Tuesday, January 21: Loki
Hiking in the Rain
I woke up today at 7:15 to the sound of a strong gusty wind and pelting rain against the window. Not a good sign. It looked like the end of the good weather.
Actually, I woke up around 6:30, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. This room has radiant heat in the floor, and I can’t find any thermostat. This room is the warmest we’ve had so far, and it was far too warm to sleep under the comforter. That might have hurt my sleep in the morning.
I took a shower, and then Amy took one. It was almost 8:00, and Michael was still asleep. We hated to wake him, but we had told the staff that we would be at breakfast at 8. So we woke him.
This proved to be a mistake, because when we went over to the dining room, it was dark, and there was no one there. Our guess is that people in Iceland might tend to sleep later in the morning as a general rule. So we went back to our room and lay down for about 30-45 minutes.
Then we came back and found that they were opening up for breakfast. She sheepishly explained that she had overslept, and apologized. The breakfast was typical continental fare along with a waffle iron and waffle batter. Interestingly, the orange juice here was rather watery. I wonder if that is the style in Iceland due to oranges being expensive or hard to get.
After breakfast, it was about an hour before dawn, and it was beginning to get light. It was still windy and rainy. Interestingly, both Amy and I imagined that we were in the middle of a forest, but we saw that we were in the middle of rolling fields of scrub and moss.
When we got back to the room, since it was so yucky out, we sacked out again for a while. Eventually, maybe around 11 or so, it was light out, and the rain seemed to be abating, so we grabbed our boots and jackets and left for the day.
We drove about an hour or so to the National Park visitor/information center, getting there around 12:30. There was a glacier tour scheduled for 1:00, but we weren’t sure we were psyched for going on one in the rain, so we didn’t pursue it further.
We asked the ranger where there was gas. He said that there was one place about 5km down the road. Further down the road, according to the map, there looked to be a larger town. I asked about gas there. He didn’t seem to know what I was talking about, until I said “the town of <???>” pointing to the map. His reply was “town??? There’s no towns there...” But it turns out that there was a gas station there as well, but he said “but no one is there”. I don’t know if he meant that it was self-service or if it was closed, but we decided that the one 5km down the road was a better shot.
Instead of the glacier tour, we planned to take a short hike (1/2 mile) to view a waterfall. You could actually hike from the visitor’s center about a mile, but you could also drive halfway. Particularly with the rain, the shorter the better.
The road went up a set of really steep narrow switchbacks. We were very glad that we didn’t meet another vehicle coming down. When we got to the parking lot, we found that the rain was a cross between a heavy drizzle and a very light rain. I just had on my jacket and a rain hat. Amy put a poncho over her jacket. I gave Michael my umbrella, but he decided he didn’t want it 5 minutes down the trail.
It turns out that the rain wasn’t too bad for walking in, but it did make it a bit challenging getting waterfall pictures without getting the lens/filter too wet.
The trail almost immediately crosses the stream on a small bridge, where I took a number of pictures. I then caught up with Amy and Mike just before a view point where I stopped for more pictures. The trail then continued further towards the base of the falls.
As we were warned, the trail was rather muddy and in places rather wet. Maybe 3/4 of the way to the falls there was a stretch about 20 feet long that was level but covered with a smooth layer of ice. Particularly as the ice was totally wet, it was very slippery. One side was uphill, but if you slipped off the other side, you would be falling downhill. We ended up walking on some raised grassy stuff along the uphill side, but this was difficult because the bushes grew relatively close to the path.
One guy ahead of us turned back at the ice, but the guy behind us persevered as did we and continued. Once past that stretch, it got much easier again.
A short distance from the falls, the trail either continues up the side of the stream to the falls, or it crosses a bridge and goes up the other side through many stairs. I crossed the bridge and just took a lot of pictures of the stream and falls. Then I followed Amy and Mike up to nearer the base. There was a small patch of ice just after the end of the bridge, but it was only about 4 feet long.
Up at the end of the trail I took quite a few pictures, then put on the polarizing filter and took a bunch more. Amy and Mike left before I did. When I started back, I saw them on that closer bridge. I assumed that they had been waiting for me, but I later found out that they had gone up the stairs a ways to get a different view of the falls.
On my return, I got some more pictures from the bridge, then continued back. When I got to the large overlook, I missed the trail/path, which went along the outside, and I cut through the middle. I found out (the hard way) that it was much softer/muddier in the middle.
When we got back to that first bridge, we were surprised to find that we were at the top of a lower set of falls that we hadn’t noticed earlier. Those switchbacks had apparently gone up along the side of that lower falls. We didn’t have great views of those falls, but we didn’t want to hike too far down the trail, so we got what pictures we could and then went back to the car.
Fortunately once again, the drive down the switchbacks was uneventful.
