Backpack Between Volcanoes, Part II
Baldvinsskali Hut to Skógar
Monday, July 9th
For the first part of the twilit night, I could faintly hear the roaring of the wind just beyond my head, on the other side of the sloping roof of the hut. This was a useful sound, for it helped drown out some of the snoring sounds from those sandwiched close in on the hut's floor. However, around 3 a.m., I awoke to silence. Not silence of the human kind, mind you, but from the wind. The continuous gale seemed to have abated.
The faint sounds of Ewart below did not abate, however, and so after going outside for a bathroom break and noticing how absolutely still the air had become, I decided to cart my mattress and sleeping bag onto the porch of the hut, and promptly fell asleep in the fresh - and quiet - outdoor air. This only lasted for about an hour, unfortunately, because in place of the winds came a very light drizzle. So, not wanting completely soaked sleeping gear, I retreated to the hut's interior.
Ready to journey down
The group awoke at around 6:00 am, and we made ready for breakfast and for the second half of our two-day backpack - the hike down from the hut to Skógar. It was virtually entirely downhill, and would therefore be a relatively un-strenuous outing.
Upon awakening, I was happy to notice that the earlier drizzle had stopped. The skies outside were still leaden; it didn't look like the first part of this day's hike would have the sunny, happy feel of yesterday's ascent from Básar. Fortunately, the scenic highlights of the walk down to Skógar, though, were waterfalls - a type of feature that isn't much affected by gray skies and poor visibility.
Our French hiking companions had apparently also come by way of Básar, and they were not entirely sure of the way down [to Skógar], and they asked us if we had any guidance. Seeing as I had also never come this way before, the best I could do was give them my best guess, which was to follow the line of hiking trail posts I saw leading away downwards into the mists below the hut.
By the time 8:30 a.m. had rolled around, we were packed and ready to head down. Unfortunately, the drizzle had returned as we started to descend through a bleak-looking landscape of bare ground covered with a thin layer of volcanic ash. In certain spots, the ash had accumulated to a substantial thickness.
The beginnings of vegetation
We began by following the hiking pole markers, which led intermittently and not very clearly south-east across the open terrain. After about half a kilometre it appeared to rejoin with a rough mountain road that led down from the hut (F222, I believe). Both the trail and the markers were not very distinct, and I took that to mean that we should follow the road for a while - which we did.
A fairly substantial gorge began to form on our left as we continued to descend, with a fairly sizeable wild-looking river at the bottom. The gorge cut through the craggy black lava flows of old eruptions of the nearby volcanoes, and as a result there were several impressive waterfalls where the riverbed transitioned from the surface of one lava flow to the one beneath.
The trail continued to follow the mountain track for a fair distance. I knew that it diverged at some point, but it was hard to know where. There were sticks and markers scattered over the nearby landscape that initially looked liked they indicated the trail, but which turned out not to. We did not see anything resembling a well-defined tread.
Infrequent, faint signs
Finally, about three and a half kilometres after setting out from the hut, we came across a couple of very faded - almost unreadable, really - signs. They pointed in a direction away from the road, and that, along with a few vaguely-placed poles and sticks, seemed to indicate that we should bear right. Following this way for a few minutes proved correct, for we soon came to a sturdy bridge that crossed the river we had been following at a point where there was only a low gorge. The river looked like it would have been slightly tricky to ford (or at the very least, would have required us to get quite wet), so we were grateful for the bridge. And, it also confirmed that we were on the correct path.
Crossing the Skogá
As soon as we crossed the bridge, a much more distinct path led down along the bank of the ever-growing river (little side-brooks were continually feeding into it as we descended). It was now apparent that we were following one of the major tributaries of the Skogá river - the river which ultimately ended up at our destination, Skógar, and which formed the impressive waterfall Skógafoss.
With an easy, obvious path to follow, we could now concentrate more on the scenery. The Skogá river did not disappoint; around practically every bend in the trail there was a new and interesting waterfall - they seemed never-ending; nay, they were never-ending, and on the whole they got bigger and more impressive as we descended.