My two week extension

Extended Play in the land of Fire and Ice

Þorsmörk, a gorgeous area that I visited briefly and did (surprise!) some more trail work with the Trail Team. The weather wasn't terrific while we were there, and I wasn't feeling 100%, so I didn't take many pictures. The mountainside where we worked was covered in wild blueberries, though, which were delicious and a great morale booster when the sideways rain started to get annoying.

Þorsmörk, a gorgeous area that I visited briefly and did (surprise!) some more trail work with the Trail Team. The weather wasn’t terrific while we were there, and I wasn’t feeling 100%, so I didn’t take many pictures. The mountainside where we worked was covered in wild blueberries, though, which were delicious and a great morale booster when the sideways rain started to get annoying.

The Dettifoss canyon

The Dettifoss canyon

And Dettifoss itself

And Dettifoss itself

The final place I called home... in the shadow of the great Herðubreið.

The final place I called home… in the shadow of the great Herðubreið.

The rangers invited us to hike to the top with them, but none of us felt quite up to it. And when we came back later in the day to see that the summit had gotten a snow storm, I wasn't too disappointed by our decision.

The rangers invited us to hike to the top with them, but none of us felt quite up to it. And when we came back later in the day to see that the summit had gotten a snow storm, I wasn’t too disappointed by our decision.

We spent time in Askja raking the tracks of people who feel the rules do not apply to them. The roads through the highlands are clearly marked, and in fact you have to drive over a little brim to get offroad, but people do it anyway. The ecosystem is much more delicate than it looks, and tire tracks like these do not go away on their own... they encourage other drivers to break the law, they change the natural drainage of the soil, and when water collects in the tracks, vegetation starts to grow there. Tire tracks filled with plants are like human pockmarks on this beautiful area. DON'T DRIVE OFF ROAD!!! If you do, you risk being chased by crazy people wielding rakes. And I can assure you, they will show no mercy.

We spent time in Askja raking the tracks of people who feel the rules do not apply to them. The roads through the highlands are clearly marked, and in fact you have to drive over a little brim to get offroad, but people do it anyway. The ecosystem is much more delicate than it looks, and tire tracks like these do not go away on their own… they encourage other drivers to break the law, they change the natural drainage of the soil, and when water collects in the tracks, vegetation starts to grow there. Tire tracks filled with plants are like human pockmarks on this beautiful area. DON’T DRIVE OFF ROAD!!! If you do, you risk being chased by crazy people wielding rakes. And I can assure you, they will show no mercy.

Lava and natural pumice- the greyish rocks were so lightweight that they felt like fake rocks from a movie set.

Lava and natural pumice- the greyish rocks were so lightweight that they felt like fake rocks from a movie set.

Askja; The beautiful lake in the rear is deepest natural lake in Iceland at 200 m, and in the foreground is a natural hot spring called Vítí, which I think means Hell.

Askja; The beautiful lake in the rear is deepest natural lake in Iceland at 200 m, and in the foreground is a natural hot spring called Vítí, which I think means Hell.

Steph takes a moment to soak in the view.

Steph takes a moment to soak in the view.

Driving through the East Fjords, we went through some beautiful scenes like this. We also battled through some serious winds that had ducks and geese hunkering down in the grass. One mountain pass was littered with fist-sized rocks that had blown down off the rock faces, and we drove through what amounted to a gravel storm, the car getting pelted as we drove along the shore. We also saw waterfalls that were more like waterflies, because the wind grabbed the water as soon as it tipped over the edge and just flung it up and away.

Driving through the East Fjords, we went through some beautiful scenes like this. We also battled through some serious winds that had ducks and geese hunkering down in the grass. One mountain pass was littered with fist-sized rocks that had blown down off the rock faces, and we drove through what amounted to a gravel storm, the car getting pelted as we drove along the shore. We also saw waterfalls that were more like waterflies, because the wind grabbed the water as soon as it tipped over the edge and just flung it up and away.

Can't... stop.... building... Even when we're back inside.

Can’t… stop…. building… Even when we’re back inside.

checkmate

He is truly wise
who’s traveled far
and knows the ways of the world.
He who has traveled
can tell what spirit
governs the men he meets.

