7 Mar 2015

Iceland Feb 2015 - Day 9: From Vík to Þingvellir

I am definitely too old to stay in dorms, I discovered on this trip. I usually stay in a dorm on at least one night on my trips to Iceland, but I think this might be the last time. I set my alarm for 7am and crept across the hallway to shower. Once clean and dressed I carefully carried out my backpack, camera bag and filter bag into the hallway, in the darkness. I went back in for the rest of the stuff - iPhone, purse, car-keys, lipsalve, etc - that I'd kept next to my pillow overnight and tried to carry out my down jacket without making too much of a swishing noise. A hotel room just would have been so much easier! Upstairs I grabbed a quick breakfast and took the remaining food bag out of the fridge and set off towards Reynisfjara, where I was hoping to catch sunrise.

The skies were completely clear and starry, but there was no sign of northern lights lingering in the dawn twilight. It was extremely cold - by far the coldest day I'd had so far on this trip. The wind wasn't strong, but it didn't need to be for me to suffer! I was well wrapped-up though, as I'd checked the weather-forecast and knew it was going to be as cold as -15 deg C in Þingvellir (a little milder on the coast), and had an extra thermal layer on. As I pulled into the car-park I thought I was the first person there, but another photographer was already on the beach - he must've been staying in a nearby cabin. The stacks looked so stark in the twilight, as did the silhouette of the basalt columnar cliffs. The horizon was a dreamy pale red and the waves surprisingly calm.

After ten minutes another photographer arrived, an Englishman who'd got up in Jökulsárlón at 4am in order to drive here in time for sunrise! We chatted a bit and then I wandered along the beach to the cave to get a different view, which was accessible as the tide was out. Small icicles hung from the basalt columns of the cave, just visible in the morning light; had they been any larger I would've felt uncomfortable standing below them, in case one should snap off and hit my head. Also milling around the cave was the other photographer, who was German and didn't speak a word of English, so no chatting with him then.

I headed back around the cliff and back to the car to get the 100-400mm lens out - I couldn't carry that extra weight with me if I didn't think I was going to use it, plus I wasn't keen on changing lenses outside. Sitting in the car changing lenses gave me a couple of minutes to warm up too; it was absolutely bitter.

As I got back to the beach the sun was about to appear over the top of the layer of cloud on the horizon towards the south-east. I was looking forward to any warmth the sun might bring.

The German was down by the shore taking pictures of the waves and Dyrholaey to the west, with the pre-sunrise earth's shadow providing that wonderful blue and pink hue.

The warmth I was hoping for as the sun pierced above the clouds didn't come, but it was a stunning sight anyway, with the sunlight illuminating the waves crashing over the rocks near the shore.

The sun quickly rose, and passed behind the larger of the stacks for a short while. I moved along the beach a little to get a different angle, and then became fixated with another photographer in front of me - I love the scale a photographer can add.

I became quite worried about the state of my fingers, with my right thumb acheing quite severely. Had it not been for that I probably would have stayed longer, but I was also keen to get to the DC3. I sat in the car with my thumb wrapped in the warmth of my left hand and when it started to tingle I set off. I'd visited the DC3 the previous year, and had looked at Google maps to re-familiarise myself with the turn-off. There had been a light snowfall on the black sands so I was a little worried that I might not be able to find the tracks to the crashed plane, but I needn't have worried - since last year they'd put in some poles marking the route all the way there (as well as a sign saying that normal cars weren't allowed, only 4x4s - this reassured me that I wasn't breaking the law and driving off-road!).

When I arrived at the plane I was alone to enjoy it, lightly covered in snow, the sun shining on it - very different from the passing showers of a year earlier. I was the first visitor of the day, so the snow was still pristine. Within ten minutes a Spanish couple arrived and rushed around and on the plane taking photos on self-timer. By the time they left the place was littered with footprints in the snow! I hung around a little longer to get some more shots of the wonderful shadow the plane cast in the snow.

When my fingers began to get cold again I walked back to the car and drove back to the main road. At the entrance were two cars stopped, and as I drove towards them I worried that they might be police and that this wasn't a proper, legal road after all. It turns out that they were German tourists, waiting to ask me some advice on driving to the site - they had one saloon car and one van. The track wasn't very bumpy so I thought they'd be okay in the van. They thanked me and I headed off west towards Skogafoss.

I love Skogafoss when the weather is bad, as it seems more atmospheric, as well as being less crowded. I planned to stop there, but I was too early to catch the sun on the falls, so decided to just drive on. I had photos of the falls in rain and shine, but I didn't see the point of more photos of it in shade! I stopped a little further on at a derelict farmhouse, where there are a few rocks out in a bay, with Vestmannaeyjar in the distance. I've driven past many times and only stopped once, so pulled in and wandered down to the beach to get a few shots. The shore was lined with ice and more wonderful ice patterns.

In the field next to the derelict farmhouse were some cows, which apparently is a fairly unusual sight at this time of year. It was such a lovely day that perhaps the farmer had thought he'd give them a breath of fresh air.

My next stop was Seljalandsfoss, which I'd also photographed in rain and shine, and knew that it would be in the shadow for a good few more hours. I pulled in there anyway to take a few shots of the crowds from the grass near the car-park, but didn't go any closer. I could not believe how busy it was!

