F26 (Sprengisandsleið) is the name of a highland gravel road featuring the most desolate terrain found in Iceland. The road is 232 km (144 miles) long, running through the Sprengisandur area between the glaciers Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull.
It's one of the highest roads of the country. The F26 remains a challenging road, whose unbridged rivers and stark scenery provide an insight into medieval Iceland’s harsh living conditions. Sprengisandur’s southern gateway is marked by Hekla, north of which is the desolate, icy plateau between Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull. The enduring image here is of nothingness: the glaciers and mountains that fringe the horizon seem a long way off, and the space in between is filled with mile after mile of grey sand, stones and rocks that have lain untouched for thousands of years.
You will have to cross several unbridged rivers with water as deep as 1 meter approx along the route. Crossing big rivers requires a bit of experience. Do not attempt to cross with one car, or during heavy rain. It can be treacherous if the water level rises due to lots of rain and warm weather. Only well equipped jeeps and larger vehicles are able to cross the rivers. Always check the river to ensure that it's not too deep. This road is amazing by day, but can be dangerous during the dark night. Rental car insurance does not cover damages from water, including any damage caused by crossing rivers. Be careful, if in doubts, wait for other vehicles for safety. When crossing these rivers be sure to assess the current, depth and the nature of the riverbed before driving in. If a river looks dangerous to cross, it probably is. Attempting to cross with more than 1 car is recommended. It’s one of the famous F Roads of the country.
The highest elevation of the road is at 861m (2,824ft) above the sea level. Expect large potholes, many ruts and large boulders on their surface. Driving in a small passenger car is simply and plainly irresponsible and can be very dangerous. The road is heavily potholed and your vehicle will bounce, labour and shake. The journey cuts through the epic lifeless interior of Iceland. With its rough surfaces and hazardous river fords, Route F26 is only for rugged 4WD vehicles with good clearance.
Expect to be alone, this track is not very busy even and very remote. In case of a breakdown, there is very little in the way of passing traffic or inhabitants around, and no cell phone service in parts. The road runs travels through absolutely stunning landscapes offering stunning views. The road was believed to be haunted by all manner of ghosts and supernatural beings. The road's opening date varies, but usually falls at the end of June. Gas is not available on Route F26, and the gas stations at Hrauneyjar and Goðafoss are 240km (149 miles) apart. (Unprepared drivers are often seen begging for fuel at Nýidalur).
Keep an eye on the weather for thunderstorms and lightning. Try not to travel by yourself and even wait for another car to cross an unbridged river with you. This way you will be assured help if you run into trouble. The weather can affect the river conditions, rain and high temperatures can cause bigger streams and please note that glacial rivers swell as the day goes on.
Pic: Jean-Francois CULAT