Archive for the ‘hiking’ Category
You could spend your entire time in Iceland visiting waterfalls and never tire of them. They’re not only everyday, they’re each unique and wonderful in their own right. The Icelandic word for waterfall is foss, so if you see a sign for an attraction with a name that ends in foss, you know what’s coming. Here are some of the waterfalls we visited in Iceland.
Gullfoss, the “Golden Falls”, is one part of Iceland’s Golden Circle – three sights that are only a couple hours from Reykjavik and make for a popular day trip for tourists. Along with Gullfoss, the Golden Circle includes Þingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Geysir (from which we get the English word geyser) and the neighboring active geyser of Strokkur. Gullfoss is a tiered waterfall that feeds the Hvítá river, but the wind and spray from it makes it difficult to stay dry.
Seljalandsfoss was the first stop on our trip around the Ring Road. There’s a very wet path leading behind the waterfall, so you can take photos from a different perspective here. It’s worth stopping here, hiking around the back of Seljalandsfoss and also taking the trail to the smaller waterfalls nearby.
This was one of my favorite waterfalls, even giving the magnificent Svartifoss (below) a run for its money. See that path on the right side of the photo? You can climb to the cliff above Skogafoss, amidst fields of grazing sheep. The banks of the river below are also made up of that wonderful black volcanic sand.
Svartifoss (“Black Waterfall”) is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland, characterized by the hexagonal basalt columns that outline the fall. You can hike to Svartifoss from Skaftafell, at the base of the Vatnajökull National Park. Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Iceland, and makes for a breathtaking approach into the area. Svartifoss is a short, 1.5 km hike from the visitor center at Skaftafell, and the trail also joins two other falls.
We also passed many waterfalls while driving around the country, like this one below which had a new parking lot under construction when we came upon it.
Our overnight flight to Iceland from Dulles arrived at Keflavik International Airport in the early morning, greeted by grey skies and a light drizzle. We went to the Flybus counter and bought tickets to our hostel. You give them your destination name and take the larger bus to the BSÍ bus terminal in Reykjavik, where the passengers are then split up into vans going the rest of the way to the various hotels and guesthouses around the city. It’s nice to be dropped right at your doorstep and the driver even gave us a brief introduction to Iceland. He told us that Iceland has had an especially sunny summer, though it was now the start of the rainy season. With the sunrise, it felt like the earth’s beauty began to come on display, a nice entrance into Iceland.
As it was too early to check into our hostel, we dropped our bags off in the luggage room and wandered out in search of breakfast. We walked down Laugavegur, one of the main streets with shopping by day and bars by night. Laugavegur used to be the main place to shop in Reykjavik before the arrival of shopping malls. Eventually we came across the Laundromat Café, which is exactly that – a laundromat and cafe, but it’s also a bar and restaurant. Breakfast was a bit pricey, but we quickly came to find that expensive food was the norm in much of the country because so much has to be imported from outside of Iceland.
I also noticed the strong design culture in Iceland – splashes of spray paint changing drab surfaces into loud canvasses, conspicuous attention to interior decoration, homes sporting colorful corrugated metal walls and roofs. Artfully handwritten signs, carefully drawn lattes, bold and bizarre fashions. A woman walked by dressed in what can only be called “hunting chic”: camouflage leggings, reflective panels, and a high-vis orange vest.
We had only snagged an hour of sleep on our short flight over, so we relaxed at Reykjavik Backpackers until check-in time. Adam started to fall asleep sitting at the table, so I asked whether we could check in early. Luckily, the hostel staff member was able to swing an early check-in and we took a nap before our lunch at Fish Market.
This meal was incredible. We opted for the lunch tasting menu, which allowed us to try a lot of unique dishes in one meal. I lost track of how many courses we had, and some plates came out simultaneously, but I’d say it was something like 7 or 8 courses total. Naturally, emphasis was on the fish dishes and we left feeling really satisfied. The dessert was a great touch – a sort of molecular gastronomy take on a cheesecake.
Icelandic beer is, for the most part, very light. The popular brews are Viking and Gull (Egils), which aren’t bad but also aren’t great. Icelanders also have a liquor called Brennivín that is nicknamed “Black Death”. The black label (and the skull that was formerly on the label) was originally used to discourage drinking – obviously unsuccessful, as Iceland’s drinking culture is well-known across the world. Dark days in winter and long days in summer mean plenty of reason to drink, though it’s mostly kept to weekends.
