That one time I hiked the highest waterfall in Iceland

*Well technically it’s the second highest now, as a waterfall was revealed after the eroding of the Morsárjökull Glacier recently. But Glymur stands as the highest consistent waterfall at 198m tall.

The thing is, I actually almost cancelled this hike.

I thought I couldn’t do it. I had been sick in the UK before I came to Iceland and was still feeling its effects on my body. I also felt that I was out of my depth with my physical fitness being relatively new to hiking.

But I didn’t cancel it.

I learned, while I was in the UK that I am capable of more than I thought I was, and that I had surprised myself physically. So I told myself “just get out there and do it”

The day started with a pick up at my hostel by my guide Bjorn, a German born Icelandic resident with a love of hiking, and another member of the group Brian, who was a photographer over from Lebanon. The pickup itself felt like we were going on a top secret mission: I eyed the van suspiciously as it pulled up and I said “I think you’re here for me”, to which Bjorn replied “well are you here for a day of adventure and to hike the highest waterfall in Iceland?

To which I replied “shit yeah”.

We arrived at the site and after determining that the other two members of the group were a no-show, we set off.

I was literally challenged with my fear of heights within minutes on the trail when I had to cross a very narrow part in a rock formation to get the first vantage point that gives us a view up and down the gorge with the Botsnà river rushing below us. Bjorn was aware of my fear and helped me across but I was very quietly wigging out at that point already. But as always, the views outweigh the fear.

After passing through a semi-enclosed cave, the next challenge was crossing a river on a log that was suspended above it, using a rope to keep your balance as you crossed it. It wasn’t super hard to do, but if you lost your balance you would fall and the rope wasn’t going to stop that happening. I made it across and didn’t fall into the river…this time.

After we all successfully crossed the river without incident, we started our ascent up the side of Glymur. The track is a combination of dirt/mud tracks and rocky uneven surfaces, sometimes along high drop off’s and near vertical surfaces.

The beauty of this waterfall is that it is essentially hidden in a valley and the view of the waterfall changes constantly depending on where you are, and there are a few vantage points along the way, some of them allowing an unobstructed view down the valley in the direction we came from and of the full waterfall. All views allowed us this glorious 360 view of the surrounding valley and mountains whilst also being acutely aware of how high up we were. We had many stops to take advantage of the views and so Brian could set up his tripod and take some pictures, Bjorn and myself either snacking or goofing around taking selfies with epic views behind us while we waited for him.

Fun fact: Glymur is nestled in the isolated Hvalfjordur fjord which is considered is one of Iceland’s deepest, and during WW2 it acted as shelter for those heading east.

The hike not only took us up the right side of the waterfall but then up over the top so that we could descend down the left side of the waterfall. This part involved forging the river that turns into the waterfall.

Now just so set this scene: the river here ranges from being about 10-20 meters wide, at its deepest it would be up to your knees, and it’s cold as heck. It also flows pretty fast as you could imagine and the river bed is full of rocks of various shapes and sizes that prove to be quite the obstacle. I was wearing Haviana thongs, so therefore both repping Australian fashion and providing what I thought was adequate river forging footwear in one go. Not exactly – Aussie pride, check – river forging safety attire, fail. The current of the river proved so strong that it pulled at my thongs in such a way that it threatened to take them off my feet and subsequently led to me falling down in the river, or “pulling a stunt” as my guide would like to call it. The only thing hurt in this event was my pride and I managed to get myself completely soaked by the ice cold water from the waist down. The worst part was that Bjorn who was entrusted with photographing both Brian and I’s journey across the river failed to capture this moment. You’d hope, if you are going to fall over in a river in Iceland, the least your guide can do if not help you is to capture it photographically.

But he did help. Once I got to other side (with no more tumbles) he fitted me with his outer waterproof pants so that I stayed warm for the duration of the rest of the hike. Now forgiven for not getting a picture of me falling, I decided he was a bit of a champ.

After drying our frozen feet and getting our boots back on, we made out descent back down to Earth.

The way back down is in a sense easier and quicker, but there was a few treacherous trails with loose rocks, pieces of slate and mud that we had to carefully navigate. This just made it all the more fun and adventurous.

We had been facing rain and wind most of the way, so when the rain ceased momentarily, we grabbed that opportunity to sit down and have some lunch which consisted of the packed food we had brought and some of the wild edible blueberries that are found almost everywhere in Iceland. We sat there, chatted about life and reminisced about “the incident” i.e. my river crossing fail.

The last part of the trail took us through some forest which was a nice change and a rarity in Iceland as Iceland really doesn’t have much in the way of trees, and its every Icelander’s favourite joke to say “what do you do if you get lost in the forest?… just stand up.” Oh that Icelandic humour.

Near the end we had to cross an area with some tall grass, the kind you can get lost in and I had to remind myself that I was in Iceland, not Australia and that I wasn’t going to be eaten alive by snakes. This tall grass did prove an opportunity for me to pull another stunt: about 1/4 of the way through, Bjorn shouts back to us to be careful as the ground is uneven with big holes in the earth… not 5 seconds later my foot hits one of those holes and I fall sideways into the grass, apparently rather comically as laughter erupts from Brian behind me. It was then that I realised my part in this hike was to provide comedy relief, and clearly my life purpose too.

High fives and praises greeted us from Bjorn at the end of the trail and upon return to the van, and we were assured that we had done really well. This is definitely my kind of way to finish a challenging hike and despite this, I was already proud of myself for what I had accomplished.

This was one of the most challenging hikes I have done to date, and it’s something that I really questioned if I could actually do it. As mentioned earlier, my body was recovering from an illness, I’m not actually that fit or experienced, and the hike itself was a challenging in potential weather conditions that I had not been previously exposed to. I’m not going to pretend it was easy, or that I didn’t want to turn back at many points, but I actually did it, and without any injury, and that all that matters.

After taking our boots and extra gear off and taking a bit of a breather which included a chat with another hiking team, we set off on the journey back to Reykjavik – with my head resting against the window, a weary smile and my heart open wide, all I could think about was a shower, warm clothes, a nice hot meal and a reallllly big sleep.


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