Rauðfeldsgjá revisited

Backalong, I wrote a post about a canyon on Snæfellsnes called Rauðfeldsgjá. That post has become one of my workhorses – it’s consistently in my top five most-read posts every month, it’s my third most-read post of all time, it’s been linked on Reddit. People have read this post, despite the fact that for some reason I decided the canyon is called Rauðfeldar.

When I was in Iceland last month, I went to Rauðfeldsgjá. I wrote about it because I liked it. It’s an open-topped cave. I desperately want to climb further into it, to take a half-decent torch with me and leave my cameras behind so I can climb the waterfall that effectively acts as a barrier to the average tourist and see how far I can go. I was a caver in a past life. I can do it but I also have a sane caver’s idea of when I’m being reckless and stupid and when I’ve gone too far.

This was not that trip. I was loaded down with my camera, my Instax and probably my camcorder as well. I was wearing my sandals – to be fair, short of wellies (which I don’t take to Iceland) these are the best footwear I could be wearing for exploring Rauðfeldsgjá. I had a horrible cold – the virus is evidently built into the door seals of all campervans in Iceland, judging by the coughing I heard around the campsites – and I’d been kept awake a good proportion of the previous night by the people who’d parked their van three feet away from mine and then left their engine and lights on all night. I’m very light-sensitive so this wasn’t going to work. I’m not usually overly bothered by noise but you try sleeping three feet from an incessant diesel rumble. I flashed my headtorch at them twice and that worked – they turned the van off for a few minutes, until they thought I’d forgotten about them. Writing a message in backwards writing on my steamed-up window didn’t work but it felt good – there’s not much room for writing messages so it had to be short and concise and fortunately, English has a few perfect words for such a purpose. At 6.30am, I climbed into the front of my campervan, turned my main beams on and deliberately and noisily moved to the other end of the campsite for half an hour’s more sleep.

So I was tired and ill and inclined to be angry. Iceland had been cold and wet and windy for several days by that point. I wasn’t enjoying it much. I’ve already told you all the bad things about the campervan. That particular morning, after the events with the engines and the light, in my rage, I had left the campsite without brushing my hair, or even my teeth, that morning. Breakfast was a carton of apple juice I drank as I waited for the heater to demist the windscreen and sour cream stjörnusnakkar (star-shaped crisps) eaten as I drove north.

Rauðfeldsgjá - the car park

At Rauðfeldsgjá, I came to life for the first time that day, really. The terrible weather was better than it had been since I’d been in Iceland and the prospect of a cave, even one without a roof, will always perk me up. I am a dwarf at heart. Other people may aspire to be tall, elegant, beautiful elves, or hearty loving hobbits but the deep dark places beneath the earth call to me. I got out of my van and hiked up to the canyon entrance. It was busier than I remembered. There was a tour bus in the little car park! I took the time to knock down a few little rock-balancing piles (please stop building those!) and in I went.

Rauðfeldsgjá - the view down from the entrance

Rauðfeldsgjá - the entranceNow, the entrance to Rauðfeldsgjá is via a small stream. The traditional way of getting in is to step gingerly from wet stone to wet stone, trying not to get your feet wet. I have seal feet and I was wearing mountain sandals. The gorge, the stream… well, I took the direct route. I stepped straight into the water and paddled up into the entrance chamber. And yes, the water was cold. The water was so cold. I’m 98% sure it’s coming straight from the glacier atop Snæfellsjökull. Rauðfeldsgjá is really the lowest slopes of Snæfellsjökull, I think. The water is possibly the coldest water I’ve ever put my feet in. But I didn’t stop. Well, I stopped long enough to take photos and then I paddled up the next bit to look longingly up the canyon that I couldn’t climb with a pocketful of cameras and no light.

Rauðfeldsgjá - waterfalls

Rauðfeldsgjá - the waterfall I can't quite pass

Useful, being able to paddle. When I turned to return to the dry floor of the chamber, there were people behind me, balanced precariously on the stepping stones. That’s no problem. I asked one of them to lift their arm so I could duck under it, stepped into the water and paddled past without anyone having to move or slip.

Paddling in the stream at Rauðfeldsgjá

This is where the story gets… awkward. And ridiculous.

As I stood outside Rauðfeldsgjá, it dawned on me that I’d written that post about it. That people are actually reading. There were quite a few cars in that car park. It was entirely possible – entirely likely – that at least one person was here because they’d read my post. And once I’d thought of that, I remembered that there are pictures of me in that post, wearing the very same bright blue windshirt I was wearing right then. Maybe… maybe someone would recognise me. The person who wrote the post about the canyon at the canyon she wrote about.

Selfie at Rauðfeldsgjá

And then I realised, tired and ill and cold and annoyed, I’m a travel blogger. I was travelling. I wear my hair in plaits because I have a lot of hair and it gets in my face and makes me feel claustrophobic. And I’m wearing those plaits in just about every picture on this blog. That’s my thing. My… my brand. Why hadn’t I plaited my hair? I hadn’t even brushed it! No one was going to recognise me as I was. Suddenly I wanted to be recognised. I wanted to be alive! I went back to the van and plaited my hair. There were two girls in the van parked next to me. One of them kept glancing at me. Had she recognised me? I plaited furiously. It’s me! Of course it’s me! It’s not the cold wet miserable creature that’s been floating around for the last couple of days. She got her phone out. People read the Rauðfeldsgjá post that day. And people in Iceland read the blog that day, although I don’t know exactly what they read. I can’t cross-reference the two. Was she sitting there, recognising me and opening this blog to check? I had to become me – I had to become the me that writes this blog.

I don’t have to be a good representative of myself. For all it was exciting to pretend for a few ridiculous minutes that I’m famous, I’m not. There are more people reading this blog than I ever imagined possible but it’s still a very small number. Those of you who come back and read it regularly or semi-regularly, you are making such a difference and it’s so exciting for me. But this is a teeny-tiny blog and even the big travel blogs – and some of them are very big – even those bloggers surely can’t be recognisable to anyone except a minuscule number of people. But it’s fun to pretend for a few minutes on the side of a mountain with feet turning red with the cold.

And so I came to life. I plaited my hair, I turned on travel writer mode and I went off to roam Arnarstapi, climb Saxhóll, watch the ocean crashing onto the rocks – oh, and see the Northern Lights from my campsite that very evening. And now I’m in the process of writing around twelve blogs on the subject of that cold, wet trip to Iceland.

(The tone of this post is very much influenced by the epic music and OTT CGI of the climactic scenes of Wonder Woman, which I’m half-watching as I write this.)