– from Hávamál Eddaic poems,
A.D. 700-900

(Hávamál is kind of like the Viking version of the Tao – words of wisdom and guidance on how to live well.)

 

Skál, og takk fyrir Ísland

Skál, og takk fyrir Ísland


Back to Iceland 2005


 

Skaftafell National Park, part 2

This floodplain area is all that lies between mainland Iceland and Puffin Island, which juts out of the sea and is home to scores of seabirds. We stood in the back of a trailer pulled by a large tractor and plowed over the sand and through water on our way to the island.

This floodplain area is all that lies between mainland Iceland and Puffin Island, which juts out of the sea and is home to scores of seabirds. We stood in the back of a trailer pulled by a large tractor and plowed over the sand and through water on our way to the island.

Partway out, we stopped for this photo opportunity.

Partway out, we stopped for this photo opportunity.

All that sand... you could have one heck of a beach volleyball tournament out here.

All that sand… you could have one heck of a beach volleyball tournament out here.

Puffins are actually much smaller than I expected... smaller than an American football.

Puffins are actually much smaller than I expected… smaller than an American football.

Yes, they do fly, although it's not the most graceful of flights- they kind of wobble and flop through the air and seem to be on the border of losing control at all times. But it's a really cute kind of clumsiness.

Yes, they do fly, although it’s not the most graceful of flights- they kind of wobble and flop through the air and seem to be on the border of losing control at all times. But it’s a really cute kind of clumsiness.

Sheep outnumber people in Iceland four to one. There were sheep everywhere we went, and boiled sheep's head is an Icelandic delicacy.

Sheep outnumber people in Iceland four to one. There were sheep everywhere we went, and boiled sheep’s head is an Icelandic delicacy.

This is Landmannalauger, which perhaps should be known as "Bent Tent Peg". It was beautiful, and we had one day of work and one day of exploring in the area before heading back to Reykjavík.

This is Landmannalauger, which perhaps should be known as “Bent Tent Peg”. It was beautiful, and we had one day of work and one day of exploring in the area before heading back to Reykjavík.

The boys stretch their legs after a long, jostling, exciting bus ride into Landmannalauger.

The boys stretch their legs after a long, jostling, exciting bus ride into Landmannalauger.

We took a quick wander to explore the area.

We took a quick wander to explore the area.

A rainbow gracing our campsite....

A rainbow gracing our campsite….

Craggy lava and greenish water... seems like something out of Lord of the Rings.

Craggy lava and greenish water… seems like something out of Lord of the Rings.

This river is hot, so campers go out and lay in it like a natural hot tub. Some spots were uncomfortably hot, but the water is constantly moving, so the hot and warm parts swirl and flow around you.

This river is hot, so campers go out and lay in it like a natural hot tub. Some spots were uncomfortably hot, but the water is constantly moving, so the hot and warm parts swirl and flow around you.

August 11, 2005
Had a bizarre moment today. On the way to a relaxing sit in the hot river, I stopped in the campground bathrooms to change into my swimming suit. Someone in there was whistling, and I recognized the tune, but couldn’t quite place it… they were spot-on with the melody. As I was walking out, still listening to the talented whistler, I remembered. It was the theme music from The Muppet Show, which I watched as a very young child.

But in Landmannalauger, Iceland, in 2005?

The rich mosses and different colors around Landmannalauger are stunning and seem almost too bright to be real. It's like someone Photoshopped the landscape.

The rich mosses and different colors around Landmannalauger are stunning and seem almost too bright to be real. It’s like someone Photoshopped the landscape.

Yep, another waterfall...

Yep, another waterfall…

Beautiful view from a little mountaintop. Our campsite is visible on the left side of the photo.

Beautiful view from a little mountaintop. Our campsite is visible on the left side of the photo.

Another lava flow. One third of Iceland is covered by active volcanic regions, and the island actually formed from the superheated magma plume escaping from the Eurasian and North American crustal plates as they pull apart. Iceland continues to grow at a rate of about six feet per century along the SW-NE diagonal.

