26 May 2019

Iceland #16 - Day 9: More Snow Driving West

Day 9 was the day I had to leave my beloved yellow cottage and start the journey west. I woke up pretty late, as again snow showers and pretty miserable weather had been forecast. I poked my head under the curtain just before 8am, a little after sunrise. Again, I was annoyed that I hadn't made the effort to get up (and out) earlier, as a gap in the cloud had produced some marvellous light on the surrounding mountain peaks. Oh well, at least the view from the cottage was wonderful so all was not lost. I donned my down jacket, grabbed the camera and took a few shots as the peaks were illuminated.

I had breakfast and tea, and started to pack up, feeling a little sad (and still incredibly sore). I didn't leave until about 9.30am and headed up to the farmhouse to say goodbye to Sigurdur and pay. I headed down the track and just reached the turn-off towards the canyon when I remembered that I hadn't given him back the key (I'd done this once before, a few years earlier, and had driven back from Höfn to return it!), so turned back to return it, before heading on my way. The weather was stormy, with some great contrasty black clouds and distant snow showers visible. I stopped at the road that leads down to Papafjörður and took a few photos of the beautiful Brunnhóll and snow blowing on the road.

After the tunnel I headed down towards Stokksnes; again I paid the entrance fee as I didn't fancy walking up the road in the biting wind and under very ominous skies. I parked near the entrance to the radar station again, where snow showers were passing over. The weather was ridiculous - absolutely freezing with a horizontal wind taking snow past me as I got out of the car.

I walked along the perimeter fence of the radar station for a bit; a couple of visitors could be seen on the horizon from time to time, struggling against the oncoming wind. The waves in the bay were choppy and frothy, themselves struggling against the wind!

I decided not to go down to the beach - it was too ghastly! - so instead turned back and went away from the beach into the dunes on the far side of the spit road where it was a little less exposed. The dunes were covered in snow, but most also had a fine layer of black sand on top, so they looked a strange grey.

There were some strange formations, where ice had formed around grasses, and then snow and sand were blown on top. It was snowing and fairly unpleasant, but like the previous day there were signs that the sun was trying to break through.

The sun began to illuminate the snowy slopes of Vestrahorn and within a few minutes I was also treated to some warming sunshine. It lasted a very short time, but was very welcome!

I noticed a wonderfully sculpted snow mound on a sand dune and headed over to investigate. The patterns and curves were just exquisite in the early afternoon sun.

I might have stayed there all morning, but the sun disappeared and it lost some of its appeal.

As soon as the sun disappeared the next snow storm rolled through - and this was quite a severe one, taking the loose snow snaking across the sand, the mountains behind completely obscured.

I headed back across the road towards the beach, hoping that it might pass soon.

Finally it began to ease a little and the mountain loomed back into view. A couple of minutes later there was even a patch of blue sky above me! This gave me my first opportunity to change lenses - so I swapped the 70-200mm for the 16-35mm so I could capture the whole range.

I got to the water's edge when the snow had finally stopped and took a couple of shots of the mountains reflected in the wet sand before the next storm hit; it looked sublime. Within a couple of minutes the mountains were gone and I was hit with horizontal snow yet again. I took a rare selfie, all wrapped-up in my 66º North gear!

Here's a little slo-mo video of the snow - pretty full-on!

The snow was coming in from the sea, making photographs of the beach pretty impossible, so I decided that it was time to call it a day, and head on my way to my next stop, Jökulsárlón (weather-permitting). I stopped to capture one last shot of a couple of stones arranged like a sad face, which reflected my feeling at having to leave here. It's not my favourite place in Iceland, but it's definitely up there, and it never fails to deliver something. Adieu Stokksnes!

It was 11.45am by the time I left. I wanted to reach Vík at about 5.45pm for sunset, and had 280km to drive, so didn't have a great deal of time for stops. It wasn't long before I stopped - I'd only got a few kilometres before I drove past the horses, looking so forlorn in the snow, so I had to pull over and take a few more snowy horse photographs.

I drove on, taking the right turn near Höfn to continue on the ringroad. I didn't stop for another 40 minutes until I reached my favourite tree. The weather to the north looked rather nice now, with sun on the distant glaciers and snowy peaks. Gloomy snowstorm clouds lurked over the sea to the south.

