After one night of barely sleeping two hours on the airplane, and then two nights in a row of sleeping four to five hours in a tent, where I was woken up by the roaring wind and the constant light of a country that never gets dark in the summer, I was in the tiny hamlet of Skógar and about to begin the longest hike of my life. Fueled by adrenaline, oatmeal, and Snickers bars, we had the whole focus of the camping trip before us: the popular, estimated seven to nine hour, twenty kilometer (12.4 miles) Fimmvörðuháls trek.
The hike began just after 11 AM at the base of the massive Skógarfoss waterfall, which had at least one double rainbow. It was absolutely gorgeous. I was energized, and all bundled up for the chilled Icelandic air.
By the time we got above the waterfall, it became apparent that I would have to shed some clothes. I discovered that the ability to remove and add layers rapidly is really pivotal for hiking in Iceland as the temperature and your own body heat can shift rapidly.
The next few hours were spent following the river Northward along rocky crags, mossy mounds, and a continually bleaker and bleaker landscape. The moss had an especially memorable spongy quality to it: a veritable bounce when you stepped on it. One person said it was like "walking on pillows," but I would equate it more to akin wearing moon shoes.
I eventually lost track of the total number of waterfalls we passed, but there were at least a dozen impressive specimens. The river would be nearly silent one moment, and then a rush of sound would pierce my ears as I came over a rise to see another magnificent display of nature's power. It was also easy to lose my sense of scale. The mountains and hills and every feature of the land were just so huge that without a proper reference the sheer enormity would baffle my eyes.
We stopped occasionally for pictures or a snack, and by two o'clock eventually came to a footbridge that crossed the river. We knew it was the last chance to drink water from the cold and clear glacial streams, but other than glimpses of ash covered ice near the chilly water, we had no idea about what really lied ahead.