Another lava flow. One third of Iceland is covered by active volcanic regions, and the island actually formed from the superheated magma plume escaping from the Eurasian and North American crustal plates as they pull apart. Iceland continues to grow at a rate of about six feet per century along the SW-NE diagonal.

Lunch time. (Word to my homeboys, T-Bone and Big Willy Style- peace, yo.)

Lunch time. (Word to my homeboys, T-Bone and Big Willy Style- peace, yo.)

Hard to get a grip on this picture? It's wet, shiny mud next to shallow water in the floodplain between our campsite and the mountains.

Hard to get a grip on this picture? It’s wet, shiny mud next to shallow water in the floodplain between our campsite and the mountains.

August 12, 2005
During the bus ride back from Landmannalauger, we were singing songs and spilling water and generally screwing around, and at one point Tom said, “When I signed up for this trip, I never imagined I’d be sitting in the back of a bus between two other blokes singing ‘Barbie Girl’.”

And that’s one of my favorite things about traveling… your plane ticket says where you’re going, but you never really know where you’ll end up.

This is Þhingvellir, where the first parliament took place in 930 A.D. It is now a national park.

This is Þhingvellir, where the first parliament took place in 930 A.D. It is now a national park.

Fun group photo- but Dave, Lauren, and Liz, we can't see you!

Fun group photo- but Dave, Lauren, and Liz, we can’t see you!

The last supper, sort of. We had an nice meal out in Reykjavík to celebrate our holiday. Note the pile of cameras on the table... you can't see the patient waitress taking the picture, but she gets the photo credit for this one- but thanks to Steve for sharing it.

The last supper, sort of. We had an nice meal out in Reykjavík to celebrate our holiday. Note the pile of cameras on the table… you can’t see the patient waitress taking the picture, but she gets the photo credit for this one- but thanks to Steve for sharing it.

August 13, 2005
The second group is already gone- I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed. We stayed in the hostel last night, and early this morning Val, Zoe, and Chas drove the group to the airport. I said my goodbyes curbside and then went back to sleep. When Val and Zoe came back into the room a few hours later, I awoke to Val whispering excitedly: “This is AMAZING! I hung this stuff up last night, and it’s already almost dry! Buildings are FANTASTIC!!” I was a little groggy, but I enthusiastically agreed- buildings ARE fantastic. Really, they are. And as I laid my head back down onto the hostel pillow, I smiled happily to myself and added “Pillows are fantastic, too!”

What a splendid place to be- where buildings and pillows are reasons for sheer joy.

August 19, 2005
Back in Mývatn to work on the boardwalks a bit longer. Chas stopped in to drop off Steph and do a quick site visit with us, and he treated us to coffee and hot cocoa at the Zanzibar, a little cafe across the street from the campsite. We relished the feel of sitting at an actual table, of drinking out of real cups, and enjoying a hot drink with no grass floating in it and no unidentifiable grit at the bottom. My hot cocoa even had whipped cream on top. I could have ascended to nirvana right there. (But I didn’t, because we still had work to do.)


Back to Iceland 2005


 

 

Skaftafell National Park

My next temporary home was in the south of Iceland, in Skaftafell National Park. Am I the luckiest person alive, or what?

My next temporary home was in the south of Iceland, in Skaftafell National Park. Am I the luckiest person alive, or what?

The volunteers even have a little hut to use for food preparation, cards, revelry, and drying our rain-soaked clothes.

The volunteers even have a little hut to use for food preparation, cards, revelry, and drying our rain-soaked clothes.

Here is our first worksite, up the mountain a bit. We were building stone drains to shunt rainwater and snowmelt across the footpaths to keep them from being washed away.

Here is our first worksite, up the mountain a bit. We were building stone drains to shunt rainwater and snowmelt across the footpaths to keep them from being washed away.

Steve stands proudly over one of our drains. Now, those rocks there are like icebergs... much bigger than what you see. The rocks have to be buried fairly deep to actually stay in place and divert the water. We had to go walk around the area looking for suitable rocks, and then carry them back to our drain location. Man, rocks that big are HEAVY.

Steve stands proudly over one of our drains. Now, those rocks there are like icebergs… much bigger than what you see. The rocks have to be buried fairly deep to actually stay in place and divert the water. We had to go walk around the area looking for suitable rocks, and then carry them back to our drain location. Man, rocks that big are HEAVY.

