The day before I ventured upon the Snowmageddon Highway on my lonesome; Jón and I took advantage of a beautiful albeit chilly day to go for a hike once we had headed back to Reykjavik. Within easy reach of the capital, the mountain Esja is a very popular recreation area for hikers and climbers. The best known hiking paths lead to the summits Þverfellshorn (780 m) and Kerhólakambur (851 m). So off we went… the Viking in true Viking form was not happy unless he had his Ice Axe with him (??), so he was loaded to the hilt.. including my camera… as we deemed him less likely to fall over and break it.. and I was just wrapped up in many layers- I should have listened to his advice before we left… to start cold…. We didn’t make it to the summit as daylight was fading and the path was incredibly icy making it somewhat tricky to navigate, even with my Old lady spikes… I also get a little bit nervous on the steep slopes!! The path is divided into sections, marked with signs along the way. Each sign gives an indication of the difficulty of the path ahead with a grade system ranging from 1 boot (easy) to 3 boots (challenging). Unfortunately for my avid mountaineering Viking… 1 boot was proving tricky enough for me… 😉
Tuesday morning dawned and it was GAME ON ICE ROAD TRUCKERS. I would like to award myself an honorary Ice Road Trucker licence after my experiences… or a Darwin Award… not quite sure which. The Viking is being incredibly kind and has lent me his 4WD for my time here. After my first successful solo driving foray on Monday in a blizzard to the mall (success – measured by the fact neither the car, myself or any local traffic were injured) it was time to venture further afield and head back to Laugarvatn. I am finally understanding the fuss the Icelanders make about the weather…. it can be VERY changeable. You also need to be prepared & informed about road conditions before you drive anywhere.
There are a number of factors to contend with behind the steering wheel here… Icelanders drive on the wrong side of the road; knee deep snow on a nice bed of solid ice is common.. and in this situation the white road markings are impossible to see. Luckily the locals are aware of the hazards and very sensibly have a fantastic website which updates every 20mins with the conditions of the roads. Given the amount of snow that had fallen last night and the amount predicted this evening.. the weather seemingly offered a brief window for migration. Jón with his local knowledge decided I should take the slightly longer route via Selfoss as it would be less icy and a slightly easier drive for rookies. There is one long pass over the mountains on this route, which involves a direct route down the mountain which at the time I left was closed due to snow and conditions,so I had to take the longer alternate route through the mountain pass down towards the coast, circumnavigate the base of the mountains to get to the half way point, a town called Selfoss and from there I would head up the interior to Laugarvatn.
The website vegagerdin.is is an incredibly useful resource that allows you to check the current road conditions before you drive. It displays a colour-coded map with the road conditions and driving difficulty of the roads, shows the location of current blizzards and storms, and provides webcam views of selected roads across the country.
I have translated the colour code roads for fellow rookie snow drivers:
GREEN – Likely to survive
YELLOW– Moderately likely to survive
LIGHT BLUE – Quite Possibly will survive
DARK BLUE – Vaguely likely to survive
WHITE -Survival doubtful
PURPLE/ BLACK – Very unlikely to survive
RED – No chance of survival
The images below have just been sourced from the internet, as I had neither the ability nor desire to pause for a moment to take photos as my hands were in a death grip around the steering wheel. The snow was blowing hard across the road, but unlike the shots below… it was I guess about a foot above the road, but it was a dense opaque fluid moving layer- and you only got very brief glimpses of road below; it was really unnerving as it was almost like an optical illusion. The tall yellow road markers are the only thing you can trust!! Viking had given me some pretty important tips, try and drive in the tracks of the car before you (if there is one and if you can see tracks…. ); test your breaks regularly to see how much traction you have…. if and when you do slide off the road don’t fight it, steer the way you are going so you don’t roll the car. The 45minutes of driving in these conditions felt like hours… my death grip on the steering wheel, bulging eyeballs, and furrowed brow would have made me look fairly terrifying to any passing drivers- luckily there wasn’t much chance of anyone seeing me….I had the radio on with two lovely icelandic gentleman having a gentle debate in the background… I couldn’t understand a thing, but some how it was soothing!!! Anyway eventually I made it to Selfoss, and then on to Laugarvatn, alive and in one piece… and so was the car… Luckily!!!!