We spent some of our afternoon searching for a camping footprint, since we left our tarp at home. No luck at the outdoors store in downtown Reykjavik, but they pointed us to three other camping/sporting goods stores in the city that we could either take a bus to or drive to. Icelanders are very fond of camping and in the summer, campgrounds are crowded and noisy. However, with the cold, rainy weather for our trip, they weren’t nearly as crowded.
The first night, we were introduced to the Reykjavik Friday nightlife by an Australian expat staying at our hostel. He had lived in Iceland for several years before, and was now back in Reykjavik for awhile longer. We caught some free live music at our hostel and met a couple other travelers, then went out to a few bars: Vegamót, Boston, and one other place. It was a fun introduction to the city, but we didn’t last into the morning hours like the other Icelanders.
Iceland is a place we’ve been hearing a lot about in recent years, and no surprise – tourism has doubled in the last decade, with an estimated 700,000 tourists in 2012. For context, Iceland’s entire population is only 300,000 (half the population of DC proper). Though we saw places being quickly developed, Iceland is working on a plan for the sustainable development of tourism. It’s a nation with a lot of geological beauty that needs to be preserved even as it’s being shared with the rest of the world.
Boulder, CO: The land of hiking, cycling, and beer-drinking.
You can see the Flatirons and the Rockies beyond that, and who doesn’t love being surrounded by mountains? Boulder folks are some of the most active people in America. And here it’s sunny around 300 days out of the year, making it very easy to be outdoors all the time. Residents are fairly affluent – except I guess the college students – and tend to be very liberal, so there’s a fair amount of homogeneity. But the food is great, the beer is great (with breweries like New Belgium, Oskar Blues, and Avery all based nearby), and the options for what to do are nearly endless. Great first visit there.
We tried out Boulder’s own bikesharing system, the B-cycle, for a casual ride to explore the area. You can feel the effects of the elevation almost immediately – we’re not used to being 5,000 feet high! Considering we’re typically just above sea level, the elevation change took a little getting used to.
More photos after the cut.
This past Saturday, I walked 31 miles (50K) in 12.5 hours, along the C&O Canal from White’s Ferry, MD to Harpers Ferry, WV. This was part of the annual One Day Hike organized by the Sierra Club, with both 50K and 100K distances. It’s a great hike, with support stations every 6 or 7 miles to provide first aid, water, and food to all hikers. The distance is definitely no joke, although I kept pushing on by reminding myself that marathoners run almost as long as I walked.
I met a nice couple on the shuttle who were also first-timers, but lost sight of them early on because we got a late start (waiting in the bathroom line after the hike had begun). I was hiking with a friend who had been training for the hike mostly in the gym, and he found out quickly that conditions in the gym didn’t really prepare him for the gravel path we were hiking on. The first four miles were backtracking to get the complete distance right, then things were pretty easy for awhile – we were having fun, enjoying being outside, and making good time.
My friend made it to the support station at mile 17.5 before his knee gave him too much pain to continue. After that I was mostly hiking solo, which wasn’t an issue until it started getting dark. The path through the woods, when only lit by your headlamp, can be a little eerie.
After mile 20 or so, it felt like my motions were just robotic. Any time I stopped it was hard to start walking again, so I just kept walking with as few stops as possible (except to take photos of every mile marker). At the second and third support stations I had to stop to get my blisters popped and bandaged by the first aid volunteers. The volunteers on this hike were really supportive, and what a relief it is to see them at the stations and checking up on hikers on the trail! My feet were taking a beating, but my willpower was high and my legs weren’t really tired.
At mile 27, I pretty much hit the wall. After miles of constant pounding on my feet, most of the pain was concentrated there. I had some pretty intense blisters and hot spots on my heels. It started to get dark out. There was a light drizzle going. With 4 miles remaining, I honestly didn’t know whether I’d be able to continue; at the same time, I knew that quitting wasn’t any better – it’s not like they could have air-lifted me out of there, after all. 🙂
So I kept going, even though my pace dropped considerably and it wasn’t much fun at that point. All I could see was the path immediately ahead of me, lit by the headlamp as I proceeded into the darkness. Mile 30 brought me into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where there was a half-mile uphill looming before the end point. The change from a mostly-flat hike to a short uphill climb did help break the monotony and the pain on my feet, though. I chatted with a couple 100K hikers on the way up to the finish line before I fell behind again. The last tenth of a mile seemed especially difficult because I was already mentally drained – yet somehow I pushed myself up to the community center, where a shuttle back to the Metro waited to take back a pack of tired hikers.
Now, three days later, I’m still sore in my left foot and the blisters are on their way to healing. Would I do it again? I know it’s possible.