Friday, August 26, 2016

Ending in a Downpour

Í They say if you don't like the weather, wait 5 min. So true! We wake up to cloudy but dry skies, spend the day with intermittent mist, sunshine, drizzle, and heavy downpour - comment how lucky we are to have blue skies to photograph under then shake our heads when soaked through and through. We end the day in the campground basement laundry room, drying our wet clothes and never before so happy to don our warm jackets. 

Our day starts cloudy but dry and after coffee, scrambled eggs and croissants in the van, we are full of anticipation about the day's drive to the glaciers. Leaving Vik, we see the turnoff for Thakgil, the campground we had read about online, with beautiful moss covered columns and hidden caves. Being curious, we drive down the road and are soon convinced it is not the road for us. 

Route 1 heads northward up the coast, low mountains and the Myrdalsjokull Glacier ice field on the west, vast lava fields from Volcano Katla on the right. Glacial water undulates through enormous black expanses called sanders, wide shallow rivers and narrow rivulets, shimmering in the daylight. 

Suddenly before us unfolds a scene from the middle world that stretches for miles - bright green moss covered lava rock piles, a fuzzy rolling landscape, a photographer's delight. I half expect trolls and elves to come trotting out from behind the rock piles and little gullies! What a delightful place. 

The one street picturesque town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur sits by the Skafta River, with a backdrop of a double waterfall Systrafoss cascading down behind red roof cottages. We eat our lunch by a miniature waterfall at Foss. As we near the 2500 ft high Lomagnupur cliff that marks the beginning of a sandy lava field Skeiðararsandur, clouds move in and we see short showers mixed with patches of blue, and interesting cloud formations. A huge rainbow appears, heralding the upcoming entrance to the 580 sq mile Skaftafell National Park, on the edge of the immense glacier ice field Vatnajokull in the newly created  Jokulsargljufur National Park at 5300 sq miles. It is Europe's largest national park and covering 13% of Iceland. The volcano Grimsvotn sits under this ice cap and was responsible for the eruption in 2011 interrupting air travel in Europe. We see before us, three icey glacial tongues flowing down - Morsarjokull under black billowing clouds, Skaftafellsjokull a swirling twisting mass 20 km wide a the front, shrouded in mist, and Svinafellsjokull's  heavy ice mass rising up to puffy clouds and a patch of blue. Breathtaking and jaw dropping as we get closer and closer to the park. Skeiðararjokull presented such an obstacle to road building that the Ring Road was not completed until 1975, before then traffic from north to south was only possible on inner roads. 

The visitors center sits between two ice fields and as it is getting late, we decide to do a 3 mile round trip walk to the closest, Skaftafellsjokull. We walk quickly and just as I start to photograph the 4m high glacial wall, black with dirt, and the contrasting ice folds, droplets start to appear on the glacial pool. In a matter of seconds, the skies open and we are in the midst of a heavy downpour, drenching us immediately. Fortunately,  I manage to quickly hide my camera under my rain poncho but our walk back seems to last forever. So wet are our boots that we pour water out of them afterwards. Thus the soggy ending to our beautiful day! 

We camp at Svinafell, a private farm campground outside the park. It is Friday night and we are among lots of young people in tents, brave souls they are! But we have dried our clothes and cooked a hot dinner. Our second set of boots saved the day as with this damp climate, our boots may not dry until we get home ... such are the adventures of an unfamiliar country!


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