As a 90’s song goes: don’t go chasing waterfalls. But I often take suggestions with a big grain of salt. As you probably notice, I love taking photos of running water. Having figured out long exposure shots in my camera has opened up a new area of interest for me. Also, if I’m waiting on a hiking buddy while they fill up their water filter on the creek, I might as well take photos.
I had finally gotten clearance from my surgeon to walk without the encumbrance of an ankle boot. I had surgery a few weeks ago, you see. My foot had progressively been bothering me and I felt I owed it to my feet to get the problem fixed. Being the body part that has done me the most favors, especially with my need to explore far into the woods for the sake of my mental health, I had to show my appreciation by having my growing bunion removed. This resulted in me being hobbled with an orthotic boot for several weeks. I wanted to make sure it healed well so I did what I don’t often do when someone sets limits for me: I followed instructions.
Now that I can start wearing regular footwear again and am allowed to engage in my usual bipedal activities, it was finally time to return to the trail. My usual hiking buddies picked Teneriffe Falls. It was short enough to take slow and uphill enough to promise a decent waterfall at the end.
Most of the way, we were doing switchbacks up Mt. Teneriffe. At some points on the trail, we get a peek of the bubbling creek fed by the waterfall above. My fellow hikers were also recovering from the effects of Covid so were hoping to go at a slow pace. My poor recovering calf muscles will be in good company.
We trudged uphill slowly and steadily. As we got closer to the falls, the trail became steeper and more challenging. We pressed on one arduous uphill step at a time. Eventually, we arrived at the base of the falls and spent a few minutes enjoying our success. As everyone else took a moment to catch their breath, I set up my camera and snapped away.
The trail goes past the falls and leads to the summit of Mt. Teneriffe, a challenging hike by my standards at the moment. Once my land legs have fully returned, I will surely come back and try my best to head up there. I hear the view is amazing.
Most people have a “secret trail” that they like to go to when they run out of ideas for where to hike. It’s the kind of place that is probably not so secret. For me, it is a sort of “back pocket” trail for when conditions are not right for my go-to trails or they just seem too far away and my motivation limits my choices to within a certain radius.
I would not call it my favorite trail, necessarily. There is no impressive waterfall at the end, nor a gaily bubbling stream along the trail. There are no impressive landscape views of Mt. Rainier. The trail is not even remote by any means. You could spy houses just a few feet from the trail in some areas and the occasional sound from construction vehicles drown out the woodland noise for most of the hike.
It does, however, slake my thirst for greenery and the sensation of solitude for those days when you just need a quick fix. I also love the different kinds of mushroom you run into along the trail. It also has a little bit of an incline, just enough to test your lungs. At the end, you arrive at an old stone fireplace, the only remnant of a cabin erected a long time ago by the land owners. It makes for a nice spot for a sit-down snack of cheez-its and fruit.
You can certainly keep going further down the trail to explore the rest of the woods. I have yet to do so, after visiting the spot at least 3 times now. Perhaps on my next visit, when the need to unplug seems too overwhelming and better opportunities are lacking. For now, I will continue to keep this trail in my back pocket for when I need it most.
Enchanted Valley. The name makes you think of a lush land full of cheery faerie folk making merry. In the Olympic Peninsula, near Lake Quinault, the trail winds through verdant paths ruled by towering trees. There is a chalet at the end of the trail. It’s not the type where you are welcomed into a great hall full of food and tucked into cozy and comfy beds at the end of the day. The view, however, is more than comparable.
I started out the day early, loading up my gear into the cruiser to catch the ferry that will take me to the peninsula. It takes about 3 hours or so to get from my house to the Park Ranger office in Lake Quinault to pick up my camping permit. I also had to borrow the required bear canister. The area is known for bear sightings and I do not want close encounters of the fluffy kind. We are not in a fairy tale story after all.
Driving from the Park Ranger office to the trailhead was an experience. The paved road fades into gravel quite quickly and you certainly get the sense that you are away from civilization. There are quite a few large pot holes to maneuver past. Thankfully, the cruiser is more than up to the task.
I claimed a spot on the trailhead to park my car and load up. This is only my second multi-day backpacking trip and the first one did not end as well as I had wanted. I am hoping that I will have better luck this time around. I planned on making it all the way to the chalet, perhaps a little past that point and find the world’s biggest recorded hemlock tree. It’s about 30 miles out and back. I am planning on spending 2 nights on the trail. I hope it’s not too ambitious of me.