We made a quick stop at the visitor’s center to ask where we could get food. The answer was at the gas station 5km down the road, or at the restaurant across the street from the gas station. That place 5km down the road seemed to be the most happening place for about 50 miles!
We drove there, got gas (diesel), and parked and got some burgers. Not too surprisingly, they also sold stuffed puffins (among other things).
When I was inside paying, Amy apparently talked with a guy pumping gas. It seems he was one of the glacier walk guides, and he said the trip today was canceled. Exactly what this means is not clear; e.g. was he from the service at the national park or a private guide, whether all trips were canceled or just some. The person behind the counter said (there was a picture of exploring an ice cave on the wall behind her) that there was a stream in the cave (which probably made the cave), and with the recent rain, the stream was from side to side, so trips there weren’t possible.
By lunch, I was feeling very thirsty. We seem to have lost or left my water bottle at a previous hotel. That rather limited how much I could drink as there were not a lot of places to get water. The problem was that as I dehydrate, my fingertips get more cracked and bleeding. That was their state when we had lunch.
We were talking to the person there about the aurora, and she said that she saw it last night, but it was rather faint.
We left after lunch, we drove about an hour to the Jokulsarion lagoon, where a tongue of the glacier reaches a bay (lagoon), where small icebergs calve off and eventually float out to sea. This part of the road is very tedious. Most of it crosses a large flood plain below a larger tongue of the glacier, so it is crossed by many small streams. But it pretty flat and boring.
If it had been clear, we probably would have had good views of the mountains, but it pretty much looked to us like we were driving on a flat black landscape under a huge milky-white bowl. It turns out that having a really low sun isn’t too remarkable when you are under total overcast--it looks about the same then as a high sun.
We eventually came to a large bridge (small suspension bridge), and we could see that there was a parking lot to the left with a number of cars there. So we pulled off there, and that seemed to be the “lagoon”.
Unfortunately, it was 4:30, and so the sun (behind the clouds) was going down, and it was getting increasingly dim. Even worse, when we stepped out of the car, we found that the rain was heavier, the wind much stronger, and it felt a lot colder than it had earlier. Mike stayed in the car.
Amy and I walked to the edge of the water and took a flurry of pictures of the berglets, although this was difficult as the wind was coming from in front of us and blowing the rain into our cameras. With the cold and miserable conditions, we couldn’t even stand there too long and ooh and aah over the bergs. Because of the fog, we couldn’t see the far side of the lagoon or the glacier itself.
We didn’t see a name there, and we weren’t sure that this was “the” lagoon, so we continued over the (one lane) bridge. But as we passed the far side, I saw a sign and saw that this was in fact the place we were headed for. Unfortunately, we had to drive another 5km or more along the narrow road (with steep shoulders) before we found a place where it looked like we could make a 3-point turn.
When we returned, we drove down the tiny road on that side of the river. I jumped out and took a few pictures. These were better as the wind and rain was now coming from behind me, but on the other hand, it was now darker.
After this, it was time to zoom home in the gathering gloom. Amy was driving, and it was rather hard on her as the road was very hypnotizing.
Her “hobby”, both on the way out in the morning and on the way back in the evening, was to count the number of cars that passed us in the opposite direction. On the way out, she counted four of them. On the way back we got six! Not bad for over 2 hours of driving.
We had told our hostess that we were planning to get dinner at someplace else in town rather than at the hotel. This was probably a mistake. Even though where the hotel was was the most populous place in the whole area, there didn’t appear to be any real restaurants there.
We used the GPS to look for a place. We first tried one place that was also a hotel with a restaurant, but reception seemed dark. That didn’t bode well. We tried the next place, which was a gas station and convenience store. We had eaten too many burgers and fries lately, so we tried the third place. This place looked like a gas station that served pizza, but it looked worse than the previous place, so we went back there.
I ordered some schnitzel (veal), which was deep fried with fries. Mike got fish (deep fried) with fries. Amy saw some eggs on the grill, and asked if she could get some eggs and toast. The guy said that they didn’t normally make those at this time of night (I guess this was for the staff), but he agreed to make some for Amy anyway. She also got some asparagus soup. I think she had the right idea.
All in all, this dinner was the antithesis of the previous night’s. The previous night was very good but expensive. This meal was much cheaper ($44) but totally horrid. Too bad we weren’t warned when we turned down dinner at the hotel that there really wasn’t any other place around.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was once again totally dark and foggy. Again, it looked like this was the only place left on earth surrounded by a sea of milky whiteness.
When we were ready for bed, Mike glanced out the window and said that he saw stars. I looked, and there were a lot of stars, and they were fairly clear So Amy and I put on our clothes, and we hiked out to look for the northern lights. Unfortunately, by the time we got out there, the stars were much more indistinct, and we saw nothing of interest.
On the way in, we chatted with our hostess. She said that she would check when she went to bed, and if saw them, she would knock on our door. The knock never came.