of 570 m. The lakes situated between mountain ridges occupy volcanic craters, roughly circular in shape with mostly precipitous banks. After volcanic activity ceased these craters were filled with water. Around most of them there is a fringe of green. The lakes are interconnected by small watercourses that finally join the Tungnaá river. At Tjaldvatn there are mountain huts, a wardens station and a camping site. Nearly all the lakes are known for good trout fishing. The surroundings are of a great natural beauty and well worth exploring. After looking at the lakes, head south to the banks of the Tungnaá river, the largest tributary of the great Thjórsá river, which flows here in braided channels over a gravel plain between rock ridges. Here from a ridge and a fine viewpoint, a blunt rock spire known as Tröllið við Tungnaá rises imposingly. Retrace back to the junction south of lake Thórisvatn.
Continue on Sprengisandur trail.
Kaldakvísl, formerly a tributary of the Thjórsá river, now diverted into lake Thórisvatn, a major glacial river is crossed on a bridge near the upper end of lake Thórisvatn. All around encircling the horizon are the rugged mountains of the highlands and the sparkling white ice fields, Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull with fretted glaciers. The white of the ice fields looks incredibly vivid against the sombre background all around.
To the left and some distance from the trail are various " ver " , marshy tracks of land, summer feeding and breeding places of geese.
Low ridges rise wave –like in rows from the top of the plateau. The drive follows the undulations of the land, down into defiles and to the top of high ridges that run near parallel to one another along this stretch. Just before coming to the huts at the entrance to Nýidalur valle, ford Jökulkvísl, sometimes a treacherous river where due car should be observed.
Near the mouth of Nýidalur, altitude795m are mountain huts, a wardens station and a campsite.
Nýidalur valley with very steep slopes lies under the southern rim of ice-capped Tungnafellsjökull. From the huts there is an interesting hike into the valley with curving , moss covered sided high up the valleys slopes.
Leaving Nýidalur, the track passes through a wide variety of high country scenery, rockö-strewn tracts, gravely plain and patches of eroded lavas, all almost bare of vegetation. In spite of its apparent sameness the trail displays many stark but beautiful views, trackless desert, vast ice fields and near and distant mountains. The landscape is scattered with the debris of ice age glaciers and the evidence of stationary ice sheets that once occupied the plateau may be seen on all sides.
The track passes over near level terrain and at a good speed over hard packed sand and gravel plain which slope gradually upwards.
The track junctions right with F98 which leads to Vonarskarð and further on to the Gæsavötn, - ( Gæsavatnaleið ) trail along the northern edge of Vatnajökull. This trail is not described or recommended unless in company of other vehicles and with someone along with some local knowledge.
The track passes Fjórðungsvatn, a crescent shaped lake under a low mountain ridge. From a low hill, a tall cairn stands to commemorate one of the pioneering spirits of highland travel. Here is the highest elevation of the track, 826 m above sea level. This is the water divide. North of here all rivers and streams drain to the Arctic Ocean.
The track junctions here with F28 which leads to Laugafell mountain hut and near there junctions with F82 leading north to descend into the Eyjafjörður valley. From this track F 72 runs north-west to connect with highway 752 in Vesturdalur, which extends the Skagafjörður valley.
The track dips into Kiðagilsdrög here, a defile higher up a canyon.
Along the route there are occasional glimpses of Skjálfandafljót, a glacial river which flows in deep bed to the east.
Green moss and later grass starts to appear again to soften the starkness of the scene. The altitude drops gradually and the country assumes a more verdant appearance. In the innermost reaches of Bárðardalur the track comes to Íshólsvatn, a small lake between low grassy ridges. At the northern end of lake Íshólsvatn there is a short side fork which runs over intervening hills to an interesting low watrfall in the Skjálfandafljót river around and below the waterfall Aldeyjarfoss, variously twisted and formed basalt columns.
The track ends at Mýri farm, the last outpost of habitation to the north in the Bárðardalur valley. Driving north along the valley the landscape becomes progressively more fertile and more inhabited. The road junctions with no 1 at Fosshóll.
The Askja Trail
The track begins off highway number 1, a little west of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river.
Sleeping bag accommodation is available in mountain huts at Herðubreiðarlindir and Drekagil.
For those that may not have a proper vehicle for this trip, bus tours to Askja are available during summer from Lake Mývatn and Akureyri.
The track is over a plateau that gradually slopes upwards over rocky, sandy and largely barren land, although not quite a desert.
