2 Apr 2014

Iceland 2014 - Day 7: Driving from Jökulsárlón to Vik

The early start was not rewarded with a beautiful sunrise, sadly. The light was limited down at Jökulsárlón beach but lent the place a mysterious air. The overwhelming feeling was of blueness; a blue-grey sky, a dark-blue murky sea, blue-green icebergs and a slightly blue mood given that I was about to leave this magical place.

I arrived half an hour before any other photographers, and was able to enjoy the solitude which I rarely experienced on that beach. The waves trickled over large black stones giving beautiful tiny white trails. A few larger icebergs were pushed around by stronger waves.

I tore myself away when a line of orange appeared at the horizon and my onward journey beckoned. I had a lot to fit in on my planned schedule for the day: back to Hali to eat breakfast, pack up and check out, a quick visit to the lagoon, then a wander around the lagoon at Svinafellsjokull, a quick hike up to Svartifoss, then the long drive across the sandurs past Lomagnupur, stopping at Kirkjugolf, before finally reaching Vik in time for sunset.

Dragging myself away from that beach was painful, especially as the light was just beginning to get interesting, but I know I'll return soon, perhaps in summer one of these days.

I raced back, packed up quickly, took a last picture of Hali and set off, stopping a couple of times nearby to photograph the foggy hills; the sunny day forecast still hadn't materialised.

I stopped on both sides of the bridge at the lagoon, but the sky was still overcast and the light disappointing. A few clouds were forming in streaks with a stretch of pale blue sky behind, but dark clouds still sat upon the mountains behind the lagoon. The light was too poor for photos really, but I took a last couple of the blue bergs down below me.

And then it was an air kiss goodbye to Jokulsarlon and I headed off west, after the car eventually started, of course. First stop was Svinafellsjokull, a wonderful glacier pouring down from the Vatnajokull icefield into a lake below. I decided to hike around the lake, across steep moraine, to a small squelchy beach to view the lake from the shore. The hike was hard, but short, and soon I was sinking my boots down into the almost quicksand-like beach, waiting for the sun to come out to show off the glacier behind in its full glory. Some people say that ice glows bluer when the skies are grey, but when the skies are overcast and white the light on the glacier is dreadful!

By the time the sun finally came out, clouds had crept down over the spectacular peaks in the distance and the light was a bit harsh. I needed to return at sunset, but my plans never took me there at that time (next time, I noted to myself!).

As I made my way back along the moraine I managed to trip over and bash my elbow, knee and hand hard onto the ground. The camera lens cover rolled off, but fortunately there was no damage to the camera or lens. Even more fortunately, I'd just put the 60D with the zoom away (I'd been carrying both around my neck for a while), otherwise one of them would've been damaged, for sure. I felt angry with myself for being careless, but tried to be positive that the gear was unscathed, even if my joints weren't. I soon came across a great conch-shaped chunk of ice that shone in the sun, with a dark cloud behind it and I felt a bit better.

I looked across to the glacier, upon which the sun now shone. In the middle of the layers of ice I noticed two figures, just standing around, surrounded by blue ice. I hoped that they'd still be visible by the time I got back to the side of the glacier and along to the viewpoint. I was in luck, as they then began to walk down the glacier, which looked remarkably easy, after all.

When they reached the black dirty ice at the edge of the glacier I made my exit, as my allotted time had come to an end; it was time to head to the Skaftafell petrol station for a traditional burger lunch. As I arrived a coach-load of tourists pulled up so I raced inside to ensure I didn't get stuck behind them. The burger wasn't bad, but I certainly didn't need the coke and chips that came with it. My next stop was a hike up to Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park, and the junk-food sat heavily as I traipsed uphill through the birch trees with my heavy gear.

Clouds were passing over intermittently and when I reached Svartifoss the sky was grey and the falls and surrounding rocks looked dull. Unlike last year - when huge icicles hung precariously from the basalt columns - there was only a tiny amount of ice remaining and the falls flowed freely into the river below. I crossed the bridge (yet another new one, further downstream) in order to get some shots from the other side. The path that I'd previously taken down to the falls on the other bank, however, was closed "to protect flora" but I naughtily climbed through the fence and down the muddy path to the water's edge. As I descended I was startled by something white moving to my side and noticed four ptarmigan with their white winter plumage above me. As I knew I shouldn't be there I hastily took a couple of shots of both the birds and of the falls at the water's edge; the light was flat and the columns looked sooty. I returned to the official path, when finally the sun returned again, illuminating the new shoots on the shrubs that clung to the bank.

I continued on the west bank, going uphill briefly before the walk back down to the car. I wandered back down through the birch trees, my knee acheing a little from my earlier fall, the mountains ahead of me.

Once back at the car it was straight back on the road towards Lomagnupur, the mighty mountain that marks the bend in the road towards the west. There's a little road along the top of a bank that I always drive along and park the car half-way along and then run down the bank to photograph the mountain, often with me in it! Again, the clouds had come over as I'd approached, but they broke briefly to allow the sun to shine on me while I took another self-portrait.

The journey onwards was quick; I drove into rain, so there was no stopping at the basalt "church floor" at Kirkjugolf, no sun shone on the moss-covered lava fields beyond it, so I continued on towards Vik. I took a couple of brief stops - to photograph distant rain, and at some lava formations to the side of the road, that I stopped at once before in the snow. A huge cloud covered the sun ahead of me.

I arrived at Vik at 6.30pm and checked into my hotel (the nearly-completed Hotel Edda) but rushed on out to catch sunrise (if there were to be such a thing). Vik is situated in a little bay at the foot of a hill to the east of a big headland, so doesn't get the sunset light directly. I had an inkling that there might be a sunset hidden to the west, though, so I drove around the headland and on to Dyrholaey, driving up to the lighthouse (even though the road said "impassable"). A couple of other photographers were trying to enjoy the tiny amount of sunset light that highlighted the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) on the horizon. Between the islands and me was a long black sand beach, with enormous, wide waves breaking against the beach, and endless seabirds fluttering around.

It was then back to Vik, stopping off in a new restaurant (Sudur Vik) for a pizza (the second half of which served perfectly as my breakfast the following morning) and then to my beautiful hotel room for an early night. Usually I stayed in the Nordur Vik hostel, but it had been fully-booked this time round. Although I was initially disappointed not to stay there, as I'd always met interesting people there before, the room in the Edda Hotel just took my breath away!

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