Published: May 9th 2012March 5th 2011
We were a little beyond the halfway point of our time in Iceland, so now needed to start making our way back west. We had been making excellent progress for the past few days so decided to take it a little easier today and arose late. We spent the morning playing cards and enjoying the freshly baked bread that had been made for us by our hospitable hosts. Overnight and in the morning snow had fallen and the area around us had been covered in a fresh sheet of white. We had not had the opportunity to explore this beautiful area in the daylight so we decide to take the car down a path towards the mountains in the direction of the Vatnajokull glacier.
It is impossible to say as to what the nature of this path was, as it was covered with snow and we were only following very faint tracks and the smoothest ground. However, after about 15 minutes we were brought to a halt by a river crossing our path that we could not get around, nor could we locate a bridge. The capabilities of the 4x4 in this situation were an unknown at this point so
we decided to step out and examine the river for the best crossing point. This was not necessarily represented by where the water was shallowest, but by where the bank on the other side was the least steep. We did not want the car stuck in what was a potentially rising river. As we returned to our seats to debate water depth, tyre grip, speed of approach etc., a man passed us in his 4x4 and warmly encouraged us to advance over the river. His confidence seemed to suggest that it would present no problem for us. We assumed him to be the owner of the farm we were staying at and he had spotted us by the river bank. Confidently, we now proceeded over the river at a medium pace and cleared the bank on the other side with ease. We were growing fonder and fonder of our transport and it continued to never let us down.
We drove on again towards the mountains but were stopped by a hill in our path and couldn't see beyond it. At this point, there were hills to our right, just about 100 metres away, although it's quite difficult to tell
when everything is covered in a white snow sheet. We again advanced up the hill on foot to explore the feasibility of getting the 4x4 up the hill to what was beyond... the answer was none. Sprawled out before us were the desolate, icy, vast beginnings of the Vatnajokull glacier. It seemed almost as though we were indoors, as the snow was falling and all around us were a mix of whites and greys; the horizon was impossible to make out through the icy mist. A little way down the hill was what seemed to be a lake, although we cannot be certain as it proceed beyond towards the glacier and its origin was obscured by the unobtainable horizon. The lake was mostly frozen over, although a few cracks of water were evidence of the advancing season. The scene was beautifully calm and isolated, but sheltered from any wind or influence of the sea, was also bitterly cold. We decided to explore further down towards the water but hadn't taken the caution to look what was under our feet. Sara slipped on solid, smooth ice and hit the ground with a crack. Once she was up again, we realised that
some of what was under our feet was good ground and some was very slippery, smooth ice. The covering of new snow meant that we couldn't tell which was which so we decided to retrace our steps back to the warmth of the car. Given the slope we were on, the proximity of icy water and the ill likelihood of help, this was probably a wise decision. We made west and bid a fond farewell to the hospitality and beauty of Hoffell.
We were heading on our usual road back towards Skaftafell for our sojourn; we had stopped at a hotel there for tea and biscuits two days earlier and had decided we should pay them another visit. Skaftafell would also be an excellent launching spot for the following day's exploration and it wasn't too far. As journey's go, this typifies exactly what is unique and wonderful about Iceland. As we left Hoffell, the road and surroundings cleared, we could see blue sky and the sheets of white retreated back inland to the great inhospitable glacier. As we were approaching our favoured spot of Jokulsarlon, where the glacier leaves its unwanted ice to float out into the Atlantic, it
started to snow. Within 15 minutes, we were in a white-out. No feature could be made out in the white and we were only able to navigate by the car in front of us and the posts at the side of the road. Even the tracks were being filled in so quickly that they would not have been a reliable guide. When we reached Jokulsarlon, defined by its bridge, cafe and ice bergs, we stopped to wait out the snow and admire this beautiful spot once again. We had a coffee in the cafe and ventured out into the thickening snow to gaze upon the whites and reflected blues of Jokulsarlon once again. We were not alone in our love of this place; for it must be abundant with marine life and the bergs and floes support those that occasionally need a rest from underwater life: seals. We saw at least 4 of them pop their heads out of the water to breathe and to check their surroundings. Having given them all names, we left this place happy that we had seen it once again. Jokulsarlon is a glacial lagoon, created by a retreating glacier tongue and is where the
snout of the tongue once sat. Glacial moraines have been deposited on either side and the lagoon is about 200 metres deep. It's a beautifully tragic display of our planet's warming. The stillness and beauty hide the death throes of yet another glacier.
It did not take long before we had arrived at Skaftafell and our hotel for the evening. It was by far the earliest we had arrived at any of our stops, but given how tired we were, a relaxing evening was greeted with delight. The hotel was simple, and a perfect example of where the evening meal costs more than the accommodation. We took a couple of walks around our surroundings and after the meal, took an early night to recover.
There are more photos below