On the western horizon lies a continuous chain of volcanic mountains, they come in a great variety of shapes, all are extinct or dormant volcanoes. The track follows roughly the course of the mighty Jökulsá river, not far to the east, but only occasionally glimpsed as range of hills along the river block the view. To the east the view is backed by a low mountain-serrated skyline and in the distance the ice-capped summit of Mt. Snæfell. Directly ahead towers Mt. Herðubreið. The terrain is of generally austere appearance, wastes, relieved only occasionally by a shallow gully or a watercourse along which some greenery is found. The track fords relatively shallow Graflandaá river, care should be taken especially in rainy weather when the ford might become too deep for all vehicles except those with high road clearance.
The trail proceeds, twisting and turning up and down over jagged lava, sterile and lifeless. This is a part of the extensive lava that surrounds Mt. Herðubreið, a regal looking mountain with a scree fan around its base. It is often termed " Queen of Iceland´s mountains ", rising majestically to a height of 1682 m above sea level and about 1200 m above its surroundings. All around is stark and desolate but impressive land, in places like lunar landscape. The small stream Lindá is forded, usually no obstacle but can become difficult in rainy weather.
Herðubreiðarlindir, at an altitude of 484 m , a green oasis in a near desert landscape. Green-clothed with grass, it verges supporting flourishing growth of flowers, the area is laced with springs of crystal clear water, unexpected and gratifying in these surroundings of desolate sands and lava beds. Here is found a mountain hut, wardens station and a campground.
Leaving Herðubreiðarlindir. The track continues bumping and jolting through the lava, winding around the gravely slopes of Herðubreiðartögl mountains. To the south, two pyramidic peaks of Upptyppingar rising from a level plain are landmark in this area. On the southern horizon the edge of the Vatnajökull ice field. Below the track on the left and a short walk from it , the Jökulsá river flows fast between low, sheer rock walls. There are unusual water sculptured rocks along the banks.
The road swings east. All the while the track has been over parts of Ódáðahraun, an extensive (4000sq km.) lava plain, wind eroded and jagged. This vast expanse of lava, the largest in the country covers the land between the great glacial rivers Skjálfandafljót and Jökulsá and bounded to the south by the Vatnajökull ice field. It was in centuries past a remote, silent place and surrounded in the popular imagination with an aura of dread. To all but very few that set eyes on it, it was a vague land of wonders, populated, if at all with fierce outlaws. The craters and eruptive vents that created this lava have mostly been obliterated by younger lava flows, Ódáðahraun is largely arid and barren land that lies in the rain shadow of the Vatnajökull icefield which stands in the way of the predominant south-easterly winds blowing from the North Atlantic. The ice field milk them of the precipitation and leaves this land to the north of it dry and desolate.
The track runs now fairly straight and smooth over vast tracts covered by light brown pumice which blankets the ground. The pumice and ash which spread far and wide came mostly from a powerful eruption in Askja in 1875. Up ahead to the west, the volcanic massif Dyngjufjöll rise, abruptly above the highland plateau. The massif covers an area of about 300 sq. km., the largest group of mountains in these parts, rising up to 800 m above the surrounding plateau. In their centre lies the Askja caldera.
The track junctions with an unnumbered track that leads west through Dyngjufjalladalur and south over Gæsavatnaleið. Neither route is described here.
Continue over the undulating pumice covered ridges and to the mountain hut near Drekagil. Above the hut, running deep into the fretted mountain slope is Drekagil, a steep-walled ravine with a variety of wind and water and rocks, including tuffs, pillow lavas, weathered cliffs of erosive formations of spires and pinnacles. This area was the training ground for the American astronauts before the lunar landings of the manned Appolo missions to the Moon between 1969 and 1972. From the mountain hut the track runs up and over the new lava flow from 1961, a twisted freakish wasteland of jagged lava. The track ends at Öskjuop, a break in the mountains that gives access to the caldera floor. Here are seen craters from 1961. A walk of about 3 km each way from Öskjuop to the caldera lake is popular. The floor of the caldera is relatively level, covered with volcanic ash. Watch out for deep holes in the snow which blanket part of the caldera floor, even in summer.
The surroundings show magnificent landscape in a primordial sort of way.
The Askja caldera is encircled by a rim of precipitous mountains which rise 500 m above the lake to the highest summit 1510 m. In 1875, a major eruption after which the trough for the lake, actually a caldera was formed within the older and greater Askja caldera. The Öskjuvatn lake fills about 1/3 of the caldera bottom. The lake is 220 m deep, the deepest lake in the country and at an altitude of 1053 m. Öskjuvatn is the highest lying lake in Iceland.
On the southern shore of the lake, and separated from it by a narrow rim is Víti, steep-walled and lake filled crater with milky white natural hot water, just the right temperature for the adventurous for bathing and swimming. The water 60 m below the rim of Víti is reached by a very steep descend down the slippery crater wall.
