06 September 2015

Three more days in Iceland

When my Greenland trip was over, my holiday wasn't. Air traffic from Greenland seems to regularly be hindered by weather; better build in a buffer. You may not need it; that's OK, as it will give you some days in a spectacular country. A country that gives off the impression of having a lot more turbulent weather than Greenland, though... When we landed in Reykjavik we exchanged 9 days of almost continuously clear blue Greenland skies for Icelandic rain. When we met for dinner Andy came in dripping; it was rather representative of what would follow.

I sneaked out between main course and desert to check into my accommodation. The first place hadn't been available anymore; for these last days I had booked a room on the main street. The host greeted me warmly, and showed me into his impeccable apartment. Quite a difference from the previous place! I dumped my bag and went back to the restaurant. I didn't stay very long as the next day would be demanding, and I was tired already. I hadn't slept excessively well the past few nights! So I went to be early. I woke up due to the bar next door playing loud music, and due to fireworks; there was a festival going on in town, and I was in the middle of it. I didn't know that when I booked this!

Music everywhere in Reykjavik!

The next morning I got to the pick-up point for my trip of the day; a hike to the top of Snæfellsjökull. It sounded cool and die-hard for a tourist day trip! Perfect. I got talking to a couple next to me; they were from New England, and were camping in Þingvellir. They were an engineer and a ballet dancer. It was nice to do some pre-hike socialising! And when we were on our way the mountain guide mentioned the weather forecast was good. And for the first half to the drive to the starting point it was. But the we got closer, the clouds got lower. Oh dear. We drove straight into the cloud. 

When the car stopped and I got out I was immediately hit by the rain. I had seen the fog, but it was raining straight through it! I quickly wrapped myself in GoreTex, and my bag in its rain cover. We each got a pair of crampons, a harness and an ice axe. The others went for walking poles too, but I like to keep my hands free and I didn't. Soon we were on our way, into oblivion. Due to shite visibility the guide had to rely on his GPS for navigation.

How we started off

After a while I noticed my trousers weren't as waterproof as they had onc ebeen anymore. Oh dear! Th ejacket held, for now, at least. And as long as you don't stand still you don't get cold. Not me, anyway.

From the road we went onto the basalty and mossy Icelandic landscape onto snow. After a while on the snow the mountain guide announced we were on the glacier; I had to take his word for it! As there was snow on the ice we got into our harnesses and got into a rope group. Some people were not enjoying themselves in this horizontal rain, and the sanding still while we were getting organised didn't help. The mountain guide suggested we walk on for another half hour and assess the situation; the forecast had suggested it would get better. We trudged up the gentle slope of the still snow-covered glacier. Half an hour later it was indeed dryer, but the wind was still strong; he proposed another half hour trial period.

On the glacier

We didn't get far. Only minutes later the ballet dancer was so cold she stopped the rope group. These dancers don't have much fat on their bones! The mountain guide gave her his mittens and turned us around. We would go down. We all thought it was a good idea; we would probably not be able to see the top once we got there anyway. And if people get too cold you should just bring them back into the warmth. We had got to 1100 m (of 1400). Oh well!

We scampered back, again needing the GPS. We were glad to see the car back. I didn't have dry clothes with me, but at least I was out of the wind now, and the guide suggested a stop in a nearby cafe. The Icelandic meat soup was very popular there! And it was a long drive back; we were only back at 7PM. I was glad to be able to put on dry clothes; it turned out my rather new jacket hadn't held either, and I was soaked all over. And after some uplifting tea I went out for dinner. The next day would be more comfortable! I would go pop into some lava tubes; finally an activity that couldn't be cancelled due to weather. Hurray for the underground!

That day I went to the usual pick-up place out of habit; fortunately I found out in time that day I was supposed to be picked up elsewhere. We were off to the lava field; only a short drive, for a change.

