The Skaftafell national park, was the only place where we stayed two nights. This was a good thing because we spent a lot of time on the road the day before and would be doing an almost insane road trip again the day after. (I say almost because clearly we are not insane, anybody saying differently is crazy!)
The two nights we stayed at the national park would have allowed us to spend an entire day in the national park enjoying the scenery, it might even have allowed for some leisure time and “doing nothing”. Since this would have been a first in Iceland, it needed to be avoided at all cost. So we looked for additional things to do and almost instantly I knew what I wanted to do: A glacier hike! There are several organizations operating out of the visitor centre of the National park, that offer 2h,4h and day trips onto the glacier tempting you with descriptions of deep blue ice, the fissured surface of the ice and the imposing size of the glacier in total. Eventually I settled on a 4 hour hike. While reading the prospects I pictured myself balancing on the slim cliffs of the glacier, looking down into the depth of the seemingly bottomless fissures while all that stood between me and death was a thin line linking me to the other hikers. It turned out to be not quite that life threatening, tourist attractions rarely are, but it certainly was an adventure.
In the morning we hiked to the Svartifoss, a waterfall surrounded by inverse basaltic columns. It is about a 45min walk from the visitor centre to the waterfalls, unfortunately we had a group of rather noisy and imposing American geologists around us, I’ve rarely seen people that clueless about nature and also that indifferent to nature in general. I really wondered what made them pick Geology as a topic. They stayed around us until we reached the waterfall, we “lost” them once, but they soon returned onto the same path as we were using. Turns out orientation also wasn’t their strongest point.
Finally, after they spent a good half hour climbing over every fence they could find and treading down every plant in the area surrounding the waterfall, they left and we had the place almost to ourselves. The waterfall itself, while beautiful, is not what makes the place unique. It is, without doubt, the basaltic columns that give it that special extra. I particularly liked the curbed section on the left of the waterfall! In the same area are the homes of an Icelandic family that lived there like in the “old days” without running water or electricity. They are almost identical to the houses we had seen in Glaumbær, even though they are almost a 100 years younger. The houses were kept unlocked and you were free to enter them if you wanted, there was no guard or fence to keep you away. Inside were several boards with information on the family (the couple lived there into their late 80ies, while the kids moved out to the cities) and how they lived and one board informing you not to take anything and not to camp inside the houses. That was it, no further precautions needed to keep those houses intact!
From there it is just a twenty minutes walk back to the park centre, where our “adventure” was awaiting us! Once we arrived there, we were fitted out with helmet, gloves, harness, crampons and ice axe. That already felt like an adventure in itself. But then we set out towards the glacier and it that was an entirely different level. The hike I did was marked as intermediate and it was very doable for anybody with no fear of heights, a decent control of their body and average fitness. We hiked almost 4km up the glacier passing lots of small water runs and little lakes on the ice. We also passed a surprising amount of small dirt cones on the glacier. Later on our guide explained to us that these cones, intriguingly enough start out as holes in the glacier. Then, little by little, dirt is accumulated in the holes and building an isolating layer, so that when the glacier starts to melt away under the sun, the ice underneath the dirt melts more slowly until, eventually all the ice that used to contain the hole has melted away and only and only the ice protected by its layer of insulation remains. I found that absolutely fascinating. Maybe even more fascinating than the colour plays of the running water on the ice. However not quite as fascinating as the frozen snowflake-like structures you could sometimes see inside standing water. Those blew me away.
Of course the surrounding countryside was also far from boring and helped make this hike so wonderful. (I will not mention the things that made the hike less wonderful, for example the strong and cold wind or the fact that my ” I just want to see what the ice feels like” ended with a cut thumb and index finger.. The ice is unforgiving, especially to the curious.)