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broodings from the burrow

November 16, 2011

fosses, a jokull, and an exploded geysir: iceland, day 2
posted by soe 9:44 pm

Tuesday was our planned adventuring day. When we bought our tickets to Iceland, included in the package was an Icelandic Mountain Guides tour offering a glacier walk, a lobster soup dinner, and a viewing of the Northern Lights (weather permitting).

Mountain and Farmland

We boarded the bus from our hotel at 11:30 a.m. and set off south from Reykjavik. Our guide was entertaining, offering us a nice blend of cultural understanding, history, political insights, and personal stories. We learned about Icelandic horses (Their horses have a unique walking style that allows them to have a competition where horses walk a course while their rider holds a full glass of beer; whoever has the most beer left in their glass at the end wins.), the Icelandic Sagas (I’m guessing locals would be upset that Barnes & Noble in the U.S. files their national history book in the mythology section), and the Vestmannaeyjar eruption of 1973 (when an entire island was forced to evacuate via the town’s fishing fleet when its volcano suddenly erupted in the middle of the night) among other things as we rolled through the agricultural belt of Iceland.

We paused for lunch at a rest stop and a few of us ran across the road to check out the tiny town’s farmers’ market (which mostly sold local arts and crafts) and the grocery store, complete with its aisle of yarn!

Yarn in the supermarket!

Then back on the bus for another bit of driving. As we got closer to the area where Eyjafjallajökull erupted, its presence became apparent. Icelanders are still working hard to combat the effects of the ash, which fills the rivers. Construction crews work through the night to dredge the ash to the banks to cut down on the pollution.

Ash in the River

We passed one set of waterfalls but stopped at the next. This is Skogarfoss, one of the larger waterfalls in the country:

Portrait at Skogarfoss

You can no longer see the soil for the ash.

Ash-Covered Grass

After admiring the waterfall briefly, we had to hurry back to the bus because daylight only lasts six hours or so in Iceland at this time of the year and we were getting on there.

I have no pictures from when the bus left the main road to take the access road out to the glacier, but trust me when I tell you that a lesser bus driver and a lesser bus would have us stuck out there still. I wanted to hold my breath, but honestly, it went on for ten minutes, so it’s good I didn’t.


We each were fitted with a pair of crampons to attach to our boots in order to keep our footing on the ice and an ice axe (to help us keep our balance, rather than for climbing).

Rudi Has Crampons and an Ice Axe

Our tour guide gave us a few encouraging words and then split us off into two groups. We hiked a bit over frozen ash and lava rocks first before we reached the ice.

Hole in the Ice

Here are some of the highlights from the Solheimajokull glacier:

Rudi on the Glacier

Fissure in the Ice

Hills of Ice

Frozen Ash from 1918 Katla Eruption


Icy Air


Holes and blue ice and air bubbles and frozen ash and fissures and … It was just impressive. There’s no getting around it.

You should click through to Flickr to open this shot. In it you can see the note I put in about where the ice used to reach less than a decade ago. No one in Iceland doubts the existence of global climate change.

Seljalandsfoss at Night

On the way to dinner we stopped at Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which is lit by floodlights, and we not only got to look at the front of it, but also got to see the back side of it, as there is a pathway that hugs the cliff behind the falls.

We scrambled down rocks lit by the guides’ flashlights and got quite damp from the mist of the waterfall and the steady drizzle falling down.

A Damp Sprite

Luckily the bus was warm as was the restaurant we stopped at which served us nice soup (vegetable for me and the non-shellfish eaters, local lobster stew for everyone else) and bread for a tasty supper.

Because of the ceaseless rain and clouds, seeing the Northern Lights was definitely out, so the guides took us instead to the Seltun Geothermal Area, which used to be a geysir until it suddenly exploded back in the early 1990s. It was dark and wet and sulfurous and although it was cool to see, it was universally decided we should not linger long.

Seltun at Night

Even without the Aurora Borealis, it was an amazing trip. Rudi and I just had enough energy to toddle down to the hotel bar for a couple of bedtime drinks (tea and a cappuccino) before we retired back to the room for the night and some well-deserved rest.

sprite and me on Sólheimajökull glacier

Check out the many, many more shots from our Iceland road trip on Flickr.

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