Breakfast. Late. I didn’t wake until 9.30am, after a ‘late’ night – lights out at 1am after a full evening of fun and games. There was beer and whisky too. A big dinner, with 25 crammed around the table (Jon Karl’s family, Frida his wife and Valkyrie his six year old daughter – it was her birthday – showed up to join Katrin, Jon Karl’s daughter who has been with us throughout). Then, we had the ‘entertainment’: first a list of the ten things we’ve learned from the North Americans, then some Icelandic folk songs, beautifully sung by Jona, followed by a free form version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (in which I played papa bear, wearing a hairy Icelandic cardigan – one of my lines (to be delivered in Icelandic and in English) was ‘I am pregnant’; my reward for this mild humiliation was a tasty piece of cheese – real, live, fresh cheese! – so it was well worth it; we had started dinner with belated introductions: name and favourite food).
After that theatrical triumph, there was a game of charades, then our team’s contribution, an involved and protracted session of the Name Game (aka Chapi Chapo, aka Celebrity) which went on for a very long time. Our team came last in both games. But it was worth it if only for Janeen’s Peter Pan. Rana’s Napoleon was also inspired, if surreal. To be fair, much of the evening was surreal, but the highlight was the revelation of Deepa and Rana’s fierce and shameless competitiveness, which was particularly channelled towards each other. Terrifying. On balance, I think Deepa wins.
Lunch is over and people are getting ready for this afternoon’s walk. Hustle and bustle, with the strains of ‘You are my sunshine’ (in English and Icelandic) fading in and out through the other background noise – if this trip has a theme song, it is that; or maybe ‘Who likes short shorts?’, but that’s rather more niche…
This morning’s walk was a trip around the rock hanging over the hut – the views were rather obscured by the low clouds, but still impressive: another gorge, more blueberries, and a light birch wood of seven foot trees. The latter prompted an Icelandic joke from Jon Karl: ‘How do you find your way out of an Icelandic forest? Stand up.’
There was a photo call for Arne, me, Avi, and the teenagers, Katrin and Jona, on a crag, then a tricky couple of metres across an incline, where the path had disappeared entirely. A descending traverse under strange black rocks, soft compacted ash and lava, which the wind had moulded into lumps and humps, then back down through the birch trees, to eat and to wave good-bye to Deepa and Rana, who got the 2pm bus back to Reykjavik – back to work on Monday morning for them. Their departure has left a sadness over the group: in part, it’s a recognition that the adventure is nearing its end, but mainly because we’ve all become friends. It’s been a short time, but we’ve been living on top of each other for four and a half days, and we’ve become accustomed to each others faces, to paraphrase Henry Higgins.
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Dinner done. My freeze-dried risotto was enlivened (or made edible) by the addition of some fresh, sautéed mushrooms picked in the birch wood on the way back from the afternoon’s walk. I fried them in some of Arne’s butter, before stirring in the hitherto unappetising rice. Frida advised me on their safety and Rosa assured me that they were ‘probably OK’.
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It’s Valkyrie’s sixth birthday, for which she got a toy monkey, of which she is very proud. Janeen has learned how to say ‘You are a monkey’ in Icelandic and is repeating this to her as she climbs around the bunks. I have that feeling of well-being again.
* * *
Our walk this afternoon was great – completely different to everything else. First through the by now familiar light birch wood, then up a shallow, broad ghyll (Strakagil) under hanging rocks, criss-crossing the beck on stepping stones. Avi drew the short straw and was the one to miss a rock and end up mid-calf in the stream, boots on.
At the head of the path, Jon Karl told us to go find a rock of our own and spend some quiet time there for ten minutes. Arne went up the hill ahead of me, and found a rock above the valley, and above mine. Below me was the river and the rest of the group – 2 or 3 of them seemed to be asleep; Nathan was stretched out by the stream, Priska by a track. My thoughts started with the beauty of it all, which was considerable – the cloud was rolling down the hills in front of me, the rocks hanging in precarious and outlandish positions. My thoughts turned to Kitty, and I realised I missed her, I wished she was here to see this with me, and that extended to the whole route. Before then, most of my thoughts were ‘oughts’ – I ought to find a somewhere with a signal, to let her know all was well. But this was about her, and me, and our life together, and what we share.
