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In my planned circuit around Höfsjökull in Iceland, the biggest of the 15–20 fords will be Þjórsárkvíslar. Travel writer Fabrizio Frascaroli describes fording this river; I have included an excerpt below, a bit long but I found it too beautiful to shorten.

Fabrizio was hiking from Nýidalur, a location at least 20 km (as the crow flies) east of Þjórsárkvíslar. I will be arriving from the north, from the area around Klakkur / Háalda / Háölduhraun, so my route is different. Counting on the DMA C761 map, there are 23 small (<18 metre) and and 2 intermediate (18–25 metre) crossings between Klakkur and Arnarfell, with the biggest ones at 28N 7182500 619250 and 28N 7174900 611200. Þjórsárver is in the middle of it. I don't know exactly where this wide but shallow and quiet river is located but it looks unproblematic despite its large size.

What is the safest route for crossing Þjórsárkvíslar when arriving from the north? Are there any established locations that travellers have used in centuries past, perhaps indicated by cairns or not?

I wake up to my alarm clock at 3:30 in the night: it is time to wade, and the favour of the morning’s earliest hours is required, however masochistic that may feel. The weather conditions look optimal for the upcoming challenges: entirely dry, still, and as cold as it gets in July.
It must be roughly 8am when I start the Þjórsárkvíslar crossing: the dreaded springs of Þjórsá, Iceland’s longest river. One after the other, I leave behind all the threads of an endless web of streams and rivulets.
I feel a mixture of relief and disappointment about the smoothness of my progression, but it is not meant to last much longer; it is promptly dissolved by the appearance of the river’s last branch, frightening in all its breadth and might, surrounded by the notoriety of grim tales and warnings. The water’s depth varies in a range generously estimated to be between 50cm and 150cm. The prospect of confronting a violent flow up to my chest has admittedly been the source of many headaches over the last few days. In the end, however, the Þjórsárkvíslar will not treat me that badly. The water level suddenly rises above my waist, but with a detour upstream I am able to find a relatively innocuous course in shallow waters, all the way to the other bank. I do not know how long I have been soaking in the river, probably some ten minutes. What’s certain is that as I gain the high ground again, the bite of the cold has made me totally hazy, I am speaking in tongues and can hardly remember how to spell my own name.

Source: Fabrizio Frascaroli, Across the country in 40 days, published on grapevine.is. Downloaded 22 August 2017.

  • The map in this answer suggests Andrew Skurka made a massive detour to avoid Þjórsá, presumably to the nearest bridge. – gerrit Aug 31 '17 at 17:07
  • Yes, I've seen an account of his trip and he found it unfordable. He'd been advised that it normally goes, so clearly conditions vary. Skurka knows what he is doing, to put it mildly, so if he couldn't ford it, it must have been pretty bad. – Tullochgorum Oct 13 '17 at 13:32
  • @Tullochgorum I've also seen reports with people coming from the east on boats (there's a mountain track leading up to the river there), yet others who forded although I'm not sure the latter is in the same place. Others ford on horses, who may be able to ford deeper rivers than humans? There's a booklet where people can leave messages at Arnarfellsbrekka and it's quite full of advice on where (not) to ford. – gerrit Oct 13 '17 at 15:52
  • @Tullochgorum I wonder why Skurka did not consider walking on the ice. He missed an extremely beautiful area around Arnarfellsbrekka, "the heart of Iceland", with his detour. Maybe conditions on the ice vary as well and he didn't have the gear to walk on the ice in the conditions he encountered. – gerrit Oct 13 '17 at 15:57
  • well, I can't speak for him, obvioiusly, but in his account he'd had a butt-clenching experience on another glacier that was supposed to be walkable but ended up scary. Maybe he wasn't too keen to repeat the experience? – Tullochgorum Oct 13 '17 at 16:53
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As it happens, the easiest way to cross from the north is on the ice of the Þjórsarjökull glacier.

The glacier in this area is almost completely flat. There are very few crevasses or other features, and those that do exist are shallow and easily visible. Þjórsárjökull is the lowest part of Hofsjökull, at the eastern end, getting nearly down to 600 metre. When I was there in September 2017, there was no snow anywhere on the glacier. The surface of the ice was rough all day; the only slippery parts were parts where there was substantial mud on the ice. The approach to the ice was very muddy (question on that follows and will be linked later), but once on the ice, hiking was a breeze.

Of course, hiking on a glacier is never risk-free, but under the circumstances, I found that hiking on the glacier was substantially less risky than fording the rivers coming out of it. In other parts of Iceland, official hiking routes cross glaciers. No special equipment beyond standard hiking equipment was needed when I hiked there.

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    Thanks for self-answering gerrit. It's great that we can learn from your experience, and that you didn't leave the question hanging. I hope you had a great time! – Sue Oct 8 '17 at 5:02

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