Star of Steeple Rock

Some places are too close to the beaten path to be explored.
   The star of love
   over Steeple Rock
   is cloaked in clouds of night.

So wrote national poet and natural scientist Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845), in his poem Ferðalok
(Journey’s End in the translation of Dick Ringler), about the distinct Hraundrangi conical peak in Öxnadalur valley, shortly before his death. Jónas grew up on the farm Hraun, at the foot of the peak, now a residence for writers, poets and scholars of nature studies. An exhibition dedicated to his life and work can also be viewed at Hraun.

Passing Through

Everyone who takes Ring Road 1 between Reykjavík and Akureyri in the north passes through Öxnadalur shortly before reaching the destination. Hraundrangi is part of a rugged mountain ridge, looming eerily over green pastures. By the look of it, one would think Hraundrangi was unconquered but it’s actually possible to climb the 1,075-meter (3,527-feet) peak, a feat first undertaken by two Icelandic and one American mountaineers in 1956. While climbing Hraundrangi is only advisable for very experienced and well prepared mountaineers, hiking to the base of the ridge and viewing it up-close is a fairly easy one-hour walk. The path, which starts at the farm Háls in Öxnadalur, opposite the Engimýri guesthouse, also takes walkers to a mystical mountain lake by the name of Hraunsvatn, a hidden gem. 

Mystical Mountain Lake

Hraunsvatn, 50 to 60 meters deep, lies in the valley Vatnsdalur at a height of 490 meters, interlocked between two steep mountains, Þverbrekkufjall and Háafjall, and a small glacier. On the top of the hill above the lake hikers can take in the full impact of the surrounding scenery with a view of the lake, the valley, the mountain peaks and Eyjafjörður fjord. The runoff of Hraunsvatn has dried up on the surface and now flows through underground channels, only appearing briefly before splashing into the Öxnadalsá river. Yet there are fish in the lake, including Arctic char which is popular among anglers. One of the theories is that the fish entered the lake while the river was still flowing on the surface thousands of years ago and later became part of the lake’s isolated biosphere. Farmers in the area have long taken advantage of this natural resource. Famously, Jónas Hallgrímsson’s father drowned while fishing in the lake in 1816.

Magnificent View

A more challenging hike is up onto Drangafjall (1,123 meters) just south of Hraundrangi. The path leads up from Sandskál, a broad cleft on the slopes west of Hraunsvatn, and then turns north. The slope is steep near the top, but the summit itself is level ground. The view from Drangafjall of Öxnadalur and Hörgárdalur, another valley to the west, as well as of Hraundrangi, is magnificent in clear weather. It’s not always about the destination but the journey getting there. On the way to Akureyri, why not take a break in Öxnadalur, a valley everyone passes through, but few stop to explore. It won’t be long before you realize why Jónas traveled back there in his mind, right before his journey’s end.
By Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.

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