9 Apr 2017

Iceland #12 - Day 8 - Jökulsárlón to Skógar

My time in the east had come to an end, and it was time to make the slow journey back to Reykjavík.

I had decided to stay not in Vík, as I always do, but a little further west, at the little hamlet of Skógar, next to Skógafoss. Before I left, though, I had to have one more session at the beach at Jökulsárlón. Having not got to sleep until about 2am after my northern lights and outside-failing-to-capture-decent-star-trails session, I was amazed at myself that I was actually able to get up before sunrise. I arrived at the beach under almost completely clear skies at 7.30am, a little before sunrise. I should have been a bit earlier, to choose the best icebergs to capture the sun rising through. I parked up on a ledge near the road rather than one of the usual car-parks, so at least I was a little closer to the beach. I wandered down the little hill, carrying with me for the only time on the trip both cameras and both tripods. There was a vague orangey-pink glow on the horizon, but nothing spectacular. I found a trio of icebergs that I quite liked and set up my tripods and cameras near them. I was at the far end of the beach, so pretty much alone, which was nice.

Soon the sky lightened and a tiny arc of the sun appeared above the waves.

It wasn't until it was nearly fully visible that it started providing more orange light, and soon it was magnificent, turning the icebergs into a different colour altogether - pink and golden; it was sublime.

I clicked away with both cameras, and remembered why I don't often do this - it's actually quite cumbersome to try to move two cameras mounted on tripods along a beach which is often littered with little trip-hazards (ie. tiny icebergs). I found I could barely concentrate or focus on either, so packed up the 60D and the (relatively) lightweight tripod and popped it back in my backpack. That was much better. I wandered along the beach towards the river and found some bergs, wonderfully backlit by the morning sun.

I took some pictures of the waves for a bit, the sun catching the water as the waves broke. I also tried some panning, as the colours were gorgeous. There was no wind, it was mild, and extremely serene.

In the distance I noticed a couple of very similar-shaped long, pointy icebergs sitting in the surf - one was an incredible greenish-turquoise, the other a rather different deep blueish-turquoise. In front of them a small dense iceberg sat, looking whiteish-yellow. That place is just amazing!

Trying to get both the green and blue icebergs together was challenging as they lay tail to tail, and waves kept crashing over them. The colours just blew me away.

The colours changed as the waves blocked out the sun and the water spewed over the top or around the base. I was transfixed.

I really wanted to get closer, but the bergs were constantly being battered by waves, and I'd get instantly soaked if I tried to get close. The colours were so intense though - that blue!! I was hoping that the tide would go out far enough while I was there to leave them stranded on the sand. I wandered past them and back, obsessed.

There were other icebergs on the beach, too, but none quite had the colours that captivated me of the two long pointy-ended ones.

Hunger began to strike, and time was ticking away - I still had to go back and pack. I wandered back up the hill, sad not to be able to spend the rest of the day (or my life!) there. I watched some ravens flying back and forth past the sun, still using a slow shutter speed to capture some of their movement.

It was just 10am by the time I left, and the beach was absolutely packed - people investigating the icebergs that sat on a bank of sand, accessible now the tide was out.

I got back to the guesthouse and packed up my stuff and drove up the road to check out. I went back and had some breakfast and then set out on foot in search of the ptarmigans - I'd seen them at the base of some small trees across the snowy field near the guesthouse. I wandered across the crunchy snow, sun pouring down on me, and as I approached they got wind of me and flew away, back towards the house. I followed them, but they were not going to let me anywhere near them! The best I ended up getting was a shot taken through the birch tree branches.

It was a lovely little walk, all the same, with the beautiful mountain in the distance (which I think is called Kálfafellstindur), groups of birch trees, and birds soaring above a little waterfall above me.

I finally set off just before midday, stopping at one of my usual pull-in spots to take a last couple of photographs of the mountains there and the road leading east. I've seen it in so many different lights, and although it was a glorious day I wished for some stormy, dramatic weather instead!

