After determining our camper van would make it okay, we ventured into the Central Highlands on the "F" roads. After a couple of river crossings and slow-going, we arrived at the Askja caldera. A short hike through snow led us to a mountain lake and a volcanic crater - beautiful!
That took most of the day, and then we drove to another location where we camped in the shadows of a snow-covered mountain, and we were the only people there. Being able to do today's adventure without being part of a tour, on our own schedule, was wonderful.
Before we did anything this morning, we checked in at the little tourism office/store/museum at Möðrudalur where we camped overnight.
We hoped to go to the Askja caldera in the Highlands, but it was a long drive on "F" roads (4WD or AWD required) and our map showed a couple of river crossings. Though our camper van was AWD, the "F" roads and river crossings can vary a lot in their difficulty.
Most tours come from the Lake Mývatn area and they use F88, but I had researched enough to know that the river crossings on that road were too much for our van. It was recommended that vans like ours and smaller 4WD vehicles use F905 & F910, but we still needed to check conditions.
The young lady in the office got out a different map and showed us the river crossings. Actually, there were three but she said the first one "didn't really count". She said the last one was the worst, but there were sticks in the river guiding you on the proper arc while crossing and that we would be fine - "Just go slow and don't stop or try to speed up while in the river".
I responded "I think we'll give it a go" and she said "You should!!".
So we did.
It was a short drive (less than 3k) to the F905. We would be on it for 21k (13 miles). We headed out into the barren landscape.
After that first 21k (13 miles) the road became the F910 which came in from the east. To that point the road was much better than expected. But that wouldn't last.
Then it was about 5k (3 miles) to the first significant river crossing.
It was our first Iceland river crossing, and Linda was nervous.
But this river was shallow, slow-moving, and it wasn't a big deal. Still, Linda was glad to have one under her belt.
It was only 2k (1.2 miles) to the next, bigger river crossing. We were both so focused, I forgot to get photos. We followed the sticks in the river in an arc as suggested to us earlier, and though it was deeper, it was fine. Once those two river crossings were out of the way, we felt a lot better.
The next several kilometers were much rougher and slower. This snow-covered mountain known as Upptyppingar was part of our view for much of the trip as the F910 road actually wrapped around it.
About 12k (7.5 miles) from the last river crossing, we came to the mighty glacial river, Kreppa. Fortunately, there was a bridge over that river and the mountain Herðubreið was in the background as we watched another vehicle cross the bridge.
Surprisingly, right after the bridge was a triangular outhouse out there in the middle of nowhere. We parked and took advantage of that, and I climbed up on the surrounding rocks and took some more photos.
On the rocky, twisty road, we slowly drove through the rocks and the unusual yellowish sand/gravel as we started around Upptyppingar mountain.
Soon, we came upon a black SUV. A Vatnajökull National Park ranger stopped us and talked to us a bit. He was out trying to repair damage done by tourists driving off-road, and he was handing out brochures explaining how much damage off-road driving does.
After that little chat, we continued on starting around the backside of Upptyppingar where we came to the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river bridge. It is about 22.5k (14 miles) from the bridge over River Kreppa.
The Jökulsá á Fjöllum is Iceland's second longest river and it flows north from the Vatnajökull glacier all the way to the ocean. It's the river that connects the Jökulsárgljúfur area in the north to the main Vatnajökull National Park, and it's also the river going over Selfoss and Dettifoss waterfalls that we visited yesterday.
By the way, both river bridges have gates that may be closed. If they are, you just get out and open them and then close them back after you pass through.
We approached the intersection with F88 through a sandy section of road. That intersection is about 10k (6 miles) from the Jökulsá á Fjöllum bridge.
We turned left at that intersection staying on F910 and getting a good look at the Dyngjufjöll mountain range that was our destination.
From the F910/F88 intersection it was about 12.5k (8 miles) to the ranger station and camping site at Drekagil.
There, we turned right on F894. We crossed another small stream, and drove the rough road up toward the snow-covered Dyngjufjöll mountains.
On our right was a black lava field with red and yellow hills in the background.
We climbed higher to snow-covered lava. I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever been in a lava field covered in snow.
After that last, bumpy 8k (5 miles) and 96k (60 miles) total, we finally made it to the Askja trailhead parking lot at Vikraborgir. It took us about four hours.
We pulled in and made sure we had on our layers, hats, and gloves.
