Our five days spent in Iceland were filled with amazing experiences and great stories to share with you during the upcoming weeks. Even though there were countless great experiences, there is one that is hard to top – A short hike to Glymur, Iceland’s second highest waterfall that drops down from the hights of 198 meters. Glymur was actually considered to be the highest one in the country all the way until 2011 until an even higher one was found in Morsárjökull. Highest or not, it was still pretty beautiful.
To get to Glymur one needs to drive deep into Hvalfjörður fjord, located an hour’s drive northeast from Reykjavik. The scenery spreading around the fjord is truly beautiful, so even if a hike is not on your mind, this loop leading around the fjord is actually worth driving through if you are driving along the road number one north of Reykjavik. Detour around the fjord takes only 20 minutes more than driving straight through, plus you do not need to drive through the tunnel that runs through the fjord, thus avoiding the only road-toll in Iceland (1000 kr) that is collected from those driving through the tunnel.
First parts of the hike – piece of cake!
The first part of the hike is pretty straightforward and the first kilometer is along some rather easy terrain. Small streams need to be crossed and muddy parts need to be overcome but other than that, there are not that many challenges to be expected here. After some 20 minutes you’ll arrive to the first scenic part from, where there are some beautiful panoramic views into the fjord and up to the canyon where the waterfall awaits. After this, the path goes through a small cave before continuing down to the riverbanks.
Crossing the river Botnsá – here comes trouble!
After the cave comes the fun part. To see the waterfall, you need to be on the eastern side of the river Botnsá, but the first part of the path runs on the western side. So you need to cross the river. The fun part? There is no bridge, only a small log attached to the rocks and a loose cable to hold on to. And a wildly running river below this. What is even better is that the log is long enough to cover only half of the width of the river. So for some 10 meters, you need to walk in the freezing water (when I say freezing, I do mean the melting water from the glazier…)
Before getting this far down the path, we had been told by six different people that there would be no chance getting across the river and we were advised to turn back after the cave the latest. We ended up walking to the crossing point only to discover that what we were told seemed to be more or less true – to get past this point you’d need to get your feet wet and face a serious risk of falling into the wildly running – and freezing river. For a while we weighted our options before turning around. There was not going to be a waterfall in sight on this hike.
After walking back for some minutes, we were met by an other group going in the opposite direction. We briefly gave them a warning “You need to take your shoes off if you want to cross the river“. What we received in return were some confused looks and a short response “Shoes off? Okay...!” ..and we continued along the trail back to the parking lot. After only a minute there came the thought wait a minute…are they really going across? So we had to walk to a point where we could see the crossing place from a distance to see what the others would do. And yes indeed, all four went across without much hesitation! After this came the long looks… If they did it, should we? Aaaand back we went! Only some minutes later we were stripping our shoes off and rolling our legs, one after another we crossed the river feeling more or less terrified at some stages. After the successful crossing, we continued our way up towards Glymur, at this point we were already feeling slightly exultant.
Crossing the river was actually a lot easier than what it looked like at first. Can’t help but wonder if the first impressions made the crossing seem impossible only because we were told it would be? If we had not been warned about this, would we have been like the group before us and only shrugged our shoulders, said let’s do this and continued along? I actually believe it could have been like this. So here you get yet another good example of the power of your mind over all else. Sometimes the impossible is not impossible if you only decide so. So honestly, if you are planning on doing the hike, no matter what other people might tell you, the river can be crossed if only the log and the cable are there!
Crossing the river might be the most challenging part mentally, but for sure not physically. After the river the fun really started! As soon as we got our shoes back on, the climbing started. The path continued up the hill rather sharp. The path soon turned into a rather challenging one. Not only because of the climb, but also because of the setting. There was a steep drop down to the river right next to the path in many parts of the climb. Also, there was no fence or anything that would stop you from falling if you took a wrong step, PLUS some loose gravel below your feet. So in some parts, it was really needed to watch where you step unless you wanted to risk your life. After the steep climb that took some five minutes, another beautiful view opened up in front of our eyes. The beautiful autumn colors, the magnificent fjord and the wildly running river below us really formed a magical setting. By then all of us were more than happy that we ended up taking the risk and getting across that river after all.
From here on, the path becomes slightly easier again, although few challenging parts are faced here and there, especially when the path takes you closer to the edge. The risk of losing your life here is true, but luckily with some caution not very likely.
Glymur in the horizon!
The first glimpse of the magnificent Glymur is seen some 10 minutes after crossing the river. From here you can only see a small part of it, so the journey continues. Before getting to the best viewing points, there is one more challenging phase to get past. The path suddenly takes a steep plunge down a hill before going back up again. Here the challenge is to take sturdy steps as the path goes along a rock slope with not that many decent points where to set your foot into. Slowly but surely the slope is overcome and soon you are rewarded with beautiful views of the waterfall.
After the first decent view there is another good viewing point some 200 meters further up the path. After reaching this place we had to, yet again, state how extremely happy we were that we actually made it all the way up here, the views were simply amazing! The waterfall for sure is beautiful but the whole view that opens up is something that is hard to describe, you really need to experience it your self to understand.
After some time spent admiring the views we started our decent back towards the parking lot along the same trail we walked up. It would’ve been possible to also continue further up and come back down along a different path but that would’ve taken more time than we wanted to spend.
We made it!
In total our short hike up to the waterfall and back was 5 kms in distance and little less than 3 hours in time. If we had not spent that much time(around 30 minutes) thinking about the river crossing and I would not have been allowed to stop for photos every 5 seconds, I think this would have easily been doable in around 2 hours. The longer route from our tuning point onward would have been 8 kms in length so that would require some 1,5-2 hours more time.
The hike is considered to be an easy one in many guides but to be honest, I would not recommend this to those with any knee problems or those badly out of shape. The path is mostly an easy one but some challenging phases are included where you really need to have confidence and some trust on both your balance and strength. Also, I’d advise anyone planning on doing this hike to forget about jeans and sneakers and take on proper shoes designed for hiking, this way the hike is much, much more enjoyable and you are more likely to find your way back to the parking lot with dry socks.