EXTREME trip to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon (Day 2)

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April 11th 2015
Published: July 9th 2015
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Having limped to our hotel in the dark in a snow storm the previous night we hadn't seen anything of our surroundings so it was a total surprise to see what a beautiful spot we are in when I open my curtains and blink in the bright sunshine streaming in the next morning. I quickly get showered and dressed and have a spot of breakfast before heading out to explore. Close behind the hotel is a big mountain range, the snow dazzling off its steep sides in streaky patterns. In front, only a few hundred metres away, is the sea! What a wonderful setting for a hotel and how lucky are we to be greeted by sunshine. I head down towards the fenced off cliff looking down on the seashore and spot a couple of curious Icelandic horses coming over to check me out. The sun is actually quite warm and for the first time in a while I am able to chuck off my purple outer later and am down to just my black fleece jacket! Even the snow is melting in the warmth of the sun.

I realise it's nearly the meet up time so rush back up to the hotel to pack my bag and wait for the others to filter in. It turns out I needn't have rushed. The effort of driving through atrocious snow storm conditions the night before must have been too much for our minibus who decides to conk out on us. Luckily another tour group is staying nearby and comes to our rescue with some jump leads, but it's over an hour and a half of battery charging before we finally set off on the second day of our southern Iceland EXTREME tour.

Jokulsarlon Glacier

And so to the main attraction, to see the biggest and most spectacular glacier in Europe, Jokulsarlon, otherwise known as 'the white forest'. This beauty of a glacier has an area of over 35 square metres. When the settlers first arrived in this area of southern Iceland they weren't able to stay long, having to abandon their homes due to the rapidly advancing glacier during the 'little ice age'. These days the glacier is retreating and since the 1950s a lagoon has developed in front of the terminus of the glacier. It's possible to take boat trips in the lagoon during the summer months and sometimes you can see parts of the glacier calving. This is when bits of the glacier break off and crash into the water creating big waves as they bob up out of the water again. I don't see any, but apparently there are about 40 to 50 seals living in the lagoon. I do see some Great Skua flying around the river that flows out to sea from the glacial lagoon, along with a few more eider ducks and what I think are the aptly named 'Iceland gulls'! Virtually all white and very pretty.

As with most places in Iceland there is a story to tell about Jokulsarlon glacier. About 200 years ago the local postman tried to cross the glacial river but when he found he couldn't attempted to cross the glacier instead, along with his 5 horses. He was marking out a path when he hard an ominous cracking sound. The postman and his five horses were swallowed up by a cravas opening up in the glacier, never to be seen again! Thanks for telling us that story just before our glacier walk Bjorn!! The river of the story is now easy to cross via the bridge put in 30 years ago. It was quite a momentous installation as this was the missing link in Iceland's ring road, completing the island's famous circular route.

The river has quite a few icebergs floating in it of varying shades of blue. Apparently the darker blue the ice, the more densely compacted it is. These icebergs are parts of the glacier that have broken off, or calved, into the lagoon and are now floating down the river and out to sea. The tide then washes the icebergs onto the beach making for a surreal spectacle of blocks of ice on the black sand being washed by the waves crashing around them. We head to the beach and take loads of photos of these amazingly sculptural blocks of ice. Some are huge, despite the salty water washing against them. Due to the storm the night before there are loads more icebergs washed up on the shore than normal, so Bjorn tells us and he's been here countless times with tour groups.

I wander back along the river towards the viewing area for the massive Jokulsarlon glacier. It's absolutely stunning. The lagoon is almost entirely filled with floating icebergs - hence the reason we can't take a boat trip during the winter months. The colours are beautiful. There's the deep greeny-blues of the water, and varying shades of blue icebergs floating close together making a kind of ice jigsaw puzzle. When I zoom in with my camera the glacier itself is really rugged, with jagged peaks all across its surface. I'm curious to see how we will be able to hike on it and just a tad nervous after Bjorn's tale of postmen and horses being swallowed up by massive cracks in the glacier.

Glacier Hike

As we set off in the mini bus heading towards the area we are going to go hiking on the glacier we are given a detailed safety run down by Bjorn which very basically can be summarised as 'don't muck about and don't go wandering off on your own'! We are given crampons and shown how to attach these to our walking boots and how to shove them into the ground with each step we take. We also get an ice pick each and are shown how to hold and use this vital piece of equipment. If I fall it could be a life saver, stopping me sliding off into a cravas! Needless to say I listen intently and make sure I've understood the instructions. As we set off in single file I'm thinking three things 1. Don't fall; 2. Don't fall; and 3. Don't fall!

We are taken to have a look at a hole in the ice that glacial water is draining into. These holes are extremely dangerous to fall into as your body bungs up the hole but the water carries on pouring in, drowning you before you can be hoiked out! 'Don't muck about and don't go wandering off on your own' seems pretty good advise the more we learn about glaciers! Having told us how dangerous this hole is we then find we have to edge our way past it! Thanks Bjorn!

Next we get to walk down INTO a crevice. The side walls are extremely dense and therefore a beautiful dark blue colour. It's amazing being able to touch this amazing geological time piece. We also find a small ice cave but can't get through it as planned as the other side is now too steep. We carry on walking over the glacier. It's knackering chunking the crampons into the ice with every step wherever we walk but the scenery when I dare to look up (I'm concentrating pretty hard!) is absolutely stunning. We find a brilliant spot to take a group photo and Bjorn takes one after another shot with the many cameras lined up. We get back to the mini bus absolutely shattered. We haven't gone that far but on ice, with crampons, it seems much further. What an incredible experience. One to be treasured for many years to come.

Once we are all divested of our crampons and ice picks and back in the mini bus Bjorn checks the forecast and it seems we are going to be heading back into the storm for our return journey to Reykjavik. It's hard to believe as we sit bathed in glorious sunshine, but it must be true as currently all the roads an hour outside of the capital are closed due to the weather! Based on this news we learn that we will be back between 9pm and 2am, assuming they do actually open the roads that is. Temperatures here at Jokulsarlon Glacier are about 9 to 10 degrees C but in Reykjavik it's clocking in at -4! We are all so hot after our exertions that we stop off at a garage to get ice-creams! A bizarre sight seeing a bunch of red-faced tourists eating ice-creams surrounded by snow!

On the journey back I notice loads of farm outhouses with their sides banked up and the whole lot covered in turf rooves. At one valley there are a few of these out houses built into the side of a rock face and then covered with turfs. When we travel through the huge lava fields we'd seen the previous day much of the snow has now melted and we can see the rocks are covered in light green moss. For the first time I see sheep out in the fields, huddled together to keep warm after their cossetted winter in their barns.

Bjorn manages to spot a route back to Reykjavik where there is a road open and despite hitting the promised storms and the inevitable slowing down to a snail's pace this entails we do finally make it back to Reykjavik where we are dropped off at our various hotels and hostels very tired but extremely happy.

EXTREME ICELAND indeedy - fantastic trip.

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