This morning there is a clear sky. Yesterday evening I popped my head out of the window for a couple of times but there were no stars and no Northern Lights. Pity, the forecast was a 2 and there had been a patch of open sky before. The forecast for today is a 3, the highest I’ve seen sofar. This can be fun!
I’m awake around 05:00 already and have not slept that well. Next door there has one been sawing a tree for hours now (what a shitty noise that is) and my feet are floating in thin air because my bed is too short. Around 06:30 I go outside, with another 50 minutes to spare before sunrise. There’s a fresh layer of snow and this is the first time I’ve ice on my windows.
Looking at the sky I guess I’ve to be on the other side of the tunnel, to be able to view the Easthorn in sunlight. The road is very slippery. I’m just driving on ice. I quickly find a good spot for a couple of photographs, but it’s immediately clear to me that the sun won’t have any effect here for the next few hours. The Easthorn is quite low compared to the mountains in front of it.
At first it’s not that cold at all, but as soon as the sun rises, an ice cold wind starts blowing. The cold always becomes worse during the first hours of the morning, because the sun is not warming up things yet. That comes later. I forget to put on my thermal legging under my pants and I immediately feel it. Have to get back in the car, as my ears almost freeze of here.
Estimating which mountain will be illuminated first and best is always difficult. Back on the other side of the tunnel, I see all summits in vivid orange light. So on this side after all. But they are too far away to really do something with them. I only park the car for a photo of the colors in the sky.
It keeps amazing me how much colder the wind is making things. A short while ago I had the feeling that I could walk around in a thin sweater, it’s just above freezing. But that hard wind, cuts right in your face and hands. Glad when I’m back in my warm cage with chair heating. I return to the hotel for breakfast. I’m done for now.
Breakfast is not bad but a bit scarce. Half eggs, half slices of cheese. You feel greedy very easily if you take 2 or 4 of something. Nice strategy. Small plates aren’t helping either. I shove everything in my mouth and leave at 08:15. Having a 500 kilometer drive to Keflavik ahead today. Not too bad and there are a couple of high potential stops on the way as well.
The road is much better than yesterday morning and the sky is completely open, almost no clouds.
After an hour, I arrive at Jokulsarlon. This is the first of the 4 or 5 times I have been here, that the weather is nice. A bit of a shame that so much snow has fallen though. All the blue ice is hidden underneath it. This lake is filled with small icebergs that have broken off the glacier and they flow slowly towards the ocean. Some are thrown back on the beach nearby.
Jokulsarlon has been used in a couple of famous movies like one of the James Bonds. It’s also often used for commercials. During my last visit it was a circus here, for Audi I believe. Large part was closed off for tourists, because of course they didn’t want people walking by when photo’s are being shot. I did wonder at the time, whether they have the right to direct people away.
All in all I keep shooting here for about an hour. First 4 for an overview from left to right.
Then a couple with nice details.
Then off to the beach.
There’s a lot of ice here, but it turns out to be too light already. It’s almost impossible to shoot here without getting overexposed photographs. A large chunk of ice is close to the water. While shooting with my left I in the viewfinder, I keep a sharp lookout on the waves with my right eye.
When I focus my attention completely on the photographs for a few seconds I get surprised after all. I jump away on a reflex, but my foot slips away in the soft sand. Luckily I can catch my balance on my left hand and keep all my stuff dry, but one of my feet gets wet. Yuk.
A guy starts talking to me and asks how long I’ve been here and whether I’ve already seen whales. Nope didn’t see any. He gives me the suggestion not to come too close to the ocean. No I really didn’t think about that (-; Turns out, he’s a tour guide and almost all the people on the beach (about 40) belong to his group. I ask for the icecave and he tells me there is a little road after the Skaftafell hotel near the gas station that leads to it. He never goes there himself because he’s afraid that people return on their own. He thinks one should never go in there, not even with a guide. People have been crushed there in the past because the roof of the cave collapsed on them.
Yesterday I read two stories about people that have disappeared here. In 1953, two Australian researchers have disappeared. Their camping gear was found, but the people were never found. Two German students have disappeared the same way in 2007. Most likely they have fallen into a deep crack in the glacier and were unable to get out. Doesn’t sound like a nice way to go.
The next part on the road takes a few hours. The area around Skaftafel is the most interesting. A long snow covered mountain chain with a lot of glaciers. From here everything becomes more barren and most of all, boring. I do see the twisted part of a bridge and even a complete bridge that has been replaced recently.
Once in a while, suddenly a lot of water is released by the glaciers if the volcanoes underneath heat up. The circle road has been constructed in a such a way, that bridges are allowed to be knocked off in certain places. I notice cameras near a couple of glacier rivers that monitor the amount of water.
I do stop for a minute at Skogafoss and later also at Seljalandfoss but I don’t see any opportunity for good photographs. These are only photogenic in summer green. I also follow a road to Þórsmörk, but that appears to be closed off. This is a very distinct area with black mud, that I have visited before.
The whole stretch from Skaftafel has been clouded and I do start worrying a bit about the Northern Lights. They won’t escape me again, will they? Pity, I have to return home, otherwise I would definitely have stayed for a couple of days in Höfn, because there the sky was completely clear.
Later I pass the edge of the cloud cover and am driving in sunny weather again. I follow road 34 from Selfoss towards Keflavik and have a go-around via the south and west-side of the peninsula. It occurs to me this road is next to a mountain ridge I never saw before. This could be a very nice foreground for Northern Lights. Even if I have to drive 100 kilometers tonight, if there is a forecast 3 for Northern Lights, I will definitely do it. I just have to see it.
Finally I have the possibility to shoot photographs of an old lavafield that’s completely covered in moss. In summer that’s an unearthly vivid green. Along the ring road I have been looking for a spot to stop but couldn’t find one. Here I finally can.
I continue to a very young and active geothermal field: Gunnuhver. There’s so much steam here and it smells like gun powder. Sometimes I can’t even see where I’m walking. It’s just like walking around in a steam cabin, nicely warm, until the steam disappears for a brief moment turning the warmth immediately in an icy coldness. Later I see that my coat is completely gray with tiny water droplets.
I’ve seen it quickly. The wind is coming from the wrong direction for photographs and I definitely don’t want all that steam on my lenses.
Somewhat further down the road is a bird rock but of course there is nothing to see in winter and there is a bridge connecting two continents: America and Europe. Funny, there is a kind of ditch about 10 meters wide with a bridge spanning it. This is actually the boundary between two tectonic plates. The ditch widens about 5 cm every year. This line between the continents is the very reason for all the volcanic activity on Iceland. Because the plates float apart from each other, the space that’s left behind can be filled with magma.
The whole peninsula is covered in clouds now but above the ocean I see a blue sky. The wind is coming from that direction so things can turn out well. The lady behind the desk tells me that the Northern Lights can be seen usually from the shore closeby, because there’s very little light overthere.
As soon as I open the laptop I see that the forecast has changed to a meager 1 ’quiet’. Also a storm is pickup up.
Around 22:00 I look outside, but there’s nothing to see. Last chance for this trip has passed. Well, no reason for complaints, last week on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula was a phantastic show. Tomorrow morning is the flight back home and that will be the end of this trip.
Maps, Charts & Downloads
GPS Map with color coded altitude information
Color coded distance/altitude chart
Download the original gpx file here.