AFIELD

Photography + Adventure

Posts tagged ‘Iceland’

The View From Up There

One of my very first digital aerial photos from a flight over Iowa back in 2005. I believe it was taken with a 1.5mp Nikon.

One of my very first digital aerial photos from a flight over Iowa back in 2005. I believe it was taken with a 1.5mp Nikon hence the grain and weird colors.

I recently saw a post on Atlas Obscura by an airline pilot who wrote a book about his job/life (I like the idea of a book-worthy occupation), and in the introduction he displayed window seat photos that were sent in to him by airline passengers. Having taken seemingly countless flights around the world, I too have amassed a large collection of window seat photos since first purchasing a digital camera back in 2004. I’ve always kind of considered these photographs to be a bit of a cliché, but I continue to shoot them anyways because the world looks very beautiful and foreign from way up there. Here is a collection of some of my favorites in chronological order from 2005 until just a few weeks ago. I hope that you enjoy them.
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Driving Iceland: Fin

We are finally to the last installment of Driving Iceland, which is quite alright by me. It has been a blast rehashing the best trip I have ever been on and I need to take this moment to thank my wife and ultimate travelling partner, Blondie, for making it all happen. Without her logistical magic and loving support I would probably never get out of the city let alone the country. Like many partnerships we go through a lot of bulls__t, both personally and professionally, in order to create a comfortable life mixed with a generous helping of fun, love, and adventure, but any hardships that we have encountered along the way are far outweighed by the times of joy that we’ve shared. It gives me a supreme sense of security knowing that someone I love dearly always has my back (as I do hers); with that join me in raising your glasses/coffee cups/water bottles to Blondie and those who we travel through live with and offer them our sincerest gratitude for always being there.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Ok, now to the business at hand. Our last morning on the shores of Myvatn, 30 August 2013, was grey with rain and snow moving in from the west. At breakfast we discussed our route for the day and decided that even though the coastal route was longer we would benefit from being closer to sea level where rain was expected rather than take the overland route and risk getting caught in the snow. Our discussion was interrupted by the sudden appearance of about a two hundred sheep being herded through the parking lot, which is a common thing in Iceland but to those of us at breakfast it was quite thing to see and hear (sheep like to hear themselves talk).

This group was bringing up the rear - most of the herd had scooted by before I could get my phone out.

This group was bringing up the rear – most of the herd had scooted by before I could get my phone out.

This route would be as far north as we would go in Iceland.

This route would take us as far north as we would go in Iceland. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

Once the sheep-related excitement died down we loaded up and bid farewell to Myvatn. As soon as we got out of town it started to rain and it didn’t stop for about twenty-four hours. Even though the sky was low and grey it was beautiful in a melancholy way. It reflected the feelings we had about being near the end of our trip. Our first of only a few stops was at Goðafoss, so named because once Iceland converted to Christianity a local leader threw all of his Norse God statues into the river at the falls – that is a man who took his conversion very seriously.

It's like a mini Niagra but not surrounded by Cheesecake Factories or Casinos.

It’s like a mini Niagara but not surrounded by Cheesecake Factories or Casinos.

A better view.

A better view.

The route along the coast took us through a number of tunnels, a few of which were long dark one-lane affairs with turn outs every 200 meters or so to allow passing traffic through. As soon as we entered the first one I assumed my stress-driving position of bent back, strong wheel grip, and ban on any loud music or sudden noises. We had seen a number of huge trucks on the route and the last thing I wanted was to meet one of those big bastards coming around the curve (did I mention that the tunnels were not straight because they weren’t and it was too early in the morning for that crap). There are no photos because I was obviously engaged in the driving tasks and Blondie was reaffirming her relationship with the Oh-Shit handle.

Once through the longest tunnel of the day we made another stop at Siglufjordur, a small fishing village at the northernmost portion of our route. It seemed as if the entire town took the day off to avoid the rain and I did not blame them. It was pouring sideways and the wind off of the water blew us back into the truck after only a short look around.

The harbor at Siglufjordur in all its rainy splendor.

The harbor at Siglufjordur in all its rainy splendor.

The mountains literally meet the sea here so you build where you can.

The mountains literally meet the sea here so you build where you can.

I like their use of color along the coast.

I like their use of color along the coast.

Lonely looking, isn't it?

Lonely looking, isn’t it?

Our only other stop before our arrival in Blonduos was at Sauðárkrókur for a quick bite to eat. As I mentioned in previous posts we lunched mostly on crisps and nibbles but the low morale created by two weary travelers stuck in a vehicle for an entire day made it necessary for us to stop and have a hot meal of burgers and fries at a gas station. Gas station hamburgers are usually a prelude to a future gastrointestinal emergency but not so in Iceland. There are no McDonald’s and I don’t remember seeing any Burger Kings because anyone can drive up to their local N1 station and order a fresh burger with crispy fries and sit down at a clean table. We did so on a few occasions and the quality was always top-notch. I could go for one right now.