I drove back into the sunshine, and continued on the glorious drive west, passing through tiny Hvolsvöllur and Hella, making a quick petrol stop to keep me going for the next day. I made a quick detour to Urriðafoss, where I sat in the car and ate my cold pizza. A couple of photographers were battling against the wind above the falls. When I'd eaten I headed out, but didn't go very far as I knew the wind was strong enough to rock the tripod. I took a few close-up shots of patches of ice on the water before the bitter wind got the better of me. It was challenging to get a sharp shot too, as I was using the long lens - definitely not ideal on a windy day! Sometimes I forget just how much the cold can drain my motivation too.

I turned off the ring-road and headed north on the 30 towards Geysir. My plan was to try to visit Brúarfoss, if the conditions of the road permitted, and if I could find it. The drive was glorious, with the sun shining behind me, the landscape looking beautiful with a light covering of snow, and with snow-capped mountains ahead of me. Before reaching Fluðir I took the left turn on the 31 which was completely empty of people and cars. I stopped to look at a couple of horses that were drinking from a snowy puddle.

After a couple of miles back on the main road (the 35) I took another left turn down a rather snowy 255. At the entrance to the road a couple of cars had stopped so I asked them if the road was okay. Just snowy, the man said, so take it slow. I wish I'd stopped to take some photos along that road because it was just lovely. Everything around me was white, the sun was shining, with pale blue skies, and the car was handling the snowy roads just fine. I was sad to come to the end of the road, turning right to rejoin the 37 towards Geysir. Almost immediately I reached the collection of summer houses that marked the location of Brúarfoss (it's tucked away behind them), although the first road I turned into was blocked off. I took the next - and only - turn and drove into the strange area along a snowy road with huge piles of snow that had been ploughed stacked up on each side. I had to reverse a long way back around a corner at one point when I met an oncoming car. I carried on, hoping to find a left turn that would lead me to the starting point for a visit to Brúarfoss, but just ended up next to private cabins. There was nowhere to park, just one turn-around spot, which I knew I couldn't use as a parking spot. I could see the river valley off to my left, but just couldn't find how to get somewhere that I could stop. In the end I gave up and drove back out again, annoyed that I hadn't researched the location a little better (I did look at a map when I got home and deduced that the road that had been blocked off was the one I needed, and therefore it wasn't easily accessible at this time of year, perhaps because of the snow. Had I found anywhere to park I could've walked, but there was so much snow everywhere and nowhere to park). Next year, perhaps.

Obviously disappointed I continued on, deciding that I'd just go straight to the cabin I'd booked for that night, overlooking the lake at Þingvellir. It cost enough, so I decided that I should get my money's worth and spend a decent amount of time there! I rocked up at about 3pm and called to let them know I'd arrived. The cabin was open so I went on in, shortly before a woman arrived to greet me. She warned me of a storm that was coming in (another one!) which for some reason I hadn't been aware of, in spite of my usually manic checking of weather-forecasts. The storm would be worst along the south coast (with strong gales and possibly hurricanes forecast for the area west of Vik and near Skaftafell), but strong winds were also forecast for the south-west, including Þingvellir.

The wind wasn't strong now, but it was still bitterly cold, possibly colder than down on the coast, so any time I was out to take photos of the view I had to rush back inside quickly to warm up. The cabin was delightfully decorated, with large windows overlooking the lake, and the afternoon sun streamed through the window. I had a few cups of tea (again, tiny cups!) and popped in and out taking pictures of the view and the cabins. The woman came back a little later to take my payment and said I could stay the next day as long as I wanted, and even the next night. She warned me to take care driving in the wind the following day.

I should really have taken the opportunity to go back down to Öxarárfoss, which I'd planned to visit on my return, but my energy had gone. After nine days of pretty-much-solidly taking photos I'd lost the motivation I needed to get myself away from my comfy cabin. I could just about drag myself out of the cottage a little way down the slope to capture the view, but even that became more and more of an effort. I played around with the filters again, but the cloud conditions weren't really conducive, and it was too damned cold. Mainly I stayed inside, drank more tea, and reviewed the photos from earlier that day and the previous few days, only popping out occasionally for another shot. Sometimes I just have to stay put, even when I know that the next day I probably won't be able to take many photos because of the weather. The clouds were building up and the light eventually faded; the sunset wasn't dramatic, although it was still pretty.

After a dreadful pasta dish (I had no tins of tuna left, so just had pasta with sour cream, olive oil, garlic paste and cheese) I contacted my friend Sigrún in Reykjavik about meeting up the next day and we messaged back and forth about the weather. The forecast was for serious storms - not just everyday storms, but the kind that result in road closures and advice to stay inside all day. I got a bit nervous, given that I was flying out of Keflavik first thing on Monday morning, so I really had to be out of there before the next evening. The hourly wind forecast did show signs of a reduction in wind speed after around 2pm, so it looked as if I'd be okay. As I skyped my hubby at 9.30pm the winds suddenly hit - one minute it was calm, the next minute, bam! The cabin turned out to be quite draughty, with all those windows, and the wind was coming up from the lake and howling around the wooden structure. The radiators in the place weren't massively effective, but there was at least a blanket to wrap around me. I felt a little nervous too as I hadn't worked out how to lock the door properly (I needed to lift the handle up, but hadn't figured it out), so was worried that someone might break in (ridiculous, I know). I took all my valuable camera equipment and laptop into the bedroom with me, just in case, put in ear-plugs against the wind, and set the alarm for a very late 9am start.

Click here for Day 8 - From Höfn to Vík
Click here for Day 10 - From Þingvellir to Garður

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