Searching for the remote pearls of the Highlands


There are many remote corners in the Highland of Iceland. Even if you have to change your plan, there are still so many roads to explore that you will never get enough. 
Fagridalur, so lonely under the rain. Gæsavatnaleið, a Natural Monument.
Vonarskarð, the most beautiful thing.
WARNING: some parts of this route are really in the most remote corners of Iceland and therefore are intended only for experienced people. It is highly recommended to register to the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue. The most part of the route is into the Vatnajökull National Park, and some tracks are close to motorized traffic. Things are changing and might happen that in the future will be closed to bicycles as well. Please, get in touch with the rangers for updates before riding those paths.

Foreword

After our first bike tour we came home with one single target: Gæsavatnaleið! So we spent tha last 4 years studying and getting all possible information about that road and designing our next tour. We planned many different tours most of them including Gæsavatnaleið. Durning this preparation we also discussed a lot about tent, equipment, food and all the details involved in such a trip. In the same 4 years our families did grow and a lot of energies had to be spent in that direction. Nevertheless 2012 happened to be the right year. Another big change for this tour was the enlargement of the group: Gius came to ride with us!


Tour report (or straight to the Gallery)

D0: Egilsstaðir - Átlavik. Sunny. Arrival in the heat of the night. Our first almost midnight sun. We spent few hours in the BSI station then, in the morning, we met G and we sent our box full of food to Dreki hut and took the flight to Egilsstaðir. Unfortunately, M rear derailleur was bended during the flight from Italy so we had to spend some time to fix it before we could start our tour. Then, quick setup, large lunch and we started! Since we didn’t sleep so much @BSI, we decided to overnight at Átlavik, a nice camping on the river Lagarfljot.

D1: Átlavik - Laugará river. Sunny/Windy. Hallormassta
ður’s forest is very nice. In our previous trips to Iceland we usually dealt with the highlands and we’ve been very impressed on how huge is the forest. No time left to visit Hengifoss (next time)…F910 was waiting for us. 10% uphill with strong wind coming from the highland welcomed us but, actually, the paved road helped a lot; after 8 bends and a long straight stretch we were “upstairs” enjoying the Snæfell.
We kept on cycling in a cold side wind as much as possible. Overnight by the Laugará river.


D2: Grag
æ
sadalur. partly cloudy / almost no wind. First leg of the day was to the Kárahnjúkar dam. Along the way we enjoyed a lot the views towards the Kverkfjöll, Brúarjökull, Askja, and his majesty the Snæefell. Our heart was bleeding for the land that disappeared under the water. Then, the sign we were waiting for from the beginning: “malbik endar”, now the tour begins! The sun was shining again. Next stop Gragæsadalur. The road is fantastic with great views! A signpost in the middle of nowhere states that the road is a dead end...our maps claim a link to Álftadalur through Fagridalur/Brúardalir as well as the LMI webmaps...We even saw the road starting a couple of km before the valley...the view from the hill towards the lake and the Kverkfjöll at sunset were gorgeous. We got to the hut but we discovered it to be private and closed (still do not understand why in some maps is stated is a hut...) so we pitched our tents and went to the hill to enjoy the sunset toward the glacier. Bad weather coming!!!

D3: Grag
æsadalur - Krepputunga. rainy/sunny. We woke up with the noise of the rain tipping on the tents. After a short briefing, we decided to follow the route to Fagridalur. The track is not marked, just old traces of tires, and sometimes it seems as if it’s going to vanish...the loneliness of this place is its own main feature. We kept on cycling under the rain until we discovered the beautiful green Fagridalur with the Kreppa river shining far away. Fortunately, we were able to ride the ford without getting wet. The way out from the valley is very tough: 30to40 meters almost vertical uphill on a marked track with fresh signs of somebody that came down (with a huge jeep). We started pushing all together one bike+luggage at the time...very hard pushing! Then, in a while,  we got the marked track to Brúardalir. It started getting colder but at least it stopped raining. Into the distance, the sky was clear and blue. The views towards Herðubreið leave you breathless. The only people we met were the guys from ICE-SAR onboard of a huge truck who greeted us without stopping. Definitely, they were not searching for us :-). The weather was getting better and better and in a while we were on the F910. The sun was shining when we reached the bridge over the Kreppa. The greatest end of the day you can ever wanted. Krepputunga is an amazing place. The contrast between yellow pumice and black lava stones is marvellous. Overnight between Upptyppingar and Jökulsá á Fjöllum with Herðubreið on the back.

