Rafting the Beast of the East
Often called the ”Beast of the East” the Austari Jökulsá river is by many considered the best rafting river in Europe. It is situated in the Skagafjörður region in the North of Iceland.
It originates the Hofsjökull glacier along with its sister river Vestari Jökulsá. These names just mean “Eastern Glacial River and Western Glacial River respectively. Those two rivers are joined in one great body of water called “Héraðsvötn” Close to Héraðsvötn is Örlygsstaðir, the site of the one of the main battles fought in turbulent and violent medieval times.
I have rafted the Eastern Glacial river twice, in 1999 and in 2003 and both times I had the time of my life. Any person in reasonable physical shape should be able to raft the river although I advise everyone to evaluate beforehand whether they are up to the rigours of river rafting. It is great fun but it can also be dangerous.
If you decide to go on a rafting trip down the Eastern Glacial River you can expect to experience your raft flipping over in intense rapids in ice-cold glacial river. You may not be lonely on your down the river as you will make that trip with perhaps six or seven boatmates 🙂 The main thing to remember when caught in the rapids is I think not to panic and try to swim. You will quickly exhaust yourself. Just assume a fetal position, just try to keep your head above the water and enjoy the ride to calmer waters.
The Beast of the East has pretty intense rapids and they reach 4 to -5 on the “rafting scale” depending on water levels which are the result of the rate of snow and glacial melting and rainfall upriver.
When I rafted the river I found the guides accompanying us to be pretty good although the guide that steered my raft in my second time around was rather young and inexperienced. Our boat was the only one that flipped over in the infamous “Green Room” I thought I was managing to get back in the boat when I caught a hold of something but when I realized it was just one of my boatmates but not the boat I had to admit defeat and submit to the awesome power of the river. It went OK and I got through it without drinking much glacial river water but man was it cold and wet.
My fellow rafters included people from the United States and Russia and I think no-one of them had any previous rafting experience. Travelling down the impressive gorge while tackling rapids, sinkholes and eddies was fantastic fun.
On both occasions my group was escorted by Nepalese rescue kayakers that kept us safe from harm. They showed off their amazing kayaking skills on the river, eliciting applause from the rafters. At the end of the journey we were served much wanted hot cocoa and waffles. It was pretty sweet!
The Western Glacial River (or Vestari Jökulsá) is a lot more docile. I have not rafted that river but I have heard it is an excellent choice for those traveling with children.
River rafting is not the only thing on offer in Skagafjörður. It is famous for horse breeding so it should be easy to arrange horse-back riding on the versatile Icelandic horse. Combining angling and and a trip to the beautiful, remote and legendary Drangey island is a must thing to do when in Skagafjörður. So a traveler can really make a fantastic trip out of visiting Skagafjörður which is only about a three hour drive from Reykjavik.
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