If you read part 1 of my amazing trip to Iceland, with my seventeen year old son, Little Man, then you know that we were on a break-neck schedule, and that Iceland was so much more than we ever expected. If you haven’t read Part 1, you should; Iceland is not to be missed! Once we got moving, on day one, we realized we’d sorely underestimated how much we could do in four days and we were determined to fit in as much as possible. Horse-back riding, hiking, sightseeing, tasting, and climbing. On day three we woke at 4:00am and headed east for Skaftafell, a portion of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier on Iceland– representing nearly 1/6 of the entire island and one of the largest glaciers in the world! I’d been researching Iceland (minimally), before our trip, and had come across a combination Glacier Climb + Iceberg Lagoon tour, that = the Grand Slam tour, by Glacier Guides. It seemed to be a don’t miss thing to do; it was! No matter what you’ve heard about the infamous “midnight sun–” the all-night light that Iceland experiences in peak summer– it’s impossible to truly prepare for it. You spend all day trying to fit in every possible thing that Iceland has to offer (a tall order!), but getting to sleep at the end of long days, is no easy task! Our internal clocks were turned around, but as tired as we were, it was nearly impossible to settle down when it’s fully light out. Light slips through the curtains constantly tricking you into thinking morning has come, and each day it’s tempting to fit in one more destination, as you travel and the light shines on. The night before our big glacier tour, I couldn’t settle down, couldn’t get to sleep. The fact that I’d have to be up at 4am and drive 4.5 hours only made it even harder to relax… and before I knew it the alarm was going off! Tired doesn’t begin to describe how I felt, when we got in our car and headed East. The roads were empty and there didn’t seem to be any enforcement of speed limits; I drove
like a bat out of hell Mario Andretti with determination and solitary focus, while my co-pilot went right back to sleep! It was not easy, but the scenery was astounding! Ancient lava fields; lava covered with mounds of Dr. Seuss mosses; fields of cairns; soaring peaks; endless, black sandy glacier fields, and deep green valleys are among some of the amazing sites that kept me engaged and awake for my drive. I wanted to stop and photograph something, every other turn in the road, though I knew we had to get to Skaftafell in time for our tour.
I’d read that there was no lunch provided, and thankfully we found a Quiznos shop at a gas station, heading out of Reykjavic. It was lucky in that we managed to get lunch, gas and much needed confirmation of which road to take. Even with our navigational, it was reassuring to have our route confirmed, rather than try to read the dizzyingly confusing names of places in Iceland. One thing that we found every where we went in Iceland: very nice people! The Icelandic people must be some of the kindest, most helpful– some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met! We made it to our Glacier bus only ten minutes before departure and they informed us that we had to hurry and get our things on board to go. While we’d prepared from home, we weren’t really ready to jump on the bus, and exhaustion left me foggy and scattered. It was a blur as we threw on our hiking boots, grabbed our water bottle and got on board. The sun screen, binoculars and a few other items we’d planned ahead for, were left in the car. Luckily for us, it was a cloudy day, and fresh water (we would learn) was plentiful on the glacier!
My husband is a climber. In fact, he is currently in Bolivia on a 3-week climb of some very high peaks. I am not a climber. Let me say that again, to be clear: I am not a climber. I prefer flat, winding trails, not ones that go up. Strapping on metal crampons and wielding an ice axe are not my thing–But I’m no weeny either. Thirty minutes later, there I was headed up the enormous ice wall with metal spikes on my feet. I won’t lie, it was scary at times. Our guide was one more beautiful Scandinavian– let’s face it, they are unusually beautiful over here– but my focus was on the blue ice and deep crevasses that we had to avoid. The Icelanders are strikingly blasé about adventure and danger; I found it all a tad more alarming. While our guide was comfortable with the idea that if we fell into any of the deep holes along the icy surface, we were all wearing harnesses, so they could haul us out, I was not. I found myself very nervous for the first thirty minutes up or so. And then, I found my groove.