Retrace route back to junction.
The Kverkfjöll Trail
The Kverkfjöll mountain range on the northern edge of the Vatnajökull ice field are difficult of access. The area is perhaps the most desolate and least visited part of the Icelandic highlands. The twisting route is in places spectacularly scenic, bold contrasts and extravagant grandeur but sightseeing here involves climbing steep glacier slopes and hikes of a few hours duration, this route is therefore for the hardy and sports-minded traveller.
Kverkfjöll, the destination on this route is surrounded by some of the most impressive scenery in Iceland and with a host of weird and interesting sights.
The track runs under and around low bare mountain eminences, but here and there is thin grazing land for sheep. The route follows upstream the great glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum although seldom sighted, being hidden from view as the track, never far from its dip, winds its way through hollows and defiles.
The track junctions left with an unnumbered track which leads east for 24 km to Brú in Jökuldalur. The surrounding country is very uneven, being cut up by numerous defiles and interrupted by rocky tracts and lava streams.
Kreppa, a mighty glacial torrent, a branch of the Jökulsá river is crossed at an elevation of 500 m, near to where it converges with Jökulsá river.
Drive under a long steep ridge known as Hryggjarstykki through lonely and untouched landscape.
Hvannalindir, an oasis of grassland in this wild and dreary desert and situated at the edge of a very thick lava-bed where it has stopped in its course. The area is laced with a small stream that has been filtered through the lava and forming the Lindá river which flows here between grassy banks Near the northern edge of the lava there is a small stone hut and other similar ones nearby, built from slab of stone, roofed over by now fallen flat blocks, chinked with moss and topped by grass. This was once the hideout of Eyvindur Jónsson, better known as Fjalla Eyvindur ( Eyvindur of the mountains) renown 18th century outlaw. Eyvindur became a legendary person in his own lifetime He was reputed to have roamed the interior highlands as a fugitive outlaw for twenty years, sometimes alone, sometimes with others or with his wife. His hide-outs, often very primitive temporary shelters are found in many parts of the country. Here he is reputed to have stayed for 5 years, surviving by fishing, bird hunting and sheep stealing.
Lindakeilir, a striking conical shaped peak looks above the surrounding lavas.
Leaving Hvannalindir behind, the track winds among the mountains and theough Kverkfjallaskarð pass at an elevation of about 800 m. The rutted stony track weaves around numerous volcanic cones and craters and other lavas, evidence of relatively recent volcanic activity along this route. At the end of the drive, Sigurðarskáli mountain hut, in stony surroundings lies sheltered under the foothills of the Kverkfjöll range. From the hut a track leads over a moraine rubble nearby to the foot of the Kverkfjöll glacier. The range is situated on the northern edge of the Vatnajökull icefield. The mountain chain is cleft in two by a sheer-walled gap, Kverkin created by earth convulsions in times past. Through this gap, a steep and crevassed glacier Kverkjökull flows down to low ground.
Across the Jökulsá river on the right and to the west a broad sweep of the Dyngjufjöll glacier rises. On the eastern side of the range lies the Brúarjökull glacier, the largest of the glaciers of the Vatnajökull ice field.
At the end of the track, leave the vehicle and the rest must be done on foot. From under edge of the Kverkfjöll icefall, the Jökulsá á Fjöllum has its headwaters, starting as a small stream. Here, a very large cave has formed, running far into the glacier. Somewhere inside and under it are volcanic centres, the heat rising from the small water stream has melted a high and long cave. In inspecting the cave and ascending the glacier to Hveradalur, use extreme caution. Safety rope and a guide is necessary when crossing glaciers. Keep as much as possible on high grounds skirting the obviousely crevassed areas. Members of any party should have a rope between them.
With the changing edge of the glacier and also that of the mouth of the ice cave, no advise can be given how to enter the ice cave.
From the cave the walk is up the steep snowy inclines and ice slope. The climb proceeds slowly upwards following roughly the course of the Kverkin. The highest point of the gap is at 1800 m.
From the heights there are extensive views to Kverkfjallarani range which stretches northward from Kverkfjöll. Which ever direction the visitor looks in there is grim beauty that is always startling and sometimes bizarre.
The eruptions in this area, remote from habitation is but little known but at least two gigantic eruptions and earth convulsions have occurred here in the last thousand years. Reaching high ground above the Kverkin, continue over the summits of rising and falling ice field. Head for the billowing white clouds of steam rising from the ice field up ahead. Its deep ice, charmed and crevassed with yawning cracks could swallow a whole party of climbers, - so be careful.