The lava field

We were only in for a short while, and didn't get very far. But it was nice! We got to see funny basalt stalactites that from really quick, nice flow patterns on the floor, smooth sides, and ceilings that looked like deserts. It was a bit daft to be crawling around with a torch in my hand (I had expected to be given a head torch; naive, maybe!), and the torch was almost out of battery which made photography challenging, but it was enjoyable. And on the way back we stopped by some fish drying racks vbecause we could. Everybody likes some dead fish. And by lunchtime we were back in Reykjavik! Time for some more fun.

The tube

 A nice structure in the ceiling

"Drying" fish

I had seen there was an open air museum and I like those things. So after doing some food shopping I figured out how to go there (it was off the map!) and had a nice afternoon there. Nice old buildings! And some interesting expositions.

Some houses in the open air museum

When I got home I made a quick dinner, and got the familiar phone call: my activity for the next day was cancelled due to bad weather. What else is new? I was already resigned to a day of reading a book in the pub when they offered me an alternative: popping onto another glacier. Sounded spiffing!

When that was settled I popped around the corner to the cinema. I like movies! Arthouse versions, that is. Time to find out what to see tonight! I settled on an Icelandic (of course) film: Fúsi (Virgin Mountain). It was very good! And I was hoping to also see the film Hrútar (Rams), as Robert had recommended it, so after the film I inquired what time I'd be back from the glacier. The answer was 6PM; that would work nicely with a 8PM screening.

The next day would be my last on Iceland. And the weather looked good! I didn't really know what I was signed up for but it sounded nice. In the minibus on the way I ended up talking with an Irish bloke and a Belgian girl; they had booked this on purpose and knew more. That way I found out the glacier in question was Sólheimajökull, which drains Mýrdalsjökull. Sounded good! But a fair drive away.

Along the way our mountain guide warned us about strong winds. Oh no, not again! Would this too be cancelled? We also lost our mountain guide during a convenience stop. He seemed to have not felt well. How they conjured another one out of thin air I don't know, but they did. Onwards!

When we got to the parking lot and got out we couldn't help but notice the indeed rather strong wind, but the mountain guide said we would either go onto the glacier or just have a walk elsewhere. So no 5 hours of driving for nothing! Good. And it was sunny!

Walking towards the glacier

We, and about half a million other groups, walked to the actual glacier tongue, where the sky spontaneously turned black. We got kitted up in the rain. We got underway anyway. The rain didn't last!
Getting kitted on recent moraine

We walked a tiny little distance onto the glacier. This one we could actually see! A good thing. And after a bit of scampering we were offered some ice climbing. Excellent! Many in the group were a bit shy, so me and a slightly older US lady went first. We had two mountain guides so we had two rigs. I lowered myself into the crevasse that had been selected, and so did the lady, a few metres away. Soon I heard "cloonkacloonk" and saw the lady's ice axe tumble down. Oh dear. These axes had no wrist loops! She was hauled up again and the mountain guide went down to get the axe. I was doing better. I got the hang of it! I did notice I am terribly bad at slamming the left axe into the ice. I'm not very good with left. But I had a good time!

The glacier tongue

Ice climbing!

When I got out the Belgian girl said she'd taken pictures of me. Nice! I did the same for her and the Irish bloke. Then we had all been (including a retry for the US lady) and we moved on. We walked a bit higher up to get warm, and then went down again. Not a long day, but we had another 2.5 hours to drive! On the way back one of the mountain guides moaned this had been irresponsible; the winds were too strong and we had been at risk of getting very cold. It had been the other one's call to let us climb. I was glad he had! This way I had had a nice last day of my trip. And we had all come back safely to the minibus!

On the way back we stopped by at Skógafoss, as we passed it anyway. Bonus! But that way it was rather late by the time we got back to Reykjavik. I figured I had no time for dinner before I had to go to the cinema, so I had a shower instead. Then I did see Hrútar after all. Worth it!


After this final blast of culture all that was left to me was to pack, sleep, clean, and leave. It had been a good time! Greenland had been amazing, and Iceland a bit wetter, windier and less adverturous (the latter due to circumstances), but it had all been good. I had been a bit downcast about it all beforehand, but afterwards I sure wasn't!

No comments: