From glaciers to the East Fjords

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Saturday, 2 September – from Svinafell to Reyðarfjörður by car

Annika and I woke up quite early and left our cabin in Svinafell already round 8 o’clock. That’s why we were almost alone, when we came to the lake Fjallsárlón into which the glacier tongue Fjallsjökull calves. Some larger and many small icebergs floated on the brown glacier water. We walked along the shore, touched some of the small ice blocks and watched them floating into the creek Fjällsá.

When we left the beach of the lake, many more people arrived, although this “first lake” is not as the “third lake”, the Jökulsárlón. The latter is much more touristic. Many cars stood on the huge parking place and hundreds of tourists walked around, taking pictures or took tours with zodiac boats or amphibian vehicles. The good thing with cold lakes: You always find the opportunity to take pictures without any  tourist.

We didn’t see many animals yet on Iceland, beside of many sea birds and of course countless sheep (mostly in groups of three) and Icelandic horses. Here we saw the first wild mammals: seals swimming around in the lake, diving and reappearing again after some time.

After we left these lakes behind and continued east, the traffic on the Ring Road decreased more and more. We were on the way to the East Fjords that are far less touristic than the south of Iceland. It was just fun to drive the Ring Road and watch the scenery changing. Just a few pictures from some of the breaks we made.

It was quite late when we arrived in the coastal town Reyðarfjörður, where we got a room with an own bathroom. Time to cook and wash some clothes.

The next day we would leave the East Fjords and head north.

Black beaches and glaciers

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Saturday, 1 September

Yesterday we hired our car, today we had the first full travel round Iceland. We didn’t make many kilometres, since there are so many beautiful places along the Ring Road in the South of Iceland. There are quite famous, too, so we had to share them with a lot of other tourists.

Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey is a 120 metre high peninsula which is known for a large hole in the rock that gave the place its name: “door hole island”. Huge waves rolled ashore and broke at the rocks. No place for bathing.

In the east we already could see the Reynisdrangar, pillar-like rock formations in the sea. The sea was covered with spray and looked almost white, just like the sky.

Reynisfjara Beach

Reynisfjara Beach is the most famous of the black beaches near to the town Vik. Unlike most other beaches the sand consists of eroded volcanic rocks. The waves were as high as those visible from Dyrhólaey and many signs warn against the danger of being swept away. The beach at the parking place is quite is flat and white and the waves flood great areas of the black sand.

While I was taking these photos a huge wave came and pushed a lot of water to the beach. I got wet feet even with my rubber boots on.

From here you can also see the Reynisdrangar standing stoically in the sea. Only seabirds inhabit these inaccessible rock pillars.

One of the main attractions of Reynisfjara Beach are the basalt columns. Well, I tried to take photos, but this was impossible due to the many, many tourists standing there. At least the basalt cave was free of people for a minute.

Svinafelljökull

We found a nice overnight stay in Svinafell. As all accommodations it was expensive and you would get a hotel room with breakfast for less money in most other countries. Iceland however is an expensive country and you should know that before travelling there.

Quite near Svinafell there are two glacier tongues, Skaftafellsjökull and Svinafelljökull. Both of them are part of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier and you can see them from the Ring Road.

After checking in we returned to the Ring Road and turned into a gravel road leading to the Svinafelljökull. This was the worst road I ever drove. It was just 2.5 km long, but only made of deep potholes and rocks. It took me 15 minutes for one way. There’s a reason why so many people use jeeps or pickups in Iceland. Anyway it was worth the efforts, despite the grey weather.

Some photos:

Next day we would continue east and perhaps reach the East Fjords.

A special place in the Highlands of Iceland

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Thursday, 30 August

When Annika and I were in Hveravellir waiting for the bus back to Reykjavík, we met Matti whom we got to know some days ago. We gladly accepted his invitation not to take the bus but to follow him and his friend by car.

First Matti followed the very same way that the bus would have taken, but soon he turned in another gravel road that led us up a slope. The path got worse and worse and I was glad that Matti has an old Nissan Patrol and knows how to handle it when crossing a ford or driving through deep clay mud. The gravel track ended in a parking place with a tiny toilet. From this point we had to walk.

I stood at the rim of the parking place and was stunned by the iconic view.

I could see coloured mountains everywhere as in the Landmannalaugar, many of them covered with old snow fields or small glaciers. The scenery was partly covered with steam that emerged from fumaroles as in Hveravellir, but here were hundreds of them.