Served on a real plate with something they call cocktail sauce, which is just a spicy mayo. I am not the type of hipster to take photos of food and it shows.

Served on a real plate with something they call cocktail sauce, which is just a spicy mayo. I am not the type of hipster to take photos of food and it shows.

Blonduos is sort of a one-horse town with not much going on as far as tourism goes. It was a good halfway point between Myvatn and Olafsvik, which was our last destination before returning to Reykjavik. Technically there is only one hotel, the aptly named Hotel Blonduos, in town even though we saw signs for some sort of lodging attached to a gas station. I will eat a gas station burger in Iceland but I am glad I didn’t need to stay at a gas station hotel. The Hotel Blonduos is run by two gentleman and a black dog named Luka. Between the three of them they cook, clean, greet, wait tables, check people in, and protect the grounds. I am not sure of their financial situation or of even that of the town but from what I could tell they were working on a shoestring budget – that being said I do not want to impress upon you, dear reader, that the hotel is run down – it just hasn’t been updated in a few years and that is not surprising seeing as how the economic troubles of 2007-8 hit Iceland very hard. Upon entering the front door we were greeted with a woof from the stoic black lab that is Luka and this wonderful piece of taxidermy:

Jesus Christ! Kill it with fire!

Jesus Christ! Kill it with fire!

That there is a four-horned Icelandic sheep, which is rare but not unheard of.  Within the ranks of the hearty breed that dots the hillsides of Iceland there are small number of what are called leader-sheep that are a bit taller, braver, and exponentially smarter than the rest of the population. Their roles in the herds are as protectors and trail blazers so when I saw what to me was an obvious sign that we were going to be killed by Satanists was instead a memorial to a revered animal that once protected a local herd. Remember folks, context is key when travelling and we must reign in the prejudgment.

The view from our room a  la Instagram.

The view from our room a la Instagram. It looks better on a four inch screen, trust me.

Once we were checked in and given our key, which had a small license plate attached to it to prevent accidental theft, we hunkered down while the storm raged just outside the window. The hotel had a large dining and bar area and the remnants of what must’ve been a pretty hip disco complete with DJ booth, disco ball, and dance floor. From what i saw of the locals I could barely imagine any of them smiling let alone shaking their rumps to the Pointer Sisters. The man who checked us in and who is now acting as waiter and bartender did his best to cobble together some cocktails for Blondie and I while we waited for the dinner hour. We were one of three tables in the dining room and it seemed that everyone else was equally fascinated by the interesting decor and bygone groovy scenes that those four walls must’ve witnessed. The menu offered was hearty and locally sourced with your usual lamb stew and meat dishes. One thing on the menu, however, stood out from the rest – they were serving foal steak. At first I just thought it was a type of beef steak, but it was indeed a steak of baby horse. Most of the dining room looked at the waiter like he had just farted instead of explaining that horse is served quite a bit in Iceland – needless to say nobody ordered it…except for me and another American who looked like he was an old-time military man who had probably eaten a lot worse in his day. Ethics and American sensibilities aside I must report that it was excellent and the owner, who was the acting chef, cooked it perfectly.

The next day, 31 August 2013, was so much brighter and everyone’s mood at breakfast reflected it. There was snow on the mountains and a chilly yet dry breeze blew over the hillsides. Our next stop was to be Olafsvik and Snaefellsnes, a western peninsula north of Reykjavik and home to the Snaefellsjokull Volcano, an important Saga site and the fictional entrance to the underworld in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Our last big day of driving.

Our last big day of driving.

The goal for the day was to see as much as we could on the peninsula then jet to Reykjavik the next day for some sedentary R&R. Thankfully many of the biggest sites are close together so we were able to achieve our goal rather handily with only one hiccup that I will explain later – first, here are some tasty pics from our day.

The high road by Blondie.

The high road by Blondie.

Little churches like this are everywhere and look like they can seat about five people.

Little churches like this are everywhere and look like they can seat about five people.

She's seen better days cap'n. On the road to Stykkisholmur.

She’s seen better days cap’n. On the road to Stykkisholmur.

This church in Stykkishólmur commands an impressive view of the harbor and the West Fjords to the north. I dig their style.

This church in Stykkishólmur commands an impressive view of the harbor and the West Fjords to the north. I dig their style.

the bluff upon which a cute little orange lighthouse sits. (lighthouse not shown)

The bluff upon which a cute little orange lighthouse sits. (lighthouse not shown)

An impressive island west of town.

An impressive island west of town.

Once we rounded the tip of the peninsula we noticed some ruins sitting across the lava field near the shore so we decided to stop and give it a once over. The two kilometer walk along the beach was rocky but interesting because of all of the weird nautical detritus that has been washed up over the years – huge chunks of metal and foam floats and twisted nets were everywhere. As we got closer to the house I noticed a small brown animal running away from us with great haste. At once I realized that it was the elusive Icelandic fox, iceland’s only native predator mammal, but I was a bit slow on the go getting the camera on him/her so it just looks like a little brown spot in a sea of grass.

The little smudge of brown next to the arrow is a fox.

The little smudge of brown next to the arrow is a fox. Click the pic, the smudge looks much more fox-like when zoomed in.

The picture above doesn’t do much to prove that it is indeed a fox but the scene in the next photo settled it for me. Danger, the next photo is quite gory so proceed with caution or scroll past it quick if you’re easily grossed out. You’ve been warned.

We interrupted a fox at the lunch table. I doubt a wee little fox can bring down a big ol' sheep like this so i am assuming it died naturally with happy thoughts in its mind.

We interrupted a fox at the lunch table. I doubt a wee little fox can bring down a big ol’ sheep like this so i am assuming it died naturally with happy thoughts in its mind.

The ruins we came to investigate. Whoever lived here had one of the top five views of all time.

The ruins we came to investigate. Whoever lived here had one of the top five views of all time.

Lava stone wall.

Lava stone wall.

Snaefellsjokull in all it's clouded glory.

Snaefellsjokull in all it’s clouded glory.

Another old house with a good view.

Another old house with a good view.

The view on the other direction.

The view in the other direction.

A lighthouse near Hellnar. Very phallic, this one.

A lighthouse near Hellnar. Very phallic, this one.

We were starting to run out of light so we decided to take the high road from the Hellnar area over to Olafsvik and take a few shots of Snaefelljokull on the way by. The road wasn’t technically an F-Road but it sure as hell was rough. By the time we got to the top the sun was in our eyes so we don’t have much to share with you picture-wise. We did, however, come across an American couple at the top who were hitch-hiking so we did the right thing and loaded them up and took them down to Olafsvik – they were spending seventeen days thumbing around the island and were on their way to the West Fjords. We aren’t all that comfortable picking people up so the conversation was a little strained but we told them what they had in store since they were going to do a clockwise trip. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that they might have to climb down from the mountain at night or try to camp out so it was worth it to help some folks out.

The view from Route 570 with added camera flare for drama - can you feel it?

The view from Route 570 with added camera flare for drama – can you feel it?

Once we made it through all of the snow drifts on the way down we discharged our passengers on the main drag running through Olafsvik. Our hotel was right across the street from where we dropped them off but it looked a bit dark, here’s why:

Huh, that ain't good at all.

Huh, that ain’t good at all.

There aren’t many hotels on the peninsula so this little snafu worried us a bit. I even suggested driving to Reykjavik and sleeping in the car, which elicited quite a reaction of wonder and disgust from Blondie. Thankfully we were able to get a hold of someone at the tour company and found out that the Hotel Olafsvik was closed due to lack of business (no shit), but that we had been checked into a much nicer place in Hellnar, which is where we were at before climbing over the mountain. Perhaps it was all for a reason and we were destined to pick those people up on the mountain and bring them down to safety. Whatever the reason we made haste to get to the hotel before dark, this time taking a paved road. If you are ever in the area I would suggest strongly that you stay at the Hotel Hellnar – it is a former yoga retreat turned into a swanky little hideaway with zero cell reception and epic views from every window. The food they serve is damn good and the atmosphere is one of pure relaxation – so glad that the Hotel Olafsvik was closed. After finishing a bottle of wine and watching Full Metal Jacket we turned in for our second to last night on the island.

I will not bother you with anything from the following day because we took the quickest way to Reykjavik in order to relax and not drive for most of the day. It was sad that it was almost over but our clean clothes were running out and sleeping in all of those strange beds was doing our joints no favors. I hope that my readers can someday make the trip to Iceland and experience it for themselves – I know for a fact that everyone who visits has an entirely new and personal adventure, which is amazing for such a small country. Thank you so much for reading and come back soon for a quick run down of our (non)visit to Joshua Tree National Park.

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

Driving Iceland: Part 5

I never thought that I would still be writing about this trip over a month after it ended, but here I am with my nose in my notes vomiting forth yet another episode of Driving Iceland. Luckily for you, dear readers, I have only one more Iceland post following this one, and then we can talk (I will write – you will read) about our upcoming trip to Joshua Tree National Park that will probably be ruined by the ineptitude of the governing class – thanks for the birthday present you assholes.

