Skaftafell, a day in the life of ...

Trip Start Jul 23, 2010
Trip End Aug 16, 2010

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Flag of Iceland  , Skaftafell National Park,
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Brekkies, then drive to park. It took about an hour and a half, but it did not feel nearly that long, as each turn in the road revealed a new glacial tongue reaching towards the sea. Farms reached from the edge of the estuary to the edge of the glacier: this was where the first settler had his first farm, and he apparently regretted leaving the fertility of this region for Reykjavik. We also saw swans with signets, which I found delightful.

Our first stop was J... Lagoon, a large lake filled with ice all year round. The glacier reaches the lagoon and calves chunks of ice into the water, which then float around as icebergs. But they do not immediately wash out to sea, as they are trapped by the huge moraine. A river pours out of the lagoon and under a long one-lane bridge (despite being on the ring road, almost all the bridges around the island, outside of the Reykjavik peninsula, are one-lane). We took many photos, then drove across the bridge to walk down to the water's edge at the other side. There we saw the famous seals that populate the lagoon. They were not close to the edge, but we still enjoyed watching them.

Arriving at the park, we went first to the visitor’s center. There, we watched a fascinating 10-minute film on the eruption of 1996. They had footage taking from aircraft of the snow melting around where the volcano erupted under the glacier … then, more impressive, a lot about the flood that followed a month later, when the lake under the glacier broke free of its dam and sent more water towards the sea than any river on earth except the Amazon. For several weeks, the flood continued, wiping out farms, bridges, roads, and anything else in its path. It was amazing to watch the film from a helicopter flying over one of the main bridges of the ring road: every time it made a new pass, a different section of the bridge had been washing away.

We planned two hikes: one to a waterfall and one to a glacier. We started by walking across the campground to pick up the trail to the waterfall. We were getting hungry, so we picnicked along stream, off the trail, on a rocky beach, with a small cascade in the background. From there, we passed an old lamb enclosure: farmers used to separate lambs from their mothers overnight, then milk the mothers in the morning, leaving a bit for the lambs. The mothers and the lambs would spend the day together in the pasture. Apparently, this practice stopped in the early 1900s, but it seems very reasonable. I wonder why it stopped. We continued the hike to the waterfalls: pausing first a H…foss, then continuing on to the more famous xxxfoss. It was impressive, sitting back in the basalt columns, but we did not hike down to the bottom. Instead, we turned and found a different trail back to the visitor’s center.

We had coffee at the center, then made our second hike, really more of a walk, out to glacier. The trail follows a cliff wall, and, at some point, we were supposed to take a new trail, away from the cliff, as a large rockfall had clearly destroyed part of the trail. But we didn’t take the other trail, and we weren’t crushed by falling rocks. At the base of the glacier was a large lake, forming an eerie site as fog was rising from the lake. Since it was growing a bit late, the light was low, so the entire scene seemed black and white, devoid of color. We took photos, trying to adopt a very Icelandic look, but Kyla kept giggling.

The drive back was gorgeous, too. The sun was completely out, and the views of the glacier were magnificent. We drove out one dirt road to view the glacier again up close. We had the place entirely to ourselves, so we reveled in being as weird as possible. But it was getting late, and we were hungry, so we returned to Hofn, bypassing the hotel, and going straight to the same restaurant as last night for dinner. The wait was a bit longer, but the food was fine again. We were so happy with the day that we had a second glass of wine to celebrate.
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