Iceland is a hostile land where nature reigns supreme. Here, she dictates her law, transforming and shaping the landscape day after day. The inland tracks are no exception. No infrastructure can withstand Icelandic conditions and sometimes a trip to the highlands can turn into an expedition.
This is what happened to us one day in July 2016.
On the way to the Mælifellssandur
Today the weather is gray. It drizzles. The weather is not good and there are no improvements planned for the days to come.Then we try our excursion in the heart of the black ash desert of Mælifellssandur. We planned to make a loop from the west starting with the F261 before continuing on the F210.
For several hours we cross the rugged landscapes around the F261. The track is pretty bad, it's not rolling with a lot of big stones. After a little over an hour we cross the bridge over the Innri-Emstruá. The river has a very high flow, the water is brown. We are very happy that a bridge has been built!
We haven't seen any other vehicles since the beginning. We've been alone for about an hour and a half. We know that just before joining the F210, we will have to cross Bláfjallakvísl, a river famous for being sometimes big enough.
A few minutes later, we finally cross a vehicle in the opposite direction. We stop at his level. The driver tells us that he had to turn back because he felt he could not cross the river and he did not dare to venture there. A little worried, we continue, having a 4x4 higher than his. Sometimes everything can be played out for a few inches.
The first fords of the F261
Soon we reach a first ford, the water is dark, but it is not very deep. He wasn't supposed to talk about this one. The trail continues and crosses some other small fords without any difficulty.
We're walking through desolate landscapes. The weather is always bad and it's raining more and more.
Still no crossing with the F210. Maybe we missed it? We've been driving for over 2 hours now. Then in the distance, we see another river. We're moving as far as the bank. There's the Bláfjallakvísl.
The terrifying ford on the Bláfjallakvísl
In front of us, the river is raging. It is nothing like the previous fords we had crossed so far, which all seem so ridiculous. The water is brown, the current is strong, the river is rather wide and seems really deep. In the middle, a black sand bank is slightly raised, allowing to cross the river in two stages. On either side, the turbulent inlets seem impassable to us.
In my mind, I have already resigned myself not to discover the Mælifellssandur, which was reaching out to us just across the river. But Flo doesn't want to throw in the towel so fast. After all, we have already driven almost 3 hours from Vík and we really didn't want to turn back.
So, to see if we can cross this ford, I'm throwing myself in the water. I take off my shoes and put on a pair of sandals. I'm pulling my pants up as much as I can. I approach the wheel of our 4x4, a Dodge Durango, and I remember the maximum water level indicated to me by the rental company. It arrives at the top of the rim, 15 cm above my knee, about 60 cm.
First attempt on foot
I'm heading for the river. I know the water will instantly freeze my legs, but we need to know. One step, two steps, I move forward little by little and I sink into the icy water. Stress makes me forget the pain. After a few strides, the water is already reaching my knees. I keep my spirits up and keep moving slowly. The current is getting stronger and stronger. The water is cloudy, I don't see the bottom that seems to be made of a mixture of sand and small stones.
I feel the strong current trying to pull me off the ground and make my sandals vibrate.
I reach the quarter of the river and the water now rises to the middle of my thighs. We are already above the level indicated by the rental company. I take one more step and it pushes me deeper. The water starts to wet my pants and I estimate the level at 80 cm. I can't go any further.
I'm slowly turning around so I don't lose my balance. It's done, we'll never make it through. I'm going back to the car, but Flo doesn't look down. He keeps his confidence and tells me that we can pass, the hood air intake is higher, but I refuse! I hadn't reached the deepest point and the river seemed to be deepening. We are not insured during fords crossing and I don't want to tempt the devil or ruin the rest of the trip. But Flo still believes that we can do it.
So we decide to observe the passage of another 4x4 in order to better estimate the crossing. And we start to wait...
Downstream, a couple of hikers walk up the river along our way. But for that they must cross the river at ford. He comes from Poland and she comes from China. They're about our age. For several long minutes, they had been looking for a place to cross the river in vain, and having seen me in the water, they thought that at this level the crossing would be easier.
They approach us with their big backpacks. Alas, I give them the news that is not good. We would have offered to take them with us to the other side, but for now we are waiting. In the stress of the moment we didn't even take the time to change our first names. She seems terrified of crossing this ford. He, more reckless, decides to try the scout crossing anyway, in order to reassure her.
