Wintry Hikes and Hot Rivers

Day 14 and sadly the last day of our trip.  Since the rain stopped us from visiting Reykjadalur (a.k.a. Steam Valley) the day before, we figured we would go in the morning since we didn’t need to drop our car off until 2:00 PM.  Definitely would not recommend trying to fit in a hike to a hot spring river right before a flight.

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All of our online sources said it would be a pretty easy 40-minute hike.  We also forgot to consider that all of those online sources went in spring or summer when there weren’t piles of snow and ice blocking the route and trying to make us fall at every turn.  We were so excited when we first got to the trailhead because it was warm, beautiful, and sunny.  The whole landscape was clear and you could see the steam billowing from the sides of the valley, true to its name.

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Just look how happy Li looks in my new sunglasses with the blue sky behind him!  We even had to take our jackets off as we hiked because it got so warm.

By the time we got midway into our hike, though, it was snowing and the landscape looked like this.  Snow.  Everywhere.  Where did the wide open trail go?  This basically sums up Icelandic weather in one go.  One second it’s sunny and warm, then snowing, and then all of a sudden it’s pouring rain and the wind is threatening to blow away your car door.  Or your friend.

Well, the snow made for a much more strenuous hike, but at least it was also a much better workout for the day.  That being said, I was so happy when we finally got to the river without any major injuries.  Until we crossed the bridge and realized that we still had a bit of a ways to go before we got to the part where the thermal river meets the cold snowmelt to create the perfect temperature for bathing.

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Back into the abyss of snow and steam and potentially fatal falls.  Okay, it’s not that terrifying – I’m just terrified of heights, but don’t let this stop you from visiting.  And hey, steam makes for some pretty great pictures!

After what seemed like ages of walking, we finally made it to the part of the river where you’re allowed to bathe.  We were completely ready to just towel change, but there are little barriers where you can change which don’t do a whole lot but are good enough.  By the end of this trip, we were basically experts at stripping really quickly in the snow to jump into the heated water as fast as possible.  Climbing into a river has never felt so good. The river depth and temperature changes quite a bit in different areas, so take your time to scout along the river before choosing a place to settle because you definitely won’t want to get back out.

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Unfortunately, we had a flight to catch, so we had to pull ourselves out of the water soon after we got in.  We managed to slip and slide our way back down the hills we climbed to get there (seriously, those two tracks in the snow were all that was left of the trail…).

We made it back to the trailhead just as everybody was arriving and starting their hike.  If you want to avoid the masses, make sure you get there early in the day!  I grabbed some last shots of the steam valley and Iceland before we were rushing back to the airport and onto the plane (thank goodness airport security is always really efficient and fast in Iceland, even when they’re undergoing construction).  Until next time, Europe!

If you haven’t been to Iceland yet (or the U.K.), it’s a great place to travel for short breaks (spring break for the students out there?  You only need a week to get around the whole country!) with affordable flights, and I would definitely recommend trying to make it out some time.  That’s it for now – keep an eye out for some portrait shoots I have coming up and my recap of my Southeast Asia trip with Ben as I finally finish up editing those photos!

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