We continued descending the valley until we came to a steep waterfall. Our path was easy to trace beyond that obstacle. We’d scramble down the stepped platform alongside the waterfall; to the right were a series of steep scree slopes that we’d slide down. Once we made it off the scree, we’d hop onto the glacier, trek across, and be back at the visitor center by sundown. So we had hoped.
I was the first to go down. I hopped from platform to platform like a hobbit. We were in Middle Earth, after all. At last, I had reached the bottom. One final move remained. I braced my arms against the miniature ravine and lowered myself down to the ground below, but I couldn’t quite reach.
A soft, but sloped mossy landing was just 18” lower, so I spotted the ground and put faith in my step. Arms in. Drop. Landing. Twist.
I misjudged my drop. No time to worry about that, though, because I was rolling downhill and the waterfall dropped off below.
A grassy knoll stopped my roll and I looked up at the waterfall to see Daniel watching in horror. My head was spinning. My vision was blurry. My ears were ringing. What had I done?
I laid there in severe pain doing my best to get a grip on the situation. I gave Daniel an OK signal to show that I was conscious; he climbed down another path to my side. Once I had recovered from the shock, I rolled over, took off my climbing boots and soaked my foot in the ice-cold glacial runoff. I could only bear 10 seconds at a time – the water chilled to the bone.
When I couldn’t take any more, I dried off, socked-on, and booted up. There was no place to camp where I had landed; the nearest site was a couple of hundred meters below, beyond the scree slopes.
We had to move on.
I extended the length of my poles to move downhill – I’d be relying on them a lot from here on out. Each of my steps became a laboriously-calculated move. I knew my bad ankle could not support the weight of another misstep; the slope down was steep. I inched along. The scree was my saving grace, and my gait quickly adapted to the terrain.
I plunge-stepped down, keeping my left leg stiff with each step. There were several small ledges along the way; descending these proved to be most challenging. Iceland’s rock is brittle. Break off a bad piec,e and a miniature landslide would ensue below. For that reason, I led; Daniel kept his distance.
I moved down a larger ledge, one about 4’ in height, and grasped the brittle rock as Daniel navigated the scree in preparation to climb down himself. The loose rock gave below his feet, and he started sliding down.
If he went over the ledge, there would be no regaining control, so I sprung into action. I leaped forward and grabbed his pack, arresting his fall just in the nick of time.
By this point, we were both shaken up, but our objective was in sight. We continued the descent until we reached the only flat patch of ground in view. It was an island of moss, surrounded by some of the most uninviting terrain we’d ever seen.
It would be our safe haven for the night.