Daniel Bruun

Routes over the Highlands

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We stayed two days longer on the Kjalhraun camped at Hveravellir, principally to mark out the route over the east side of the lava field from Dúfufell to Kjalfell, but also to pay a visit to the Strýtur Crater. The lava field was on the whole very difficult to traverse, and the horses suffered con- siderably on the march over this waste, where blocks and mounds of black lava raised themselves in our way. In olden days already, some cairns were built on the route from Dúfufell to Kjalfell. A little south of Dúfufell for instance, are half a sevre such on an elongated depressed lava mound. The length of the mound is about 200 feet, with entrance

Strýtur, Hrútafell in distance.

from the west. In this so named Grettishellir (Grettirs hollow) the outlaw Grettir is said once to have dwelt.

Somewhat further south and nearer Kjalfell, are two cairns on a projecting spot in the lava. When I passed this part of Kjalhraun in 1897, a raven was croaking in the vicinity, and seeing a number of white objects lying by the cairns, I rode, with some difficulty, to the spot, under the impression that the raven was in the act of devouring a bird. I was however, very disagreeably surprised on discovering that what had attracted my attention were the bleached bones of horses and sheep, which evidently long ago had been packed up under the cairns in large quantities. Later I discovered that they probably originated from the great disaster already referred to, which happened in the autumn of 1780, and together with other similar catastrophies, brought about the disuse of the Kjolur route. In the autumn mentioned, some people from Skagafjord had gone to the south to buy sheep, and on their homeward journey over Kjolur together with their flocks, they were taken by surprise by fearful snowstorms. Their friends at home in the north thought that they had remaned in the south country for the winter, but when the spring arrived without their appearance, their friends became apprehensive, and a search party was sent out after them. Dead sheep and horses were found scattered round. One grey horse was even found right down by Svarta, an hours ride southwest from Kjalfell, at the spot since named Gránanes (Grey Naze). The horses were found with their packs still on. A man discovered the bodies of the party in a tent, and returned home to fetch assistance for their removal, but when he returned

Gránaes, Hrútafell in distance.

with help, the bodies had disappeared. It was thought that they had been plundered in the meanwhile & disposed of. The remains of the animals have since been collected in heaps and the cairns raised over them. Tears came to the eyes of old Indridi at the sight of these mournful records, and at the thought of the lamentation and misery caused by the disaster.

While Magnús and Indridi were marking out the way over the Hraun, Klein and I sought an approach to the crater on horseback. We rode first of all west from Hveravellir around the nearest eminence of the lava field, then turned due south up through this, and after an hours ride reached the brink of a mighty crater. It was about 60 feet deep and 12—1300 feet wide. On its eastern edge, and also from two spots in the congealed lava of the pit, rose remains of old crater brinks in the form of pointed summits, whence the crater receives its name of Strýtur. From the summit of the eastern edge rising in perpendicular walls 120 feet high above the bottom of the crater, we had a magnifi- cent prospect far and wide over Kjalhraun, while Hrutafell, with its three glaciers and Fulakvisi running beneath it, was especially fine.

This splendid crater is much more easily approached than for instance Hekia, and will probably, together with the Kjalhraun lava deposits and Hveravellir, be frequently visi- ted by tourists in the future. The afternoon was far advanced when we returned to the camp, after having also made an excursion to the eastern side of the lava field. Old Indridi

At Fúlakvísl, near Thjófadalur.

and his son-in-law had now helped us steadfastly and their mission was ended. The route from Gilhagi to Kjalfell was now marked out with temporary cairns, thanks to their assistance, and Indridi was anxious to be home again, so towards the evening, the two rode off in a northerly direction over the sandbanks. — We remained over night at the camp, and the next morning, the 16th of August, started south again along the edge of Langjökull, west of Kjalhraun. We rode for two hours in a furious sandstorm to the so called Thjófadalur (Thiefs' dale), where a sheep stealer is said to have dwelt long ago, and where there is a grazing place.

From Thjófadal we passed by Hrútafell in sleet and showery weather, over some smaller hills in a southerly direction toward Hvítárvatn with Fúlakvísl on the right hand and Svartá on the left, our direction being Bláfell on the south side of Hvítárvatn. From time to time, old bridle paths were met with.

After several hours over lava, sand plains, and water- washed naked sands, we descried the glaciers and the lake. In semi-darkness we reached a group of ruins on the west side of the lake, and here we pitched our tents in the proximity of the little Tjarna. Here I had led excavations in 1897 and had spent several days on the spot on that account, so Magnus was again able to take his old kitchen into requisition. We had been 7 1/2 hours on the road since leaving Hveravellir.

It was a' still and beautiful but dark evening. From the

Lava mounds.

tents we looked out again over the green pastures, where our horses, as on the previous occasion, grazed in company with a herd of half wild colts, to the lake, which appeared like a golden streak; and above it the glaciers, coming down between the snow-clad mountains from the great white-toned plane of Langjokull, over which it cleared up a little, while clouds and rain were noticeable in other places. The solemn stillness was only broken by the singing sound from the swans on the lake, or by the geese and ducks as they flew over the pastures, not to mention when the calving of the glaciers was proclaimed by a distant report, followed by a subdued roaring. A few icebergs floated in the lake. According to the late Sig. Pálsson("Lvsing a Hvítárvatni" in "Ţjódólfur" for the year 1883, 13th October and 2nd November, respectively.) the north end of the lake is deep, at the southern end however the icebergs stranded in five or six fathoms of water.

upper: Kerlingarfjöll, seen from Gránanes.
lower: Solfaters in the Kerlingarfjöll

The lake is rich in trout (bleikjur), while swans and different species of wild ducks and geese breed there in the summer, so that the sportsman can get a good bag. The spot is however, seldom visited by sportsmen or anglers. In 1897 we met a sixty years old peasant, Snorre, in Hruni, who was well acquainted with the spot, and had hunted there from time to time, commissioned to procure swans, but otherwise neither fishing nor shooting is carried on in this abundant locality.

An old tradition relates that in olden times it was just as profitable to have a fisherman at Hvítárvatn as in the best fishing smack on the coast, which proves that the fishing was carried on diligently then. Another legend tells of a fisherman, who, when every one else had ceased to fish there, still persevered in his labour for a long while, but as he had no one to help him drag the net, hit on the idea of using a mare and colt, which he possessed, for the purpose. The foal he placed on one side of a bay, and took the mare to the other, after having made the net fast to her. The mare swam over to her foal and so the haul was made.

On the west side of the lake right opposite the spot on which we were camped, and close up to the glacier, is a hut called Karlsdráttur, which has a narrow opening on to the lake, and here are found the ruins of a small dwelling, a so named veidiskáli or fishermans' hut, where the above mentioned fisherman had his abode.

In the early middle ages, there lay two farms by the lake, but the colonization of Icelands interior is long since abandoned, and today it is a long days journey to the nea- rest inhabited spot towards the south.

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