Friday, August 3, 2012

The Trek Part 4: Another Glacier and Rain

On the eighth day, we awoke to a gray, somewhat threatening sky.  There was a sliver of blue in the distance, so I think everyone hoped it would prevail.  Our guide warned us that we had a long day ahead on the glacier, named Skeiðarárjökull.  He also warned us that there would be a lot more crevasses to deal with on Skeiðarárjöjull than on the previous two days of glacier crossings.  Maybe "warned" is too strong a word.  I think he was just trying to set expectations.

We reached the glacier quickly, passing through little bright green moss-filled gulleys along the way.  The mountains we where we were going to camp didn't look that far away, but it was a little bit like being in Limon, Colorado and seeing the Rockies in the distance:  They look sort of close because they are huge, not because they are close.  Getting on the glacier was the easiest of the three.  There was no outlet river or boot-swallowing mud, so before we knew it, we were on the ice.  We spent several hours weaving through and stepping over crevasses before crossing onto a more stable section of the ice.  

By lunchtime, it was raining.  We had a quick lunch somewhat sheltered from the wind by a big volcanic-ash-covered cone of ice.  Fortunately, the rain didn't last long, even if the clouds lingered.  We made it across the ice in seven our eight hours.  Our guide said that we had to climb the "scree of death" to get to our campsite on a bench overlooking the glacier.  It was indeed a climb up a scree slope, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the climb on day six.  The campsite was stunning, even in the clouds and drizzle.  

On the morning of day nine - our last - we had to have breakfast under the tent fly of the largest tent because it was raining so hard.  The rain continued and only got harder as we climbed toward the pass we needed to cross to get to Skaftafell, our final destination.  As we climbed, we started encountering snowfields that scared the hell out of me.  We had to cross a couple that were pretty steep and had really long runouts.  Our guide had to cut steps into them to make them passable.  I was right behind him and when I stopped to wait for him to cut the next step, I had to stop myself from mentally playing out what would happen if someone slipped.  I made myself focus on carefully placing each step.  I have never wanted an ice axe (for self arrest) more.  As steep as the snow fields were, the scree between them was even steeper.  The rain was still coming down and now hard wind gusts made everyone pause to keep their balance.  Everyone was at least partially soaked through to their skin.  I sort of comforted myself with the thought that the weather might be better once we reached the top of the pass.  

We finally reached the top of the pass and...the weather was actually worse.  Stronger winds sent stinging rain and possibly sleet straight into our faces.  We didn't linger on the pass at all (on a clear day, it probably has very nice views).  On the bright side, since we were now on the south-facing side of the pass, there was a lot less snow, making the trip down much less nerve-wracking than the climb up.  We had lunch standing in the pouring rain along a very pretty stream.  In better weather, we probably would have spent time taking pictures of it.  As it was, we ate in a hurry and continued on our way.  We actually had trails to follow now and we made good time.  We even had a couple of minutes of dry weather just before we dropped into the river valley.  I didn't take any pictures on the last day because my camera was buried in a dry bag in my pack.  We got to Skaftafell around four in the afternoon.  

This was one of the harder backpacking trips we've ever done and it was so worth it.  We had a great time and the scenery was simply amazing.  We also hiked with and got to know a great group of eight other people.  We would definitely go back to Iceland.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Day 8:  Looking across Skeiðarárjökull towards the mountains.
 Day 8:  A rock fractured by freeze-thaw.
 Day 8:  Volcanic ash-covered cones of ice.
 Day 8:  Hiking towards the mountains.
 Day 8:  A sled that was on the ice.  It is likely from a post-World War II expedition.  Our guide has tracked its movement in the glacier for several years.
 Day 8:  Blue ice.
 Day 8:  Our final campsite.
Day 8:  Looking back at Skeiðarárjökull from our campsite.

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