The chaotic crossing of the hiker
He puts on a pair of tap dancing shoes and ties his shoes to his neck. He rolls up his pants and rushes through the muddy stream. Quickly it sinks and the current makes it stagger. His girlfriend's tetanized on the edge. He's moving on, now past the point where I turned around. The water is still rising, permanently wetting his pants rolled up. The water now reaches the crotch at about 85 cm. Finally, it passes the deepest point and climbs up to reach the strip of black sand in the middle of the ford.
Now there remains the second part of the ford. The second arm is narrower, but the current seems stronger. He's continuing the crossing. This time it sinks less deeply into the water, but the current is so strong that it loses its equilibrium.
As she tries to catch up, one of her tap dancing is carried away by the current. Immediately he tries to stretch his arm to catch her, but she moves away at an impressive speed, swayed by the incessant clapping.
Impotent, he can only watch her move away. He will have to continue his hike of several days with a single tap to cross the other fords of the course. He's finally coming to the other bank. We seem to read like a message of despair in his eyes. Of course, he doesn't invite his partner to join him. She's despised, she leaves her bag on the ground. I come to her and ask her to wait with us in the car, where she will be sheltered from the rain.
Icelanders to the rescue
A few minutes go by, then a vehicle finally arrives on our side! He's higher than us. This is a family of Icelanders with 3 children who go for a ride in their Toyota Land Cruiser. A trailer is attached to the rear of their 4x4. One wonders where they can go with such a load. We explain the situation to them. They don't seem too worried and reassure us by explaining that if we see the black sandbank, it should be possible to cross the river. If they pass, we should also pass, our air intake should be about 5 cm lower than their own.
But the river is still quite turbulent, so they prefer to wait for a couple of friends with whom they travel. In the meantime, the Icelandic driver explains how to ford, the track to follow and the speed to keep. Even if we have already passed a good twenty fords, this one requires much more vigilance.
About 10 minutes later, a Toyota Hilux with a caravan on top of it arrives. Icelanders quickly chatted with each other and then climbed back into their vehicles. The Toyota Hilux, the tallest, comes first. He does not hesitate and splits the torrent water. The crossing doesn't look so dangerous even though the water seems deep.
The Land Cruiser passes in turn. He crosses the first arm and climbs up to the sandbank. He then leaves again to cross the second arm.
But the stronger current takes off the wheels of the trailer, which starts to tip in the direction of the current, threatening to drive the 4x4 with it.
During a few seconds our blood ice, but the driver continues his trajectory and pulls the trailer out of the ford. Good, but what a fright.
It's our turn now. I don't want to try the crossing, the blow of the trailer talked me out of it, but Flo still believes it, he is even convinced that we will pass without a problem. Next to me, our misfortune passenger is terrified. I speak with Flo in English so that she understands the situation. She doesn't say anything, I feel that she is just afraid to cross the ford, but that this is her only chance to find her companion. Seeing Flo confident, and feeling the distress of our passenger, I give in.
The fantastic crossing of the agitated ford
Flo positions the 4x4 in front of the ford and gently engages in the tumult of the water. The wave formed in contact with water passes over the hood and licks the windshield, passing over the air intake. I hold my face in my hands, completely tetanized. Flo doesn't panic and keeps going at the same pace. "Oh my god, oh my god." I keep repeating those words. What we're getting ourselves into. Our passenger is pale and hangs on the handle. Then the car, soaked, comes up on the sandbank. The crossing continues for a few more seconds.
Finally, the wheels reach the other side. We've passed! A feeling of immense joy wins me. We did, I still can't believe it. Flo didn't understand the joy that filled me so much, he was so confident. On the other side, the hiker waited for his companion and they found themselves happy. He arrives at us completely stunned. He points to the car in the middle of the windshield and says, "The water's gone up so far, I thought you wouldn't make it, it's incredible." He couldn't believe it, and neither could I!
When we came back 10 days after arriving from the F210, the ford had radically changed its appearance. It was almost clear and flowing peacefully.
When I think back to this story, I think that we were really crazy to try this crossing, which could have turned into a nightmare if we had negotiated the trajectory incorrectly. But what is certain is that after crossing this ford, all the fords we came across on our way seemed almost insignificant to us.
But whatever happens, be careful in Iceland, because nature does not forgive any mistakes!