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Iceland Diaries – Day 6 (Skaftafell, Vik)

Kristínartindar
This is one of the coolest mountains I've ever seen.

There’s a magnificent mountain in the distance. I can see spires and steep slopes. It looks like the ruined castle of an evil wizard.

It’s mezmerizing. I want to go to it. It’s called Kristínartindar. It’s spectacular. But it’s too far away – soon, a bus will pull up in Skaftafell to haul us off to Vik. We’re a bit low on food and water. If we were fully loaded, I’d head straight there.

When we return to Iceland, this will be a major point of the trip. We’ll come back with our camp stove and enough food for a few more days hanging out in Skaftafell. And we’ll go to Kristínartindar. Oh, yes. But as it was, we just finished a loop of about six miles.

Skaftafell Campground
The cheery Skaftafell campground.

Before Kristinartindar came into view, we stopped at the famous Svartifoss waterfall (foss = waterfall). Its basalt columns inspired the architecture of the Hallgrimskirkja (kirkja = church, and klaustur = convent) that’s such a landmark in Reykjavik. It’s pretty and picturesque, and relatively empty for a place that’s in every guidebook.

We folded the tent, repacked and boarded the bus to Vik (which means bay).

Us!
Us at Svartifoss.

It’s a fairly quick shot to Vik, which is home to about 300 people. We have a room at the Hotel Lundi (lundi = puffin). It’s here that I accomplished another major goal of my trip: eating hákarl! This word means "shark," and it’s pronounced "howker." I have an entire post dedicated just to the next five minutes of my trip, and you should read about it and watch it.

Vik
The cliffs and church near Vik.

We walk the town a bit, and have a fairly greasy roadside meal. Vik is a small town, after all! The black sand beach is a site to see, along with rocky spires in the ocean a few miles away. The sun often pokes out of the clouds, but it’s very windy. And the mountains are ridiculously beautiful.

We return to the hotel. I fall asleep while reading, and Sarah slips out to poke around a bit.

She rousts me at about 9 p.m. with the sun shining brightly, promising puffins and some sort of hobbit house.

We gamely trudge up the side of a mountain. It’s steep, and it’s about to get windy. But first, the hobbit house. You could easily miss it. It looks like a mound of grass-covered dirt with a door lying on it. And a smokestack popping out. Unfortunately, it’s locked and nobody’s home. I’d love to see inside!

Hobbit House
It's a hobbit house!

We get to the top of the mountain, which is completely flat. There are trails everywhere, including one to the other side. The wind was absolutely howling up there, effortlessly blowing us around and making it hard to even walk like a normal human.

The daylight would last, but our energy was on the wane. So we headed back down for a good stretch of sleep (my watch said it was night, but I wasn’t buying a word of it).

Tomorrow -- back to Reykjavik.

Cliffs near Vik
10 p.m. in Vik. No, that's not a typo.
Three Sisters
Three sisters in Vik.
CategoriesAdventures

The Iceland Diaries РDay 5 (Skaftafell, Fallj̦kull, J̦kullsarlon)

Falljökull
Sarah is ready to demonstrate her ice ax prowess.

It’s not easy to rattle Icelanders. But I’ve just figured out how to get a sure-fire rise out of an Icelandic glacier guide while hiking on Falljökull: Tell them you’ve been on New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier.

"People die there!" Gisli exclaimed, sounding dismayed that we’d go there.

How’d this come up? Well. I’d guess it was my polished crampon and ice axe technique. And maybe knowing a few tidbits about glaciers – like what makes the ice turn blue. After talking to me for awhile, Gisli’s fellow guide Robert said something like "you’ve done this before."

Falljökull
Gisli is ready to lead us onto the glacier.

Darn tootin’, we had. Nearly five hours on the ice at Franz Josef. That thing’s a monster. Apparently, a tourist-eating monster that just weeks earlier had claimed a few more lives. To be fair, it’s not the glacier’s fault. Don’t do stuff your guides tell you not to do.

Falljökull
We’re thrilled to be back on a glacier.

So far, the crew at Glacier Guides had found Sarah and I to be pretty much model glacier hikers. We take care of our gear, we pay attention to their instructions and we have one helluva time. (See more info about Glacier Guides at the end of the post).

It’s easy for us to have a great time on a glacier. We loves the things. This time, we were on Falljökull (pronounced Fall-yuck-cultl), which means "falling glacier." That’s because of the way it seems to spill over the nearby mountain, plunging down the cliffs. It’s a seriously beautiful glacier, with an epic, sweeping view of the landscape. I could’ve sat in the same place all day and just looked at the landscape.

Falljökull
A view of Falljokull from the bottom.

We were also pretty enthralled by the rushing water pouring over Falljökull. You could drink it and enjoy some of the purest water you’ve ever tasted. Most of the guides had carabiners duct taped to plastic water bottles – they started the trip empty, and just filled them on the glacier. Silly me for showing up with a full Camelbak!

Falljökull
A view from the top.

As you can see in the photos, it was actually warm on Falljökull. It wasn’t what I’d call physically demanding. At the high point of the route, we ate the lunch the guides packed for us and headed back down. Yet again, Sarah looked sad when she handed her ice axe over.

Falljökull
A wall of ice.

Soon, we were back at our old school bus. We boarded and headed from Falljökull to Jökullsarlon, where we’d take a boat ride in the famous glacier lagoon. This was more fun than I expected. The lagoon and its icebergs will blow you away. And it looks different every time, too. So you won’t see the same bergs and growlers, but a whole new set.

