I stepped on the brakes and the car carried on down the hill. At that moment, I knew I’d made a huge mistake..
It had been a sleepless few nights on the road. We’d hired a van to travel around the Icelandic ring road a few days previously. We’d been enjoying our time, but an icy front from the north had swept in and made nights in our tin can mobile home a little colder than we’d anticipated.
The night before last, we’d stayed in a hotel in Akureyri, Iceland’s second city, to recoup and recover from a few restlessly cold, snowy nights. We’d parked on a hill looking over the beautiful scenery around Myvatn. We’d spent the day exploring the geothermic attractions surrounding the campsite.
The lake glistening in the coral sunset, we’d sat outside with a few beers until the temperature dropped enough to scuttle back into our van.
My bladder punished me for those beers later in the night. I woke at 1am to relive myself and found the snow had returned, and was painting the landscape with it’s white and fluffy brush! As I drifted back to sleep in the van, the gravity of our situation saturated my dreams.
When I woke at 6am, it was out of worry more than a complete, restful nights sleep. The hill we had parked on, while providing an unparalleled view of the geological landscapes, also provided us with a steep and winding descent to the main road. As the minutes ticked by, the temperature was dropping lower and the snow was turning to ice.
I crawled out from my sleeping bag into the front seat of the van and put my driving skills to the test, navigating my way down the still-crunchy snow. My partner, still asleep in the back, slid about with each risky turn. When I reached the carpark, I breathed a sigh of relief, relaxed, and set out for the warm shower to wash away the stress of the morning!
When my partner woke up, we laughed at our situation and my hasty response to it! After a short breakfast of cereal, we set off down the icy roads to visit Dettifoss, the second largest waterfall in Europe. The geothermic planes the area is famous for was visible on the drive, with melted, almost summer-like patches of green grass woven into the snowy countryside.
We followed the snaking road to where our sat-nav instructed. Missing the first sign-posted road should have been the first indication of the turmoil ahead, but we drove onward through the frozen vista.
When our exit came, we turned from a grit-treated road to pure, untouched snow. The signpost said it was 33km to our destination, so we ‘ploughed’ through the snow, literally! I could feel the pull of the van as we were slowed down by the snow hitting the undercarriage. This made for a fun joyride down the road, sliding along and braking when appropriate of course!
We finally reached the end of the undulating, deserted road to see the sweeping cavern containing Dettifoss against the snowy panorama. The road had lead us through deserted terrain and spat us out at the top of a hill which lead to a small carpark. We started down the hill when my partner asked me a question I should have considered before starting on this downward trajectory;
‘Will we be able to get back up this hill?’
This is where we began this tale. How could we get into the very position we’d navigated so well just a few hours previously? As we slid down the hill, I knew we had to stop and turn as soon as possible.
I manoeuvred the van to face up the hill, careful to steer clear of the sheer drop to the left and the white dusted lava to the right. When I hit the accelerator to push up the hill, the wheels span in place, confirming what I had feared. We were likely stuck here for a while.
I coaxed my partner out of the van to clear the path for the tires. I hoped that a little of the gravel road would provide enough traction to pull us up to the summit. The tyres gripped the cleared space but hitting the snow once more, they span back into a seeming stationary, solidifying our labouring task ahead.
I turned off the engine, opened the door to face the crisp wind whipping around the valley, and pulled out a chopping board from our home-on-wheels. It was time to start digging!
I took the left wheel, my partner took the right. It was still snowing so we were wrapped up to the eyeballs to protect us. After digging for a while, we’d made tracks almost to the top of the hill.
I jumped into the van and started wheel-spinning up the elevation. It took a few attempts, chopping boards and boots cold and wet from the icy run-off. When we got the to top, we laughed out of panic and relief! Being stranded 30km from civilisation during a pandemic could have ended a lot worse off than it did!
Dettifoss was beautifully dramatic. A must see on an Icelandic Escapade, just hopefully less dramatic!