Daniel Bruun

Routes over the Highlands

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The routes over Kjölur both from Húnavatns, — Skagafjardar, and also from Eyjafjardar Sysla (Province), were used not only in the Saga period, but also in later days, fairly frequently in the summer. The members of the Legislative Assembly used to pass this way to attend the meetings of the "Althing", and the routes were also traversed by the trading caravans in the time of the commercial monopoly, when goods could alone be purchased in Reykjavík. Later, when the Althing was dissolved (1800), and trading stations were established on the coast around the whole Island, the mountain routes lost much of their importance, and the people gradually discontinued the use of them.

When moreover in the 18th century several accidents happened on Kjalvegur this route was entirely given up. Now it is only traversed at long intervals by visiting tourists and harvesters passing from south to north, or by the shepherds when they take the sheep up to the broad summerpastures in the Spring and fetch them home again in the fall.

In 1897 I passed over Kjölur from south to north and it was at once clear to me that this ancient route could again become of importance if it were marked out by cairns, so that people could find the way even in foggy weather. Com- munication between the northern and southern districts would be greatly improved and it would be possible for an Ice- lander to cross the uninhabited region in from 2 to 3 days.

This consideration together with a desire to open up a

Our companions: Ámundi, Indridi, owner of Gilhagi, Bödvar, Magnús

new route for tourists, brought me in 1898 again to cross Kjölur. I was to mark all essential places where cairns should be built to mark the route.

The artist Mr. Johs. Klein and myself had been carrying out some investigations that year in the western and northern districts of Iceland, and when these were completed our little caravan of five persons and a score of horses, with two tents, etc. etc. foregathered at Gilhagi farm on the eve- ning of the 12'h of August.

We were accompanied by three attendants: Magnús Vigfússon, a capital man who is now employed at the Government House in Reykjavík, Bödvar Bjarnason, at that time a theological student but who has since been ordained, and Ámundi Ámundason. We were further accompanied half way over Kjölur by two Icelanders from the Eyjafjördur valley. One of these, Indridi was a peasant, 70 years of age, from a neighbouring farm to Gilhagi. He was a sturdy old man, who in spite of slight infirmity did not hesitate to accompany us when I told him that his special knowledge was indispensable to us for marking out the new bridle road through the wastes, which he knew so well. His son-in- law, the owner of Gilhagi, also came with us to accompany the old man home again.

Gilhagi farm lay behind us. We had bidden its hospitable dwellers farewell, and now we marched — the 13th August


— up the slopes above the farm with our little caravan, to push on into Gilhagadalur. The way led steadily upward towards the south west. After a good half hours ride we came to some sheep pens belonging to the owner of Gilhagi. This place is used every other year as a "Sel", a mountain dairy for the cattle that are grazed on the mountains pastures in the summer. In the winter a man must daily go the long way up and back in all weathers to attend to the sheep, which are turned out as much as possible. He has here a warm shelter together with the wethers, where he can seek refuge in bad weather. This year there was no ,"Sel"; but two men and a couple of women, one of whom was married and had her two children with her, were lying up at the "Sel" houses to cut the hay. Inside the naked turf walls of the stables they had made themselves as comfortable as possible in their temporary home.

On we went up through Gilhagi dale until this opened out on to the Plateau. Here we caught a glimpse of Hof- sjokulls white cap before the clouds came driving down and encircled it and all beyond it in their embrace. We now in- clined more to the west and it was not long before we reached the so called Litlisandur an undulating desolate sandy and stony plain, where old Indridi nevertheless held the way inspite of the fog. It cleared up at intervals and away in the

Indridi and ,"Tóki" crossing a river together.

south over the level Kjölur we saw the numerous mountains in the horizon. It was a splendid sight. After passing the sands we rode down a declivity and shortly after crossed over Svarta. Indridi had brought his dog ,"Tóki", and it was amusing to see them cross the rivers together. At a sign from his master Tóki was on the horse's back in a flash, and in this way they crossed all the rivers.

The "Sæluhús" at Adalmannsvötn

After in all 5 hours slow riding, we reached the pretty lakes Adalmannsvötn. Here we made an halt at an old dilapidated ,"Sæluhus" or hut for travellers and for shepherds when collecting the sheep in the fall. It was blowing strongly but Magnús made our coffee inside the Sæluhus, and we took our meal in its lee, while all our horses, freed of their burdens, grazed round about. The whistling swan breeds on

At Strangakvisl. — Hofsjökull in distance.

the lake in the summer, and we saw some of them in the water. In clear weather Mcelifellshnjukur may be seen from the lake.
Again we mounted and picked our way southwest in a thick fog, over the deserted Thingmannahals, to the slopes at Galtaru (6 hours ride from Gilhagi), where I had camped in 1897, and where there was passable pasturage for the horses. On that occasion we had a splendid view from here over Kjölur, but now there lay fog everywhere. From here we rode south along Blanda past Vékelshaugar hills, whose most westerly knold lie close by the bridle paths. Here again a Sæluhús and a little grass. It was evident that we were on a route that had been much used in its time, for at places there were as many as 20 old tracks side by side.

Until from ten to twenty years ago people from the nor- thern parts came here to fetch Icelandic moss. At that time at least one man from every farm was sent here with lea- ding-horses to fetch the moss which was used as porridge, and many tents sprang up here on the highland plain, but now these excursions have ceased from lack of hands on the farms.

In the fog we passed the lake Mannabeinavatn, and shortly after crossed the many ramifications of the Strangakvisl to pitch our camp on the southern side. (8 hours ride from Gilhagi).

Crossing the Blanda.

