Trip Start Jan 18, 2012
6Trip End Jan 24, 2012
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It is a good thing that the pick-up for the glacier walk wasn't until 11:30. I was ready. 5 of us were picked up at the Hilton and there were 5 others from the Natura - the other hotel used by Icelanair for its packages. Everyone was fairly young except for me. I was dressed for the weather except for forgetting my raincoat. The weather varied from rain, snow, hail during our trip. I had on double layer of socks, including a wool pair; my goretex hiking boots and pants; long underwear tops & bottoms - wool; 2 wool sweaters; a wool vest; down jacket; pair of gloves and mittens with a flap over fingerless gloves; my beret and a Peruvian earlapper hat. I was ready. And I was warm - the only problem was getting too warm in the van and then cooling down during the walk.
Our guide was Jon, a young father of 2 girls, one of whom is named after an Icelandic Volcano - Catla
We passed through countryside for quite awhile. We saw the Icelandic horses (not ponies) that come from Iceland although some have been exported abroad more recently. The horses are the only animal in Iceland that stays outside in the winter. We saw cattle but they would go in I guess if the weather was worse but the horses stay out. Iceland had no animals when the settlers came except for the Arctic fox that they believe came on an ice floe from Greenland. No mosquitoes either but lots of birds. Iceland doesn't have many trees either. There were more trees prior to settlement but they were chopped down to make way for agriculture. Trees also have a tough time in the climate and the grazing animals did in trees as well. The early settlers were mainly farmers - raising animals like sheep and cattle. They did grow some grass and barley but not other grains. Now, in this area that is Iceland's primary agricultural area - there are greenhouses run on thermal energy. We saw greenhouses lit up on the way.
Jon gave us history and dates of settlement and geology. We learned that the glacier that we are visiting--Myrdalsjokull, Iceland's fourth largest glacier--is relatively new because Iceland had a mini ice-age after the last big ice age and then the glaciers receded. I think I have some dates mixed up. 1910 was the end or start of something. It must be that it started getting colder then so this glacier grew up until recently when it has retreated rather drastically - faster and faster with each year
So this has been a significant area for Iceland. The village where we stopped for coffee and lunch food for later, or snacks, and to fit on the crampons is a special place as well. Why, exactly, I seem to have forgotten. Somewhere through here are little churches and we learned that vikings had churches built and they ran them since there was no organized clergy in Iceland at that time. In the Museum they spoke about the Catholic period where there were convents and monasteries. One of the kings - Norwegian or Danish - proclaimed a Reformation for Iceland and they were ordered to become Lutheran and the last Catholic priest or bishop was executed at that time. Churches were a way for the landowners to make money as well as get a few points in the afterworld.
We visited a waterfall called Seljalandsfoss along the way to the glacier: drove out and then walked toward the waterfall in the snow - mostly on top of the snow but occasionally falling through the crust. It was pretty. The landscape on the oceanside was pretty stunning though with the low light and pinkish-orange skies. I think we were fairly close to the glacier at that point.
We again drove out to the glacier and then walked up to it because it had receded from the parking lot quite a bit. We waited until we got on it to put on our crampons. They really do help walking up the snow. Jon cautioned us to follow in his tracks and not to deviate. He carefully probed the snow to make sure we didn't fall into any crevasses or caves or other kinds of holes. Since there was fresh snow, these things were covered
So we followed Jon and he showed us an ice cave, some tunnels, crevasses, trolls - those were mounds of snow and ice formed on the surface of the glacier. We saw the dark striations from the sand and dirt and ash from the volcano that erupted a few years ago. Jon says that this one -Catla is - past due. He mentioned at one point that we were on a glacier surface 150 meters ddep. It needs to be at least 70 meters to be a glacier. He showed us drumlins and moraines left by the glacier previously. Hmmm, what else? Can't remember any more now.
Along the way in the van, when he wasn't preoccupied with the driving conditions - since it was snowing - huge big flakes at one time - and the roads must have been slippery since it was around 32 F
By the time we got off the glacier, it was dusk or past dusk and then we stopped at the second waterfall--probably Skogarfoss--, but that was OK since it is lighted. We walked quite over snow to get closer to the edge and see it better. It was beautiful lit up in the dark like that. Then we drove on to a village by the ocean - the southwest coast I think - where we had lobster soup with bread and various spreads at a famous fish restaurant that I will have to look up
Often the glaciers contain rivers or the water the contain flow down existing rivers to create terrible flooding with farms and villages wiped out. There have been some attempts to control the flooding. He also told us about E-15, aka Eyjafjallajokull, the big volcanic eruption from a few years back. Obviously a big part of discussion of Iceland has to do with the geology and natural environment since it is such a huge influence on the population -- which, by the way, is only around 320,000 with around 170,000 living in the greater Reykjavik area. People live along the coast and the interior in not inhabited.
Let's see, we went to eat sometime around 8 pm and around 10 - or maybe earlier - we started looking for the Aurora. In consultation with the company, Jon decided to swing back to Reykjavik along the southwestern coast more or less where it would be dark and see if we could see anything. We got out once and looked at the stars - everyone was excited to see Orion so well and so close to the horizon