Daniel Bruun

Routes over the Highlands

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(Plate I, II and IV).

The watershed between the glacier-rivers flowing N and those to the S. is often very narrow, and the sources are sometimes very close together. We discovered for instance that there was only a short ride of ten minutes between one of the sources (the Bergkvísl) of the Thjórsá, and one of the sources (the Hnjúkskvísl) of the Jökulsá Eystri, which empties itself in the Skagafjordur.

The surface of the highland between the jökulls, consists of diluvial and alluvial formations, and on the sand there is often a mosaic-like layer of small and large stones. Other places, especially where the mountains in the process of time have been reduced to stones, which cover extensive tracts, it is almost impossible to travel on horseback, on account of the great quantity of stones and their sharp edges.

In the district in question, the Sprengisandur, in a more restricted sense, gravel stones and sand are predominant. Vegetation is very scanty, and consists of the most hardy mountain plants, and here and there a few, almost stiff blades of grass. Large patches looking like oases, and covered with a carpet of grass etc. etc. are to be met with, but only at long intervals.

The lack of pasturage for the horses is the most serious obstacle for those who wish to traverse the Sprengisandur, and to this must be added the dangerous crossing of the jökulrivers (glacier-rivers). These however need not be dreaded, as they can partly be avoided, and partly forded in places where the ground is not so bad; or crossed in boats. No dangerous river comes from the Tungnafellsjökull; from the Vatnajökull, or rather the Vonarskard flows the Kaldakvísl; it joins the Tungnaá, which is crossed in boats near the Búdarháls. The rivers from the Hofsjökull are therefore those which render the crossing of the Sprengisandur difficult.

On the S. E., E, and N. E. side of this jökull a whole net of glacier-rivers rise, which are crossed one by one, before they form a junction, and the obstacles they present can be surmounted with good horses. When these rivulets unite and form the Thjórsá, this river becomes a tremendous stream, which as a rule can only be crossed at a certain place in Soleyjarhöfdi, where it is stony and consequently fordable.

If however the state of the rivers is unusually bad, as is often the case in hot summers, and after jökulhlaup (tor- rents) one cannot cross at Soleyjarhöfdi, attempt must be made to proceed along the border of the Hofsjökull and cross each stream separately.

By looking at the map, which is not drawn according to measurements, but from a sketch, one will easily understand the different river systems in connection with the Sprengisandur. It must be mentioned that this map is based on Thoroddsen's, but the distance between the Hofsjökull and the Tungnafellsjökull appears to be too short.

Stefán Stefánsson, a botanist, and member of the Althing has given me most interesting information concerning the vegetation of the Sprengisandur which I regret not to be able to publish here.
(Geograflsk Tidsskrifi" 1901-1902, Daniel Braun: Sprengisandur.)


begins at Sudur-Thingeyjarsysla and from Bárdardalur's most southern farm, Mýri. It leads in a S. W. direction over the sands to the Soleyjarhöfdi (a ford) where the road branches off, in two directions, one E. of the Thjórsá, the other W. of the same river.

From Mýri, one rides S. to the Íshollsvatn 1 1/4 hrs. good pasturage at S. end of the lake, near the ruins of the farm Íshóll.

From Íshóll to the W. over the mountain, down into the Mjofldalur, and through this valley to the S. W. to the pasture Fremri- or Ytri-Mosar, 2 hrs. In the same direction to another good pasture Innri-Mosar 1/2 hr. From here in the same direction following the course of the river up to the barren rocky plateau, towards Kidagilshnjúkur keeping W. of it, 2 hrs.

Kidagil's ravine is crossed about 2 miles W. of the junction of the Kidagilsu with the Skjalfandi, and the road continues to the S. W. (The ravine cannot be passed until its opening near the Skjálfandi is reached).

Should one desire to stop at one of the pastures near Kidagil, which are not very good, the main road must be left, and an E. direction taken, either to a spot N. of the ravine, or to Áfangatorfur S. of same, in either case 1/2 an hour's ride. A pasture a little S. of Áfangatorfur, can also be used: Fljótsdalur near the "Fljót" with Skjalfandafljót (Skjálfandi = trembling one) but they are all bad.

