Day 7 – January 2, 2020
Ever been somewhere so windy that if someone opens the front door to the guesthouse, your ears pop from the pressure difference?
Well, that’s too bad! 😉
Needless to say, the weather got a little crazy overnight, and the brown landscape was blanketed with new snow and hurricane force winds were whipping (and causing ears to pop). Because my planned glacier hike did not start until 1pm, I took the chance to sleep in as much as I could, and fretting over if it would get cancelled due to the frightful weather. Finally after breakfast, and piling on the layers, I headed out of the guesthouse about 10:30am to find that the weather had calm to a reasonable level.
First up was to explore the church I could see from my guest room’s window, Eyvindarhólakirkja. This church lays a little down a road marked for Eyvindarhólar, and isn’t even on Google Maps, which might be an accomplishment for Iceland. I enjoyed stomping around in the thick new snow, and grabbing photos. The snow added to the stunning beauty of it all, as the waves crashed on the nearby coast.
Next up was a revisit to Skógafoss, which I hadn’t seen all snowy yet. However, if I was smart I would’ve come much earlier, as the tour bus crowds were unloading, so I just snapped a faraway photo from the car and decided to head to Kvernufoss instead. No slog up the stairs for me on this trip, but it’s okay because I’m still bitter about not getting my promised ice cream cone after the last time I slogged down those stairs after an eleven mile hike in the highlands (inside joke).
Kvernufoss is one of those places that appears on all the “hidden gem” lists, as it’s a hidden waterfall that requires a bit more effort than a walk across a parking lot (but is visible from the Ring Road if you know when to look). And thanks to all those places calling it a hidden gem, I’m not sure it counts as a hidden gem anymore, as it even appears they’ve improved the path to it a bit. But it still didn’t have the Skógafoss crowds, and I hadn’t hunted it yet.
Either way, I wasn’t sure where to park, so I popped into the Skógar Museum center to make sure I was thinking I knew where I was going, and was cautioned it would be slippery so I vowed to wear my microspikes. No dumb tourist here!
…. Until that tourist decided she should just cut across an unplowed parking lot to get closer to the start of the path instead of parking where it had already been plowed.
Nearly one month spent in Iceland over two trips, and I finally had a stupid tourist moment. I buried the Dacia Duster in two feet of extremely thick, heavy snow. I guess I assumed I would just smash through it, as I’m use to light, fluffy snow back home. Either way, I was S-T-U-C-K. Eventually I decided to stop poking at the snow with my foot, and flagged down a gentleman who was on a tractor. Turns out he didn’t understand English, but he understood my gesturing. This kind soul plowed a clear path in front of the Dacia with his tractor, and then got a shovel and shoveled out the whole undercarriage. I profusely said “takk, takk, TAKK!” over and over and he grinned and pointed me to the plowed parking spots and I eagerly agreed with an excited já.
Seriously, I was SO embarrassed by this.
Anyways, I still had time to quickly get to Kvernufoss before I’d have to head towards Sólheimajökull, so I slapped on the microspikes, and started booking it towards the falls.
Kvernufoss, even snow covered, is a beauty. The tight gorge creates a little hidden paradise, and I’m pretty sure I could’ve sat there for hours. I did share the falls with a couple that did not seem pleased in one bit that I was there, but I did my best to ignore them and soak it all in. I chuckled that I lugged a wide angle lens all the way to Iceland, and failed to use it even once, as Kvernufoss really does need a wide angle to capture it all. But I made due to 18mm, and my iPhone as backup.
Sadly, I couldn’t stay forever as I had my big glacier adventure to get to!
A quick jaunt east on the Ring Road, and I turned onto the winding road to Sólheimajökull.
Sólheimajökull is a glacier tongue of the much larger Mýrdalsjökull, which is the fourth largest ice cap in Iceland and covers the famous Katla volcano. This is one of the most accessible glaciers, so it is very popular for sightseeing and tours. You can walk right up to the glacier unguided (but do NOT go onto the glacier itself without a tour and proper equipment!). And sadly, it’s also rapidly retreating about an Olympic swimming pool in length every year (it’s retreated a kilometer in the last decade). It’s outlet river is Jökulsá á Sólheimasandi, which I posted a photo of in my first trip’s blog series and the Ring Road crosses.
