Days 7 and 8 — Reykjavik and Glymur

the storm that pushed us out of Vik a day early was impressive, but short-lived. we hunkered down in our Reykjavik hostel sipping coffee, playing cards, and editing photos while hurricane-force winds swirled outside. it was over by mid-day, though, and we spent the afternoon wandering through the city. even though we had spent our first day doing similar wandering, it didn’t feel stale. there’s more than enough culture in Reykjavik for a couple days of adventuring. we admired some more graffiti, stopped by a couple of the shops that were participating in a design festival, and had some more of the city’s famous hot dogs.

in our last day in Iceland, we set off to hike Glymer, the second-highest waterfall in Iceland (at 198 meters, it was long reported the highest until Morsárfoss, a 227 meter monster that was formed from the retreat of Morsárjökull, was discovered in 2011). as with the Selfoss hike, it was recommended by the information center that we not pursue the hike, as it’s quite treacherous in winter conditions. after double-checking the weather (cloudy, but not threatening), we disregarded the warning and set off. not even five minutes into the hike, we encountered our first serious obstacle — a stream that ran across the path had morphed into a river from the snowmelt and was preventing conventional passage. after fifteen or twenty minutes of meandering up the river, Alf found a way across via some large boulders. we scrambled across, met up with the path, and continued our ascent. the hiking trail follows the river all the way to the base of the falls, but at one point about an hour into the hike it’s necessary to cross from one side to the other. there’s a cable and some rocks to assist with the passage, but it’s clearly a late fall activity when the river isn’t so…boisterous. so rather than following the path, we scrambled up the side of the mountain and followed the river from the cliffs above. Alf, Lindsay, and i made it to within a couple hundred feet of the top of the falls, and we stopped on the cliffs for a few moments to just soak in the world.

sitting on that cliff, starting at the falls and the birds flying hundreds of feet below us, with the wind gusting and peppering our faces with bits of water and ice…it’s hard to describe, but i felt a tremendous emotional cocktail of isolation, fear, beauty, peacefulness, and probably elements of other things i can’t pinpoint. nature has a way of making me feel all mixed up and at a loss for words. i’m reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History right now, and this section of the book comes to mind when i think of those moments on the cliff:

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.
— Donna Tartt, The Secret History

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