The clouds pouring in from the west do not bring good tidings.

The clouds pouring in from the west do not bring good tidings. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

Let’s get back to better times, like August the 29th, when the US was only threatening to bomb the beards off of Syria and Blondie and I were hitting the road after breakfast to see everything we could in the Myvatn area before an early fall blizzard turned the highlands into a mess of blowing snow and trolls and probably elves, but they usually tend to stay in when the weather is iffy. We started out west of Reykjahlid at a small geothermal area called Hverir that may be the stinkiest place in Iceland. The fumaroles and mud pots spurt forth all sorts of nasty gasses and super hot mud. Blondie only made it a few minutes before she was overcome by the stench but I am a mountain man and a little earth fart doesn’t bother me.

Overview of the Hverir area. That is some seriously scorched earth.

Overview of the Hverir area. That is some seriously scorched earth.

So so smelly.

So so smelly.

Mud, very hot mud.

Mud, very hot mud.

A parting shot.

A parting shot.

From Hverir we basically crossed the street and drove up to Krafla, a rather active volcano area that now serves as a geothermal power station. Where else in the world would a power plant be a tourist attraction – hell, where else would the government allow people such close access to a major piece of infrastructure? Iceland is not like your country or mine and thank goodness for that.

Pipes leading to and from hot spots around the Krafla crater.

Pipes leading to and from hot spots around the Krafla crater.

The edge of the crater and some very nice clouds.

The edge of the crater and some very nice clouds.

Flowers in the crater - the ground here was very warm so I am not sure how these plants thrive here.

Flowers in the crater – the ground was very warm so I am not sure how these plants thrive here.

that steaming thing there is making an ungodly loud noise - like a fighter jet taking off.

That steaming thing there is making an ungodly loud noise – like a fighter jet taking off.

And since it's in Iceland you can walk right up to it - they even built a berm so you can take pictures without the fence interfering. Shot by Blondie

And since it’s in Iceland you can walk right up to it – they even built a berm so you can take pictures without the fence interfering. Shot by Blondie

Crater lakes scare me.

Crater lakes scare me – How deep is it and why is it so damned blue?

The next leg of our trip will be talked about for years in our little family. We decided that we would do one more F-road run but this time to Askja, a large volcano that at one point exploded so hard that chunks of rock fell on Mainland Europe. The distance to the crater is 108km (70miles) long so it was going to take a big chunk out of our day, but we felt that we owed it to ourselves to get way out there and see something that most people who visit the area don’t get to see . We took F-88, which is the more direct route following the western shores of the river Jokulsa A Fjollum, and only saw six vehicles on the road – one of which was a gigantic garbage truck.

A map of our trek into the dark interior.

A map of our trek into the dark interior.

Rather ominous road signs at the entrance to F-88. The mountain way off in the distance was approximately halfway to our destination.

Rather ominous road signs at the entrance to F-88. The mountain way off in the distance was approximately halfway to our destination.

The speed limits on most F-roads are around 60kmh so we figured that we could get out there and back in five, possibly six, hours with some time to spare to get a sunset view of Dettifoss before hitting the bar at the Gamli. Anyone who knows me personally and has had me cook for them knows that if I say that dinner will be done at 19:00 it will probably be 20:30 before any forks go to work – the estimation we made on our travel time to Askja fell right in line with my usual underestimation of everything. By the time we hit Route-1 again a full nine hours had passed and the two of us had gone through every stage of every emotion related to frustration and fear by the time the tires were back on pavement. The trip down F-88 wasn’t scary or dangerous but the man, who must be a sociopath or possibly just a dick, who graded the roads did such a terrible job that if he did the same thing on gravel roads in Iowa he would be taken out back and beaten with a log chain til he learned his lesson. Just beyond the yellow sign in the pic above the road turns into a very regular corduroy pattern and that only ceased at river crossings and at places where silt had drifted into the road. We only crossed the 30kmh point a few times during the drive down because if we went any faster the truck would get squirrelly and we didn’t dare get out of control while so far away from help. At this point you must be asking yourself why we didn’t just turn back and find something else to do – well the simple answer to that is that we are stubborn and had faith that at some point the road must be smoother up ahead. It was not smoother up ahead, in fact it got worse and at one point I pulled over because the vibrations had completely loosened the gas cap and at some point we lost a lug nut but by the looks of it we may never have had one on that stud to begin with – who thinks about checking these things when some strange man is giving you the keys to a piece of junk at dawn in a foreign country?