I booked an ice climbing and glacier hike tour with Tröll Expeditions, who I used earlier in the trip for my snorkeling adventure in Silfra. After parking, I checked in with the guides, who pointed me towards the restrooms (there’s no peeing on the glacier) before getting me set up with my mountaineering boots (you need stiff boots for ice climbing), harness, crampons, helmet, and ice ax. My tour was a small group size, which is amazing (even more so after you see some of the long conga lines of larger hiking tours), and I was joined by a couple from Connecticut and two gals from Denmark. My guide was Trym, who was absolutely amazing (he normally works at Skaftafell, so lucky day!).
We started out towards the glacier at quite a quip, and I was relieved to be on a rather “athletic” tour versus the typical tourist paced ones. We first stopped at the sign marking where the edge of the glacier was at 2010, and I fought back tears when I saw it. I got so emotional see the impact climate change is having firsthand on our glaciers. The edge of Sólheimajökull is actually now below sea level, so it is believed a lake will form here. I’m probably maybe one of the few that struggle seeing the beauty with places like Jökulsárlón (the famous glacier lagoon), because they exist because of receding glaciers. But I digress…
Once we reached the base of the glacier Trym showed us how to apply our crampons and soon we were crunching up ancient glacier ice, looking for a good wall for ice climbing.
It wasn’t long before we found a wall, and Trym took to establishing the ropes, and I took to eating some Hraunbittar.
Ice climbing was definitely a very cool experience, thigh-killing, but cool! On my first run up my crampon on my right boot slipped which meant I had to kick sideways, but I still grunted my way to the top of the wall. Trym offered us a second go, and I eagerly accepted since I had two straight crampons this time and a hang of it.
After ice climbing, we headed up the glacier to take in the views of the mountains, blue ice, and snow that surrounded us (and the winds that kicked up). Trym was great at explaining features of the glacier, and pointing out how to carefully and safely avoid crevasses. He also gave us a quick lesson on the surrounding volcanos, and made a joke about how no one can pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, so I finally spoke up saying how I’ve studied it and he egged me on to saying it. Nervously, I blurted it out, and he complimented me and gave me some tips with pronouncing the -ll sound (“say bottle with a British accent”). Okay, this trip was a success, I said Eyjafjallajökull to someone who speaks Icelandic!
Finally we turned back to head down the glacier as daylight would be running out shortly… but not before we found a small ice cave to take photos in!
After watching some dumbass tourists with no glacier gear nearly fall off the ice, Trym and I hightailed it back to the parking lot (apparently we walk a lot faster than the rest of our group), as I tried to explain where Wyoming was, and he talked about wanting to go to Glacier National Park, and I talked about my 4000 meter mountain climbs, and he explained he was from Norway when I awkwardly asked where in Iceland he was from. Good conversation, and we luckily got out of there before he’d have to rescue a dumb tourist, so needless to say the whole experience was AMAZING! I’d definitely spend the time and money to go back on the glacier.
Darkness was enveloping us as we rushed to get out of our gear and back on the road. I had a nearly two hour drive all the way to Ölfus, which is south of Hveragerði, so I grabbed the sandwich I had packed, arranged the snacks, and hit the Ring Road. The roads were snowy and it was windy at times, but I cruised along with pockets of locals, passing the non-locals, and making good time. I laughed as I once again came through the roundabout in Hella, where I feel like I had been a million times before (okay, so maybe like four times), and started on my familiar stretch of the Ring Road. In Hveragerði I turned south on Road 38 (my third time on this road), and took to watching for my stop of the night, Cora’s House & Horses at Bjarnastaðir.
Cora and her family have set up a cute guesthouse on her horse farm, and it is very reasonably priced. This put me in striking distance of Keflavík in the morning, and got me a bit off the beaten path as well. Tonight would be tough, as I’d have to completely repack all my luggage, so I had to haul all that stuff inside. After having some leftover taco-fajitas from the night before and ditching all my perishable food I couldn’t take home (I overestimated how much ham I could make sandwiches out of), I took to having a complete meltdown over trying to get everything to fit in my suitcases – let’s just say I was ambitious with the amount of food I was bringing back! After some swearing and tears and stress about overweight fees, I got all my belongings settled, and took a shower and settled in to destress.
Naturally, I couldn’t stay on a horse farm without getting roped into some horseback riding, so I headed to bed for my final sleep in Iceland (for now), and excitement for the next morning’s final adventure. The skies were clear and I eyed my aurora forecast app, but decided I was too cozy to do any aurora chasing. Not to mention I was beat from hiking 3.4 miles on the glacier!