We followed the path and descended the clayey slope on some ridiculously steep looking steps. This geothermic area is very active and constantly changing. Sometimes a fumarole is less than a footstep away. We crossed a bridge, partly hidden in the steam emitted by boiling water pools, were Matti cooked some eggs.

We continued our hike and ascended another clay hill. From here we could see many other hills and stairs leading up and down.

We came nearer and nearer to an old snow field. Here the normal path came to it’s end.

One path led up the slope over the snow. We continued another path that led to the top of a slope. From here we could see huge snow blocks that had slid down the clayey slope. Matti, his friend and I went down that slope. The ground was extremely slippery and when I arrived down in the valley my rain pants were completely covered with wet clay. The weather worsened: First it drizzled, then it even snowed a bit and in addition of that the steam of the fumaroles was everywhere. The following photos of the snowy ice blocks were the last ones before I gave up making pictures, because camera and lenses became too wet and muddy.

It took I while until I managed to crawl up the slippery clay slope again. We started heading back. The wind had increased and on the last crest-like hilltops it was really stormy. Luckily the storm was not strong enough to blow us over. Anyway I was glad to be in the shelter of the car again.

This place is really special. Not too easy to hike when it’s wet, but both interesting, varying and extremely beautiful. Of course other people know this place as well but at least there are no commercially guided tours yet. To keep it that way, I promised not to reveal the location of that place although Iceland experts probably have recognised it already.

Thank you, Matti for this experience, the long drive back to Reykjavík and the lift to our guesthouse!

Hveravellir

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Wednesday, 29 August – Thursday, 30 August

After our long bus tour we arrived in Hveravellir in the Highlands of Iceland. Hveravellir lies 650 metres above sea-level and here you can find geothermal areas, where fumaroles emit hot gas, mostly water, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. The latter one is responsible for the smell of rotten eggs.

We went along the wooden path (don’t leave it, the crust is thin and boiling hot!) and looked at the fumaroles. Then we continued a path westwards.

The landscape scenery changed. The path led mostly through lava rock, only sparsely covered with soil, moss, grass and some flowers.

Some sheep were grassing here and there. They preferred the grassy parts of the desertlike surrounding.

The willows however had to cope with the soil that they had got and even more with the weather. There were flat and crouching on the ground to avoid exposure to the wind.

The way we chose is no circular track so after a time we had to return to Hveravellir, where we had booked an overnight stay. We used to wooden bridge to cross a small stream. You have to be careful, the water is hot!

“Home” again we cooked tortellini for dinner and bathed in the hot tub that was located right beside of our mountain hut. While Annika stayed in the hut after that I took another walk and enjoyed the evening light. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. (And I thought, it would only rain on Iceland!) The motives? Smoking fumaroles against the light · glaciers and snow covered mountains far away · sheep nearby.

I slept very well but woke up quite early. Time for another walk, this time enjoying the sunrise.

The night has been cold and ice crystals covered flowers and leaves. The wet parts of the ground were covered with hoarfrost that looked hairlike.

The fumaroles enveloped the geothermal areas in steam. I can do without the sulphuric smell, but the look is very impressing, especially with the warm sunrise colours.

After my early morning walk Annika and I had breakfast and then packed our stuff. The bus back to Reykjavík wouldn’t leave before 12, so we had time for a two-hour walk together, this time heading south. One of the things that make Iceland unique for me is the colours, not only the colourful mountains in Landmannalaugar, but even the moss and the grass looks special. And the volcanic lava rock is so sharp that the photos look oversharpened.

Round 11 o’clock we had returned to the parking place waiting for the bus. But we spontaneously changed plans when we met Matti whom we got to know in Reykjavík some days ago. He was here by car and invited us to join him and his friend. They wanted to drive to another place, hike around then return to Reykjavík. We happily agreed and had a great time, but that’s another story …

 

 

Eternal winter in Skellefteå

The July in Sweden was the hottest since 1756, when temperature measurements began. In Skellefteå it was extremely warm as well in July: 29 days had a maximum temperature above 20 °C, 19 days of them above 25 °C.

There is however a place of eternal winter in Skellefteå, just 3 km away from the centre.

Is it a glacier? Is the ice age coming back? No, of course not, this area is just Skellefteå’s snow dump. The last winter was long and snowy and more than 13000 trucks transported snow to this place until the end of April. This resulted in a snow pile of 25 meters in height – another record.

No wonder, that there is still a lot of snow left despite the warm summer. At the edge Tussilago was flowering as if it were spring. The snow was surprisingly clean, only grit and a bit of rubbish showed that I was near civilisation.