Typical lousy road conditions - just entering a large lava field where we met a garbage truck at a blind corner.

Typical lousy road conditions – just entering a large lava field where we met a garbage truck at a blind corner.

NASA astronauts studied here before the Apollo moon missions - can you guess why?

NASA astronauts trained here before the Apollo moon missions – can you guess why?

Lava lava everywhere. Shot by Blondie

Lava lava everywhere. Shot by Blondie

Herðubreið, the queen of Iceland's mountain. Halfway to Askja.

Herðubreið, the queen of Iceland’s mountains. Halfway to Askja.

One of the few vehicle we met along the way - we had just crossed the river and noticed a little water coming in the doors.

One of the few vehicle we met along the way – we had just crossed the river and noticed a little water coming in the doors.

As we got closer to Askja the clouds were increasing and the sky was taking on an ominous brown color, which turned out to be a weird dusty fog as we climbed in elevation. Looking back on it all now I think that this would have been the time to turn back because obviously we were going to have a hard time seeing the volcano and all its goodness.

Dirty air. I had so much sand in my beard at the end of the day.

Dirty air. I had so much sand in my beard at the end of the day.

We did finally make it to the volcano after all of the troubles we had getting there, but couldn’t spend as much time as we wanted because we needed to get out of the desert before dark. The walk into the crater is 2km and we didn’t say much to each other on the walk out, but the exercise did us a lot of good and by the time we got back into the car we were friends again. The crater lake in Askja is super deep, about 210m, and was formed after a lava chamber collapsed and filled up with water – there is a smaller viti-crater lake next to it that is filled with an opaque pale green water that apparently is nice to swim in as long as you don’t inhale the CO2 that settles on the surface and pass out – we chose to stay dry and take a few snaps.

I wish we could have gotten closer to the lake.

I wish we could have gotten closer to the lake.

The floor of the Askja caldera.

The floor of the Askja caldera.

The trail leading back to the parking area. Pic by Blondie

The trail leading back to the parking area. Pic by Blondie

There she is in all her foggy glory - again, I wish we had more time to explore.

There she is in all her foggy glory. Again, I wish we had more time to explore.

On our way back we decided to take our chances on route F-910, which would get us to pavement in a shorter distance and couldn’t possibly be any worse than F-88. Actually it was just as bad and at some points worse because fine silt had drifted into the road in many places and unless you had a good head of steam you would get bogged down and stuck. Luckily I kept the car moving forward through these dusty traps. Since I was bent over the wheel in absolute concentration and Blondie was doing her best to keep me from running over boulders we have only a few pics from this portion of the trip – it’s a shame really because even though the road was terrible the views all around were out of this world.

We went right here.

We went right here.

The river is so much angrier in this stretch - thankfully there was a bridge.

The river is so much angrier in this stretch – thankfully there was a bridge.

It was about 20:30 by the time we made it back to pavement. Our hopes of getting to Dettifoss or up to Asbyrgi were dashed, but I think that the pure lonely adventure of the trip out to Askja and back was more than enough excitement for anyone. We didn’t want to miss the dinner hour at the Gamli so we went straight there rather than cleaning up first – we wore the filth of the day as a badge of honour and even though no one knew what we had been up to during the day I am sure they could sense the vibes of satisfaction we were sending into the cosmos. It really was an adventure.

We are off on another expedition this afternoon so check back in about ten days for the final installment of Driving Iceland. Hopefully by then I will also have stories to tell about all the good times we had in Vegas and at Joshua Tree (fingers crossed for ending the gov’t shutdown).

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

Driving Iceland: Part 4

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.

The theme for the today was Ice. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

The theme for the today was Ice. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

Just another roadside waterfall, you know, no big deal.

Just another roadside waterfall, you know, no big deal.

Damn fine view by Blondie.

Damn fine view by Blondie.

At this point we had already taken fifty photos and we weren't further than 5 kilometers from our starting point.

At this point we had already taken fifty photos and we weren’t further than 5 kilometers from our starting point.

The road north to Vatnajökull.

The road north to Vatnajökull.

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.

A wide expanse of lava gravel with the glacier Skeiðarárjökull in the background.

A wide expanse of lava gravel and moss with the glacier Skeiðarárjökull in the background.

The twisted remnants.

The twisted remnants.

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.

Strapped in and ready.

Strapped in and ready.

At the beginning of the summer they drilled a fifteen meter hole into the ice and dropped those poles down into it - since then over twelve meters of ice has melted, which is a drastic amount of wasting compared to the past. One only has to go to places like Iceland or Greenland to see how the climate is changing.