It was. Great. It was unbelievable! Hard work the whole way, but inspiring and stunningly gorgeous. I found myself overwhelmed by the close-up majesty of the ice, as well as its fragility. Our guide has been working on this glacier for 5 years and he had seen the ice melt back by alarming amounts. The photos of how much more ice there had been in the 1970s was that much more disturbing. Admittedly, I felt much as I do when I see clear-cut forest at home: a deep sadness for what we are losing on this magnificent blue earth, and so grateful that I could experience it. What a thrill to be on the ice, exploring a history that is constantly changing! We filled our water bottles at one of the melting, rushing rives on the glacier, and that water was the best water I’ve ever tasted! We climbed to the icefall, which looked much like Khumbu icefall on Everest– stunning! The blue color of the ice, the formations, the mysterious quality of the scenery, is surreal and hypnotic. The sound of ice moving and creaking, of water melting and running down the glacier, in deep rivers that led to deeper holes. As a group, we snaked along behind our guide for four hours. My legs burned, my lungs did as well, as my heart rate went up and stayed there. In all, we hiked more than five miles up and down. We lined up to look into a deep moulin (a hole that forms in the ice, often started by a rock and then made deeper by water melting a hole in the ice). This one was about 500′ deep and was thrilling and terrifying, at the same time, to look into. Our guide helped us across a thin, narrow bridge– one at a time, and then held us from behind as we looked into the hole– it was unreal! Have I mentioned that Icelanders are badass? They are. Frankly, being held by the back of my jacket, as I hang over a 500′ deep hole is scary; however, it was just another day at the office for our guide. Badass.
It was an amazing day, and exhausting. It was four hours of hiking up, up, up and then working our way down, down, down… on four hours sleep. The ice axe was helpful in not losing my balance or in helping me leverage a little extra pull, but it was leg work… a day after the horseback riding, and on very tired legs. Admittedly, there were moments when I just didn’t think I could do it, and others when I felt so exhilarated and thrilled, that I could have hiked on and on. The scenery was stunning the entire trip, the group fun and enthusiastic– from several locations around the globe. It was an especially amazing thing to do with my boy– something we will both, no doubt, remember for the rest of our lives. When we got back to the parking lot, we were immediately loaded into a 12 person van and headed to the iceberg lagoon. Driving along, it was miles of glacier fields: black sand, level flat and endless to the eye, on one side and the glacier on the other… it seemed that no matter how far we drove, the glacier continued. The sheer enormity of it was truly unreal. When we pulled into the parking lot at the lagoon, the site was stunningly beautiful! A milky lake (sediment from the melting glacier) and spectacular blue, white and in some cases black/sooty icebergs floating on the still surface.
We all entered a large, open truck to get into our red space suits– or, that’s what they looked like, for our trip by zodiac, on the lagoon. Let me be very clear, some people looked much better in those suits than I did– my son for instance! I looked like a big red marshmallow! But they were incredibly warm. Toasty… even in the cold air. Then, it was another long hike down to the water. I was so exhausted by then, but I am sure I’ve never been anywhere like this lagoon– it was beyond amazing! We boarded the small boats, with limited talking… I think all of us were stunned by the size, color and beauty of the icebergs, in addition to the fact that few of us spoke the same language.
The tour consisted of a 30-40 minute in the boats, cruising around the lagoon, viewing individual icebergs and the lagoon at large. We paused twice as the glacier calved (when slabs break off) and the thunderous sound echoed across the water. The guides watched carefully, ready to pull away if the waves became too much. Our guide stopped at one point to pull a slab of ice from the water, and show us how crystal clear the ice was. He pointed out that the low levels of oxygen in the ice (just like the ice on the glacier) makes for the best ice in drinks! One woman on the glacier tour, actually loaded some into a Nalgene bottle, to enjoy with drinks later! The colors were so beautiful, the time on the water so special. It seemed that no matter how many photos I took, none of them even began to capture what we were actually seeing– something I felt all day, as I tried to capture the experience.
By the time we finish the tour, my legs were spent. The hike back up the hill just about did me in. I staggered to the van and I was out cold before we left the parking lot for the one hour drive back to our car. When I woke, we were back at our car and a two hour drive to the hotel, in Vik. Our lumpy beds were heavenly, after the endless day, but the hot tub– sublime! Despite the bright night, I fell into bed dreaming of blue ice and magical landscapes that are other worldly. Each time I thought we’d seen the best… there was more. Part 3 will be our final day in Iceland. Check back to share more of Incredible Iceland.
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