29 Jul 2018

Iceland #14 - Day 10: Vík to Álftanes

I slept better than expected, given that there were gail-force winds and heavy snow outside all night. My room was on the ground floor of the guesthouse, and I woke up hoping for a view of the blowing snow outside. Instead, as I opened the curtains the room didn't get much lighter as a snow-drift was covering my window.

iPhoneSE view of my window

I got dressed and went upstairs for breakfast, where there was a better view of the storm, although still some on the windows. The storm was still going strong. The sky was dark, a snow-drift covered a fair amount of all the cars parked outside, and the wind howled. Fortunately the place was well-insulated. I sat around for a while, checking the road website every five or ten minutes. Unlike the forecast sites, this actually gave updates on the wind speeds at various sites every ten minutes. The roads were all closed along the southern ring-road. At 9.41am a gust of 52 m/s (116 mph!!) was recorded at Steinar (where my beloved rocks are), although around Vik it was only max gusts of 30m/s (a calm 67mph...).

Screenshot from the very useful road.is
I wasn't going anywhere for a while. I didn't have too far to go (180km), but with the roads closed I just had to sit and wait, and even once they'd opened (if they did!), it'd still be slow-going.

To my surprise, other guests began to leave at around 10am. The roads were still closed, and the wind speeds were generally between 16 and 22m/s along the local stretch of road, but obviously with higher gusts. I didn't know if there were any physical barriers along this stretch of road, but I thought people were very reckless setting off already. The car-park was almost empty by 11am. I went upstairs a little later to get some tea and was surprised to hear "Sophie?!" - I looked round and it was a guy that sat behind me at the job that I'd just left the week before. I'd remembered him talking about Iceland ages before, but to be in the same guesthouse at the same time was a massive coincidence. Also, I hadn't seen him the previous night, or earlier at breakfast, so might have easily missed each other altogether and never known of the coincidence.

Just before midday I went outside to take a few shots - the sky was foreboding but beautiful. It was bitterly cold, especially when one of those gusts came along.

My window was the middle one at the bottom!

It would've been nice to just enjoy the storm and walk around the local area a little, but I did have to leave at some point. I began to get a bit worried about timing as I wanted to be at Sigrún's for 6pm (for supper (!) and before it got too dark) and had hoped to pop into my jewellers beforehand. The latter was looking very unlikely.

Finally at 1pm I made the decision to leave, even though the road was still closed according to road.is; a few cars were now passing by in each direction. The wind speeds were still around 15m/s, but the gusts had come down to around 22m/s. Given that the guesthouse was almost directly opposite the road to Dyrholaey I decided to head down there, to see if I could get any views. The conditions were fine until about half way to the car-park a snow-drift blocked the whole road. I could have tried to drive across it, but being alone it would have been a foolhardy thing to do (no-one to help push me if I got stuck). It also didn't bode well for the rest of the journey to the shore. There was a nice enough view from there and some stunning light in the sky, so I took a few photos before heading back up to the main road and started my journey westwards.

I stopped shortly afterwards as I approached Petursey - the light on the horizon still magical.

Not far after that I pulled in at the almost-empty parking lot for the walk down to the crashed DC3. A couple were heading down there on foot - not the brightest idea, given that the weather could easily get a lot worse very quickly; at least the trail appeared to be marked with yellow way-markers. A raven posed on a fence post for me.

The road wasn't too bad, as the wind had blown most of the loose snow away, so there weren't too many drifts blowing across the road. There were a few cars on the road, but not many. I wasn't caught by any gusts, and the snow storms seemed to be staying to my south. My next stop was rather magical. I've visited Skógafoss on many occasions, and driven past it on more, not bothering to stop. Sometimes it can just look a bit meh, with the water grey, the skies white and the whole place over-crowded. This time, however, I took the turn-off as I thought the surrounds would be snow-covered; I was right. The hillsides were covered in enormous icicles, which themselves were covered in snow. The waterfall still powered on down to the little trickle of river, and visitors came and went, marvelling in this spectacular sight. I took a few shots with the telephoto zoom, which is all I left the car with initially.

After about 20 minutes I went back to the car to get another lens, as I wanted to capture a wider view. It was just wonderful!

As I left, I noticed two Japanese women doing a little photo shoot - I loved the woman's traditional dress, with her skirt layers blowing in the wind. She must have been bloody freezing!

I dragged myself away, next stop Steinar, where fortunately the 52 m/s winds had most definitely died down! Once again I found some stunning light to the south, with snow showers almost obscuring Vestmannæyjar. In spite of the havoc it wreaks, big storms certainly provide some wonderful drama in the skies.

The cloud obscured the islands as I headed down to the shoreline to my favourite rocks. As I approached the frozen water a flock of geese flew up and across the ice, landing a little further along the shore.

The rocks looked striking in the icy waters, and as I was there a break in the cloud revealed some blue sky and the sun even came out briefly. Yup, I love these stormy days and the variety of weather that they bring!

My next stop - and what turned out to be my last - was down the road towards the ferry to the islands. I drove a little way down until I found a decent enough viewpoint. I'd never driven down that road before and it was completely empty (the main road was now relatively busy). I got a magnificent view of the islands again now the weather was giving breaks in the clouds and storms.

To the east I could see the huge storm clouds, and sun illuminated patches of the hillsides.

And if I looked to the north I could see the infamous Eyjafjallajökull and just make out Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It was pretty stunning and if sunset hadn't been so damned early I might've stayed a little longer and explored the views further down the road.

As it was it was already getting late, so I headed onwards, with the last part of the journey ahead of me. I had a slight worry that the road from Hveragerði to Reykjavik might be closed (it was still showing as closed when I checked every time I stopped), but I hoped that it might have miraculously opened by the time I arrived.

The rest of the journey to Hveragerði was uneventful, with the sun now out in between lighter clouds; the worst of the storms appeared to be behind me (or to the south still). I arrived at the foot of the big hill at 4.45pm, so I'd still have time to make it back in time for a 6pm supper, but lo-and-behold, the road was still closed.

iPhoneSE shot of the damned closed road!

I parked at the petrol station at the roundabout, as did everyone else, and wandered up to check with the police. I asked the same question as everyone else: any idea what time the road might open. The guy was friendly and just shrugged, as he had been doing all day. It might open soon or it might not. I had two options: sit it out and wait, or take a rather long detour via the south coast and Reykjanes peninsula to wind my way back to Álftanes. I took the latter option, thinking that the road might not open for hours and I'd just be stuck there. I made the right decision: I checked later in the evening and the pass was still not open. The journey along the south coast was a pleasant one, although it's nicer when there's nothing else on the road. It added 75km to the journey, which was obviously annoying, and all hopes of nipping into Orr were gone, but I didn't end up arriving for dinner too late. As always I had a lovely welcome (and dinner!) from Sigrún and family (including the adorable Jökull the cat).

iPhoneSE shot of the most adorable cat ever!

I told them all about my trip, and heard that they'd both had bad flu while I was away; thankfully they were both better, and also thankfully I hadn't caught it, as that wouldn't be very convenient for a road trip (I had it a month later instead, where it also wasn't very convenient as I'd just started a new job!).  I did my least favourite job of the whole trip - repacking the backpack (trying to fit in the tripod, and beer I hadn't drunk inside boots) and had an early night. My last day would involve a trip to Orr, driving to the airport, and the flight home.

Click here for my blog from Day 9: Jökulsárlón to Vík
Click here for my pictures from the flight home

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