Lava fields, icy glaciers and river crossings on the Iceland Divide
RIDER: Natt Williams
WORDS: Giulia Boccola
LOCATION: Akureyri – Vik / Iceland
The journey began on July 16th near Akureyri, a town situated on the Eyjafjörður fjord, the longest fjord in Iceland. Following gravel roads and passing through lava fields, its first stage started hard with a 23 km climb and a brutal headwind. The air temperature also decreased while he was riding uphill, but on the other side, the view revealed wonderful snowy peaks.
The first real resting point was the incredible Godafoss Waterfall, perhaps the most impressive compared to the others. Shortly afterwards the road turned into lava ash gravel and as the excitement increased, the words of Elton John’s Rocketman rode alongside him. At only 60 km away, the landscape radically changed and it seemed to have been driven around the “Desert of Wales”. Everything was a lush green, with soft hills, lakes and many sheep.
At the end of the day he probably reached the most beautiful bivouac of the entire route, the Botni Mountain Hut and here he was warmly welcomed by the locals who offered him a traditional local dinner, making him forget about his Firepot food ration, which he would decline for another night.
During the summer months the sun never sets in Iceland, so it was difficult to know what time it could be and after another kindly offered meal, he set off on his bike to face the second day. The first 10 km were really slow, mostly on foot with his bike at his side because of the volcanic lava fields and after he started cycling again to reach the first glacier, the ground turned into a snowy and icy carpet, forcing him to walk for the next 25 km.
At half past nine in the evening he reached the Kistufell Hut and here he met a couple of French travellers with whom he made new friends and shared a plate of spicy pork spaghetti.
The third day meant facing a second glacier to cross and just 7 km away he was again on foot pushing his bike. Now, as he was returning to a cycling terrain, there were large traces of sandy lava in front of him: wavy, tortuous, and fast, they were perfect for making up the lost time. He crossed again with his French friends, whom he had met only ten hours before, but whom he felt he had known all his life.
The glacier crossing had been just one of many obstacles to overcome, three other river crossings awaited him. The last 25 km were the most incredible, everything was going as it should go and when he arrived at the Nyidalur FI Mountain Hut, he met Sabine, the owner of the hut of German roots who invited him to share a delicious stew with another traveller called Adam, coming from Hungary, recreating a pleasant and friendly atmosphere.
“Among eternal glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls of extraordinary beauty, Iceland manifests itself to the incredulous and astonished traveller’s eyes. Once again it is the power of nature to amaze.”
On the horizon was a new difficult day. After a sleepless night, he had to deal with numerous fords, seven to be exact and the terrain became more and more challenging. The route was less kilometres long compared to the previous days, the landscape became more barren and the challenge was no longer just physical, but overwhelmingly mental.
The Versailir Mountain Hut was full of horses and here he was able to share an excellent barbeque lamb dinner with an organised tour company, but only after having already eaten his chilli with meat, selected from his various boxes.
The fifth day, the most important. The aim was to reach the Alftavent Hut by the end of the day. Situated between two majestic mountain passes, the real fun was about to begin. The first part proved to be practicable, the legs were strong, the path of sand and lava gravel. Then came the cruellest climb, the Valhalla Gate. Putting the gear at minimum, the summit was achieved without ever getting off the saddle.
On the maps, there were now eight fast, deep and icy river crossings. A moment of discouragement before making a game plan… it wasn’t finished yet. Climbs with a 12% incline were waiting for him and then he found himself crossing this big crack in the rock that would lead him to the shelter discovery, like a real mirage in that enchanted valley, located near the homonymous lake.
Here the happy encounter with two other passionate bike-packers, Johannes and his partner. The nostalgia grew, the trip was ending and Natt was not yet intending to return home. The weather took a turn for the worse and as he was cycling, intensified. The rain was so furious that nobody could see anything, even from a meter and a half away.
Pedalling was getting more and more tiring, the wind was blowing and the rivers were flooding. He had to reach the cabin as quickly as possible. Destination Öldufellsleiõ Hut. The last night, accompanied by the gas stove and the sound of rain that continued to fall ferociously on the roof.
The final 70 km remained, although there was no hurry to leave the hut. A quick check on the bike and back on the saddle. Natt set off to the Yoda Cave and the Hjörleifshöfði Cape, a promontory on the southern side of the island created by a volcanic eruption under a glacier, leading to the shaping of a tuff rock. With a huge smile on his face, our London friend reached Vik just in time for lunch and to realize that he had succeeded in his great solo venture.
— Giulia Boccola
LENGHT: 660 km
TOTAL ELEVATION: 5.420 m
DURATION: 7 days
DIFFICULTY: good training required.