The first part of the trail is a steady climb. This is where I am reminded that I am not the fastest hiker around, nor am I the fittest. I had to stop several times to catch my breath just in the first 2 miles. I am hoping this is the hardest it gets. The first stop on the way to my camp for the night is a bridge high above a rolling river. There are still a lot of day hikers around, taking pictures, relaxing on the rocks by the river below me.
I wanted to get to O’Neill camp before dark so I marked some interesting waypoints on my gps device and kept going. The park ranger told me my permit allowed me to camp on any established site along the trail but I wanted to be where I knew I would be close to water. The trail is shaded by an almost constant tree canopy but here and there I find green meadows. I spy what looks like a fox (or maybe a coyote?) discreetly following me through the trees to my left.
After 5 or so painful and sore miles of walking uphill and downhill I finally find the camp. It’s just past a dried up creek, a bit below the trail and right by water. I gratefully plop down on a spot by the water. It was my own private little cove. I had a wall of greenery screening me from the trail and a couple of trees shading me with their luscious branches. I pitched camp and set to work on making my dinner. I spent a few minutes surveying the river bank before turning in. There was still a bit of light but I was already bone tired from the day. I wanted to make sure I was rested for tomorrow.
I woke up the next morning to what sounded like a very upset bird somewhere in the trees outside my tent. I suppose I would be annoyed too if a lumbering neon-colored creature set up camp outside my door. I just never expected bird song to ever sound so aggressive.
Breakfast was oatmeal, coffee, and some quiet moments of contemplation. It was a nice start to the day. After packing up my gear and a quick sweep to make sure I did not leave anything, I was back on the trail. The path undulates quite a lot and there were a couple of rivers to cross over make shift bridges made of fallen logs. It was quite a pleasant walk. The shade from the trees and the occasional breeze made the hike quite pleasant. I even ran into a herd of deer grazing on a meadow. They ignored me as I walked by. I stopped for lunch just a little bit past them. I made sure to keep a wide berth just in case they get a little too curious.
By the time I get to the wooden gate shortly before the chalet, I was feeling the strain of the constant up and down of the trail. It is still predominantly uphill but the frequent dips in elevation only made the next hill or crest feel much steeper. Past the wooden gate is the river crossing. It’s a narrow bridge with just one rail. While the river is not that far down below, falling would be quite the misadventure.
After crossing the bridge, the trail evens out quite a bit and opens up. We are out from under the trees now and the sun is warm and pleasant. I spy the occasional wildflower along the path and the chalet just up ahead. When I get to the chalet, I am greeted by a park ranger. He asked me about my trip and checked my permit then let me loose to pick my camp for the day. I find a nice spot by a fallen tree that had an established fire circle. It will make for a nice place to chill later while having dinner. There is a tiny climb down to the riverbed. It is rocky in most places but just a short walk to get water. This time I made sure I knew the way back.
I still had a few hours of light and I had already made camp. I decided to load up a daypack and explore the rest of the trail. The giant hemlock should only be about a mile and a half past the chalet. The day was clear and the sun was getting quite warm. Here the trail began undulating again. There is a steep hill up ahead that began to dampen my mood but I climbed it anyway. As I crested the hill, I was greeted with a scene straight out of the Sound of Music. I was imagining the crescendo of orchestra music in my head as I beheld it. There is a lush green meadow just begging to be frolicked in. Beyond it I could see the mountainside across the river and so many waterfalls. It was absolutely magical.
I was loathe to leave the magical landscape before me but I had to keep going. My goal was to find the giant hemlock. As I kept walking along the trail, it began steeply climbing again. By this time my feet were certainly feeling the strain and the rest of me was beginning to succumb to exhaustion. Begrudgingly, I turned back and trudged back to camp. I will have to find the tree on another trip.
I spent the rest of the afternoon settling down in camp. I made myself a little bonfire. I didn’t really need the warmth as it was late summer and the nights weren’t that cold, even in the backcountry. I just wanted to feel cozy. Besides, you can’t make s’mores without a campfire. After today, I could use a treat.
I tucked myself in for the night as twilight was giving way to evening. I wasn’t sleeping long, however, when I noticed there was a bright light from outside the tent. I got out of the tent to see what the fuss was about, ready to tell off whoever had their headlamp on too high and pointing in my direction. When I got outside and looked around, I realized it wasn’t some errant camper with a too bright flashlight. The moon was full and bright and it was bathing the valley in silver. I had not counted on tonight being a full moon. I grabbed my camera to try and capture the breathtaking scene before me. Alas, I learn upon getting home that my night photography skills were still not up to snuff.