We pitched the tents close by the foaming milk-white water streaming by. The next day we started out again over the still deserted plain. The weather was now good and the glaciers and mountains had a fine appearance on the horizon. Swarms of golden plover and curlew flew blithely over the plain, and once now and again we encountered a few sheep or colts. After a couple of hours ride we reached Blanda, where old Indridi and his son-in-law were to perform their master-piece and find a serviceable ford. With rare assurance the old man steered his horse out into the

Old bridle paths at the Kjölur.

water, with his son-in-law following closely at his side. For a while all went well, then suddenly both horses sank in; but coolly and considerately they were led back again. Several other places were then tried with no better success, but finally they found a ford that was not too deep; but it led direct to an aclivity, up which the horses had to be dragged. Now the rest of us crossed with all the pack horses, the water reaching as high as the horses' flanks.

Over Biskupsthúfa, where there is good pasturage, and where we found a dead horse lying, — mournful remains of a caravan that had recently passed, - Klein and I, accompanied by Magnús, reached the little Rjúpnafell (Ptarmigan fell) and climbed to its summit. Meanwhile Indridi led the caravan to the hot springs of Hveravellir, where we were to camp. On the way we had built small cairns at all difficult spots, especially at the river crossings. These temporary signposts were in the spring of 1899 replaced by larger and more permanent stone cairns, which Magnus, with the help of two others, built according to instructions.

We had now practically reached the divide between the north and south watersheds. From the top of the hill, Rjúpnafell, we had a capital view in a southerly direction over the great lava field, Kjalhraun, which occupies a large portion of the country between the northerly extremities of Hofsjökull and Langjökull. The north wind whistled and froze the marrow in our bones, but we crept for shelter behind a huge block of rock which stands on the summit of the fell like a gigantic Bautastone (stone monument). From here we

Kjalhraun with Strýtur, seen from Rjúpnafell.

watched our caravan disappear in the south west towards Hveravellir, where the steam ascended from the hot springs on the outskirts af Kjalhraun. This lava field lies like a very flat dome with a small sharp eminence at the top, which proved to be the edge of an extinct crater. From the crater {Stn.tur} in prehistoric times the lava streamed out on all sides into the hollow between the two great glaciers, up towards the sources of Blanda in the north and right down to Hvítá in the south.

On the eastern border of the lava field lies Dufufell, often confused with Rjupnafell which lies more to the north; in the distance are seen the summits of Kjalfell and Hruta- fell with their glaciers; and in the extreme west the white surface of Langjokull with its lower foothills. Looking be- hind us we had a splendid view towards the north right away to Mælifellshnjúk, and in the north east the heights north of Hofsjökull, with the smaller conical hill Sáta (Haystack) on the border of the latter.

(Surveyed by Author in 1898).
REFERENCE: The two Brædrahverir (Nr. 24 and 26) are the most active. They spout to a height of 7 8 feet, with large escapes of steam. Around Nr. 26 are several quite small holes where jets of steam escape with a looting noise. Of the other springs, Bláhver, with its diameter of nearly 25 feet. is most remarkable. It resembles a deep basin of marble, fringed with shining silicious incrustations around the edge and filled with clear pale blue water, the brink having an edging of brimstone. Nr. 24 has a very pretty goblet, which consists of a shallow cone of a pale white colour. — Gamli Strokkur is extinct. The temperature of the springs at the surface varies, the highest being 96 degrees centigrade.

When we had taken our photographs and sketches we led the horses down the hill, and trotted over the flat undulating sand plain toward the hot springs at Hveravellir. As we approached these, we saw to our surprise four tents instead of two, and so concluded there must be strangers there, which also proved to be the case. They were the wellknown English glacier-climber and Iceland guide, Mr H. F. Howell (who was drowned a couple of years after in a river) and two English tourists. They were of course just as surprised as ourselves at the unexpected meeting.

Our tents were pitched on an ancient foursided site, supposed to have been previously occupied by a Sosluhus, or to have originated from a lawless, or perhaps from the Landnams time, when a certain Torgeir spent a winter here. Hveravellir was already in the time of the commonwealth a wellknown baiting place. In the vicinity of the springs, there is another similar spot, but this is only from the last century, when one Eyvindur, a sheepstealer, stayed here for a time to avoid capture. He cooked his food at the hot springs, and contrived his dwelling in the fissure of a lava mound, while he presumably "borrowed" his provisions from the public pastures.

The hot springs are visible at a great distance from Hveravellir, and the white steam shows up sharply against the black background of lava. On nearer approach we see the milk white silicious surfaces and the flame coloured sulphur deposits in the outlet. The effect of these tones of colour is one of wondrous beauty.

There are two domes of silicious sinter, separated by a pond and a swampy hollow, the westerly being the least ac- tive. On these domes are large and small springs, some of which spout the water into the air, but only to the height of a few feet. Several of them make a whistling spurting sound, but most of them only bubble; nevertheless their splendid colours are exceedingly attractive. The activity of the springs is steadily on the wane. Eggert Olafsson, who visited them in 1752, speaks of "Öskurhóll" as a bellowing eminence which ejected steam with a sound of thunder, whereas this has now entirely ceased. Also since Henderson visited the springs in 1815 their strength is appreciably less. Thoroddsen surveyed them in 1888, and his description of them, accompanied by a plan, appeared in the Swedish pe- riodical ,"Ymer" for 1889. In the lava south of the springs, may be seen further distinct traces of old springs, while in many places, steam still rises from cracks and fissures.

The next morning Mr Howell rode off to the north east to Eyjafjördur via Vatnahjallavegur, arriving at his destination two days later.

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