Daniel Bruun

Routes over the Highlands

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An exceptionally interesting branch excursion may be made from Gránanes to the Sulphur Springs at Kerlingarfjöll, which I will describe from my experiences in 1897. Gránanes is a low grassy promontory in the fork of the two tributary rivers which form Svartu. We arrived there on the 8th August. It was twilight on the plains by the time the tents were pitched and Ihe camp fire lighted, but from a little eminence, we could see that is was still light on the hilltops. On the dark plain the pools and the river were depicted in shining whiteness. The tents and horses could be faintly descried, and the red glare of the camp-fire shone like a star in a dark firmament.

Áskard in the Kerlingarfjöll

whiteness. The tents and horses could be faintly descried, and the red glare of the camp-fire shone like a star in a dark firmament.

Over the dark fantastic hill flanks the snow clad summits of Kerlingarfjöll (over 3600 feet), on which the clear evening tints still rested, could be seen away to the south east.

A solitary wild duck started up near the foaming foss and disappeared in the gloom along the river, a single cry from a golden plover or curlew, and all was still, the only sound that reached us being from the horses munching their fodder.

The 9th August 1897 we struck camp and set out for Kerlingarfjöll. The country passed through here is an undulating highland plain, bare of vegetation and intersected by a mumber of streams and rivers, which flow partly from Hofsjökull and partly from the Kerlingarfjöll mountains, eventually joining to form Jokulkvisl. From some heights north of Kerlingarfjöll we got a magnificient view of the mountain chain. About halfway between

At Áskardsá in the Kerlingarfjöll.

its eastern and western extremities is a valley, from which a deep-cut riverbed (Áskardsá) wends its way out to Jökulkvísl, which lay between us and the mountains. A faint mist up in the valley indicated the position of the hot springs. The country around was everywhere naked and bare and almost without vegetation.

We passed over Jökulkvísl, where the water level was not very high. In the deepest spots however, it reached the hor- ses flanks. In a little dale which we reached by passing over a ridge, we found a modest pasture with poorish grass, and pitched our camp here in the vicinity of a Sæluhús, used by the shepherds in the fall. We had been 3 hours on the way from Gránanes.

The 11th August we rode up to the valley with the boiling springs in about an hour, the latter part of the journey being performed over steep snow-clad slopes. Leaving the horses at the mouth of the valley we proceeded on foot. Standing on the brink of the valley, we saw towards the east, Áskardsa, winding its way through the grand giddy cleft down toward the camp. On the east slope of the valley, which was steep and unapproachable, we saw steam springing from a large chasm and rising into the air in a mighty column, while the

In the Kerlingarfjöll.

hissing sound from the fissure resembled the escape of a steam funnel. Beyond from the cleft to the north, we looked out over the broad level highland plain with Hofsjökull on the right. Far far away on the horizon could be discerned a small conical summit — Mælifellshnjúkur — 70 miles away. Up the valley the perpetual snow lay on the peaks and stretched its long arms down into the dales. The country below the snow fields appeared as a baked up earth or clay mass, absolutely bare of vegetation, and pierced and furrowed by deep dales and clefts, which, as Thoroddsen remarks ,"fork like the branches of a great tree from one trunk". On all sides, large and smaller columns of steam rose into the air.

The colours of this earth formation were light, but of great variety, slopes and crevices shining often with the most gla- ring colour, daubs of white, yellow, red, pink, blue and green being muddled together with the most outrageous discord, so as to form quite an eyesore. We wandered each for himself in these marvellous surroundings, which would have formed an excellent setting for the lower regions. I descended to the bed of the stream; removed my boots and waded forward, following the deep and narrow windings with soft steep claybanks on either side. The water was a yellowish white colour and opaque, so that I could only proceed with the greatest circumspection. As melted ice and snow were mixed with the hot water from the springs, it was quite cold. One moment I passed steaming springs, the next small seething reservoirs also steaming, or I heard a crackling sound like as though small water columns were spouted into the air. Here and there dark fissures emitted rumbling or hissing sounds from the bowels of the earth, accompanied by rising mists of steam. At short intervals small valleys branched to right and left, and I saw springs steaming in all and heard their seething and bubbling. As I advanced, the banks became less steep and I ventured myself upon them. After a couple of hours progress I reached the innermost springs. Here the valley spread itself out and assimilated with the surrounding moun- tain slopes. It was interesting to see where, in some places, the small glaciers spread themselves round the springs; here it appeared as though the steam arose direct out of the snow. Occasionally the snow reached right down to the river, and formed bridges of ice and snow over it, under which I passed. Large quantities of sulphur, obsidian and pumicestone abounded everywhere.

After climbing a mountain top and obtaining a view of the territory to the south, I returned to the camp the same way I had come.

The grass here was now nearly all eaten up, and there was no more firewood in the neighbourhood, so it was high time to take our departure, but before leaving, we scaled a mountain summit to get a view over Kjölur.

Wherever we turned there was a surprising variation and richness in the scenes spread out before us. Their beauty was quite uncommon, and our eyes could scarcely conceive at once all that we saw. To right and to left, before and behind us, were pictures innumerable, each with its own attraction.

Due north we looked out over the low plain stretching away mile upon mile, dark brown and monotonous it lay before us. Swamps and rivers, small lakes and streams glistened in the proximity of the glaciers. Peaceful and quiet, attractive and pleasant — apparently with hindrance — it stretched itself as far as the eye could reach away to the coast-hills of the north. Here the picture changed again. It was as if quite other regions beckoned to us from away out there in the infinite distance. The mountains lay like a dark jagged streak at the extremity of the plain, and central in this chain Mcelifellshnjukur raises its conical summit high above the rest, dividing the horizon into two symmetrical parts of equal dimensions on either side.

The warm blood-red tints of the glowing evening sun lightened up the heavens over this distant horizon, and seemed to tell of inhabited regions and snug homes there.

To the west on the plain lay here and there isolated pyramidal flat-topped hills in soft velvety tones (Kjalfell, Dúfufell, Rjúpnafell), forming the most advanced outposts among Langsjökulls protecting foothills and extending arms.

A canopy of clouds hid the uppermost plains of Langjökull. Over the glacier's perpetual ice hung large whitish — often silver-coloured — irregular and enigmatical fog clouds. Twilight brooded in the vales between the steep lofty heights of the foothills.

The clouds had gathered on the flat glacier summit of the splendid foothill Hrutafell like a light thin pillow, the reflection from which fell glimmering over the mountain side on snow-clad clefts and crevices.

A grand, noble, mighty picture.

On the right of the plain lay Hofsjokall's great ice-field. Here the arc of the great glacier showed up distinctly and sharply against the clear transparent heavens, which had a greyish tint.

Behind us lay the warm light yellow Lipari summits of Kerlingarfjöll partly covered by snow. Some solitary sheep ventured on the snowy slopes for the refreshing coolness. The narrow valley with its dizzy depths wound down from the mountains in a dark serpentine streak. The farthest summit towards the east (Lodmundur) was formed of a grand almost coal-black peak with white shining strips of snow. Never from one spot have I seen such an abundance of beauteous scenery. All was silent and still except the rumbling and seething in the valley of the hot springs. A raven's hoarse croak broke the peaceful stillness. We mounted our horses and rode back to Gránanes.

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