Monday: Glymur

We rose early to drive the two, three hours from Onundarhorn to hike Glymur Falls (3.8 miles, 1,000 ft elevation gain) in the only day forecasted to be sunny on our trip. It meant doubling back the way we came, but fortunately we were booked for two nights in the South.

I was dragging, but optimistic to see the second (?) highest waterfall in Iceland. Even before we got to the trailhead a smaller, charming waterfall demanded a pit stop. This would be a theme on our trip, so lucky! Sweeping swooping green slopes gave way to a waterway on one side.

I drove for part, getting to learn new roundabout conventions first-hand, including a gauntlet of six consecutive one. Nothing like rapid repetition to help you work things out in your brain.

Roundabouts in Iceland do not work like in London, nor like in DC. Cars in the inner lane can go through and exit.
Roundabouts in Iceland do not work like in London, nor like in DC. Cars in the inner lane can go through and exit. Take a deep breath, and let the passenger hold the oh-sh*t bar without judgement.

On foot: after some flat, low-brush terrain, past tiny sprawling civilizations of mosi over rock, and Vottahellir cave (full of legends! And a plaque!) we got to an icy stream. The decision to cross at a wider but shallower point turned out well. I was very glad to have bothered to pack hiking poles mid-stream. What was icy cold turned to pins and needles of pain then, and my brain got to tell my legs to keep going, and faster(!) while my legs threatened to stop working from thinking they were on fire, and to give up all function. [9]

River crossing near Glymur, Iceland
Frigid river crossing and pained expression as my brain fights all the nerve endings in my legs.

This river fording was rewarded with increasingly spectacular views of waterfalls and said river below, as well as great variety of moss, lichen, and the rare (and nimble) sheep.

Glymur Falls climbing, GIFified!
Steep Glymur Falls hiking, GIFified!

I was increasingly nervous with the constant cliff edges exposed to a great view and a springy moss covering with unclear depths of rock or cliff beneath, but the random and surprising bleet of unseen, hardy sheep, and Kris’ kid-goat-like agility pulled me on up to Glymur. Apologies to fewer epic portraits of Kris hiking, as about 30 percent of my brain was pre-occupied with where the cliff-edge was versus me. Or him.

Mosi, and what I thought was bird poop but turned out to be some other kind of moss or lichen near Glymur Falls, Iceland
Mosi, and what I thought was bird poop but turned out to be some other kind of moss or lichen near Glymur Falls, Iceland
Pointing to where we started for hiking Glymur Falls
Pointing back to where we started for hiking Glymur Falls


After gazing and subjecting it to numerous selfies, we finally reached the top of Glymur Falls. The cold water was crystal clear, flowing leisurely to the falls over rocks of a burnt copper shade – shallower than our first crossing, wider too. Like many things in life, it felt easier having already done and succeeded before. Plus, we’d agreed to eat the sandwiches Kris packed on the other side. A frigid walk through water never went so fast. What a tranquil, secluded serene lunch we had, sitting at the rock shore, legs propped up to dry in the midday sun (at 45 degrees from the horizon). On later debrief, Kris said he was impressed how I’d go faster and faster. This is my strategy to make the fording quick and less pain per second. Phew!

Crystal clear and ice cold: crossing the top of Glymur Falls (this was the shallower half of the crossing). Iceland (Photo: Kristoffer Jonson, Food the Wong Way)
Crystal clear and ice cold: crossing the top of Glymur Falls (this was the shallower half of the crossing).

The return walk on the other side saw many other hikers from the trailhead, gentle moss-covered slopes, a muddy coarse trail like a Slip and Slide, two sheep on an inaccessible cliff side (just…there!), and two satisfied Kris & Yilings.

A curious discovery: I could see a lot of sparkle and glimmer in the rock and soil up the trail, especially near the top. Kris did not know what I was talking about. Was this the flip side of my eyes’ over-halo effect with night driving? Do I have vampire eyes? Maybe…judge for yourself in this video! Can you see it? The sparkle?



Passed on the drive back:

Hvalfirði: a town that sprang up overnight during World War II for foreign soldiers to live in. This was the only time when Iceland ever had a standing army.


Skipped: lunch at a well-known “hot house” to taste their fresh tomatoes. Oh well, gotta get back near the AirBnB before dark.

More waterfalls:

Gljûfrabúi and its neighbor Seljalandsfoss: it was neat to step inside behind the foss, a different experience from a hike but good in its own way. Note: Iceland tourism is making bank charging so much for parking at every site!

We sped past Onundarhorn for dinner in Vik at Restaurant Berg. It was located in the only nearby hotel (an Icelander hotel) in this town –for which Vikings are named. This marked our first legit beer imbibing of the trip: by Myrkvi, alongside a bonus amuse-bouche of lamb tartare. The Icelandic rack of lamb was good, with a fancy refined cut, but nothing special per the price. Maybe just special because you paid for it in a land where they require companies to prove they are paying women equal to men?

Iceland Makes Companies Prove They’re Not Paying Women Less
NY Times Jan 3, 2018

Back at the AirBnB we were too pooped to aurora-hunt, but it was overcast and low chance forecasted anyway, so I was spared the sleep deprivation.


[9] If you don’t already have them, I recommend the following for hiking:

Hiking poles – whatever works for you. I like a pair I got from an REI garage sale a few years back.

Gators – just get the cheapo ones from Amazon! These actually performed better on a season of snowshoe hiking compared to another set I had from Outdoor Research. The ones shown here are the exact pair I bought (in sky blue), I’ve had them a year or two. If the river had only been calf height, I would have worn them across. Pretty good for wet hiking, they are.


A watch – that whole sun-at-45-degrees thing is kinda tricky, and made me feel alternately like we had much more time than we did, or that it was constantly about to get too dark to hike safely.

Okay, one more brag photo.

Climber Kris surveying the land near Glymur Falls
Climber Kris surveying the land near Glymur Falls

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Post-script: I look back on this hike now and think of how scared I was, and how I’d dreamt of one of us getting swept off in the frigid water with no one around, lost to the world in a foreign land, and how quickly I crossed the upper part of the Falls (albeit shallower than the first). It really drives home the point that many things can seem daunting the first time you encounter them, but once you’ve done it the view looks completely different, psychologically. This river crossing has also enabled me a much more fearless approach hiking across shallower depths in recent trail adventures in the Pacific Northwest. What a gift.


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