Posted by: jeanne | July 15, 2014

a walk up the valley


ytradalur is the name of the valley, it’s behind kleifar, which is now a vacation spot full of summer houses, but used to be lived in all year round.  and in fact it seems to have been the spot in olafsfjordur that was first settled by the first settlers.  but now it’s 3 km from olafsfjordur, and i’ve borrowed the listhus bike to get me there, whereupon i ditched the bike in a handy ditch and walked up the valley on foot.

i could do no less.  the gravel drive to the start of the trail had nasty large gravel on it, and i slipped several times and would have fallen on my ass if i hadn’t had my walking stick (the last of my purchases, made after agonizing about the cost, but now very gratefully mine).  after the gravel petered out, there was a nice walking path, larger and more carved out than a sheep trail, and also marked now and then by posts, most of which have fallen over or were in the process of doing so.


all around me were little hummocky hills, apparently boulders from the mountains that had long since been covered in moss etc.  there was lots of vegetation, many many different flowering plants.  blueberries not yet berried out but still in bloom (in july, halfway thru their short short summer).  no ferns, but wild thyme, bog cotton, moss moss moss, grasses, blueberries, monkshood-looking plants, daisy-looking plants, violet-looking plants.  i cannot identify these alpine plants because i’m from the south, and they don’t grow where i am.  i learned a lesson about trying to identify plants from another environment when i went only slightly southeast from atlanta to the coast a few months ago, and could identify nothing.  it was humiliating, and i thought i’d lost my touch until i went to tennessee and could nail everything i saw.

back to iceland.  when i rounded the hill and lost sight of kleifar, which was currently inundated with the entire family of someone who must have grown up there close to a hundred years ago, kids screaming as they slid down a huge waterslide (even if the water lubricating it was boiling at the top, it must have been frigid by the time it slid the kids to the bottom.  but they are a hardy lot, and kept running up the steep hill for more).  once i got away from the houses and around the edge of the hill, all i could hear were birds, wee sheepies from somewhere further up ahead, and the distant sound of the river (gunolfsa).  then i came to a marshy spot, with little pothole lakes no bigger than a hot tub.  they were reflecting the blue of the sky.  the photos don’t do the place justice, i just have to say.


this is as close as i got to the snow, i’m afraid, for reasons which will become clear later.  this patch of snow actually seemed to cover a bit of rhyolite, or some other reddish rock these mountains are made of.  and tho i won’t show it in this blog, i collected a few ounces of celedonite, a green mineral that makes a great paint… the gurgling of the little meltwater streams were echo-y, resounding actually, as they dived under ground for several feet to emerge farther down the hill, leaving just enough peaty dirt to cross over the stream.


this is one of them.  you can’t see the streams at times, but you can hear them.  the mountains in the background were horribly sharp, and i meant to get more closeups of them to show how the snow comes down these defiles between jagged piles of rocks, not eroded smooth but really sharp, blocking the snow from coming down, which pressure eventually fractures the rocks, i guess, and deepens the chasm between rock shards.  you can see what i mean by the hummocky appearance best in this photo.


the valley went on and on.  the dip in the photo is the extremely powerful river that comes down from the snowfield at the head(s) of this valley, blocking the way over the mountain, tho i think you can still get there if you’re intrepid enough.  i was not, as i will discuss later.


the path never got to the edge of the hill over looking the river, but every now and again the roar would fill the valley as it came into sight around a bend in the path.  it’s a hundred meters or more to the bottom, and a good quarter mile away, but it made a tremendous noise.


at one point there was a little cairn of rocks placed there by hikers.  i put one on myself.  the path was peat, battered down by the footfalls of hikers, and at one point someone took a motorbike up the path, because the tracks were still there.  it doesn’t sound like a great idea to me, because the tires churned up the mud wherever the path was near a stream, and further damaged the environment.  who cares?  well, this is akin to tundra, where the tracks you make take years, decades to heal.  so every foot off the path crushed some poor plant and bared the soil to erosion by wind and water.  not good.  i’ve seen old photos of olafsfjordur from the 1940s, and the hills are much more barren than they are now, meaning 70 years of growth has only covered the rocks, and there are still many many scars and scree slopes that have nothing on them, and are therefore likely to avalanche and mudslide when things get hairy here.


while not a glacier per se, the snow moves down the mountain, a stream coursing down the low point all the way down the mountain, under the snow and ice.  in spots i could see slumping, crevasslike cuts and folds in the snow, and a dirty surface whenever the rocks had fallen onto the snow and were now slowly moving to the bottom.  the fan-shaped snow at the bottom and the fan-shaped gravel are from rockslides and avalanches, which make the valley eventually fill up with gently sloping hills that can then be covered by vegetation.  the gray rocks above are too steep and too loose to have anything growing on them, and besides, they’d been covered in snow until just now, in july.


up ahead is the snowfield of raudskardsa, which is the name of the river that runs thru it.  it’s probably called raudskardsheidi, and the trail leads underneath the snow right up and over the mountain to the next valley, which is hedinsfjardur, now unoccupied by humans because the last settlement was wiped out by avalanche within living memory.  nobody would go there except the tunnel to siglifjordur cuts thru the valley before going thru the mountain on the other side.


i never got to the snowfield.  i got to an abandoned cart a little further up the valley, from which i could see two rivers, one from each of the valleys at the head of my walk.  i stopped by te abandoned cart because it was on an outcrop, and the trail disappeared into a boggy area before winding its way down to the river and a freshly built foot bridge, which is what the cart was for, trucking the wood and beams up from kleifar to build the bridge.  i guess once the cart had done its job they just left it there.  it’s like that in the arctic.  reminds me of what i’ve seen in photos of mcmurdo station in the antarctic, where they just leave stuff.  it wouldn’t be my way, but i don’t live here, except for this month, and it would take much longer before i understood and maybe adopted their ways.  i’d still pack out my trash, tho.

at this point my camera seized up.  it seems i had put too much music on my phone, and i was not out of memory.  when i got back i deleted every scrap of music so this won’t happen again.  i will try to get right the way up to the head of the valley in coming days.  my fellow resident lesley did make it up, as did mary.  but they didn’t make snow angels, and i will, just to leave my biodegradable mark on the landscape.  but i’d been up there for several hours, my feet were sore, and the clouds were beginning to boil over the mountain and start to obscure the tops.  so i came back.

and this is the last view of the coast before the houses and screams of the kids having fun reached my ears.  so peaceful.


a little closer and i could see the first houses of kleifar, and hear the kids, and then it was down to where my bike was ditched, and fly away down the coast road to home and a nice hot cup of tea.


more later.


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