We drove to what seemed to be the end of the island. Why? Bear with me, I’m getting there…
The place we stayed the night is so remote, this is the vehicle they have on hand (remember “The Shinning”?)
There are no shops, no supermarket, no restaurant.
We had no idea it would be so empty, but thankfully we had some leftover supplies and fashioned breakfast from a combination of Frosted Flakes, cheese and coconut cookies before visiting Jokulsarlon, the Ice Lagoon which at 250 meters is the deepest lake in Iceland.
All these chunks of ice come from the Vatnajokull glacier which is the largest glacier in the whole of Europe.
The lagoon empties into the sea where this fresh water mixes with the ocean
and sometimes seals even swim upstream in search of food.
Here, motor boats take tourists on the lagoon but we had something a tad more adventurous in store for us.
We drove on to the Skaftafell Visitor Centre which forms part of the much larger Vatnajokuls National Park. An “easy” 90 minute hike takes you to Svartifoss.
Our definition of easy differs from the Icelandic one just as much as the one for “cheap”. Svartifoss falls 12 meters from black basalt columns. It is a pretty waterfall but doesn’t stand up to Seljalandfoss in my opinion. However, the hike is beautiful and well worth the effort.
Names here really get confusing as they seem to be used interchangeably to mean the same place. Vatnajokull is the name of the glacier but it has several outlets and each is given a name and called a glacier in itself. So when we signed up to hike the Skaftafell glacier, we didn’t realize it was really a tiny part of the Vatnajokull glacier.
That’s right, we signed up to not only hike but climb the glacier. What was I thinking???
Our guide, Tom from the UK, was as nice as I could have hoped. He fitted us for crampons and drove us to the base of the glacier from where we began our hike. He taught us to walk up a wall of ice by forcefully stabbing our toes into the ice and then leaning back a little to engage all the front spikes of our crampons.
It sounds much easier than it actually is. Walking down was almost impossible for me as it is done in the same manner, just backwards. I had a though time trusting those spikes to support me. After all of us had somewhat managed to do this, he proceeded with lesson number two: climbing a 65 foot totally vertical wall of ice! This time we donned harnesses and a safety rope, just in case. He gave us ice picks to use for pulling ourselves up.
It was terribly difficult! I’m sorry to say that I quit 2/3s of the way up. My legs were shaking so bad, they wouldn’t obey me anymore. The guys all managed to climb to the very top though.
Tom then took us on a 90 minute hike on the glacier. We passed thru some dangerous terrain and had to hook ourselves to ropes and walk one at a time thru ledges.
I was spent and if there had been a way, I would have stayed behind but it wasn’t an option so I trudged on. Being all alone on the ice was beautifully quiet and with all that hiking, not cold at all. The boys think this is the coolest adventure we’ve ever been on and would have stayed out there the entire day if possible.
After 5 hours, it was time to go back. We refilled our water bottles with pure 2000 year old glacier water and began the hike back.
Tom told us that we were lucky to have been there at that time since climate change is causing the glacier to melt faster than usual and the ice chunks we had climbed onto to reach it would probably be gone in a couple of days. This is incomprehensible: those ice chunks are each of them the size of a small house. Tom told us the glacier is retreating at a pace of 2.5 meters per day! Can you wrap your head around that?
We drove back to Skogar to spend the night feeling exhilarated and exhausted all at once.