And maybe your guide will fish a hunk of glaicer ice form the water and break it into chips for everyone to taste. It was a cool experience -- sucking on a thousand-year-old ice cube.

There’s also a place to grab a snack. Go for the seafood soup if it’s a chilly or windy day.

Glacier Lagoon, Iceland, Jokullsarlon
The Jokullsarlon, or glacier lagoon. Awesome!

After about 45 minutes in the lagoon, we boarded the school bus for the trip back to Skaftafell National Park. There, we gathered our packs from the Glacier Guides office, pitched our tents and caught up on our sleep. Some nearby backpackers also kept us entertained by singing Joan Osborne tunes. It was a most magnificent day on the glacier. I’d call it an essential part of anyone’s visit to Iceland.

Ice, guide, jokullsarlon
An icy treat that’s nice to eat.

About Glacier Guides: This is a very friendly, competent guide service. They gave us a lift from Skaftafell to Hof the previous day so we could get to our guesthouse (our bus didn’t go there). Then they picked us up for the Falljökull hike the next day and stored our backpacks while we were out having fun. They were accommodating and informative. I highly recommend Glacier Guides. If you see an Icelandic sheep dog named Hekla with one of the guides, give her a scratch between the ears and tell her Sarah and Justin say hello.

icebergs, glacier lagoon, jokullsarlon
Icebergs floating in the lagoon.
Skaftafell, camp, Iceland
Campsite, sweet campsite. Bring on the Joan Osborn sing-a-long!
CategoriesUncategorized

The Iceland Diaries – Day 3

A valley on our way to Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

Wandering Justin’s Note: I’m woefully behind in my Iceland travel diary. No time like the present to start getting caught up!

I’m on a bus. It’s sliding backwards down a steep, muddy slope. Toward a drop-off, naturally.

I rarely think about my mortality. This is one of those times.

We slide to a stop before the precipice.

The driver drops into the lowest gear and guns the engine. And our backward slide resumes after we gain just a few feet.

Fat raindrops splatter against the bus. Droplets of mud have kicked up everywhere and obscured the view on the windows.

The driver halts are backwards descent again. If not for his nonchalance, I’d probably fetch my backpack and start walking. He produces a shovel from nowhere, Bugs Bunny-style, and gets out of the bus. I hear the shovel working against the ground. Continue reading

CategoriesAdventuresFitnessTravel

Outdoor Adventure in Iceland

Find out about the incredible outdoor adventure you can find on the Landmannalaugar - Hrafntinnusker hike in Iceland.
Ice covered in fresh volcanic ash from the recent eruption.

On most trips, Sarah and I have allowed ourselves a few days to settle into our surroundings before an outdoor adventure. Not this time. Less than 24 hours after arriving in Iceland, we had our packs loaded again. And we were walking back to the BSI terminal to catch a bus to the centerpiece of our trip.

Outdoor Adventure
On top of the lava flow, less than a half-mile into the hike.

The roads to the Landmannalaugar region had just opened when we arrived. They were finally free of snow and mud – at least enough to allow buses to get through. And when I say "roads," for much of the trip that means dirt roads. Narrow dirt roads.

We quickly left Reykjavik behind – Sarah and I were already starving since we had to leave our guesthouse too early for breakfast (this caused a bit of consternation – they told us that they’d be willing to pack sandwiches for us next time -- very nice of them!).

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CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Why I Went to Iceland

IcelandAir’s “Surtsey” pulls into Gate 2 at JFK’s Terminal 7, ready to take another load to Iceland.

People often ask me why I went to Iceland. Ever since my wife, Sarah, and I have traveled together, every international destination (sorry, Canada, but you don’t count) has taken us south. New Zealand took us to 45 degrees south.

This time, we’ll go north. To spitting distance from the Arctic Circle.

Iceland.

We tell people our destination. They ask "why? What are Iceland’s attractions?”

Honestly, if I have to tell you, you probably won’t get it. But I’ll try, anyway:

Scenery. The place has volcanoes, glaciers, massive slabs of hardened lava – some of which are younger than I am. Explosion craters. Post-apocalyptic remainders of geological wrath. We love these things. No, Iceland is not a lush tropical paradise of cocktails sipped from coconut husks. Only 1 measly percent of the island is arable. It’s stark. Parts of it are are visually indistinguishable from Mars. Others look like Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. [Edit: Since I went to Iceland, the country has provided many scenes for Castle Black and areas north of The Wall in A Game of Thrones.]

Solitude. You can hike four hours without seeing another living creature. And that’s on the country’s premiere hiking route, the Laugavegur. I drove from Lake Myvatn to Húsavík in the north part of the country – and saw a mere handful of vehicles. Most of the route was unpaved. Outside the capital, the main highway aka The Ring Road, is often just one lane.

Novelty. Yes, most people speak English in Iceland. They have a high standard of living, and you’ll find all the modern conveniences. But you’ll see the interesting little differences. Like the language. Iceland’s language has been largely untouched since Vikings landed on its shores 1,000 years ago. They work to preserve it via the Iceland Language Council, which scrupulously adds words as-needed rather than letting foreign words invade willy-nilly. Iceland is modern, but it’s thoughtfully developed.

This adventure starts with a trip to New York’s JFK airport.

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