I got up early the next morning. It was 13 or so miles back to the trailhead and I was hoping to get back before it got dark. I ate my morning oatmeal and chugged my coffee before packing up my gear. After a final check to make sure I didn’t forget anything, I headed back. The steep, rocky slope I had to climb down on the way in weighed on my mind. I knew that at some point I will have to climb back up. It will likely be difficult. I tried to keep a steady pace but the undulating path made me feel like I was still going uphill more than I was going downhill. I stopped a couple of times just to get my heavy pack off my back and rest my feet by one of the many bubbling creeks I passed. By lunchtime, I managed to reach the junction to O’Neill camp. There is a small patch of grass right by the trail and a log I could sit on. I decided to take a break there and sit down to eat my lunch.
The rest of the afternoon, I trudged on steadily, occasionally stopping at interesting points on the trail to snap a photo or just pause to take in the scenery. By the time I reached Pony Bridge, it was midafternoon and a pleasant breeze was blowing about. I took another well deserved break to shed my pack. I even spent a few minutes on the bridge just enjoying the view and listening to the rushing water below. It was just the break I needed right before tackling the uphill climb on the rock slope. Now that I felt a bit rested, it turned out to be not as bad as I had been imagining. It didn’t take me long to reach the crest. It was going to be all downhill from there and to me, that was a good thing.
I reached my car by late afternoon. I spent a few more minutes loading my stuff in the car and changing out of my boots into a pair of sandals to make the 3-hour drive back a bit more enjoyable. After stopping by the Park Ranger office to drop off my bear canister and a quick pit stop in town for gas, I was on my way home. Pleasant memories of trees and sunlight cheerfully peeking through the forest canopy and woodland creatures still swimming in my head. It was quite the ordeal but I did not regret going on the trip. Perhaps next time I will get to see the giant hemlock. Hopefully it will still be there, patiently waiting for me.
Today began much like any other day this week except the room was comparatively nicer than the ones I have stayed in although the bed was just as comfortable as ever. It will be my last day before returning to Reykjavik, back to the hustle and bustle of city life. Today is certainly going to be filled with adventure way after the sun goes down.
I never thought I would ever miss hotel buffet breakfast. This would be my first time in a week. The fare is still similar to what I have partaken in the past week. The plates were a lot fancier, I suppose. There’s a bunch of folks who seem to be from a tour group congregating on a table nearby. At least I get to people watch while I eat.
After breakfast, I pile my stuff back in my trusty rental, crank up the tunes, and set my course for the next stop: Snaefellsness peninsula. I plan to drive the main road going around it and stop at the tourist spots. Hopefully, I can get there early enough before the tourist throngs overwhelm the place.
As is typical of this adventure so far, I start the day with a waterfall. And oh what a waterfall it is. From the road, I can see the stream of water coming down from the edge of a cliff at the top of a mountain. It cascades down several stages, winding this way and that before turning into a peaceful stream in the middle of the grassy field.
It’s a short hike from the parking lot to a spot in the field where I could safely set up my gear and take some pictures. As I am getting to the middle of my photo shoot, a couple show up in a car at the parking lot. I watch them hike up the trail while I wait for my camera timer.
The wind is brisk today, just as the weather app on my phone predicted yesterday. I am bundled up warmly. I came prepared… I hope. I have been told that weather in the peninsula can get quite unpredictable. In any case, I have plenty of layers in my car should the need arise.
There is a tiny chapel just across the way from the waterfall. A short drive up the road and I get there just as a busload of tourists show up. I don’t mind the company. I am painfully aware of how close this place is to the capital. The church itself is also quite well known on social media so I am not at all surprised that it gets all this attention.
My third stop for the day is yet another tourist stop. There does not seem to be much to see from the parking lot other than an overpriced cafe. I need to make a pitstop so I buy a bit of lunch so I can use the restroom. The soup is not all that bad. It helps me warm up and the bread was filling. Sitting at a table by the window, at least I have a view of the Atlantic.
There is a profusion of trails in the area. Some lead to rock formations erected hundreds of years ago by men long dead and forgotten. Some lead towards the cliff edge where you could see the ocean below. I opt for the latter.
There is something to be said about the power of water and its persistence. If one were to upgrade the game of rock-paper-scissors and added water, I’m sure it would beat all three. Time and the incessant ebb and flow of tide make the most wondrous rock sculptures.
After enjoying the ocean view for a bit, I decide to explore the other trails. I find one that leads up a hill to a man-made rock formation. I stop to read the plaque for my daily dose of Icelandic history and the usual photo op.