At the beginning of the summer they drilled a fifteen meter hole into the ice and dropped those poles down into it – since then over twelve meters of ice has melted, which is a drastic amount of wasting compared to years past. One only has to go to places like Iceland or Greenland to see how the climate is changing.

It was a beautiful day on the ice. As it turns out one doesn't need a guide to walk onto the glaciers but the crampons are a must.

It was a beautiful day on the ice. As it turns out one doesn’t need a guide to walk onto the glaciers but the crampons are a must.

View uphill to the ridge. If you enlarge the photo and look at the center you can just see the other group making their way up to the face.

View uphill to the ridge. If you enlarge the photo and look at the center you can just see the other group making their way up to the face.

I could spend all day on the ice.

I could spend all day on the ice.

We called these people the Italians because they were Italian. They rarely listened to the guide and that annoyed me.

We called these people the Italians because they were Italian.

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.

Breiðárlón looking good.

Breiðárlón looking good.

An even better view by Blondie. How does she do it?

An even better view by Blondie. How does she do it?

Jökulsárlón by Blondie

Jökulsárlón by Blondie

Jökulsárlón Panorama.

Jökulsárlón Panorama.

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.

I would like to like somewhere in the middle ground of this photo.

I would like to live somewhere in the middle ground of this photo.

I'm really not sure which glacier this is and it bothers me.

I think this is the Fjallsjokull glacier.

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.

Sun setting behind Vatnajökull.

Sun setting behind Vatnajökull.

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.

The route for the day.

The route for the day.

The drive along the eastern fjords reminded me a lot of the PCH in California but with more sheep.

The drive along the eastern fjords reminded me a lot of the PCH in California but with more sheep.

I may have a panorama addiction.

I may have a panorama addiction.

Damn fine day for a drive.

Damn fine day for a drive.

A study in contrast by Blondie.

A study in contrast by Blondie.

Reindeer on the run by Blondie.

Holy S__t Reindeer! Captured on the run by Blondie.

Meadow, mountains, and sky.

Meadow, mountains, and sky.

Exiting our first tunnel of the trip. By Blondie.

Exiting our first tunnel of the trip. By Blondie.

A moon-like view in the middle of nowhere.

A moon-like view in the middle of nowhere.

Desolate. By Blondie

Desolate. By Blondie

View southwest towards the Ódáðahraun lava fields.

View southwest towards the Ódáðahraun lava fields.

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.

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

Driving Iceland: Part 3

After surveying the chaos left behind by the raving horde of breakfasting senior citizens, who ate all of the bacon spread, we were glad to leave the Hotel Hvolsvollur behind. The plan for Monday, August the 26th, was to see a couple of waterfalls, visit the black sand beaches at Vik, do a little F-Road driving, and then head northeast to our place of lodging in Efri-Vik.

The day's route.

The day’s route. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

Our tour contact insisted we stick to the side road heading east out of town so we could see some “glorious nature” – he must’ve said that twenty times during his speech on our first morning. To the left of the road was a large bluff with thread-like waterfalls pouring down behind farmhouses and green fields dotted with sheep. To the right were the lowlands leading south to the sea that were adorned by crepuscular rays cascading down between the rain clouds that would come and go as the day went on.

The locals cover their round bales in plastic and they look like gigantic marshmallows. Photo by Blondie

The locals cover their round bales in plastic and they look like gigantic marshmallows. Photo by Blondie

The rain fell mainly on the plain.

The rain fell mainly on the plain.

On our way to Route-1 we stopped by Stori Dimon, a small volcanic mountain that sits alone on the west side of the Markafljot flood plain, and climbed to the top so we could get a view of the valley and the west side of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. The trail leading to the top was muddy and slick from the rain but the views were magnificent and well worth the struggle we were going to have getting down. After taking all of our pictures and waiting for any non-sheep witnesses to leave the parking area we made our way down the mountain. The loose footing meant that we needed to have at least three points of contact with the ground otherwise we would slip and tumble to an embarrassing death. I started backing down carefully but the Exorcist-like crabwalk that Blondie was using proved to be the winner. Thankfully nobody was there to witness our less than graceful descent. I am not sure if it was the climb or the ridiculous crawl down but our thigh muscles screamed for the next five days – to this day I still have tightness in my right thigh. Remember to always stretch after exercise boys and girls.

Looks easy, let's climb it.

Looks easy, let’s climb it.

View east of Eyjafjallajokull and the river Markafljot.

View east of Eyjafjallajokull and the river Markarfljot.

Same view but wider and therefore more awesome.

Same view but wider and therefore more awesome.

If I ever fall to my death I want to be in front of that view.

If I ever fall to my death I’d like the view to be this pleasant.

Hey, let's drive up on that levee and take a short cut.

