Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vatnajökull Voyager Part One

After getting some decent sleep, Zach and I got up at 5:45am, got dressed, and went right downstairs to grab breakfast.

There were only a couple other people up this early so we got through the buffet no problem. I tried to eat as much as I could since I knew we had a long day ahead of us.

Our bus came to pick us up at 7am, and after a quick stop at the bus terminal to pick up a few other people we were on our way. We had four hours of driving ahead of us, but it would be totally worth it; we were heading to Vatnajökull National Park in southeast Iceland for a day of glacier hiking and boating through a lagoon full of icebergs!

It was misty and rainy for a lot of the drive, but every once in a while you'd see a hill or waterfall come into view. We were driving along route 1, which follows the southern coast.

Some of the waterfalls were almost in the backyards of some of the houses. Must be nice to have something like this in your yard!

Ooo, reflecty...

After a while (and a quick stop at a cafe/rest stop for a snack) we made it to Vatnajökull National Park. Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe, and we were going to go hiking on it! Right after lunch, that is.

Our tour package included lunch, so we grabbed our soup and sandwiches and enjoyed the view from the table. After a quick stop in the gear shop to get fitted for crampons, we were issued crampons and ice axes and hopped on an old school bus for the ride out to the glacier.

Zach's favorite person is sitting right in front of him. He was part of a group of French tourists who were loud and kept stopping dead right in the middle of the trails to take pictures. Because stopping short when the people all around you are carrying very pointy things is a brilliant idea. Anyway, after a few VERY bumpy minutes bouncing down a rocky road, we got to the trailhead and started hiking toward the glacier.

Hello, Vatnajökull!   :)    (Note the French people in action.)

It took about 20 minutes to hike from the bus to the base of the glacier. The scenery was awesome and the trail wound around small hills and over little streams. You can just make out a couple other groups hiking on the bottom part of the glacier. We eventually came to a clearing at the edge of the ice and stopped to put on our crampons. Our guide (I wish I could remember his name; it started with an H and sounded like he rolled his tongue for a few seconds so it was definitely something Icelandic) did an awesome job demonstrating how to put them on correctly, and I managed to do it all by myself! (I remember it seemed like the most confusing thing ever when Mark and I did the glacier hike in New Zealand.) Zach went hardcore and put his on over his Nikes. We don't need no stinking hiking boots!

It was either this or the picture where he was still tucking in his shirt.   :)

Once everyone had their crampons on we started hiking up the glacier. It was starting to get a bit misty but you could still see a few other groups making their way back down the ice.

I liked this picture so much I sent it in to the Washington Post travel photo contest. I find out next month if I won (Ha! I wish.).

In some spots you could hear water flowing under the ice, and every once in a while you could look through cracks in the ice to actually see the water flowing past. After a little while we came to a moulin; it's a spot in the glacier where the water flows from the surface to the inside of the glacier. Kind of like a covered waterfall, I guess, and you're standing at the top.

Our guide showed us how to stand near the edge as he held on to us so we could look over the edge. I think most of the moulins we saw were 10-40 meters deep.

It took a few minutes for everyone to get a chance to look down the moulin, so I used the time to play with the camera gear I rented. I was using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a 28-300mm L series lens...what a great setup! Normally I have to stop every few feet to swap out lenses, but I got through the whole day with just one lens and didn't miss a shot.

The mist kept rolling in as we hiked along. It would have been nice to see the tops of the mountains, but the mist made for some really fun pictures.

There were conical piles of black ash all over the place along the glacier; our guide explained that each one marks out what used to be the bottom of a moulin. The ash was left over from an eruption a couple years ago, and as the water flowed down it would carry the ash, which would pile up at the bottom of the moulin. As the glacier melts, these ash piles emerge. They're actually not all ash, though; just an inch or two down, it's an ice pyramid. It's crazy to think the glacier has melted that much in the past couple years, though!

You could see little streams of water flowing down the slope toward the moulins. We emptied out our water bottles and refilled them from the stream since the water is so pure, and a couple people leaned down and actually drank out of the stream.

Our guide also showed us glacier mice. They're fairly rare; over time, a rock will grow a layer of moss. As the ice around them melts, they eventually tumble over and the side without moss will slowly grow moss. They're basically moss-covered rocks that slowly make their way down the glacier as the ice melts. I saw them compared to tumbleweeds in one article I read. It turns out they act as mini ecosystems and support little bugs inside the moss.

We kept hiking a bit further up the glacier. After a while we were the only people anywhere to be seen; it was pretty neat.

Our group hiking up the glacier. I love how I accidentally captured the couple near the bottom taking a picture.

Zach hung in there really well, especially with how uphill it was. He's on a power lifting team, so when it comes to heaving my bag full of bricks into the overhead bin he's very handy to have around, but even with how much I've been running lately I was getting a bit winded.

Zach kept trying to jam his face into the scenery pictures I was taking.   :)

After a while we started to hike back down the side of the glacier. The mist was getting a bit thicker.

I think this was the biggest moulin we saw the whole hike. I couldn't see the bottom of it, and when our guide dropped a rock in it, it took four or five seconds for it to hit the bottom.

We made our way past the moulin, past a bunch of rocks, and back to the little clearing at the edge of the ice where we all took our crampons off. I wish we could have stayed up there longer, but there were other things to see. Oh well...guess I'll just have to come back!

We hiked back down the same trail we came up earlier. I thought it was really cool how the ice looked like a black and white picture that was dunked in the muddy water.

Zach and I hung out near the back and kept stopping to take pictures.

We all made our way back through the trail and eventually made it back to the bus for the next part of our day. Next time I come here I definitely want to spend more time on the glacier!

Bye, Vatnajökull...see you again someday!

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