D4: Krepputunga - Kverkfjöll. sun. We couldn’t left Krepputunga. We were really in love with this place (actually, we are), so we left late...The road is pretty good and the view towards Kverkfjöll is great. the F903 is a little bit sandy and we had to push from time to time. We had a break for lunch after the first ford at Lindaá. Fjalla-Eyvindur was right. This place is lovely. We stopped for a while also at the cabin hut. As soon as we reached the F902 the landscape changed suddenly. Red sand, black twisted lava rocks, Vatnajökull in the background and Kverkfjöll closer and closer, but even too many rude drivers. The last few km where very hard: front wind, bad road, tiredness, slightly uphill. We pitched our tents on the grass patches near the hut. Here we met a lovely Icelandic couple. We started telling pieces about our journey and they said we were the maddest guys they have ever met. We know we were not the only ones cycling in Iceland, but it was funny. Overnight at the campsite.

D5: Virkisfell - Kverkfjöll ice caves. sun/cloud. We were supposed to join a group to Hveradalur for a tour on the glacier, but it was fully booked. So we took it easy, wandering to Virkisfell, the icecaves and looking at the rain clouds coming from Askja.

D6: Kverkfjöll - Dreki. raind/cloud: we left under the rain. After few km, G realised he forgot his thermos in the hut. After spending some minutes trying to call the hut, we split up: he went back to the hut. M and A kept on going stopping a couple of minutes every few km to waith G. A car coming from the hut informed us that G was ok and just few km behind us. Then G reached us few km further the crossroad with F903. In the meantime the rain highlighted the white of lichens on top of the black lava rocks. Back in Krepputunga with a stretch of sun. Suddenly it became cloudy with a freezing wind coming from north. We met again the couple at the intersection with F88. We greeted each other and we headed to Dreki. After 4 years planning, finally, we’ve got it!
The rangers in Dreki were really nice. They let us use the facilities in the small hut and gave us a vegetable + lamb soup for dinner, which was marvellous after 6 days of dry food (thank you Hildur & Co.)!
Overnight at the campsite near the hut.

D7: Drekagil - Askja. Rain. In the morning, hike to Drekagil. We realized that the meeting point for the guided tour with the rangers was at the parking lot @ Askja. so we had a quick lunch and took the bikes to Askja. We met the ranger and we were the only ones to attend the tour. Under the rain and cold. The Öskjuvatn was invisible...obscured by clouds. So we had a look around and took the slippery path to Viti to have a bath, and we had to obey to the rangers: "if you want to swim, do it naked!", they said. As soon as we entered the water, the sun came out. Lucky guys! Then uphill to enjoy the view to Öskjuvatn. Going downhill under a heavy rain, A hooked G, they both fell down and A got injured. A’s eye swelled and he was feeling hurt at both hands and shoulder. Landsbjörg took care of him, but, fortunately, there wasn’t need to go to the hospital, even if A really wanted to have a ride on the big jeep of the 
Landsbjörg. Overnight at the campsite.

D8: Dreki. Rain. day rest waiting A to recover. we had a joyful morning drinking tea with the rangers and their friends, telling jokes about people that go to the highlands wearing flip-flops :-)

D9: Dreaki. Rain / Wind. Day rest waiting A to recover. Furthermore, a storm was expected for that night. A doctor came to the hut for the week end. He gave some diclofenac to A and he said that everything was ok but the pain, and that he could keep on cycling. We were excited. Only the weather would have stopped us.