Getting back in the car away from the whipping wind, I set up directions for the next stop. This one is a waterfall that seems to be a bit out of the way. The drive to the coordinates for the “parking area” feels a bit sketchy. The road is just wide enough for my rental and full of loose rocks. I doubt a tourist bus makes it this far. I look up at the sky and I am noticing it slowly getting darker. I check on the car snacks. It looks like I have at least enough to last me the night should I get stuck in bad weather. I touch my gps device with the built-in SOS button for reassurance.
It takes me a while to figure out where the “parking area” is. As it turns out, it is nothing but a wider notch on the rode obscurely flanked by a nondescript picnic table. I pull up on my rental and angle my car to make sure I don’t block the road. There is a faint walking trail notched into the hill with moss-covered rocks on either side. From the map, it looks like the trail should end just before the waterfall. With a twinge of trepidation as the sky slowly begins to look menacing, I set off and follow the trail.
I find the waterfall with little trouble after about 20 minutes of trudging uphill over loose gravel and the occasional mud puddle. I do my best to avoid stepping on the moss flanking the narrow trail. I am rewarded with having the place all to myself for a few precious minutes. A little while later, another hiker shows up with his camera. He is nice enough to set up his gear across the way from me and even asks me if he is in the shot. We spend a few minutes in companionable silence, each engrossed in our own photo shoot.
I hike back to the car and trundle down the rocky road back to the main highway. My next stop is going to take quite a bit of driving. At least the view out my car window is not all bad. The sun is also starting to peek through the clouds. A few minutes away from my next stop, I spy a waterfall in the distance. I did not notice any signs on the road pointing to it. I pull over to the side of the road and notice a car in the distance driving past it. I follow it with my gaze to where it turned to get on the highway and make a mental note. I start up my car and head for the turn out and make my way to the waterfall as close as I can get.
The road runs between some farms and I see a few horses just hanging out by the fence. At one point I drive by a couple with their car parked at the side of the road. The girl is having her photo taken next to one of the horses who managed to get their head through the fence for some human attention.
I find a small parking lot near what appears to be a small park close to the waterfall. I could not see a trail I could safely walk in to get closer to the waterfall and the wind is beginning to pick up. I have to be content with appreciating from afar.
As I am driving back to the highway, I notice a bunch of horses huddled together. I find a spot to park my car off the road and take a few snaps. This one looks like it’s vamping for my camera.
My last stop in the peninsula is one of the more popular ones so I steel myself for the throng of people that will likely be there. It’s already late afternoon and the stop is not too far of a drive from the capital. Thankfully, it is just past a small town. I need to make a quick pit stop, replenish my car snacks supply, and gas up. After some convenience store shopping, I get back on the road and head for my final stop.
The numerous photos online and on social media hardly do the place justice. Despite the crowds, it is still a majestic place. The mountain gracefully arcs in the distance over a meandering stream cascading down the hill in several levels. The fall colors bring warmth to the eyes despite the gray skies and blustery wind. A nice end to my week-long adventure before rejoining civilization.
After spending about an hour taking in the rugged beauty around me, I get back in the car. Music blaring, coordinates set, I head off to Reykjavik. As I get closer to the city, I am seeing more cars on the road. The google maps app is telling me I will be at my destination in the next half hour or so. I begin to get confused. From my car I can see a big body of water between me and the city. I do not know of any ferries in the area nor do I see a dock or large boats on the shore. As I kept driving down the road, it dawned on me like an M. Night Shyamalan plot twist. There is a tunnel. Underwater.
I stamp down the rising panic in my head. There is no way I can stop in the middle of the road. I must keep driving. Down into the tunnel I go. I try not to think about the millions of gallons of water on top of me separated by nothing but concrete and the miracle of human engineering. I can’t drive fast enough to get out the other end of the tunnel. There is a speed limit and everyone else is abiding by it.
I breathe a huge sigh of relief as I finally make it out of the tunnel and back into the waning afternoon light. Eventually, I make it down the highway and find myself downtown. I am able to find a parking garage a block away from my hotel. Lugging my stuff down the street, I head for the hotel and check in. As soon as I settle in to my room for the day, I am left with only a few minutes to grab something to eat before I need to be at the pick up point for the final part of my adventure. Packing my gear into my backpack and bundling myself into my winter jacket, I head out. After a quick stop for a hotdog dinner from the street, I find my way to the pick up point and wait.
The Northern Lights tour involves the most impressive all-terrain vehicle I have ever had the pleasure of riding in. Imagine if a shuttle bus and a monster truck had a baby. The wheels on this behemoth can probably get over anything. The best part, however, is the inside is nice and warm and cozy.