This is Svartifoss, one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. It translates to black waterfall because of the long basalt columns over which it drops. We often worked within earshot of it.

This is Svartifoss, one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. It translates to black waterfall because of the long basalt columns over which it drops. We often worked within earshot of it.

This is the Sel Farmhouse, a historic monument to the traditional turf homes. Trees are scarce in Iceland, so there was no wood (other than driftwood from shipwrecks on Iceland's rocky coastlines) for building. But there was plenty of dirt.

This is the Sel Farmhouse, a historic monument to the traditional turf homes. Trees are scarce in Iceland, so there was no wood (other than driftwood from shipwrecks on Iceland’s rocky coastlines) for building. But there was plenty of dirt.

This is inside one of the farmhouses, looking out over the flood plain leading to the ocean.

This is inside one of the farmhouses, looking out over the flood plain leading to the ocean.

Again, not a terrible place to have a lunch break...

Again, not a terrible place to have a lunch break…

The weather was volatile, but never awful. Most days it would rain at some point, and we even got thunder and hail once, but we had a good vantage point to see the storms coming, so we had time to bag up our daypacks and put on our waterproofs. One nice thing about building drains during a downpour is that you get immediate feedback about whether your design is working.

The weather was volatile, but never awful. Most days it would rain at some point, and we even got thunder and hail once, but we had a good vantage point to see the storms coming, so we had time to bag up our daypacks and put on our waterproofs. One nice thing about building drains during a downpour is that you get immediate feedback about whether your design is working.

We also constructed and posted directional signs for the hiking trails around Skaftafell.

We also constructed and posted directional signs for the hiking trails around Skaftafell.

Now isn't that nice? What you don't see is the meter of post that we buried in the rocky mountainside. In order to keep the frost from heaving the signs up and out of the ground, we had to place the posts pretty deep. That meant a lot of digging and rock-wrangling.

Now isn’t that nice? What you don’t see is the meter of post that we buried in the rocky mountainside. In order to keep the frost from heaving the signs up and out of the ground, we had to place the posts pretty deep. That meant a lot of digging and rock-wrangling.

It's never fun to wake up at 3 a.m. and realize that you have to leave your snuggy, warm mummy sleeping bag so that you can gallop through the mud to the camp restrooms. But when you crawl out of your tent and see a sunrise like this, it makes it a little better.

It’s never fun to wake up at 3 a.m. and realize that you have to leave your snuggy, warm mummy sleeping bag so that you can gallop through the mud to the camp restrooms. But when you crawl out of your tent and see a sunrise like this, it makes it a little better.

Ice climbing on the glaciers! What an awesome time.

Ice climbing on the glaciers! What an awesome time.

What, walking over 10,000-year-old ice is dangerous?

What, walking over 10,000-year-old ice is dangerous?

Tom makes the descent over the edge, belayed by our trusty Icelandic guides, Ivar and Einar.

Tom makes the descent over the edge, belayed by our trusty Icelandic guides, Ivar and Einar.

We thought taking that first lean back into nothingness would be the hard part...

We thought taking that first lean back into nothingness would be the hard part…

...but it turns out making that last scramble up over the lip of the glacier was no cakewalk, either.

…but it turns out making that last scramble up over the lip of the glacier was no cakewalk, either.

If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend giving ice climbing a try. It was a blast.

If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend giving ice climbing a try. It was a blast.

August 7, 2005
I think I pulled a muscle laughing tonight. Alec was re-telling a bizarre dream he had about shaking Prince Phillip’s hand and an actor in a wheelchair spinning around in circles, and it was just hilarious. I’d even heard it already, but something about the way he tells stories just makes them so funny that I can’t stop laughing. I couldn’t catch my breath and I think at some point I injured myself, because now whenever I start to chuckle I get a shooting pain in my ribs. Figures this group has a killer sense of humor. We all have some hideous bruises from ice climbing and maneuvering the drain rocks, and my hands are starting to crack from the work and the rain and the dry heat. My body is falling apart, but I’m having the time of my life, and I sleep so well at night.