Call me stupid, but I had to touch the ground to feel the icy snow – yes, it was cold. It may be tempting to visit this place on a hot summer day, but that’s maybe not the best idea. For one the place is anything but beautiful and for another not without risk, because there could be invisible holes under the icy snow. I was extremely cautious while taking these pictures.

If you would ask me about the strangest place in Skellefteå in summer, the Skellefteå snow dump was definitely a candidate.

Links

From the #archives: winter season

The weather of the last weeks has been hot, mostly too hot for me. Even today’s thunderstorm and heavy rain showers didn’t manage to cool down the temperatures below 20 °C. I’m really longing for cooler weather. Since I cannot change the weather itself I can only provide some winter photos from the archives. Voilà:

Ice report 5 May 2018

This morning I took the car to the lotsstation – the pilot station – on the peninsula Näsgrundet and took a closer look at the Baltic Sea. It was mostly free of ice, but the sheltered parts between mainland and the nearer islands were still covered with grey old ice. The rocky shore was partly covered with ice, too and some white ice floes floated on the ice cold water.

During the day it cleared up and the temperatures rose to 17 °C. Seven hours I returned to the same place. The floating ice I had photoed in the morning was gone by now. Had it melted or drifted away? I had to go to another more sheltered spot to be able to make probably my last ice photos in Skelleftehamn this season:

Why “the last snow” and “the last ice”? The reason is simple: Tomorrow Annika and I will fly to Gotland for a week. According to the weather forecast the next week should be warm and sunny, both in Skelleftehamn and on Gotland. I guess when I’m back, all snow and ice – beside of some huge manmade snow piles – has be melted away.

Then I’ll take a bath in the ice cold water and call it “spring bath”!

P.S.:

Spring birds and spring flowers

Two days ago I took the car to Umeå, 130 km south from Skellefteå. Last time I was there in January and it was winter. This time it was springtime. Nevertheless, more than half of the ground was still snow covered in Skelleftehamn and Bureå. But while I was driving southwards the scenery slowly changed. More and more snow free meadows and grasslands showed up. The grass is still brown and huge water puddles cover the lower parts.

In Lövånger I saw a lot of birds on the meadows and made a short stop to photo some of them. No great shots but it shows some of the most common migratory birds that already had arrived here.

(click on the images to see the bird’s names in English, Swedish, and German.)

South from Lövånger there was hardly any snow left, it remained only in ditches, in the shadow of forests and on some northern slopes – everywhere where there’s less sun. Still the landscape looked a bit dull, for nor the birches neither the other plants had got leaves.

Some hours later. Annika has ended her working day and we walk along the river Umeälven, which is free of ice. Only some small ice floes drift on the surface that mirrors the blue sky.

On the other side of the way along the river there’s a southwards slope. And here many spring flowers, not only tussilago are blooming. I counted six different flower types on the walk into the center of Umeå. Here they come:

(again, click on the images to see the flower names. Hopefully there are correct)

The ice weakens

At time I use to wake up quite early, today even at 5:30. Probably it’s the sunlight that wakes me up despite of the black curtains and the closed window blinds. I felt well rested, got up and as many times before I took the car to the peninsula Näsgrundet to have a look at the Baltic Sea. The weather was nice (clear sky, -2 °C) and I was curious about the ice situation.

Already from the car I could see that the ice still extended to the horizon and the island Gåsören. The old ice looked greyish and many half-frozen puddles with meltwater were seen everywhere. The ice on land however was free of melting water and therefore still white.

The ice covering the water had started to get the first big holes. They seemed to be only next to the coast so I guess you still could cross the ice to Gåsören, but I wouldn’t dare anymore.

They are still some wintry motives left but it’s quite visible that snow and ice finally are coming to an end.

I took a last look to Gåsören and made a photo with my telephoto lens. Yes, no open water in sight yet! I skied to Gåsören twice this winter. I guess the next visit will be by kayak!

And otherwise?

  • more and more birds have been arriving, among others northern lapwings and curlews (if I’m right)
  • the roof of my house has been completely free of snow for two days now
  • more tussilago is blooming, but the clay-like soil is sometimes so muddy, that you can easily sink to the top of your rubber boots with one single step
  • still 30 cm of snow in my backyard – I measured right now –  but it’s melting rapidly and the ground round the fence and beside of the garage is already free of snow
  • the ice fishermen have been sitting, crouching or lying on the ice on every single day for the last weeks – yesterday even in the cold rain. They know, that saison is over soon

Although it sometimes hardly looks like it …