Hey, let’s drive up on that levee and take a short cut.

In the panoramic picture of the river above, on the right hand side, you can see a road/dyke going south toward the sea. We foolishly decided that it would be awesome to drive it all the way to the ring road. At first it was quite smooth and we were having a bit of fun, but I was nervous because if we met someone coming the other way we would be either up a creek, in this case the Markarfljot, or rolling over the steep embankment on the other side because our jacked up Jeep was a top-heavy death wagon. After a mile or so the rain started coming down hard while the coastal winds rocked the truck and of course there just had to be a huge construction vehicle sitting atop the levee just a quarter-mile ahead. When we drove onto the dyke we were unsure if that sort of thing was allowed – there wasn’t anything preventing us from doing it but that doesn’t mean we were in the right so instead of going forth and risking trouble with the man we decided that we would turn down the music, put the truck in reverse, and carefully back up to the nearest turnout about a third of a mile back. Backing out of a driveway or a parking spot is easy and relatively stress free but backing down a narrow two-track path with certain death on either side will make anyone a little uneasy. I began sweating profusely and barked out orders to Blondie telling her to watch her side close while I imagined us falling ass backwards into the incoming tide on my side. It was what can only be described as a shit-show and we were the star players. After a few really close calls on my side we managed to turn off and as we did I let forth an honest to god cry of relief while Blondie looked on in relieved contempt – she does not take kindly to the barking of orders or the spaz I become when I am stressed. Thankfully there aren’t any pictures of this portion of our day.

No better way to cool off after doing something stupid than walking behind a freezing cold waterfall.

No better way to cool off after doing something stupid than walking behind a freezing cold waterfall.

The pic above is of one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss. Other than being beautiful the best part about it is that you can walk into the hollow cavern behind it and get really really wet. There were many visitors navigating the slippery trail, among them an entire tour group of blind people, and it was difficult to find a dry spot because the wind was blowing the mist directly into the cave. The sound and mist combined with the smell of wet earth was truly wonderful and I was happy that the sight-impaired group was able to experience it for themselves.

I wonder what it's like under there during the springtime melt.

I wonder what it’s like under there during the springtime melt.

Seljalandsfoss is located on Route 249, which runs northeast between the Markarfljot and the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, and turns into F-249 a mile or so up the road from the falls. We decided to take this particular F-Road the night before hoping that it would provide us some up-close views of the volcano and its glaciers, and let’s face it, I wanted to drive into some rough country and get gnar gnar with the Jeep. At the transition between regular roads and F-roads there are usually a handful of signs telling you to turn back unless you have four-wheeled drive, that there are no gas stations anywhere close, and that you will be crossing unbridged rivers – sounds like fun. Also, there is a very prominent warning inside our car that states that any damages incurred during river crossings will void the rental insurance. It is a shame that I am too cheap to buy the video option for this blog because we recorded some of the larger crossings – one of which was moving very fast and bottom-of-the-door deep and you can hear Blondie say ‘Oh God Oh God Oh God’ no less than ten times followed up with a ‘I f__king hate you!’ as we finally pulled up out of the slippery river bottom.

One of the nicer stretches of F-249.

One of the nicer stretches of F-249.

A view west across the Markarfljot to the little mountain we climbed earlier.

A view west across the Markarfljot to the little mountain we climbed earlier.

You can just see the blue ice of the glacier peeking through the clouds on the left.

You can just see the blue ice of the glacier peeking through the clouds on the left.

A rainbow arching low over the river.

A rainbow arching low over the river.

After a particularly rocky crossing we decided to leave the road and take a rough path up to the glacier because in Iceland if there is a path you sure as hell can drive on it. Though before doing so I decided to run up on foot to make sure that once we got up there we could get out safely – I wasn’t going to be backing that beast out of anymore tight spots on this trip. On top of the hill the breeze coming off the glacier was refreshing and the view was worth the run. Small streams spider-webbed across the dark earth left by the retreating glacier and tire tracks led right up to the sheer ice face. I waved ok to Blondie and she slowly drove the truck up the hill – the only time she took the wheel during the trip. I wanted to drive up to the ice as well but the climb down into the valley as well as the iffy river crossings were beyond my skills and those of the Jeep. We were satisfied to stay there and have a walk around instead.

Probably the only photo you will see of me and definitely the only one of me running.

One of the few photos you will see of me and definitely the only one of me running. Photo by Blondie

A few years back the ice was all the way up to the foreground.

A few years back the ice was all the way up to the middle ground. Photo by Blondie.

We are in the middle on nowhere.

We are in the middle of nowhere.