I continued on until I reached the tree-line. The clouds to the south were still extremely ominous-looking, but for the time being I was out of the snow's path.

I stopped just before I reached the turn-off to Hali, as the clouds over the ocean looked a bit like white northern lights dancing above the water.

I hoped the light would hold for the last few kilometres to Jökulsárlón, as these stormy skies would make a great backdrop to iceberg on beach pictures. I was obviously excited to be back, approaching one of the true natural wonders of my world.

I reached the car-park at 1.20pm and headed straight down to the east beach. I realised that on the whole trip I hadn't been over to the lagoon, but my obsession with the beach is sometimes too all-consuming to allow the lagoon a look-in! Today was no exception, and I was tight on time, so the beach was the only place for me to be. And how wonderful it was. I spent two hours there, watching and photographing the waves crashing against the stacks of huge icebergs. If only I'd had longer! The skies weren't quite as cool as they'd been on my approach, but still gave the place a wonderful moody atmosphere. I took a lot of shots in that two hours! It was challenging, as I sorely missed my (smashed-in-the-fall) 6-stop ND filter. I realised that it was one of the filters that I use the most at this location. Instead I was having to stack the 2-stop with the polariser, and variable ND filter to get a slow enough shutter speed for the effects I wanted. Fortunately it was fairly dark, which helped.

I had to tear myself away - until next year! It's always so hard, when you love a place so much. I drove pretty quickly from Jökulsárlón to Vík, stopping only very briefly once I reached Hjorleifshöfði. I didn't even stop for a quick photo at Lómagnúpur - don't know what was wrong with me!

I had the usual dilemma as I approached Vík of "where to go for sunset". There wasn't going to be an actual sunset, but I still wanted to find somewhere for the last session of the day. I decided to park near the petrol station at Vík and do my last session on the beach there. Amazing as Reynisfjara is - with its incredible basalt columns - I have a real soft-spot for the beach at Vík, partly because it's the first real black beach I stood on hearing the waves scraping the pebbles back to sea, partly because there's never many people there (at Reynisfjara there's always tons!) and partly because it's just incredible. So Vík beach it was. On my walk down to the beach I passed some tourists having a quick horse-ride. They were just walking along some paths and I hoped that they were at least allowed to get up to a tölt.

I walked down to the rocky jetty, where a couple of others stood, the spray from the odd massive wave hitting them a little.

Huge numbers of seabirds flitted around near the crashing waves on the left side of the jetty - amazing they didn't get injured by the water. I took a few long exposures (now possible as the light was fading fast).

Of course I took a few photos of the stacks to the right of the jetty. The light wasn't great, but at least it wasn't snowing. I had a small accident with the tripod toppling over (not with the camera on it) and I bashed my knee as I reached out to grab it (preventing it from potentially falling over the edge and into the sea).

The waves and the stacks weren't really doing it for me from that angle, so I walked back up the jetty and up to a bridge over a small river leading down to the beach and on to the beach a bit further round. I'd hoped to find some large stones to get some decent water trails, and eventually found a couple, but couldn't quite find a composition I was happy with. I did capture some nice waves though.

The light began to fade fast and another light snowstorm hit me (I must have been caught in about 6 throughout the day!). I was nervous of driving in the dark in the snow, so I hurried back to the car, keen to make the last bit of the journey - across the pass and down to my cottage at Reynisfjara - before it got properly dark.

The drive wasn't too bad, as there was still enough light for me not to worry about the snow which was still falling. I got to the reception house and got the key - knowing exactly where to go next as I'd stayed there the previous week. It was nice to get back to the cute little place, warm and dry, out of the endless wind and snow, able to rest my aching body. The evening followed the usual pattern - call hubby, download and review photos, cook pasta, have a beer, recharge batteries. I ended up having rather more than "a beer", instead drinking three Garuns, which are 11%! I felt quite drunk as I went to bed, setting the alarm early. Finally a nice day was forecast again, and given my proximity to the beach, I had to make myself get up for sunrise. It had been a wonderful day, in spite of the endless snow storms - visiting the wonderful Stokksnes and Jökulsárlón and ending up on Vík beach. Such a great country is little old Iceland!

Click here for my blog from Day 8: A Snowy Day around Stafafell
Click here for my blog from Day 10: Driving from Vík to Álftanes