At about 4pm, approximately 2 hours after starting out from Básar, we arrived at the edge of the Morinsheiði plateau. It was indeed very flat and broad, with the trail cutting a distinctive line straight across it. We had climbed nearly 1800 feet (550m) of elevation since starting off, more than half of our total elevation objective of about 2700 feet. At this higher elevation, there was nearly no vegetation on the ground, making it feel a bit more otherwordly. Indeed, the small angular boulders scattered against a sandy ground reminded me of the pictures you see from one of the Mars landers.
We stopped here for the second of our sit-down snack breaks. With the near-absense of vegetation came, unsurprisingly, much cooler conditions. A brisk wind blew across the barren plateau, and the temperature was much lower than it had been down below. No more basking in the sun in short sleeves!
Mindful of the time, we soon packed up and started our trek across the Morinsheiði Plateau. Up ahead we could see that the next set of slopes up towards Fimmvörðuháls pass had snowfields on them. It looked like we would have a bit of kick-stepping coming up in our near future!
It took us about thirty-five minutes to cross the windswept flats of the Morinsheiði Plateau. At its far end, there is a scree-filled col that must be crossed before one gains access to the slopes leading up to Fimmvörðuháls pass. The trail follows along a ridgy crest of loose rock along the spine of the col. The crest is not as steep-sided as the lower Kattarhryggur ridge, but its upper end does traverse a loose section with some limited exposure below. That end is, like any other spots on the trail that are even minorly exposed, protected with a stretch of wire.
Crossing the Heljarkambur
From the midway point along the col (which is called Heljarkambur, by the way), we got an interesting view down into one of the deep gorges draining one of the glaciers off of the Mýrdalsjökull icecap. We could see a dark swath of rock that snaked down off of the cliffs above, and this rock looked somehow different. As we looked closer, we could see little plumes of white coming off of it. It didn't take long to recognize this as one of the brand-new lava flows resulting from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. To see that several sections of it were still steaming was exciting. What would the new lava flows be like as our trail brought us up to their source?
Once past the Heljarkambur col section, we regrouped. Above us was the final steep section of our hike for the day - the snow-slopes of Brattafönn, which would bring us up to the beginning of the Fimmvörðuháls pass. There was a well-established track leading up the snow slopes, and the grade was not overly steep, but still, as with all alpine snow slopes of any consequence, they must be treated with respect. We carefully kicked our feet into the existing steps and securely planted our hiking poles as we ascended.
Looking back to Morinsheiði
A couple of other hikers we met coming down the other way seemed fairly nervous about the slope, and they seemed to have inappropriate footgear and no poles or axe. We watched as they carefully half-slid their way down the slope.