Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Trek Part 2: Glaciers, Waterfalls, and a Hot Spring

After some rain overnight, we awoke to sun on day 3 of the trek.  With another glacier crossing ahead of us, we knew it would be another long day, but our food bags were starting to get lighter and everyone was in a pretty good mood.  We took a higher route up to the glacier, so we did not deal with nearly as much mud as the night before and we made good time getting there.  The glacier was beautiful in the bright sunlight.  There were meltwater streams everywhere as it warmed up.  Our guide was hoping to be across it by noon or one so that we would have an easier river crossing on the other side.  Glacial or snow-fed rivers are usually higher in the afternoon as the melting water works its way through the system.  A river that is a rock hop early in the morning can be impossible to ford in the afternoon.

We did not make his goal by a long shot.  It was nearly four in the afternoon by the time we were off the glacier and later yet by the time we got to the river.  We were lucky, though, that the river was fordable.    It was spread out in several braided sections, making each section shallower and slower.  I had been worried about the river crossings.  Immersing my feet in ice cold water causes pain and numbness in about 10 seconds (yes, we do this for fun).   Not to mention the consequences of screwing up a river crossing. Our guide had us cross in groups of four, linking arms, with the biggest person on the upstream side.  The river was fast and knee deep.  Going as a group made it a lot easier.  I had bought neoprene socks before the trip on the recommendation of our guiding company, thinking they wouldn't help at all.  Our guide extolled the virtues of them and I kept thinking, "yeah, whatever, your feet are not my feet."  They were amazing.  My feet still got cold, but they held a layer of water against them that warmed up slightly.  I will definitely be carrying them in the future.  

We camped in the mist near a pretty little stream, surrounded by bright green beds of moss.  The next morning, day 4, we were promised a visit to a hot spring.  We hiked for about an hour, past a completely new river (according to our guide), arctic fox tracks, and another river ford.  We arrived at a pretty little pool that was hot bathwater-warm.  We spent a couple of hours relaxing in the hot spring.  It felt great on tired muscles.  The afternoon was filled with beautiful waterfalls and flowers.  We camped in a canyon filled with pink Epilobium latifolium (Arctic River Beauty).  By the time dinner rolled around, it was raining hard.  After dinner, we hiked up the canyon to the end, but it was raining hard enough that we didn't take any pictures of the waterfall.  

The next morning, day 5, we hiked in the clouds, making our way south towards the coast.  By lunchtime, it was bright and sunny again.  We took a side trip up to a saddle overlooking Skeiðarárjökull, another glacier that is part of the large ice sheet, Vatnajökull.  We also had a great view of the mountains of Skaftafell to the east and, off in the distance, the ocean to the south.  We continued south and east, down a very steep canyon to the river valley below.  We camped that night on the valley floor, next to a four-wheel drive track and a little shack with two toilets and a sink.  The water pipes had been clogged by volcanic ash, so Michael and a couple of other people set out to restore water to the shack.  They were nearly successful, but for lack of a pipe wrench, weren't able to fix the final piece of it.  

We were halfway through the trip at this point and holding up pretty well.  Except for our first hike up Laki, all of our travel had been off-trail.  I only had one minor complaint:  My boot laces were full of volcanic ash (which is basically little shards of glass) and tying them was tearing up the skin on my hands.  They wouldn't dry, so I couldn't shake the ash out of them.

 Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Hiking on the glacier on Day 3.
 Day 3:  The amazing blue ice.
 Day 3:  Michael with a glacier "smore."  Peanut butter, chocolate, and two crackers.
 Day 3:  Finally off the glacier with a glimpse of the mountains.
Day 3: Our first large river crossing.
Day 4: The hot spring.
Day 4:  A pair of Harlequin Ducks working their way upriver.
 The first of the waterfalls on Day 4.
 Day 4:  Epilobium latifolium (Arctic River Beauty) in front of a large waterfall.
 A closeup of E. latifolium.
 Day 4:  Hiking into Flower Canyon, our campsite for the night.
 Day 5:  A relatively small waterfall early in the day.
 Day 5:  Bootshot overlooking the Skeiðarárjökull glacier.
Day 5:  Looking south toward the coast and the valley where we camped.  

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