This is the iceberg lake, where chunks of the glaciers crack off and slowly make their way out to sea. It was a beautiful scene, but unfortunately broken every 10 minutes by the obnoxious deisel engine of an amphibious tour vehicle.

This is the iceberg lake, where chunks of the glaciers crack off and slowly make their way out to sea. It was a beautiful scene, but unfortunately broken every 10 minutes by the obnoxious deisel engine of an amphibious tour vehicle.

The iceberg lake as the sun sets...

The iceberg lake as the sun sets…

The wind was blowing as Val, Will, and I crossed this bridge over the waterway between the lake and the sea.

The wind was blowing as Val, Will, and I crossed this bridge over the waterway between the lake and the sea.

Some of the ice chunks only made it past the bridge before washing up on the black sand beaches. Note the incoming storm on the horizon.

Some of the ice chunks only made it past the bridge before washing up on the black sand beaches. Note the incoming storm on the horizon.

The ice that washed up looked like crystal- absolutely clear, no cracks or bubbles or anything.

The ice that washed up looked like crystal- absolutely clear, no cracks or bubbles or anything.

The boys being boys and having rock chucking contests...

The boys being boys and having rock chucking contests…

Skaftafell group photo

Skaftafell group photo

August 9, 2005
A group of us went to the Hótel this evening to remember what beer tasted like. It was actually a pretty cool place- a tiny upstairs corner with a few couches and chairs, dimly lit (in part because some other tourists were watching a movie projected on a curtain), but comfortable and fun. We sat around and drank and chatted and laughed, and the evening faded into night. Eventually all the other guests slipped away, and one of the bartenders took out an acoustic guitar. She went to the other side of the curtain and we quietly followed, and she sat down on a stool with a pile of music and a microphone. She was practicing some songs for an upcoming performance at a work party, I think. We were still feeling kind of silly and tried to convince Alec to go up and sing Ace of Spades during one of her water breaks, but he wasn’t feeling it. The girl started off with “Stairway to Heaven” with her slight accent and soft voice, and it was beautiful. She sang a few songs in Icelandic, but also some songs I knew by Dido, Jewel, and a really nice version of Sweet Child O’ Mine. I found myself sitting there in the warmth and darkness with the others, closing down this hótel bar and listening to a pretty Icelandic girl sing a Guns ‘N’ Roses song, and it felt perfect, in that ephemeral, never-again way.

You guessed it- more pretty flowers!

You guessed it- more pretty flowers!

Lambhagi, a former sheep corral area and home to some of the tallest trees in Iceland.

Lambhagi, a former sheep corral area and home to some of the tallest trees in Iceland.

Before leaving Skaftafell, we roasted two legs of lamb in the turf charcoal oven we dug behind the hut. Yum.

Before leaving Skaftafell, we roasted two legs of lamb in the turf charcoal oven we dug behind the hut. Yum.

A nice backdrop for a lamb dinner...

A nice backdrop for a lamb dinner…


Back to Iceland 2005


 

Mývatn Nature Reserve, part 2

The Mývatn group at the (tippy) picnic table outside our food tent. We'd just given our new plastic cups distinctive markings with electrical tape. Form meets function!

The Mývatn group at the (tippy) picnic table outside our food tent. We’d just given our new plastic cups distinctive markings with electrical tape. Form meets function!

We headed out late one night to catch the sunset... this photo was probably taken around 10:30 p.m.

We headed out late one night to catch the sunset… this photo was probably taken around 10:30 p.m.

 As the sun began to sink, the mountains behind us blushed pink.

As the sun began to sink, the mountains behind us blushed pink.

Beautiful lava pillars... somehow they reminded me of Stonehenge.

Beautiful lava pillars… somehow they reminded me of Stonehenge.

And the show begins...

And the show begins…

Is this amazing or what???? This was probably close to midnight.

Is this amazing or what????
This was probably close to midnight.

Group photo of the sunset watchers, including the hood of the Isuzu Trooper on which my camera was resting.

Group photo of the sunset watchers, including the hood of the Isuzu Trooper on which my camera was resting.

 

Back to work! The footpaths through these lava flows needed some work, and again we answered the call. The black lava in this photo is the most recent flow in Iceland- about ten years old.