And off I went! So obviously I couldn't just drive on past Jökulsárlón without stopping for a few last shots. I pulled in at the higher parking area again and took a few shots of the sea from the top of the hill. It was so bright I couldn't really see what I was doing, but I had another go at some hand-held long exposures of the waves, as well as a couple of tripod shots of the magnificent mountains to the east - including Vestrahorn, looking quite different from that angle and distance.

I was quite self-disciplined and left after about 15 minutes and then made a diversion to the car-park at the edge of the lagoon - the icebergs looked incredible, stacked up against each other, perfectly reflected in the still water. I watched other people - probably there for the first time - looking out at the scene, most unlikely quite able to believe what they were seeing was real.

I didn't stay long, then drove across the bridge and into the first car-park on the right, to see how it was looking from that view. It was so windless and mild, unlike my usual Icelandic winter experience - just the most glorious day!

I fell in love. An iceberg that I'd seen a few times before from the other side, with some black vertical strips, was now quite close to the shore and the patterns were just amazing. I walked down the side of the hill to get to the shoreline and take a few more shots. Like the colourful icebergs in the morning on the beach, I was obsessed again with this one. Sometimes I get so lost in taking photos and forget to actually see the place - but today I really felt as if I was there. I put the camera down for a while, sat down on a rock and soaked in the place. I felt incredibly content.

I climbed back up the slope and back towards the car, stopping to get a last glimpse of this magical place. Sometimes Iceland makes me feel quite emotional; this was one of those days.

I didn't drive very far, as I decided to visit Fjallsárlón, which I hadn't been to for a few years. Since my last visit they'd re-done the road and were building a visitors' centre. There was a car-park at the foot of the hill up towards the viewpoint which I usually drove up, but thought I should park there as there was still quite a lot of deep snow on the track ahead. I didn't take my windproof jacket out or gloves with me, which was a big mistake! Unlike the tranquility and windlessness at the previous lagoon, this one was getting all of the wind, which was very chilly indeed. I walked quickly up the hill and when I got to the top was unsurprised to see a number of people at the lagoon, including some walking across the ice.

There were lots of very turquoise icebergs frozen into place, and tourists explored among them. I love to find triangular icebergs that mimic the shape of the mountains dominating the view behind the glacier - there are always plenty.

I was amazed how many people were walking on the ice - it was glassy and very slippery. I saw a couple of people slip over, unsurprisingly. I guess it was thick enough to hold peoples' weight, but I wasn't going to risk going out on to it - my boots having little grip. The wind was biting and I severely regretted leaving my jacket in the car. I hurried back up the hill, trying to locate a particular rock with lichen on it that I'd photographed a few times on previous visits; no luck though. Lots of rocks covered in lichen, but none visible quite like that one.

I raced back to the car, absolutely freezing! By the time I set off it was just before 2.30pm and I was feeling a little peckish - the delicious burgers at the Skaftafell petrol station were calling my name. As I drove I noted to myself how the weather on the trip had been a bit disappointing - just a little too nice! I was wondering where the storms and fog and hail and rain and snow had gone. Most of my long drives had been under blue skies and sunshine. Although it's more pleasant, and certainly easier, it's just not as exciting. I had my usual burger, which hadn't gone up much in Icelandic Krona (but cost more given the dreadful exchange rate which was at an 8-year low). Instead of being served by a reserved Icelandic young man I was served by an enthusiastic eastern European young man. The burger was the same, though, so perhaps the cook hadn't changed. The place was packed, where once there would have been a couple of others there. The men's loos had been converted to additional women's loos, and new ones built for the men. As I wandered back to the car I noticed a piece of the trim above the back left wheel was hanging down. I hadn't noticed it before, but I couldn't remember any event at which I could have damaged it. I had bumped into a piece of tree trunk at Jökulsárlón on my first visit, but had got out of the car and checked that there was no damage (and I'd hit the other side), so I just couldn't work out where this could have happened. It was so annoying, and from then on, until I dropped the car off at the Pro-Car rental desk, two days later, I had the worry that I'd get hit with a massive excess charge and I'd need to reclaim the excess later through a separate policy. Feeling annoyed I drove on, but almost immediately was overcome with a slight food coma. I pulled over at the car-park where the enormous piece of graffiti-covered twisted metal sits that had been washed there from a bridge in a massive flood a few years earlier. I remembered stopping there on my first journey east, five years earlier, seeing for the first time the glaciers pouring down to the ground in the distance, although the mountains above were almost completely covered in low cloud. I rolled back my seat and had a half hour sleep, in spite of the constant noise of cars and people coming and going. I set the alarm, so I wouldn't sleep all afternoon.