Jon Karl clapped his hands to signal the ten minutes were up and we set off back down the ghyll. I spotted a lava bridge above us, which apparently Jon Karl did too, as the group veered sharply to the right and up the mossy, heather-clad bank towards it. The bridge formed a cave, where we stopped for tea. More blueberries – Avi decided to take a chance on them, and was so impressed he wished he’d brought a box to collect some in; they were very tasty, it has to be said.
The hill bore other fruits. I’d been seeing plants all around since we arrived in Thorsmork that looked like strawberry plants, and sure enough I eventually found a strawberry just below the lava bridge. Tiny and, as it turned out, quite tasteless, but definitely a strawberry. This too made me think of home.
After our break, Jon Karl said he was going to improvise, and we continued up the slope – about an 80% incline and pathless. Nathan scrambled up like Spiderman, on all fours. My vertigo didn’t kick in, thankfully, but Jona’s did and by the time we reached the ridge, she was not happy. We continued along the ridge, which became knife-edge for about 50 metres, while Jon Karl, Arne and Katrin stayed with Jona while she found her legs – she was in no fit state to walk down a city street, much less a knife-edge ridge. This was the Thorsmork-Skogar path and there was quite a bit of traffic. I talked about Striding Edge on Helvellyn, a comparison that fascinated me, but no-one else. The group waited at the shoulder of the ridge, until Arne arrived to say we should continue.
The next stage was a steep rope-assisted descent under the hill’s shoulder, before a long downward traverse took us to a headland over the ghyll. We had all become quite giddy since the knife edge, and Katrin, Asta , Nathan, Janeen and I were in stitches most of the time. Janeen started mocking my accent again, repeating ‘heather’ in a very posh English accent (apparently, along with me saying ‘bloody marvellous’ and ‘crisp rolls’, this was hilarious…)
We waited there until everyone had regrouped (Rosa and her friend had hared off down the hill earlier, but otherwise we were all reunited.) Jona looked a little pale, but was smiling, which was remarkably brave. Had I been caught by vertigo, on that route, I’d still be clinging to a rock at the top of the slope.
We trocked down the rest of the slope, back to the beck, crossed by a foot bridge, and re-entered the birch wood. Despite having said he wouldn’t improvise again, after Jona’s vertigo, he chose a short cut. This pained me somewhat, as on the way up I had picked out a few mushrooms to fry up with my risotto. The other problem I had was that Rosa, who had offered to show me safe fungi, was already back at the hut. So Arne and I sought out likely looking mushrooms to cut, and asked Frida as she passed. Having identified an appropriate variety, we scoured the woodland floor, a dubious Avi in tow, and secured a bag full which were duly sliced and fried , to make a rather awful looking risotto really rather lovely. One of Frida’s tomatoes and some garden grown leaves made it a spectacular meal.
* * *
Dinner done, I sat and chatted to Jona Katrin for a while over a whisky, before Valkyrie (?) joined us, taking great delight in putting her new monkey on my head, and my hat on top of that. But what she really wanted was a game of Frisbee, out in the rain – and who were we to deny the birthday girl her wish?
It started with just me, Jona Katrin, Asta, and Valkyrie. Michel, Arne, and Nathan joined us presently, and the game evolved into a version of piggy-in-the-middle. Silliness followed – diving into trees, blocking and a lot of laughter. There were no rules, but there were limits. I’m just not sure we ever worked out what they were.
Eventually, the dying light defeated us, and we took to the hut porch to talk nonsense and finish our respective bottles – whisky, gin and Amarula. Drunk, Nathan and I agreed to accompany Arne sea swimming on Monday evening, before beers in Reykjavik on our second Laugavegur trek… I distinctly remember thinking it was a good idea at the time.
A more complete set of photos is on my Flickr page