Why it's Worth Hiking to Glymur in Iceland
Robert Frost Knew a Thing or Two About Roads
“Well,” I paused, “put up your hood, let’s go.”
The Iceland rain, which had been lightly tapping the car’s windows like a polite stranger trying to get our attention was now rudely slapping us from all sides. Joe looked at me certain I’d say, “Forget it,” that a two-hour hike in the rain meant we’d skip Glymur, we’d pass on this waterfall and just ride along to see another one out on the main road with the masses. Iceland’s full of them, there are waterfalls at every turn, especially with all the rain we’d seen. So why bother getting soaked through three layers of clothing to see this waterfall?
Until recently, Glymur stood as Iceland’s largest waterfall, knocked from its long reign by Morsárfoss, an outlet glacier of Vatnajökull revealed by the melting of Morsárjökull. Aside from being difficult for English speakers to pronounce, this discovery is a testament to Iceland’s forever changing landscape, and to exploring the road less traveled.
Glymur is not an unknown or particularly difficult hike, but it’s also not somewhere you hop out of your car and quickly check off. Only two other cars were parked in front of the trail when we arrived. We walked down the dirt path in a rocky field and didn’t see anyone else. Meanwhile, the wind and rain greeted us like over eager hosts, forcing us to turn and give our frozen faces a rest.
The trail leads to an overhang that offers amazing views of the river below, and then it sloped down into a cave right out of every adventurous little boy and girl’s imagination. We excitedly checked every corner of the cave and decided where we’d sleep if we lived here under the stars in the warm protection of its rocky hovel. This was the first time we ran into other hikers, a couple was sitting and hiding from the rain.
From the cave, the trail takes you to a point where you need to cross the river. There’s no bridge or path around, just some stones and a log with a cable stretching at about chest height from a tree on either side to help you balance. A second set of hikers was standing and contemplating crossing. I stepped forward with my pruny wet hands, took hold of the cable, and gracefully skipped across the rocks. That grace was short-lived as I side-shuffled wildly across the log. The cable, apparently stronger than I was, pushed and pulled me like a bully on the playground. But how I looked didn't matter, because I made it across without falling.
The couple behind us was less fortunate. We didn’t get far before we heard a splash and saw the man almost lose his grip on the cable after falling off the log. He stood and fell twice more, ultimately crawling across completely soaked. The girl made it across the stones and then slipped on her first log step, scrambling to stay on what once stood tall and proud as a tree. Unable to get her footing, she hung onto the log, her stomach braced against it and the river rushing over her. I gasped and thought she’d monkey crawl across like a schoolgirl on a balance beam, but instead, she spun around and fled back over the stones to where she started. I was sorry she wouldn’t see the waterfall, especially when she was so close she could hear its roar.
From the river, we climbed for another 20 minutes. The falls, hidden by the cliffs teased us with their call until we rounded a corner and finally found them. To our left, the valley split in half like a coconut by the river, and to the right were the falls, tall and slender. We stood on the edge of the cliff looking out in both directions amazed at the vastness and feeling incredibly small next to the quiet rush of the water. My hands and face were numb, the rain was just as forceful, but we took our time.
The trail seemed to go up and over the falls, but it would have taken another hour to get back. So, we headed down the way we came, crossing the river with a little more skill, ducking back into the cave, and zipping through the valley where we ran into a third couple who wandered slightly off the path. After getting reoriented, we reached the parking lot completely soaked. My pants were five pounds heavier and drooping from my waste, my waterproof shoes were not looking so impenetrable, and my hat was stuck to my head.
Glymur wasn’t the most impressive waterfall we’d seen in Iceland, it’s not the tallest anymore, or the largest, it wasn’t mystifying or unfathomable, but I’m glad the rain didn’t deter us because sometimes the simple beauty of a place is amplified by the getting there. Sometimes there’s something alluring about the understated.