Back to work! The footpaths through these lava flows needed some work, and again we answered the call. The black lava in this photo is the most recent flow in Iceland- about ten years old.

We were once again widening, flattening, and removing rocks. We also replanted turf into places where people walking off the path had damaged the vegetation.

We were once again widening, flattening, and removing rocks. We also replanted turf into places where people walking off the path had damaged the vegetation.

July 29, 2005
I had what I hope will be an indelible memory yesterday. We had good weather again, and most of the group went to Dimmuborgir to continue working on those paths, but Phil, Chas and I went back to Krafla to work with Bergþóra and her sister on the boardwalks. We were driving out there, and the sun hadn’t yet burned off the morning chill and “Beautiful Day” by U2 was playing on the Jeep’s stereo. I felt so lucky to be there and to see it all sprawling out before my eyes, sun shining and Earth slowly growing and heaving and boiling far beneath our tires. Tiny specks of life fortunate enough to exist for one glimmering moment in the universe… yet it was the moment, not the universe, that felt infinite.

What you don’t have you don’t need it now
What you don’t know you can feel it somehow
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
Don’t need it now
It was a beautiful day
–U2

 

This is in the parking lot of Krafla, a geothermal power plant. We built footbridges here to be placed through Leirhnjúkur, a nearby geothermal area like Hverir. The existing path goes through the hot areas and becomes slippery when it rains. Careless people do get badly burned there. The plan is to reroute the path around the hot spots with footbridges leading up to a viewing platform, so that people can see the area without walking through the center of it.

This is in the parking lot of Krafla, a geothermal power plant. We built footbridges here to be placed through Leirhnjúkur, a nearby geothermal area like Hverir. The existing path goes through the hot areas and becomes slippery when it rains. Careless people do get badly burned there. The plan is to reroute the path around the hot spots with footbridges leading up to a viewing platform, so that people can see the area without walking through the center of it.

A ranger's dog, Romeo, inspects the sturdiness of our work.

A ranger’s dog, Romeo, inspects the sturdiness of our work.

We were able to build many more sections than we were able to lay. Some of the routing will need to be decided after evaluating the washout areas during heavy rains. At one point, we were walking around this area with Bergþóra, and she carried a section of rebar, which she pushed into the ground every few steps. After sinking a few inches into the ground and being pulled right back out, the end was nearly too hot to touch. At one point, as we neared the edge of the hot areas, she poked a hole in the ground and when she pulled the rebar out, steam started puffing out of the hole. "I think we would not be clever," she said, "to dig too deeply here." No kidding.

We were able to build many more sections than we were able to lay. Some of the routing will need to be decided after evaluating the washout areas during heavy rains. At one point, we were walking around this area with Bergþóra, and she carried a section of rebar, which she pushed into the ground every few steps. After sinking a few inches into the ground and being pulled right back out, the end was nearly too hot to touch. At one point, as we neared the edge of the hot areas, she poked a hole in the ground and when she pulled the rebar out, steam started puffing out of the hole. “I think we would not be clever,” she said, “to dig too deeply here.”
No kidding.

Not a bad spot for a lunch break.

Not a bad spot for a lunch break.

This flag was flying in Húsavik, the little port town where we went whale watching and had a nice dinner. Húsavik is also home to the world's only Phallilogical Museum. I'm not making this up. The museum's, err, "donors" range from blue whales to... well, I don't know, a bunch of other animals. I didn't go in.

This flag was flying in Húsavik, the little port town where we went whale watching and had a nice dinner. Húsavik is also home to the world’s only Phallilogical Museum. I’m not making this up. The museum’s, err, “donors” range from blue whales to… well, I don’t know, a bunch of other animals.
I didn’t go in.

Húsavik's church

Húsavik’s church

One of the other whale watching boats we saw out in the ocean. We also saw dolphins and a minke whale, along with hundreds of sea birds.

One of the other whale watching boats we saw out in the ocean. We also saw dolphins and a minke whale, along with hundreds of sea birds.

I also got to go horseback riding through the pseudocraters along the lake. Icelandic horses have some of the purest bloodlines in the world. Since the Vikings first settled on the island, no horses have been allowed to enter Iceland, and any horse that leaves is never allowed to re-enter the country.