The sky was beginning to threaten rain so we took our last pics and headed back to the Jeep. When I walked up to it I could see that something was leaking from the front end and immediately I started to rehearse the ass chewing I was going to give our tour company for giving us a piece of s__t Jeep with the check engine light on. I did what any man would do at this point; I grumbled while secretly panicking and got under the front end to see what the issue was. It turned out to be water from our last crossing that had collected in a hollow area of the frame and it was dripping out because we were parked at an angle. Thank Jeebus! At that point we made a unanimous decision to turn back before anything really bad happened.

The weather went to hell as the day went on so we spent a lot of time making picture stops along the way to our next destination, Skogafoss. The falls were beautiful but the winds and rain coming off the ocean were taking all of the fun out of it. Thankfully we had a warm vehicle to get into after we made our pictures – many people had ridden bikes and were camping near the base of the falls in flimsy tents. I am sure it is pleasant enough during the nice weather but to hell with that suffering.

An impressive butte on the south side of Eyjafjallajökull. Photo by Blondie

An impressive butte on the south side of Eyjafjallajökull. Photo by Blondie

Just an impressive farm sitting at the base of the mountain. No big deal.

Just a big farm sitting at the base of the mountain. No big deal.

Holy S__t! Run! I wonder what their insurance costs are.

Holy S__t! Run! The same farm in 2010. I wonder what their insurance costs are.

Skogafoss from a distance.

Skogafoss from a distance. It was at this point that Blondie coined the name Adventure Sheep  – a fitting name for the local breed that can climb sheer rock faces in order to find food. To the left of the falls are three such sheep grazing precariously – can you spot them?

Skogafoss up close. It is a miracle that there isn't anybody in this shot.

Skogafoss up close. It is a miracle that there isn’t anybody in this shot – bloody tourists.

Even though it was raining and neither of us wanted to get out of the truck we decided to go check out Vik because it was too early to make tracks for the hotel. It turns out that Vik is the rainiest city in all of Iceland and the local glacier, Mýrdalsjökull, gets up to ten meters of precipitation a year – the weather during our visit reflected that fact perfectly. The frigid winds and sideways rain were impressive and kept us at the wheel and staring out the windows. Our tour contact told us that we had to see Dyrhólaey, which is an impressive rock formation sticking out to sea with a huge hole in it – apparently large enough for a small plane to fly through it. We did not get a great view of it when we got there but the coastline was very impressive – huge waves breaking on black sand beaches and shorebirds making an incredible racket.

View of Dyrhólaey looking west. You can't really make out the hole from this angle.

View of Dyrhólaey looking west. You can’t really make out the hole from this angle but trust me, it’s there.

View of the black sand beach looking east.

View of the black sand beach looking east.

Blondie was supposed to tell me when I was in the middle of the arch but she got nervous and told me I had gone far enough.

Blondie was supposed to tell me when I was on the middle of the arch but she got nervous and told me I had gone far enough.

This was my view from above the arch. tell me that doesn't look like the face of a rock monster.

This was my view from above the arch. tell me that doesn’t look like the face of a rock monster.

The drive to Hotel Laki in Efri-Vik gave us an opportunity to get dry and relax for a while. The road is flat and straight east of Vik as it cuts first across a glacial plane made by the runoff of Mýrdalsjökull and then through an otherworldly lava field. Moss has grown on the globular outcrops, gives everything a soft brain-like appearance, and it stretches off in every direction – it is a very bizarre sight. It was on this stretch that we saw the first of only two police cars during our trip.

Don't you just want to touch it?

Don’t you just want to touch it?

Hotel Laki is one of the nicer hotels we stayed in during our trip. The room was big and had a balcony as well as a huge bathtub, in which I soaked my tired old body til it was time to dress for dinner. I am always pleased when there is a bar in the hotel and when I asked for the usual two pre-dinner Tanqueray and Tonics the bartender asked me if I would prefer doubles. I said of course, not thinking about the exchange rate or the fact that something had to pay for all this fancy, and paid promptly with a credit card not even looking at the receipt. As I sat down at the table where Blondie was waiting for her drink she asked me how much the drinks were – I have a bad habit of not paying attention to these sorts of things, I am not a money guy because I rarely have any. I checked the receipt and told her the price and her eyes nearly bugged out of her cute little head as she nearly choked on her drink. Two double-tall T&Ts cost 5,800kr or approximately $48USD – I switched to beer after that.

We learned some important lessons during this day in Iceland 1) Always stretch after exercise 2) Do not drive on one-lane levees 3) Know when to turn back and 4) Ask how much the drink is before you order it. Come back next week for the next Driving Iceland so I can bore you a little more and show you pretty pictures or really old ice, Italians that don’t listen, and more really old ice.

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

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