As I threw my legs over the side of the bed on the morning of Tuesday, August the 27th, I knew that I was in trouble. The climb on Stori-Dimon the day before had nearly hobbled me, and Blondie wasn’t faring much better as she moaned and stood slowly to stretch next to the bed. Our moods matched the soreness of our muscles as we limped into the main dining room where fifty or so non-sore tourists were enjoying their breakfast – we loathed them and cursed their good health. Luckily for everyone involved the food and restorative effects of good coffee brought us down from our homicidal perch and sent us forth onto the highway in good spirits. This was to be a simple day – Take a thousand pictures, walk on a glacier, silently ridicule tourists, see some icebergs, then go to bed.
North of Efri-Vik the landscape changes from cliffs and lava fields into the wide floodplain of Skeiðarársandur. Glacial rivers, light brown with silt, flow fast from the Vatnajökull Ice Cap past the bones of bridges that were caught short by one of the catastrophic floods caused by the eruption of Grímsvötn and its neighboring volcanoes. The bridges in this section are long and have only a single lane with small pull-outs for oncoming traffic – crossing them is a bit stressful especially when meeting oncoming trucks, but there is no use building two lane bridges when they’re just going to be washed away within a few years.
By the time we reached the park headquarters at Skaftafell we had just missed the bus to go on one of the more advanced hikes. We settled on a shorter two-hour trip that was more suited for families and kids (ech, kids), and wasted the time we had before the tour departed by walking down to take a look at the Skaftafell glacier. Just before departure we were sized up for crampons, given an ice axe, and loaded onto a school bus that once faithfully served the Petersburg, VA school district. I like kids and I enjoy horsing around as much as the next guy but if you give an eight year old an ice axe I will show you an ice-axe murderer. We had two such little devils walking on the ice with us and there wasn’t a single minute during the walk that one of them wasn’t hacking away with the fury that only an eight year old can muster when given a dangerous weapon. One of them was there with his mother, an icy German woman with hate in her eyes, and they would elbow and budge and walk off the trail just so they could be the ones walking right behind the guide. Of course we did our best to get in their way and frustrate their attempts at being the guide’s pet, but we finally called it off when the little shit went for a dirty pass causing me to stop short and accidentally rap Blondie on the knee with the business end of my ice axe – Single mom and son – 1, PMO and Blondie – 0. The tour itself was great though and the guide and his trainee daughter were funny and quite smart. I have always had sort of a man crush on anyone who could make their living by being a guide, be it on glaciers, rivers, or somewhere in the backcountry. Our particular tour was on one of the many spur glaciers leading down from the peak of Öræfajökull. It wasn’t a particularly active glacier so we didn’t hear the creaks and cracks that fast-moving glaciers make, but it did not diminish the excitement we felt as we stomped around clumsily on our crampons. We were shown some large crevasses and a very deep moulin that gave everyone who peered over the edge the creeps because if you fell in there would be no way out until the ice thaws.
After leaving the glacier and making a pact to forgo any future group tours or procreation we headed north to the glacial lake Breiðárlón and its more well-known neighbor Jökulsárlón. The icy blue of the bergs floating on the clear water against a ragged mountain view was overwhelming so I will just let the pictures speak for me.
Jökulsárlón is truly one of the blue-est places I’ve ever seen. The bergs, cracking like gigantic ice cubes, flow slowly from the glacier face and eventually slide out to sea under a suspension bridge just off to the right of the photo above. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long because our tour had sucked up most of our day and we needed to get to the hotel in time for dinner, but of course we stopped on the way and took a few more shots.
Our hotel, the Fosshotel Vatnajökull, was and is an old farmhouse with a large dining room built onto the front of it. The views from the yard as well as the rooms were postcard perfect. During our visit the wind had died down to a whisper so all you could hear were the echoes of the sheep and the horses making conversation out on the meadow. The food was fantastic and the sunset views were worth the lack of sleep we got because of the guy snoring in the room next to ours – I never did get to see him but I imagined that to snore like that he must be huge and look like Hagrid from Harry Potter.
The next day, Wednesday, August the 28th, was a transit day with no planned stops. Our route was to take us up through the fjords on the east coast, over to the eastern capital of Egilsstaðir, and then up into the tundra across to Mývatn. Since we only made a few stops I will spare you the long narrative and let you enjoy a few of the pics from the drive. It was a great day to relax and just let the country pass by.
We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Reyniheld, on the shore of Lake Myvatn just as the sun was going down. The hotel itself was immaculate and the restaurant next door, called the Gamli Baerinn, was superb and the prices and beer were perfect . Since we spent the entire day driving the plan was to spend two nights in Myvatn before heading west to the coast – there are a lot of things to do in the area and I can assure you that two weeks wouldn’t give you enough time to explore all of the beauty of the northern coast.
Check back soon for the next installment of Driving Iceland where we visit some stinky fumaroles then decide to drive off-road for a couple hundred miles in order to see a volcano that once erupted so hard that chunks of rock fell on mainland Europe. Will the Jeep make it? Will Blondie continue to take better pictures than I? Will I finish writing about this trip before the next one is upon us? Find out relatively soon.
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