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Crossing rivers in Iceland

Bratthalskvisl, Laugavegur Trail, Iceland.

Crossing the river Bratthalskvisl on the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland.

“I think we're here.” I sighed. If there was anything I was hesitant about on this trail, then it was this. Crossing rivers.

I could hear the river water clattering around, testing its speed over the rocks. And sure enough, a few moments later we could see the blue river swing over the green and black lands. “Remember what they told us yesterday?” I asked Koen. “To cross approximately 100 meters to the left of the hiking path?” “It will be around that mid-river rock bed then.” He answered, pointing at that particular spot in the river. “So we get the chance to cross the water twice, how wonderful!” I answered.

The day before, at the mountain cabin at Alftavatn, we had been socialising with some hikers coming from the south, from Emstur. Thus waking the Laugavegur trail in the opposite direction as we did. We had exchanged some interesting matters about the hiking path between Hrafntinnusker and Alftavatn, from our point of view and the path between Alftavatn and Emstur, from their point of view. They had given us some tips about where to cross the river Bratthálskvísl safest.

“Let’s check first.” Koen said. “Maybe crossing conditions are better before or after the bed.” We started walking next to the river, away from the hiking path. The spot where the path went into the river, was being used as a car crossing point as well, making it far too deep and dangerous to cross by foot. “Hmm I think they will be right about crossing the river over the bed.” Koen said. “The stream is too fast before and after, the water will be deeper there.” We stop to switch from hiking boots to water sandals and to roll up our pants to well above our knees. Koen, the hero, picks up both our heavy backpacks, one on his back and the other one over his chest and starts crossing the river like he never did something else. I was more hesitant… While grounding my feet firmly into mother earth’s surface, I took a deep breath. I took my hiking sticks firmly by hand and stepped knee deep into the rumbling water.

Immediately it felt like mother nature was screaming full force at me to stop touching the clean water with my dirty feet. Her screaming finds a way into my mind, making it scream as well. “O MY GOD GET OUT!!” The water is so cold it feels like being attacked by a million needles, numbing the feeling in your legs and feet almost immediately. Which made it hard to coordinate everything. If it wasn’t for the sticks, the water current would walk all over me. With my mind and mother nature screaming at me, I wobbled over the the stone bed elegantly. Koen was already at the other side. While he was waving to some other hikers were they had to cross, I died again on my way from the rock bed to the other side of the river. Mother nature has a way in traumatizing and enchanting you at the same time with all her power.

Crossing the river Bratthalskvisl on the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland.


Make sure to carry the appropriate material with you for the hike you're doing. For the Laugavegur trail, this means hiking sticks and water sandals. You will need both for crossing the rivers. The sticks make sure you the water current doesn’t knock you over because the cold will make that you won’t have much control over your feet. The water sandals are necessary because you do not want to cross on bare feet. As said before, the cold will numb your feet, making them wobbling over all the sharp rocks, not something your foot soles look forward to.

Besides that, it’s always a nice idea to talk to hikers going into the opposite direction as you. Not only because human contact can be nice, but also because they can tell you interesting facts over the path that you are about to walk. This is convenient because nature is always changing. The weather, path and river conditions will always be a unique combination. In the case of a river crossing, it can be good to know where crossing is safest.