Posts Tagged With: hiking

Hiking to Hell

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For our last day in Iceland, we had planned to visit Thorsmork and the Blue Lagoon. It all fell apart.

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Thorsmork translates to “the Woods of Thor”, Thor being the Norse god, and it is said to be an otherworldly place and a must visit on any trip to Iceland. We were caught in a dilemma: access to Thorsmork is by bus only and the bus only runs three times a day, morning, mid-day and evening. The “fastest” hike in Thorsmork gave us only 20 minutes to spare in order to catch the return bus at mid-day. If we missed it, we would be stuck until nighttime and miss the Blue Lagoon. Given that our definition of an easy hike differed greatly from the Icelandic one and that we were still spent from the previous day’s ice hike; we feared that 20 mins was cutting it too close and decided to forgo Thorsmork entirely. Yep, we committed the sin of choosing not to visit Thorsmork, one should always leave something for the next visit.

Instead we had a leisurely drive back. We passed by the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, whose eruption threw the world into chaos back in 2010.

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We stopped for pictures until the boys put their feet down.

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They relented a bit when we let them out to chase sheep.

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It’s harder than you’d think and they didn’t catch a single one!

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We also took a detour to visit the volcano Hekla. Icelanders are expecting it to erupt at any moment now and are afraid that if it blows next summer it will disrupt their entire tourist-based economy. We didn’t get all the way to Hekla because the road turned into pebbles and then rocks. We were afraid of getting a flat, so we turned back and instead petted horses.

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These guys are gorgeous.

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Soaking in a warm soup of strangers has never been high on my list of things to do but not visiting the Blue Lagoon seemed sacrilegious so I mentally prepared myself for it. Paying close to $75USD for the privilege seemed preposterous, I had to really talk it up to myself. Then fate intervened and saved us! Turns out the Blue Lagoon is such a tourist attraction, you now need to reserve online in advance, we couldn’t get any tickets. This is the power plant whose water is emptied into the Blue Lagoon.

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We were told of another geothermal pool which is natural (the Blue Lagoon is not) and used by locals instead of tourists. Even better: it’s totally free. We headed right over. Accessing Reykjadalur was a feat of endurance! Icelanders said it was a pretty 45 min hike to get there. Pretty yes but it took me over an hour and my heart cursed at me the entire way there while my knees did the same on the way back.

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To get to the stream, you must first climb up a mountain, then down the backside of it, hike halfway up the next mountain and around the bend into a hidden valley.

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On the way, you walk on rocky ledges, past small waterfalls,

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bubbling mudflats

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and scalding hot water holes.

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All this while a frigid wind does its best to pull you off the mountain. We were wearing all our winter clothes and even so we were chilled to the bone by the time we got there. While the water is toasty and must be a relief after that torturous hike; the idea that I would have to get out of that hot water into the freezing wind made it impossible for me to even try. The boys declared it to be Hell on Earth and quickly turned around and left us behind saying that they’d wait for us in the car. We tried to be brave but we didn’t stay any longer than it took us to stick our numb fingers in the water until they regained feeling and then left too.

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Enjoying the heated seats in our rental, we drove back to Keflavik

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where we watched Germany beat Italy by the skin of their teeth along with a roomful of other travelers in one of the nicest hostels we’ve ever stayed at before getting up at the crack of dawn to board our flight to Amsterdam.

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Iceland was wonderfully beautiful and we feel lucky to have had the opportunity to enjoy a brief visit.

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Categories: Europe, Iceland | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Walking on Ice

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”?)

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There are no shops, no supermarket, no restaurant.

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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.

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All these chunks of ice come from the Vatnajokull glacier which is the largest glacier in the whole of Europe.

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The lagoon empties into the sea where this fresh water mixes with the ocean

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and sometimes seals even swim upstream in search of food.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Categories: Europe, Iceland | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Alaska: Kenai Fjords National Park

We spent the best part of the day at ABC Motorhomes trying to get our RV exchanged.   The furnace wasn’t igniting properly and in fact the propane was leaking, so they exchanged the unit for a similar one.  It was also 21 feet but didn’t have a pop-out (meaning the dining area didn’t extend) so it felt smaller and we were all a bit disappointed but it was good enough for what we needed.  Continue reading

Categories: North America, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Alaska: Denali National Park

Our flight to Alaska had some mechanical problems and right before take-off we had to taxi back to the terminal and change planes.  After a two hour delay we were finally boarded on a Disney plane. Continue reading

Categories: North America, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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