After about a half hour on the road listening to some dad jokes and the occasional history lesson from the tour guide, our group find ourselves in the middle of a farm with the lights of the city twinkling in the distance. I start setting up my camera gear and aimed it at the sky above me. Suddenly, colors start bursting from the horizon. Wave after graceful wave of blues and greens punctuated by occasional bursts of red and orange. The sight was overwhelming. I was thankful for the darkness. I prefer ugly crying out of sight. After I manage to compose myself enough, I finally start snapping away. As my camera fired one timed shot after another, I just stand there, breathless and overwhelmed by so much wonder.
The rural air is certainly doing wonders to my sleeping. I have been waking up feeling more refreshed each morning this week. There was breakfast prepared by our kind host today. I will be sharing the repast with two other guests, a couple from South Korea who are also doing the same adventuring that I was along the Ring Road.
After breakfast, my next stop was going to be one of the oldest turf churches in Iceland, Grafarkirkja. It was maybe a half hour off the main highway in the middle of a field. It faced north into the Norwegian Sea and behind it you can see rolling hills and mountains of Iceland’s interior. It was indeed a very contemplative place.
After visiting the church and maneuvering the process of driving up to the gate, getting out of the car with the engine running, opening the gate, running back to the car to drive through the gate, and repeating the process to close the gate behind me, I was finally back on the road. This time, I was on the hunt for something other than turf churches and waterfalls. I am off to find a sea dragon.
The sea dragon in question is called Hvitserkur. It is a rock formation found on the northern shores of Iceland that resembles a stone dragon (or a warty rhino, depending on how you look at it). There is a low cliff you have to maneuver down from the lookout point to get to the shore. It was especially challenging since most of the steep slope has eroded and the soil is the sort of loose rock that cannot be trusted. I had to ungracefully lower myself down the steep slope with my butt on the ground. My broken ankle did little to help my progress. Eventually, I managed to make it down to the shore. I am hoping it will be easier climbing up than it was to climb down.
After taking photos of the dragon to convince myself it was real, I began to notice the tide slowly starting to come in. I have been often warned by locals about tricky waves that can suddenly pull you into the ocean if you are not careful. I hastily packed my gear and began the climb back up the cliff. Thankfully, it was easier going up, albeit no less ungraceful. On the way back to the car, I ran into the couple from the horse farm in Akureyri. I barely recognized them being all bundled up in their thick jackets and hats and scarves. We said hello and I made my way back to my car. I had a quick lunch before heading out to my next stop.
Kolugljúfur Canyon is an amazing stop on the way to the Snaefellsness peninsula. There is a meandering river that passes by pastoral farms and cascades down into a gorge. The water has done wonders with carving through the basalt turning it into a canyon that fantastic beasts of imagination could call home. I would not be surprised if a dragon lived down there (or a warty rhino).
I was initially planning to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Snaefellsness Peninsula before bedding down for the night in Borgarnes. However, I wouldn’t be spending as much time exploring the peninsula as I did not want to be stuck out there or on the road in the dark. I had been told that the weather on the peninsula can be quite intense and unpredictable this time of the year. I decided not to chance it. I can always retrace my route north and do a loop of the peninsula the next day. Reykjavik was less than an hour away from Borgarnes so I could easily make it there tomorrow after a full day of sightseeing in the peninsula.
My accommodations in Borgarnes were beginning to phase me back into city living. This was far different from the quaint and cozy farmhouse cottages and hostels I had stayed in all week. It had all the feel of the typical hotel room. Also, it felt nice having my own bathroom for a change.
For dinner, I had mussels for starters. I had not had shellfish in a while so it was quite a treat. I mopped up the juice from the mussels with fresh bread. Main course was lamb chops (of course) on fries with a side salad. I washed everything down with the local brew. I had a long day tomorrow so I decided to turn in early. Also, there was a tv in my room. I did not realize how much I missed having this modern amenity.
I was about to start winding down for the day when I began hearing a commotion in the hallway. I had seen in my phone app that the northern lights had a high chance of showing up today. I decided to get dressed and see for myself. The hotel grounds was swarming with noisy excited tourists with their cameras incessantly flashing so I decided to walk around town to find a nice quiet spot to myself.
I found a spot just a few feet from a row of houses. It was a nice dim place with just enough light for me to set up my camera. Unfortunately, the northern lights were not as bright as I hoped so I did not get any good pictures. It was still good practice for when I go on the group tour tomorrow. It was pretty cold and windy outside so I decided to go back to my hotel room and rest. On my way back, I found a new friend.
I never pass up an opportunity to pet a willing cat, especially one as fluffy as this one.