31 Mar 2017

Iceland #12 - Day 5: Stafafell and Hvalnes

I love waking up in the little yellow cottage, the wind gusting outside and the rain on the roof above me. Today I awoke at 8am and the sky was still brooding and filled with massive clouds, but there was a vague pink/blue morning hue; within minutes it was gone. I took a few shots out of the front door, the wind determined to shut it instantly, and then made myself a cup of tea, before deciding what to do for the day.

The cottage is well-placed between both Stokksnes and Hvalnes, two points at the end of long lagoons, each with jagged mountains towering above, so there's always the choice of visiting one or the other. Sometimes the peaks are shrouded in mist and cloud, but usually it seems to be fast-moving, so if you wait a few minutes (or hours) then the peaks peek out a little. Hvalnes is a good deal closer, so the decision was made to go there when the weather improved enough.

It was still raining outside, so I had a slow morning before the rain subsided, reviewing and editing a few photos, drinking more tea, enjoying the peace and solitude. Eventually at 11am I dragged myself out at and drove down towards Hvalnes, stopping first at the pull-out below the mountains, where there are a couple of little lagoons. I noticed a new line of scree that had fallen since my visit the previous year, a lighter grey than the surrounding slopes. I tried a couple of long exposures but there wasn't quite enough contrast in the clouds. The rain - at least - had stopped.

The lake wasn't frozen at all on the west side of the road, so I wandered across the road to another small lagoon which was partly frozen. The sun came out briefly and the whole of the Eystrahorn mountain was reflected in the frozen surface.

I walked along the shore taking macro shots of water bubbles trapped in the ice. I managed to set the tripod up so it was very low, but had to balance two of the legs on the surface of the ice - which obviously made me a bit nervous. I was captivated by the bubbles and the layers under the ice. It wasn't anything like the incredible frozen snow bubbles I'd seen in Antarctica in 2003 but was still intriguing and beautiful. The macro lens was finally getting some action! I wish I'd brought my extension tubes with me to get even closer... When the wind blew some of the bubbles on the surface slid gracefully across the water.

I spent an hour photographing the bubbles until my back ached too much from crouching down, so I dragged myself away (in spite of being totally transfixed). By the time I finished the sun had gone and the skies darkened. I drove up the road and took the turn-off to the lighthouse and parked there. I stood looking at the peaks of Eystrahorn, which were generally covered in cloud, but at least the cloud was moving quickly so from time-to-time the tops re-appeared. The cloud was nestled in a bowl between the largest two peaks of the mountain for a while. It is one of my very favourite spots in Iceland and there is almost never anyone else there (which obviously I love!). It's just too far east for most visitors, and has a hidden turn-off that is unmarked. Suits me fine that way, I just love this desolate point.

I took a few of my usual self-portraits, putting the camera on timer or using the remote if I was on the right side of the lens for the infrared to work. I even tried to get some of me actually facing the camera - challenging to focus right and with my hair not strewn across my face in the wind.

I wandered to the edge of the hill overlooking the beach, stretching out in the distance towards Brunnhorn and Vestrahorn (which were sadly hidden) - looking stark with the black strip of sand and white waves lapping against the steep shore. A patch of light shone through in a valley to the north, and there was even some blue sky above me. I tried some more long exposures with the 10-stop ND filters; there was a little more contrast in the clouds, but I still wasn't getting the streaks that I was hoping for. The colour cast on my filters is also rather strong, so it's a challenge to get the colour right in post-processing.

At about 2.45pm I drove back to the cottage for a little rest and some tea (and to recharge the batteries), passing hills with clouds draped over the tops. The sky was a strange blue in the distance.

Later on I wasn't sure whether to go back to Hvalnes or head through the tunnel to Stokksnes (the usual dilemma). I decided to stay this side as the sky looked a little clearer to the east, and I could actually see the mountaintops, whereas Brunnhorn and Vestrahorn were still hidden. I would stop there the following morning on my way back to Jökulsárlón instead. The slope of Brunnhorn was just visible underneath a large cloud, with the sun now shining above.

As I approached Eystrahorn the sun illuminated the granite slopes.

A patch of light shone through the valley near where the road winds up to the tunnel, with some distant crepuscular rays.

I parked back along the road near the lighthouse and headed back down to the spot I'd stood at earlier; sun was now shining on the sea below me.

By 6pm the sky began to change colour a little, as sunset was approaching. I wanted a different view so headed south along the edge of the low cliffs to see what else I could find - I could see some waves crashing wildly in the distance.

I found a little inlet where the waves were pouring over low rocks. I couldn't quite get a composition I was happy with, and the light was fading quickly. The frothy water was too white and the rocks too dark for my liking! I walked a little further to see if I could get a better view, but it wasn't really working for me. It wasn't a spectacular sunset anyway, and I now wished I'd gone to Hvalnes, where there was a patch of bright light. That's the luck of the draw I guess, and who knows, it could've been disappointing there too. It was still great to watch and listen to the waves crashing - always impressive around this headland.

After about 20 minutes there I gave up and drove home, happy as always to get back to my cosy little home.

The night was spent cooking my pasta, reviewing photos, speaking to hubby, charging batteries, checking weather and lights forecasts, and enjoying one of my lovely beers - the usual routine. With plenty of cloud cover the chance of northern lights was limited, but I've had good luck there before, so I kept an eye on the stats on various websites, and checked outside every once in a while. It was pretty unlikely that I'd see anything, so I had an early night; I wanted to be up and out early to get to Stokksnes if the weather looked promising (although the forecast was pretty dire).

Click here for Day 4 - Jökulsárlón to Stafafell
Click here for Day 6 - Stokksnes & Jökulsárlón

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