Glaciers, Part 3

Okay, okay! Last Iceland post. I’ll try not to post too many more pictures of rocks, but I may not be able to help myself. I really love rocks.

When last we met, our glacier-touring adventure had been foiled by mechanical difficulties, so we found some other adventures to go on instead. The great thing about Iceland is there are adventures everywhere. For example, we drove by a huge cliff face. A single car was parked in a pulloff, and I spotted tracks leading through the snow… into the side of the cliff. So we decided to go explore.

Iceland Crevice 1
The weather, at this moment in time, was utterly awful. It was rain/snowing and the wind was blowing about 7000mph. Getting to that crevice you see aaaaall the way back there was my life goal in this photo. 
Iceland Crevice 3
Worth it. The light made it in, but the wind and snow mostly didn’t.
Iceland Crevice 2
We tried to see how far back we could hike. In keeping with their Danger Tourism policy, the sign at the pulloff advised us we could hike back as far as we wanted, but eventually it would get so narrow we might get stuck. Instead I just got stuck on this snow boulder. It took me about five minutes to figure out how to get back off it without getting dunked in the stream below. 

Also, we went down into a lava cave. Lava caves form when huge quantities of fast-flowing lava cool from the top, leaving the crust behind while the rest of the lava flows on out, leaving an empty space.

The good news is I didn’t get too many pictures because taking pictures in caves is hard. This is the only photo of me in with lava rocks you have to suffer for now.

Iceland Lava Cave
That’s LAVA! Right behind me! Clearly not hot, anymore, but it very obviously used to be.

But back to glaciers. As soon as we realized our first glacier tour was foiled, we started trying to reschedule. Our accommodations for the night were in Reykjavik, so we couldn’t go back to Snæfellsjökull or to the big glacier over in the east, but Langjökull isn’t too far from Reykjavik, and their schedules had plenty of open tours.

The unique thing about tours on the Langjökull glacier is that they’ve carved out an ice cave way up on the ice cap, allowing people to go into the glacier to see all the layers and formations that make up the inner workings of a glacier. Honestly, I was not as giddy about that prospect as I was about standing on the top of the glacier itself, looking down from the crown of this monstrous, mysterious, earth-changing force, but the inner-glacier tour did seem like a nice bonus.

Have I mentioned that the weather in Iceland is fickle? Like, puts-Black-Hills-weather-to-shame fickle.

It was snowing when we woke up the morning of our second scheduled glacier tour. By the time we arrived in Husafell for our rendezvous at the base of the glacier, the sun was shining in patches, but the wind was wicked. The tops of the mountains were not visible, and there was no sign at all of the glacier.

But we hopped into our monster truck (ex-missile launcher, to be precise) and started rumbling up the side of the mountain. We stopped at base camp, just before the edge of the glacier and got out for photos and a quick chance to use the “ice toilets.” (Not actually made of ice, but you wouldn’t know that to sit on one.)

Iceland Langsjokull 1
Missile Launchers the whole family can enjoy, in weather that no one can. This was at the base camp, about 500 meters lower than the point on the glacier where we entered the tunnels. I had no idea, when this picture was taken, that it would seem tropical in retrospect.

Back in the truck to head to the glacier proper. Things got whiter and whiter. Here’s a picture:

 

 

 

 

Haha, just kidding, that was only a few blank lines of text, but it might as well have been a picture. I could not see where the snow stopped and the sky began because it was all the same color, and it was frickin’ freezing.

Turns out it was a really good thing we decided to sign up for the tour that went into the glacier, because anything that would have been scheduled on the glacier that day would have gotten canceled, canceled, canceled. (On the way back down after the tour, our guide said they would have even canceled our tour if they had known the blizzard was going to start so early. Never realized I could be so grateful for an 8-wheeled monster truck with deflatable tires and double-paned windows.)

Iceland Langsjokull 2
You can actually see it blizzarding in this photo, if you look at our faces. Behind us is nothing by the white void and the tunnel into it.

The insides of a glacier are SO COOL. (Also SO COLD. I think Dustin and I were each wearing 4 or 5 layers of shirts and sweaters, plus those parkas I’d been so worried would go to waste.)

Iceland Langsjokull 3
Groping the glacier. Did you know that glacier ice is not the same as frozen water? It’s compressed snow, which has completely different physical properties, including the capacity to hold water, to warp, flow, and chew mountains to rubble. 
Iceland Langsjokull 4
Peering into the crevasse. Crevasses form due to stress and pressure on the ice that causes it to shift and deform, tearing apart in places and reforming in others. 
Iceland Langsjokull 5
Look at that blue. It’s caused by the way water molecules distort light as it travels through them. (Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with air bubbles.) The tunnels were lit by LED lights cached behind the ice. It was gorgeous.
Iceland Langsjokull 6
Look, the mythical Dustin! He was in the glacier too.
Iceland Langsjokull 7
Ermagerd, we’re in a glacier!
Iceland Langsjokull 8
❤ ❤ ❤

Now this next bit you’re not allowed to click on unless you promise not to judge, because when our guide asked if anyone wanted to sing in the ice cave, I wanted to say yes SO BADLY because – you guys! SINGING IN AN ICE CAVE! – which is not to say I really wanted an audience or really wanted Dustin to film it, or was in any kind of shape to perform, but since all of those things happened anyway, I might as well share. (Sorry it’s sideways. I don’t know how to fix that.)