D10: G
æsavatnaleið #1. Sunny/Rainy. After a short briefing with the rangers about the last weather report, we left Dreki. The dream was becoming true! The rain of the past days helped us to cross the sands, which were well packed and we were able to cycle most of the time. After 4 years, we felt this leg as a dream that comes true. The place is amazing, black sand until the horizon, views of Herðubreið, Askja towards north, and the Vatnajökull towards south. A strong wind with black clouds and heavy rain slowly came in. The sand started floating 20cm above the track. Overnight by the outwash plain, as planned.

D11:
Gæsavatnaleið #2: Rainy. Alarm clock @4AM. It rained all night long, and we were a little bit worried about the condition of the road. After breakfast M went to check up the river...Despite the rain, it was completely dry and hard packed. We packed up at the speed of light and started crossing the plain. Suddenly, a couple of white gooses passed less than ten meters above us. It was as if he sun was shining. We kept on cycling under the rain and the clouds. Ideal condition to cross the outwash plains, but what a shame for the landscape! we could enjoy the glacier just at the end. Cycling uphill to Urðarháls was hard and time consuming. From the top of the hill we could enjoy the Kistufell, the black ice, and the hut, our next stop. According to the weather report, in fact, a bad storm was expected during the night.

D12:
Gæsavatnaleið - Snapadalur: Snowy/Rainy/Sunny but windy. It was snowing when we woke up. Once again, we were  mist-shrouded...sometimes it was snowing, sometimes raining...always amazing and breathtaking. Gæsavatnaleið is a monument. we wrote it down in the guestbook at Kistufell. It should be nominated to the Unesco as a Natural Monument. At Gæsavötn, the wind was freezing us, so we decided to keep on cycling since nice weather was coming. Stop at Skjálfandafljót river for lunch, waiting for the sun. Finally, we got it at Gjallandi waterfall. The weather became better and better and in the late afternoon we were on top of Gjósuklif with the sun shining. It’s impossible to write down the view into Vonarskarð. We still have shivers when we talk about it. The wind coming from the valley was freezing cold, so we decided to go down. The old road is completely invisible. From time to time, it came out from the sand, but it was impossible to ride it since the soil is now very soft mixed with stones and rocks. We decided to push the bicycles and enjoy each and every step of this very remote pearl of Iceland. After 3 hours walking and a couple of fords, we reached Snapadalur, late in the evening.

D13: Snapadalur - H
ágöngulón: Rainy/Sunny: Unfortunately, the wind changed direction during the night. All the clouds were back. We spent the morning exploring the geothermal area and enjoying the views towards Deilir and Skrauti (a little bit shy). We left Snapadalur under the rain at noon. Going south, the road became better (it was as if, sometimes, somebody entered the valley from south) and in a while we were by the first ford at Kaldakvísl. Skrauti and Tvilitaskarð were looking at us since we were trying to understand how to exit the valley...we did not want to ford the river twice since it was too deep and fast moving. So we decided to explore the marked path for hikers between Kolufell and Svarthöfði. The path is very steep on both sides, and the southern part is something like walking on stone balls. Once again, we started pushing one bike and its bulky trailer all together...it took almost 2h to get rid of the pass. Then downhill to the other side to get the road. A short break to inform the wardens @Dreki that everything was fine. We kept on cycling til dinner time, a couple of km before Hágöngulón, counting very few km for that day, since we started from Snapadalur.

D14: H
ágöngulón - Nýidalur: Sunny/Windy. It rained during the night. A wide rainbow said “Good Morning!”. On the way to the F26, begun our troubles, or better G troubles. A flat tire of the trailer was the first sign of something wrong. G had to re-tension all the spokes for the first time. Then at lunch he made some more adjustment. A couple km before the crossroad with the F26 the wheel was broken and G had to fix it again. Finally, as soon as we reached the F26 we asked for help: G’s luggage was loaded on a huge jeep and sent to Nýidalur. The rest of the day we continued fighting against the strong wind (and a bumpy road)...It took just 4 hours for the last 24km. Once at the hut, surprise! our saviors, gave us some beef and grilled vegetables for dinner! A very happy end for a very hard day!

D15: Bus to Reykjavík.