Crunching snow on the crushed lava path, we headed up the trail. It's 2.5k (1.5 miles) one way, so 5k (3 miles) round trip.
Askja is a huge caldera that, on this day, was beautiful on its own. Here is a short 360° video showing the trail goes through one small section on the edge of the caldera.
But the reason tourists come to Askja is to visit the pristine lake and small crater at the end of the trail within the larger caldera. We continued to follow the footprints and trail markers while taking in the surrounding beauty.
We climbed the last hill and they they were - the dark blue, glassy water of Öskjuvatn and the Viti Crater with its contrasting milky green water. We stood and gawked at the amazing view.
Carefully minding our footing on the slushy, muddy path, we walked to the right around the edge of Viti. And we watched some of the more adventurous folks make their way down the steep path to swim in the warm waters of the crater.
The crater lake is warm but not hot (averaging 30°C or 86°F), and the path down is not always open. The park often will close it off when it is too dangerous due to mud or snow.
Knowing the path was steep and slippery, we didn't come prepared to swim. However, watching the others, there was a part of us that wished we had come ready to partake in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Here are a couple of shots of Öskjuvatn Lake, the second deepest lake in Iceland, which filled in after its crater was formed in an 1875 eruption.
The uniqueness of this place was certainly worth the long drive.
After spending an hour at the lake and crater, we began the trek back to the parking area.
Starting our descent from the hill just before the parking lot, we noticed that the top of the mountain Herðubreið was no longer shrouded in clouds. That was wonderful to see as an oasis below the mountain known as Herðubreiðarlindir was our next destination.
Askja was even better than we had hoped, and we had been very close to not making the trip. So glad we decided to make the effort.
The memory of standing in the middle of the snow-covered lava spinning around and seeing the mountains in all directions would have been enough. But, the added bonus of Öskjuvatn and the Viti Crater cemented Askja as one of our favorite places on our trip.
We considered making the four-hour drive back to Möðrudalur and camping there for the night, but Herðubreiðarlindir was on my list of places to visit and we were only an hour and a half to two hours from there. We could also camp there, so that's what we decided to do.
We retraced the first 20k (12.5 miles) back to the intersection of F910 and F88. But we then continued another 20k (12.5 miles) north to Herðubreiðarlindir.
Yes, it took us nearly 2 hours to go 40k (25 miles) which tells you how bad the road was. One section had really deep washboard ruts making the drive excruciatingly slow.
But we saw this lovely rainbow along the way.
Eventually, we arrived at Herðubreiðarlindir where there was vegetation and streams and lakes and springs in the middle of the barren lava field landscape, a true oasis.
Below is a photo of the hiker hut located there with the Icelandic flag and Herðubreið in the background.
Originally, we thought that was the ranger station, but there was no one there. Across a bridge was a camping area where tents were set up and beyond that was a toilet and shower facility.
We went to the other building in the area that turned out to be the ranger station. A young man checked us in and showed us where we could park on the other side of the Lindá River.
Hmm. The Lindá River crossing turned out to be deeper than any of the other river crossings we had done today. But we made it okay and parked with a great view of Herðubreið.
In fact, we were the only vehicle that camped there, so we had it all to ourselves.
By the way, Herðubreið is a volcanic table mountain that "is often called 'the queen of Icelandic mountains' and was voted the Icelandic 'national mountain' in a 2002 poll."
Before settling in for the night, I walked around a bit. Here is a bridge from our camping area to the toilet/shower building with the ranger station in the more distant background.
Underground springs flow out of the lava and combine to create the Lindá River which requires the bridges located at the camping area here.
Seeing plant life and flowers after a full day of blacks, browns, and grays in this stark environment was pretty cool.
The plant in the foreground above is Angelica, a plant that has been used in Iceland for medicinal purposes for centuries.
Near the hiker hut, I found a sign indicating there are four loop trails here at Herðubreiðarlindir that range from 45 minutes to an hour each.
I started out on the "Around Álftavatn" (aka the "Lakes" loop).
But rains suddenly came in chasing me back to the van.
The rain caught up to me just as I got inside and closed the door on the camper. Perhaps I'll get to hike the trails in the morning if the weather is good.
So, we had another fantastic day. It was our first venture into the Central Highlands, and we were quite pleased with our van and our destinations. And we are camping alone in the shadow of one of Iceland's most famous mountains - perfect.
Day 11 Driving - 137k (85 miles)