Iceland Day 8: Skaftafell

The previous night before going to bed I checked the weather for Skaftafell. I didn’t want to do another Hornbjarg in heavy rain. I decided this time I would let the weather decide. If I didn’t go I would spend the day around Reykjavik for the cultural day. The weather report was grim, high winds and rain likely. I knew from my time in Iceland that weather and the reporting of it change quickly so I set an alarm for very early in the morning to check again and decide if I was going or not. Sure enough 6am rolls around and all of the weather reports say blue skies with scattered clouds. The doom and gloom was apparently rescheduled for tomorrow. My throat is a bit scratchy though, I have a feeling I’m fighting off a cold.

I get ready in a hurry and head down to the office, there is a note on the door that Reykjavik Excursions isn’t picking up in our area. I head down to the bus only to find it doesn’t stop here until 7:45 which is probably too late and looking in my pocket I’m down to just 330 kr, 20 too little for the bus anyway. I start walking. 1 hour later I make it to the BSI station in time. I take out a bit more money and buy a lunch and breakfast to take with me on the bus. On to Skaftafell! After 2 days of lots of walking and hiking my feet are already a bit sore and my legs stiff. Hopefully I’m not over doing it. I don’t want to wimp out and pass on probably my only good chance to go though.

Along the way of our 5 hour bus ride out to Skaftafell we stop in a few towns for food and rest breaks as well as at a very beautiful waterfall called Skógafoss, foss meaning waterfall, but I didn’t write it down. We’re not given much time so I hurriedly make the rounds snapping off another set of photos for an HDR image. A beautiful rainbow is given off by the spray and the low sun. I’m the last to board the buss.

Arriving at Skaftafell National Park I head over to the glacier hike place I’m told to check in at. I have the 2pm trip and need to be here in 20 minutes so no time to do anything but wait and drink tea, not that that’s a bad thing. I’m fitted for crampons, and when they ask my shoe size I tell them 13 1/2 American and they look at me with puzzled faces, they don’t get that many American tourists in Iceland. I tell them they’re the big ones and they laugh and dig them out, sure enough I needed the biggest ones they have. I have skis for feet so I figured as much. They jokingly call them the Big Foot crampons. The hike itself isn’t as strenuous or as exciting as I had hoped, mostly just traipsing around the lower areas. There is a Spanish set of girls on our tour and they move slow. They’re not very fit, and everything needs to be translated. We also have an Icelander who is scared of heights. I’m starting to get worried, I’m expecting very little time already to get to the famous waterfall at Skaftafell. The glacier is very cool in itself though. Ash from a recent eruption in May has covered the glacier with a new layer of dust. Rock, gravel and ash from the mountain has also been carried down to the bottom by the glacier and as the ice melts more and more of it is simply left behind leaving the lower parts very dirty and nearly black. Amazingly though when you look towards the sun enough ice is left to reflect back towards you making the surface look somehow matte and reflective black all at the same time. The scenery is kind of surreal and feels like from another planet. Walking in crampons is interesting too, you have to take big hard steps to bed the spikes in the harder lower ice making sure to keep your feet wide apart so the spikes don’t catch on your pant leg, the last thing you need is to tear your pants or worse trip and fall down a crevasse. The grande finale of the tour has us in a little ice cave where you can have your picture taken and see flowing glacier melt rush off down a deep hole to the underside.

Back at the park after the tour I have an hour for what is normally an hour and a half hike for someone who walks quickly. I take it as a challenge, though in the back of my mind I’m worried about the effects heavy exertion will have on my health. I go up as quickly as I can, luckily we’re at sea level and I know how hard I can push myself. I keep an even tempo at a pretty high pace with a big gate. I know I’m going as quickly as I can and I feel good. There is something really great feeling about this kind of exertion. I manage to make it to the waterfall in 30 minutes out of my slightly less than an hour, it was mostly up hill so I know I can take an additional 5 minutes at the fall before I need to turn around. The last thing I need is to get stuck out here the day before my flight. I’m not sure how I would handle the situation if I missed the bus. Either way I get a little bit of time to watch the fall and snap some photos. It’s not as impressive as it would seem, it’s just another water fall around some interesting geology, not an especially large or unusual fall at that. Then I hurry back to the parking lot. The whole trip start to finish takes me just 45 minutes less than half the time I was estimated. I’m exhausted now though and smelling quite ripe. My legs are very tired and I’m ready for a nap. My bus is there and I grab my things at the glacial tour office and get on board.

Along our way back we stop at another waterfall. I’m feeling a bit over waterfalls. I’ve seen so many already, what’s another one. My skepticism soon fades when I walk around this one, and by around I really mean it. There is a deep cut behind the watefall and you can walk in behind it. On top of that it’s about sunset and the golden hour though much longer in Iceland is in full effect. The sight is pretty amazing and I’m happy to have seen it. Again I’m the last to get back on the bus despite my skepticism.

Back in Reykjavik I get dropped off at my hotel exhausted. My trip to Iceland has ended and I feel content as I fall asleep.

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