Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Southeast Iceland: Skaftafell National Park 19 May

19th May 2008
Skaftafell National Park

It's 7am in the morning and the sun is already shining so brightly as I step out of the cabin at Bolti. A light breeze is blowing softly. Again, we are blessed with a good weather for a long hike of the day. Travelling in Iceland has made me more paranoid about its weather, one minute the sun maybe shining and the next moment, the wind starts to blow and the mercury falls like Niagara. That's why we have been lucky because we only encounter bad weather when we are on the road.

The beautiful views seen at the doorstep of the cabin:

The vast sandur is Skeiðarársandur

Skaftafellsjökull, one of the glacial tongues of Vatnajökull (extreme left)

Route 1 snakes on the plain of Skeiðarársandur

It is the largest sandur in the world, covering an area of 1300 sq. km. It has the coastline of 70 km long and at certain point, 40km between the icecap and coast. It is made up of grey-black sands.

Strategically positioned long gravel dykes to channel floodwaters away to protect Route 1 during jökulhlaup. There is a tomb at the bottom of the picture, which I believe it's the tomb of the husband of landlord of Bolti.

Close up view on the dykes

Skaftafell National Park
It is Iceland's second largest National Park after Þingvellir, established in 1967 (400-500 square kilometres), contains some of the most precious natural pearls like rugged landscapes, mountains, glaciers, flora and fauna of the country. In 1984, it was increased in area (1736 square kilometres) including a considerable part of Glacier Vatnajökull. In November 2004 the area of the park was still increased to 4,807 square kilometres. It now comprises the Laki Area as well as about half of Europe's largest icecap, Vatnajökull.

Skaftafellsheiði Loop Hike

This topographic map shows our track on this hike. The markings (alphabets) on various points of the hikes correspond to the sub-headers listed below for easy reference.

Starting Point (A)

The map of the hike track

From we go, from here....

A couple of minutes walk and Svartifoss come into view

Svartifoss (B)
Svartifoss (Black Fall) is a waterfall surrounded by dark lava basalt columns, which give rise to its name. The hexagonal columns were formed inside a lava flow which cooled extremely slowly, giving rise to crystallization, most of them hanging from the lip of the cliff. The base of this waterfall is noteworthy for its sharp rocks. New hexagonal column sections break off faster than the falling water wears down the edges. These basalt columns have provided inspiration for Icelandic architects, most visibly in the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík, and also the National Theatre.

Dark lava basalt columns

Chunks of the columns at the foot of the waterfall. The wonder of nature art, it is like someone has chopped the columns into stone cubes.

Sjónarsker (C)
This is a viewpoint where there is a view disk. It offers a commanding panorama view of Skaftafellsheiði moorland and Skeiðarársandur.

On the east, Skaftafellsjökull, one of the glacial tongues of Vatnajökull

On the west, Skeidararjökull, another glacial tongue of Vatnajökull and the mountain range, Skaftafellsfjöll.

Skeiðarársandur, sandur

This pair of aunties is the first human being we meet after an hour of hike. Both of them are arguing away in Italian until they see us. They ask for directions and thank us, move on and their argument starts again. At this point of time, I never thought that they are the last human beings we see in the next 6 hours.

Yes, I can hear them at a distance. Not that my ears are good, it's just that the surrounding is dead quiet except the sound of the wind. It can be so quiet that one hear the buzz in the ear. In fact, I'm getting used to and enjoy such tranquility that is lacking bustling city life back home. It's a good chance to hear the voice within.

Skaftafellsheiði Moorland (D)

Leaving Sjónarsker, straight ahead is the Skaftafellsheiði moorland that we will hike across. The ground is full of green moss, wet and slippery. I believe this is the result of the melting snow. The mountain is Nyrðrihnaukur.

After nearly 2 hours of walking, we arrive at the dwarf birch wood. I can imagine the beautiful greens during summer. Sigh, Nyrðrihnaukur is no bigger than what I saw 2 hours ago.

Fremrihnaukur (E)

An hour later, we are out of the moorland and birch woods at last and we are going up to Fremrihnaukur (610m)

A backward glance from where we came from.

End of Morsárdalur Valley where it meets the Skeidararjökull, the glacial tongue and Skeiðarársandur, the sandur. This picture is taken from the edge of the plateau of Fremrihnaukur. The higher we go, the worse the windchill effort gets.

At the end of the plateau of Fremrihnaukur, we have finally reached Nyrðrihnaukur (706m)

Nyrðrihnaukur (F)

This path will lead us to the top of Kristínartindar (1126m). Looking at the heavy fog and bad weather ahead, we decide to cut across Nyrðrihnaukur instead.

See the path across the snowy slopes of Nyrðrihnaukur? That's the way we are going to take.

This is the time of my life. First snowfall in my life. Thrill and yet cautious as the slowly-melting snow (or snow-turned-ice) is slippery. Luckily the slope is gentle here.

The 'hills' range is Fremrihnaukur (right), Skaftafellsheiði moorland (centre left) and Sjónarsker (extreme left), where we are in the past 4 hours. The snow patch is the slope of the Nyrðrihnaukur. It will good to have sledge here.

Once the fog disperses, the snowfall stops. A clearer view of the 'hills' range that we have tracked. Skeidararjökull, the glacial tongue is at the centre right.

Lunch time. We found a good spot with a huge stone to rest. The view of the Skeiðarársandur is spectacular.

After half an hour break, we proceed our 'snow-trekking' around the slope of Nyrðrihnaukur. The fleecy clouds have made this picture perfect.

We have reached the eastern side of Skaftafellsheiði Loop

Gláma (G)

Our final destination of the hike: Gláma, a point on the cliff above Skaftafellsjökull, after 5 hours of hike. This point is the closest we can get to the Skaftafellsjökull.

Kristínartindar. We should be on top of this mountain, if we didnt divert due to bad weather just now.

The magnificent Skaftafellsjökull, view from Gláma

Take a closer look at the centre left, there is a waterfall

Skaftafellsjökull and it's downstream where Skeiðarársandur is

Our returning trip begins from Gláma, along the cliff overseeing Skaftafellsjökull. At this point of time, we are in the 6th hour of our hike.

View of Skeiðarársandur as we descend

Looking back from where we come from. Nyrðrihnaukur is on the left.

I see people again at last!!

Sjónarnipa (H)

The point of the descend offers a spectacular view of the terminus of Skaftafellsjökull which ends with the glacier lake and Skeiðarársandur.

As we further descend southwestwards, we are back to the moorland area again.

This shows our trail on the slopes from left to right and eventually cutting across Nyrðrihnaukur (right)

An unnamed waterfall in the midst of the moorland

We are back to the starting point finally, the bridge over the stream (centre right) and our accommodation, Bolti is the one with a red roof just right above the plants (right)

Click to see next - Southeast Iceland: Skaftafell National Park 19 May cont'd


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