Tuesday 10 July 2012

Afternoon Strolls and Semi-Romantic Icebergs

Picking up from our last blog on Icelandic fossar, the mesmerising Svartifoss waterfall was just one fantastic feature on a 20 kilometre hike around Skaftafell National Park. 1pm may ordinarily be considered a late start for a day walk, but the combination of summer daylight and residual jetlag made unusual hours seem perfectly normal.

The track started at Skaftafell Visitor Centre, with plenty of signage guiding us through the mountain heath first to Svartifoss waterfall.

Us at Svartifoss
We then followed the gradual incline of the S3 trail up along a beautiful ridge to the foot of Kristínartindar. As it was mid-afternoon, we crossed many people coming down from a more sensibly timed walk on the same track. Most of them were decked out in really warm clothing featuring thick down jackets, gloves, beanies, neck warmers and so on. We, on the other hand, were worryingly only equipped with t-shirts, a light polar fleece jacket, and the warmth of swift walking. But we mused about this point with a young British couple who, just like us, were were dressed lightly and had started the hike mid-afternoon. We came up with the theory that perhaps many people invest large quantities of money on expensive brands of outdoor gear before coming to “Iceland”, and felt the need to justify the money spent. At any rate, the Irminger Current was working in our favour and we hardly felt the cold as we worked our way around the Skaftafellsheiði Loop.

The snaking rivers of Skeiðarársandur
From the base of Kristínartindar we had two options. The first was an easy path around the mountain peaks; the second was a much steeper track up through rock scree to the top of the mountain pass and then down the other side. We were tired and short on time ... so we took the harder one of course! It was well worth it though - the view was spectacular, encompassing the jagged mountains, waterfalls and the surrounding huge outlet glaciers of Skeiðarárjökull and Skaftafellsjökull, mere pinky-toes of the gigantic Vatnajökull icecap. Plus the top of the Kristínartindar pass was a perfect spot to eat the giant chocolate chip cookies we had brought along with us. Stopping to eat our cookies and take photos in the windchill was probably the only time when we felt cold, so we kept our polar fleeces on here.

View from Kristínartindar Mountains - Skaftafell National Park
Steep drop from Kristínartindar Mountains - Skaftafell National Park
Vatnajökull Glacier - Skaftafell National Park
After traversing some steep scree on the way back down we lost the track, which seemed to just disappear. With the typically treeless landscape, it was hard to get really lost as we could see the track resuming off in the distance, but it was not good "treading lightly" practice to walk off the path as the alpine flora was very delicate and prone to death-by-hiking-shoe. Once we found the track again it was a simple stroll down a different ridge back to the visitor center. We arrived back at our car at around 6pm. This may have seemed very late, but remember it was Iceland and the sun would not set for another four or so hours.

Our night's accommodation was still a couple of hours drive away, which ordinarily would not seem too bad, however I was anticipating irresistible scenery ahead of us so I was a little worried. We threw down the quickest fancy restaurant dinner we've ever had to reward our 20 kilometre jaunt, and zoomed off. Well for a short section anyway. As I feared, the sun had started its two and a half hours of almost-arctic circle "golden hour". I had no choice but to stop incessantly as the photographs just kept calling, the light was so beautiful.

A beautiful evening in Southern Iceland
Sun bursts over sheep in Southern Iceland
Then Jökulsárlón appeared, perhaps Iceland’s most famous glacier lake. What a time to arrive at this stunning place. Sunset with charming, reflective waters peppered with the dying icebergs of ancient snow ... perfect.

Late night reflections - Jökulsárlón, Glacier Lagoon
A bit further down the road the lake flowed out to sea, taking icebergs with it. Some icebergs had washed up onto the black sands creating stunning, jewelled contrasts.

White on Black, Glacier ice on black sand - Jökulsárlón
By this time Tia was getting mildly annoyed at 1) it being 11pm, 2) us still quite a distance from our accommodation, 3) me running around taking photos while she waited alone on the shore, and 4) it was also the day of our third wedding anniversary. Sure the setting was beautiful, but I was not being very romantic. Sorry Tia …

We continued driving and arrived at our humble abode at 11:30pm. Late night checkin was a bit tricky but we managed, and by 11:35pm we were sound asleep.

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