From the W. part of Kidagil, where the main road cuts the ravine, the route leads on towards the S. W. Here the Sprengisandur proper begins, and extends as far S. as Eyvindarkofaver. The route is continued on the W. side of a large elongated hill, the Fjórdungsalda. A little moss and grass (for sheep) is to be found in the dips. First the road lies along one of the tributaries of the Kidagilsá, and crosses later on Kidagilsdrag, and Hældrag, then along Kvíslarbotnar, Klyfberadrag, all dips, where water sometimes collects, whence it flows in an E. direction to the "Fljót"; now ascent is made on the sand plains.

For some time the N. E. corner of the Hofsjökull has been faintly seen; now it is quite distinct. The Tungnafellsjökull and the N. W. corner of the Vatnajökull can also be seen.

The road still leads towards the S. W. along the Fjordungsvatn (an elongated lake) due W. of the Fjórdungsalda, which dries up sometimes in summer.

Kidagil—Fjórdungsalda 3 hrs. Along the Fjórdungsvatn 1 hour.

The direction is now S. W. (from the S. end of the Fjórdungsvatn, the side road branches off to the Jökuldalur in the S. E., 3 hrs.) over the watershed, between the N. and S. The sand plains soon incline towards the S. The Thjórsá cannot be seen. The Hofsjökull lies to the right, the Tungnafellsjökull in front to the left. The Fjórdungakvísl (kvísl — rivulet) which comes from the Tungnafellsjökull, is crossed, which is very bad in Spring.

Fjórdungsalda—Fjordungakvísl 2—3 hrs. (Half an hour later the Arnarfell's Road branches off towards the W. over the Thjórsá; cairns indicate the place) Hafurmýri-Drag and -Kvísl are crossed. (The side road to the Jökuldalur, branches off here for people coming from the S.). Arnarfell id mikla due W. Here the Thjórsá is visible. The Hreysikvísl is crossed.

Fjórdungakvísl—Hreysikvísl 4 hrs. Hreysikvísl — Eyvindarkofaver 3/4 hr.

Eyindarver or -kofaver is a great swampy lowland covered with grass, looking like a bay formed by the Thjórsárdalur, splendid pastures.

Tents are pitched to the S. in the bogs near the ruins of Eyvinds Kofi (kofi = hut). From Eyvindarver to the S. W. along the Thjórsá to Soleyjarhöfdi.

Immediately after leaving Eyvindarver the road lies across the Eyvindarkvísl, the bed of which is rather soft, then to the W. by the Sandvatn, a small lake, and immediately after to the E. by the Eyvindarvatn, a somewhat larger lake. Then along the east side of a large grass grown dip, the so called Thúfuver, the borders of which are marshy and dangerous. The Thúfuverkvísl flows from the E. through the bog to the Thjórsá. One must beware of the Thufuverkvísl on account of its swampy banks. One proceeds towards the E. along the river until a little waterfall is reached, which comes down over basaltic rocky ground. The crossing is safest, over the very rocky place just above the waterfall. Shortly afterwards one arrives at a place for tents, where there is a sheepfold, which the people from Rangarvalla Sysla use in the autumn when they go to the mountains to collect the sheep. Grass and Salix Glauca grow here. In half an hour one arrives at the Soleyjarhöfdi, an elongated hill along the Thjórsá.

Eyvindarver—Soleyjarhöfdi 2 hrs.

To the S. of the Soleyjarhöfdi is a ford, the only one across the Thjórsá until the inhabited districts in the S. are reached.

From the E. bank, head is made for a little island, and from there to the W. bank. The route is indicated by cairns at all three places. The bed of the Thjórsá is stony. The most E. tributary is the narrowest and deepest. In spring when the snow melts, and also, when it is very hot, one cannot cross the ford. W. of ford, grass and Kofi.

If the Sprengisandur is to be traversed in the opposite direction, the traveller advances along the E. side of the Thjórsá between the Hofs- and the Tungnafellsjökull. Between the jökulls, the Fjórdungsalda appears like a flat hill rising above the table land. The route is, as heard, on the W. side of it. From the Fjórdungsalda to the N. E. towards Kidagil, and then straight ahead.


from the Soleyjarhöfdi, runs S. W. along the river Thjórsá. The following rivers must be crossed: the Knifá, which is sometimes difficult (1 hr.); the Kisá (from the Kerlingarfjöll) with glacier water, hence the bed of the river is soft and unsafe, (2 hrs.) the Miklilækur, (1/2 an hour); the tract of land between this river and the Kisá is called Kjálkaver, pasturage; — the Dalsá (P/a hrs.) the tract of land from the Miklilækur to the Dalsa is called Lodnaver, good pasturage. From the Soleyjarhöfdi to the Dalsá (5 hrs.).

From the Dalsá, the road leads on to the Geldingsá ( 1 1/2 hrs.), then to Gljúfurá (1 1/2 hrs.), to the Blautakvísl (1 1/2 hrs., the tract between them, Starkadsver) — Upper Skúmstungnaá (1 1/2 hrs.), Lower Skúmstungnaá (1 hr.) the tract between them is called Skúmstungur—Kofi and good pasturage.

Dalsá — Skúmstungur 7 hrs.

Here the road runs to the S. W. from the Thjórsá over the hill, Sandfell, to Rauda (1 hr.) then past a ravine with a waterfall, grass and a sheepfold (1 hr.). Then comes the Fossa (1/2 hr.) and now one is in the Thjórsárdalur, where there are ruins of many farms. This is "Icelands Pompeii", on account of the 14—16 ruins of farms lying half or completely covered by lava, pumice-stone and ashes, which were destroyed by volcanic eruption. Step by step the horses work their way through the loose ashes after the last inhabited farm and birch-thicket has been left behind. The valley bottom is black and dark, and also the hills are dark; only in the middle of the valley does a bright red hill show itself, which glows in the sun, as if it was still ablaze as on the day when the subterranean fire broke forth and melted the hill. The steam from the hot springs ascends from its foot and a number of small craters are to be seen on the plain. We think with horror of the awful scenes which have taken place here, when, as tradition says, the sky was obscured by the rain of ashes, whilst the lava streamed out and destroyed the prosperity and fruitfulness which had hitherto provided the existence of the farms. Now everything has disappeared; the grass will grow no more here and human beings are shut out for ever from this valley, where generation after generation lived and shared their pleasures and sorrows. Gauk Trandilssons farm now lies in ruins, and the neighbouring farm is sunk in rubbish. Here lived his lover, for whose sake he was murdered by his foster-brother.

The Sandá is passed. To the W. of the stream, wooded slopes, after 1/2 an hours ride the traveller arrives at the farm Skridufell and here the journey ends. Skúmstungur — Skridufell (4 hrs.).


From the Soleyjarhöfdi to the Tungnaa (2 days). The road leads across sands similar to those of the Sprengisandur, perhaps a little more hilly. The traveller rides along the E. side of the Thjórsá, keeping about 1 mile from the river at first, in order to avoid the swampy banks of various small streams. After a ride of 3l|y hrs., the traveller approaches the banks of the river and arrives after '/a hr. ride. at a good pasture Hvannagil; a little further N. there is another grass plot, close to the Thjórsá. The place is easily found, as the Thjórsá forms here a beautiful water- fall, between rocks and islands. The waterfall is called either the Hvannagil Foss (foss == ^waterfall) or the Kjalkaver Foss (the smoke is seen in distance) after Kjalkaver which is op- posite to it. From the Soleyjarhöfdi—Hvannagil 4 hrs. From Hvannagil towards the S. leaving the banks of the Thjórsá, and skirting the E. side of the Budarhals. Imme- diately after leaving Hvannagil, the traveller crosses the Svarta, and then rides over the watershed down towards the Kaldakvísl a rushing stream of glacier water, hardly fordable so far S. (perhaps near Illugaver lying to the N. E.). Near the Kaldakvísl, there is a poor pasture called Klifs- hagavellir, where a hut has been constructed. Hvannagil— Klifshagavellir 2 hrs. From Klifshagavellir along the Kaldakvísl in a S. W. di- rection, (the Budarhals to the right) to the junction of the Kaldakvísl with the Tungnaa, and then along this river till it joins the Thjorsu; here is a pasture Here the Tungnaa is crossed in boats; at present there are two boats, which the shepherds use in spring and autumn, but they are gene- rally on the S. bank of the river, so that one cannot cross; one of them ought to be stationed on the north bank. From the Tungnaa the road leads in a S. direction to the nearest farm Galtalcekur.


If coming from the S. one cannot cross near the Soleyjarhöfdi, or if on the way from the N. one has an idea that a crossing here will be impossible, the route along the borders of the Hofsjökull is the one to be taken. In this way each of the Jökulkvislar (glacier rivulets) can be crossed sedparately, before they empty themselves into the Thjórsá thereby making this river unfordable.

Coming from the N. one branches off to the W. (after having crossed the Fjórdungakvísl) towards the Thjórsá's main tributary (cairns indicate the place) passing some hills, which hide the tributary for some time.

The route is now a little N. of Arnarfell id mikla the most important mountain on the border of the jökull. Then the Thjórsá's main tributary is crossed, and subsequently the so called Thjórsárkvíslar. At times some of them can be like torrents, and it is necessary to be cautious on account of the beds and banks being soft and swampy.

As a rule there are not many difficulties to be surmounted. After 2 hrs. slow riding across the stony sands (where the rivers constantly change their course), the border of the moraines is reached. These extensive moraines of sand and gravel, form a girth in front of the jökull. The road now leads towards the S. W. along the moraines, in the direction of Arnarfell id mikla, very slow riding is necessary, as the ground is exceedingly rocky. Arnarfell id mikla consists of two groups of mountains, around, and between which, the jökull (glacier) sends down minor glaciers. From these proceed the so called Arnarfellskvíslar.

The most northerly of these streams is crossed, then the traveller rides past the most northerly group of mountains, (encircled by two minor glaciers) past the highest point of the most southerly group, (at the foot — luxuriant vegetation) and comes to an excellent pasture, sheltered by the S. side of the mountain.

Sprengisandur-main route S. of the Fjordungakvísl — Anarfell id mikla 4 hrs.

From Arnarfell id mikla, across the Arnarfellskvislar, then the S. E. corner of the jökull is skirted, following the outer border of the moraines, where Salix Glauca, Angelica, and grass grow, all the Múlakvíslar are crossed here, and then there is only a short distance to the Miklakvísl, from there, a very short ride to the pasture Nauthagi, near the hot springs, at the foot of a group of mountains on the border of the jökull. Arnarfell id mikla — Nauthagi 2 1/2 hrs. From Nauthagi to the S. W. across the Blautakvísl broadest part S. of the Kerlingarfjöll (about '/a hr.). The bed of the river is not very bad. After having crossed the river, one rides in a semicircle to the Soleyjarhöfdi following the Blautakvísl in a S. E. direction.

Nauthagi—Soleyjarhöfdi 2 hrs. The road now leads towards the S. following the Thjórsá as already described. One can also ride in a direct southerly line to the Dalsa, over the plateau, where the road is easily found in good weather; here it may be mentioned, that one can go direct from Arnarfell id mikla to the Soleyjarhöfdi in 3—4 hrs. under favourable circumstances, and if the rivers are not swollen, but it is hardly worth while attempting this, it being better to take the longer and safer road by Nauthagi.

One can ride to the Kerlingarfjöll from Nauthagi as well as from the Soleyjarhöfdi in a few hours.

It takes about 5 hrs. to ride from the Soleyjarhöfdi to the pasture (not very fertile) near the Askardsd, in the centre of the N. side of the Kerlingarfjöll. One proceeds between the Kerlingarfjöll and the Hofsjökull. From the Áskardsá to Gránanes on the Kjölur (3 hrs.).


(Jökuldalur = Nýidalur) in the Tungnafellsjökull.

If the horses are heavily laden, and halt is not made at the pasture near Kidagil, the distance to be covered in one day between the pastures Innri-Mosar (in the Mjófidalur) and Eyvindarkofaver will be rather great. But the days journey may be broken by branching off for a couple of hours towards the E. to the Jökuldalur (= Nýidalur) in the S. part of the Tungnafellsjökull, where there is pasturage. Coming from the North the road branches off to the S. E. (after having crossed the Fjórdungsvatn) and keeps in the direction of the S. end of the Tungnafellsjökull. In foggy weather, it is advisable to go on to the Fjórdungakvísl and follow this river towards the Jökuldalur. Coming from the S. the road branches off a little S. of the Fjórdungakvísl.

Mjófidalur — Jökuldalur 9 1/2 hrs. Jökuldalur — Eyvindarkofaver 5 hrs. one can travel from the Jökuldalur direct to Arnarfell id mikla in 6—7 hrs.

The number of hours stated for each journey is calculated on the horse being kept at an even pace. If one has a good horse, and not too many pack-horses, the time can be greatly shortened, as the following instance shows. Six members of the Althing (parliament) left Mvri on the 18th July at 1-30 p. m. and arrived at Skridufell on the 20th at 8 p. m.