YOU GUYS. I got to sing in an ice cave. They could have left me there doing that for a couple hours and I would have stayed happy (loss of feeling in toes not withstanding.)

But instead they made us go back outside into the blizzard, and it was really, really awful out there. They made up for it by feeding us hot chocolate once we were back in our monster truck.

Iceland Langsjokull 9
They heated the hot chocolates by sticking them on the radiator while we were inside the glacier.

So I didn’t get to stand on the top of a glacier and gaze at the grand expanse of ice and power, but I’d say what we got instead was a pretty good deal.

Now here are a few pictures of other random things we did and saw over our four-day stay:

Iceland Church 2
Here we are nearly getting blown away in front of the Hallgrenskirkja.
Iceland Church
Seriously. These people measure their wind velocity in meters-per-second. They predicted 40/mps winds this day (same day a the glacier blizzard). That’s about 90/mph, folks.
Iceland Houses
Just a couple old houses, sticking out of tufts of grass and basalt. Not sure how old. Iceland has been settled since around 900, but it’s a place where buildings don’t last. 
Iceland Rainbow 2
Bonus rainbow, with ocean, fjord, lava field, and snow storm.

Things we missed in Iceland that we’ll just have to make up for next time (ohhh, there will be a next time): We didn’t get to see any auroras because the hour of sunset and the clouds in the sky didn’t cooperate. We also didn’t get to see any puffins, even though there was one screeching of the breaks for a bird on the side of the road that turned out to be something else instead. Lastly (and most sadly), no volcanoes erupted while I watched. (On the other hand, I am now an expert on how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that blew its top back in 2010 and stopped air traffic all over Europe. I’ll demonstrate my skills for you when we get home.)

And now I’m in Paris and I can see the Eiffel Tower from my room and I’ll tell you all about that another time. 🙂

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Glaciers, Part 2

The marvels of Day 2 didn’t stop with glaciers, though I confess I spent the rest of the day peeking back over my shoulders to check on the glaciers as we went.

Iceland Glacier 5
Look! Do you see that thing?! It grows up ABOVE the mountain tops.

Our next stop was at the basalt column cliffs and black sand beaches of Reynisdrangur where Dustin let me drool on the rocks to my heart’s content. The formations are stunning and sometimes even alien. These rocks are literally the earth being created.

Iceland Rocks 4
Coolest columnar basalt cliffs I’ve seen to date. It doesn’t hurt that they’re above a black stone beach.
Iceland Rocks 3
Yep, the formation is just like Devil’s Tower.
Iceland Rocks Selfie 3
These photos never capture scale. Let’s just say there’s a lot of cooled lava above our heads.
Iceland Rocks 5
Do you have any idea how amazing this guy is to let me run amok on a volcanic island for four days?
Iceland Rocks 1
Lava rocks! I mean, seriously!
Iceland Rocks Selfie 2
Holes in cliffs, black sand beach, volcanoes everywhere.

 

And sometimes the rocks look like trolls.

Iceland Rocks 6
See them? They’re really tiny at the top of this photo, by the cliff on the horizon.
Iceland Rock Troll
And sometimes they look a whole lot more like trolls. This is a sculpture of Bardur, a giant who lived on the glacier here.

We finished our day in a cozy little guesthouse that served Swiss food for dinner and didn’t offer coffee in the morning. (Coffee is serious business in this country. We are still confused.) This was particularly difficult since the morning of Day 3 saw Dustin insisting we be on the road by 8am.

“It’ll be worth it,” he said, as I hauled my jet-lagged booty out to the car.

We headed up to the Snaeffelsness, a peninsula on the western coast of the country that is home to some of the most gorgeous coastal mountain scenery I’ve seen.

Iceland Rainbow 1
And rainbows. Sorry about the bad photo. There will be more bad photos of rainbows coming up.

And also this wooly sheep. He was on the road and stopped to say hi.

Iceland Sheep 1Iceland Sheep 2

Iceland Sheep 3
Uh… hey. Got any cookies?

Most importantly, Snaefelsness is home to the Snaeffelsjokull, a glacier covering a volcano made famous by Jules Verne as the start of the adventures in Journey to the Center of the Earth. And the best part was that there was a snow cat waiting on the side of the road when we pulled off.

Y’know that thing about the best laid plans? Well, occasionally they spring leaks in their heating systems and can no longer be driven up the sides of glaciers, even for people who have giant crushes on glaciers and really need to be driven up onto one.

And thus did the Awesome Glacier Adventure turn into the Glacier Adventure That Was Not To Be.

But Iceland is full of amazing things, so we pulled over to the side of the road and climbed into this volcano instead.

Iceland Volcano 1
Just another roadside attraction.
Iceland Volcano 2
Peering into the crater.
Iceland Volcano 3
Deciding to venture into the crater.
Iceland Volcano 4
I’m in this picture. Do you see me?

Next up, the conclusion of my epic glacial adventures.