Thursday, 4 February 2016

Iceland 2.27: Skeiðarársandur and Skaftafell

Having spent almost three solid days in the highlands, driving on rough roads and fording endless rivers, it was a bit of a shock to be back in "civilisation".  It was necessary to face reality, if only to fill the car with fuel and grab a bite to eat, so we stopped at a service station on the outskirts of Kirkjubæjarklaustur.  The place was absolutely heaving, though, so we went on to a much smaller kaffi we knew in the centre of the town.

Suitably fortified we prepared to cross Skeiðarársandur: a 35km stretch of featureless black sand, which is the result of a series of Jökulhlaup events.  A Jökulhlaup is triggered when the "dam" holding back the lake at the foot of a glacier is breached, often as the result of volcanic activity under the ice.  The resulting torrent then washes down the valley, taking all the glacier debris with it and destroying anything in its path.  Huge sand "estuaries" are created as a result, and Skeiðarársandur is the largest in Iceland.  Half way across there are the remains of a bridge which was destroyed during a Jökulhlaup in 1996.  It now stands as a memorial, demonstrating the unimaginable power of these events.

The view from the middle of the sandur was better than we'd ever seen it, with the Vatnajökull ice cap and its glaciers clearly visible.

The headquarters of the Vatnajökull national park are at Skaftafell, very close to the Skaftafellsjökull glacier.  Since it was such a beautiful afternoon we decided to walk to the glacier, taking in the scenery and plant life as we went.

I never cease to be blown away by the majesty of a glacier, and as we approached we could see it looming in the distance.  The glacier was clearly retreating too, as we had to walk across a wide expanse of terminal moraine before we came to the ice itself.

On a lovely summer's day, with beautiful clear scenery, it's difficult to imagine quite how dangerous glaciers can be.  Those attempting glacier walks were warned in no uncertain terms about the equipment needed and the perils of ice caves and crevasses.  We weren't prepared for such activities (and, anyway, we'd been on the go all day) so decided to head slowly back to the car and aim for Hali, a few kilometers east of Jökulsárlón, which would be our base for the night.