Myri — Mosar. ............ 2 1/2 hrs.
Mosar — Kidagil .......... 1 1/2 "
Kidagil — Arnarfell ....... 9 1/2 "
Arnarfell — Nauthagi...... 2 "
Nauthagi — Dalsá ......... 5 1/4 "
Dalsá — Skúmstungur ..... 4 "
Skúmstungur — Skridufell . 2 "

They rode from one inhabited place to another in 54 1/2 hrs. (halts not included) which shows that they were dauntless riders, and had excellent horses. A still quicker ride from the south (36 hrs.) has been accomplished by Jon Oddsson. He did not take much rest, the first time, was at the Kisá. (5 hours during the day,) the second time, near Eyvindarkofaver where he intended to pass the night, but the swans frightened his 3 horses so that they tried to get away, and he continued his journey after a short rest of 3 hrs. Later on he rested a little near Kidagil. He covered the distance from the 7th - 8th Sept. 1897, when he returned home, after having accompanied me across the sands.


For Travellers wishing to go direct to the interior of the Eyjafjardardalur from the Sprengisandur, it is best to start from a place situated about 1 1/2 hrs ride S. of the Fjórdungsvatn.

The road curves to the NW. towards the Laugafell then to Eystri-Pollar, then NNE. to the Ullarvotn, and E. down into the valley.

The traveller makes straight for the Laugafell, which is visible as an isolated cupola shaped mountain, rather far to the N. of the Hofsjökull and crosses the Bergvatnskvísl (= Bergkvísl) turning with this river to the right.

After leaving the river, a ride of 10 minutes across the watershed, to the tributaries of the Laugakvísl, one of the sources of the jökulá eystri, one follows this river, with the Laugafell to the left, and the hill Laugalda to the right. At the foot of Laugaldas W. side, are the hot springs (Laugar) near a tributary of the Laugarkvísl which rises N. of Laugalda.

Pasturage here, fairly good.

From the Sprengisandur Road to the Laugafell 3 1/2 — 4 hrs.

Jökuldalur—Laugafell 6 1/2 - 7 hrs. From Arnarfell id mikla across the Thjórsárkvíslar to the N E. and along the routes stated, to the Laugafell 9 — 10 hrs.

From the Laugafell to the N. W., over stony ground (cros- sing a stream) to Eystri-Pollar (near the Jökulá-eystri) (1 1/2 hrs.), good grass here. The place is easily found if one does not go too far N. It must also be mentioned here, that there are no landmarks to form a guidance on this route. In foggy weather it is best to proceed along the tributary of the Laugakvísl, then along the Laugakvísl itself, to the Jökulsá-eystri, and on to the Eystri-Pollar. One is now on the Vatnahjallavegur (vegur = road) which from the Kjalvegur leads direct to the mountain Vatnahjalli, near the interior of the Eyjafjardardalur. This is a very bad and stony road, especially the latter part of it.

From Eystri-Pollar in a N. N. E. direction (a very rocky tract of land) to the Ullarvotn, three small lakes, in a barren district, to the west of the Vatnahjalli. The Vatnahjalli, after which the road is named is a prominent mountain on the border of the Eyjafjardardalur. Having reached the S. end of the lakes, the traveller rides along the E. side of them in a N. direction with the isolated mountain Hjallahnúkur to the right until the border of the Eyjafjardardalur is reached. Towards the end of the road there are old cairns, which are not always in the best places. Descending into the valley through a laborious passage, the road leads to the N. to Tjarnir (a farm) on the E. side of the river.

To the W. of Tjarnir, and a little further S. there is a la- bourer's cottage.

Eystri-Pollar—Ullarvotn .......................... 2 hrs.
Ullarvotn—Border of the valley .................. 1 1/2 "
Border of the valley—Bottom of the valley ....... 1/2 "
From there to Tjarnir ........................... 1/2 "
Eystri-Pollar—Tjarnir ............................ 4 1/2 "
Tjarnir—Akureyri ............................. 8 — 10 "

There is still to be mentioned, that one can ride from the Eyjafjardardalur to the Laugafell through the Sölvadalur and the Thormódstadadalur up into the highlands. In the valleys the road is very bad, but it is better when on the pla- teau of the highland, where it is said, a few cairns are to be found. The ascent is not so steep, nor so difficult as from Tjarnir.

By studying the sketch-map, the traveller will not find it difficult to plan his route. The ride from one pasture to the other need not take more than 8 — 10 hours.

The passes in the interior of Iceland, near the Jökulls and the Sprengisandur are not so dreadful as formerly supposed. Travelling is comparatively easy, and will be still more so, when the roads are properly marked off with cairns.

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