I woke up, feeling groggy and annoyed about the car damage, and continued on. The sight of the magnificent Lómagnúpur cheered me up a little, but again I was annoyed the weather and skies weren't a bit more interesting! I pulled in just after the bridge near the mountain and took a couple of shots. A lot of the snow that had covered the ground a few days earlier had melted. The mountain itself was bare of any snow, except for small amounts in the rifts on the scree skirt slopes. Some of the grass in the foreground was almost green.

I carried on, having lost a little time to my nap, with quite a way to go, not quite sure where I would aim for sunset. I drove through the grassy lava fields past Kirkjubæjarklaustur, which looked striking with the afternoon sun on it, but which was not as easy to capture.

The light was improving, with a bit of cloud providing some needed contrast - I really was bored with the clear blue skies! Soon I could see Hjörleifshöfði in the distance and pulled over to get a quick shot. I could just make out one of the small stacks nearby that sat out on the desolate black sand.

As I approached Vík I wondered whether I should stop at one of the beaches or headlands nearby, but then remembered a wonderful sunset I'd spent on the beach at Reynisfjara a few years earlier, when I'd been alone for a while until a small group of people arrived. If I went now, I imagined that it would be me and about 50 or more other people, so it wouldn't be the tranquil place I wanted to enjoy the sunset. Instead I decided to drive on past, with the rocks at Steinar in mind.

I drove through Vík, up the winding road and over the mountain pass, and continued westwards until I reached Skógar. I pulled in just past the river to get a look at the waterfall but it was in the shade and looked grey and dull. The place to be for sunset was definitely along the coast where the mountains didn't block out the view. I carried on, arriving at my favourite rocks about 45 minutes before sunrise. There is a little cave there and a space for a couple of cars to park, so I parked there and headed down to the squelchy beach. I was the only person there and it was just glorious. The rocks were glowing on one side with the low sun on them. I wandered along the beach trying to find my favourite combination of rocks, with Vestmannæyjar in the distance.

There was no wind, so the water was again completely flat; I'd had so many incredible reflection opportunities on this trip! There were a few clouds knocking around, which gave some interesting shapes when reflected. As the sun set the reflections were a bit intense, but once it had gone behind some clouds it was quite lovely. A couple of other cars pulled up, seeing me down there on the beach, and another photographer set up his tripod near me.

The sun dipped beneath a layer of cloud on the horizon before making a very brief appearance again as it squeezed out between that layer and the sandbank at the end of the lagoon. Wispy rain clouds seem to drape down from the sky, adding to the reflected patterns.

And the the sun was gone and the clouds turned grey. I stayed for a while, hoping that the remaining clouds might turn pink; they did for a little while and the sky was criss-crossed with vague pink lines.

I drove back the short distance to my guesthouse, which was a beautiful old "summer house" just below the slopes along from Skógafoss. The woman was very friendly, had a couple of cute scruffy little schnauzers and my room was beautifully decorated - complete with chandelier! I cooked myself my last pesto pasta (a little embarrassed by the laziness, after a Ukranian couple had made themselves steak with a coulis!). After supper I checked the northern lights forecast from time and time, as well as peaking out the window, but the cloud was growing quickly. A storm was forecast for the following day, beginning in the early hours, so no early wake-up was needed. It had been an incredible day, beginning with that beautiful sunrise over the icebergs, finishing with a beautiful sunset over the rocks, only somewhat marred by my niggling worry about the damage to the car. I was still exhausted from the previous night's lack of sleep so went to sleep early (after my usual routine of downloading and review of photos, speaking to hubby and enjoying a beer).

Click here for Day 7 blog - Jökulsárlón
Click here for Day 9 blog - Skógafoss and Brúarfoss

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