I also got to go horseback riding through the pseudocraters along the lake. Icelandic horses have some of the purest bloodlines in the world. Since the Vikings first settled on the island, no horses have been allowed to enter Iceland, and any horse that leaves is never allowed to re-enter the country.

Icelandic horses have retained a fifth gait, called the tölt, which is somewhere between a trot and a canter. When the beauty of Icelandic horses is mentioned, it is sometimes pointed out that when the bad ones are eaten, after 1000 years you end up with some pretty good horses.

Icelandic horses have retained a fifth gait, called the tölt, which is somewhere between a trot and a canter.
When the beauty of Icelandic horses is mentioned, it is sometimes pointed out that when the bad ones are eaten, after 1000 years you end up with some pretty good horses.

Goðafoss, which means "Waterfall of the Gods." It is said that when Iceland converted to Christianity, one of the leaders threw all of the pagan idols into this waterfall as a sign of faith.

Goðafoss, which means “Waterfall of the Gods.” It is said that when Iceland converted to Christianity, one of the leaders threw all of the pagan idols into this waterfall as a sign of faith.

Yes, they do sell plastic Viking hats in Iceland.

Yes, they do sell plastic Viking hats in Iceland.

This is one of the steam pipes leading into Krafla. A large portion of Icelandic homes and greenhouses use hot springs and other naturally occuring heat sources in the winter. With 97% of the country's energy coming from hydroelectric and geothermal sources, Iceland has some of the lowest levels of air pollution in the world. (The tradeoff is that you have to accept the risk of the occasional catastrophic volcanic eruption.)

This is one of the steam pipes leading into Krafla. A large portion of Icelandic homes and greenhouses use hot springs and other naturally occuring heat sources in the winter. With 97% of the country’s energy coming from hydroelectric and geothermal sources, Iceland has some of the lowest levels of air pollution in the world. (The tradeoff is that you have to accept the risk of the occasional catastrophic volcanic eruption.)

Another sunset over our campsite

Another sunset over our campsite

Our final excursion was into the highlands, Iceland's desolate interior. On the way, though, we stopped to have lunch at this rest stop along the highway. Nice place for a picnic.

Our final excursion was into the highlands, Iceland’s desolate interior. On the way, though, we stopped to have lunch at this rest stop along the highway. Nice place for a picnic.

Our last stop in civilization, a little town with touristy gift shops, a liquor store, and a nice bakery...

Our last stop in civilization, a little town with touristy gift shops, a liquor store, and a nice bakery…

...and a friendly wooden Viking guy that made friends with Alastair and Becks.

…and a friendly wooden Viking guy that made friends with Alastair and Becks.

Remember that "desolate interior" I mentioned? Here we are. 4WD is required to even be on these roads, which are hours away from help and require the ability to safely ford rivers.

Remember that “desolate interior” I mentioned? Here we are. 4WD is required to even be on these roads, which are hours away from help and require the ability to safely ford rivers.

July 28, 2005
We were on our way to Hvuiternes, bumping along on a rough highland road and packed in like sardines when we saw the owl. It was flying above a small ravine next to the road, which put it at the same height as the muddy Trooper full of volunteers. The owl was riding the wind more than flying, soaring at almost our exact speed so that it seemed to hang in the air next to our vehicle, barely moving except to turn its head and look at us several times. It flew next to us for what seemed like ages, and I don’t know if the car fell quiet or if I was so taken with the sight that my other senses stopped working, but my memory of it is accompanied only by silence. It literally took my breath away, it was so amazing. I never even reached for my camera, instinctively knowing, I guess, that this one would never be captured. I did wonder why an owl was out in broad daylight, but I suppose summer days with 22 hours of sunlight make it hard to be properly nocturnal. Maybe owls get insomnia, too.

This is Hvuiternes, a little mountain hut in the middle of nowhere. It was unbelievable. We spent the night eating and drinking and waiting for the ghost of Hvuiternes to pay us a visit, but she did not.

This is Hvuiternes, a little mountain hut in the middle of nowhere. It was unbelievable. We spent the night eating and drinking and waiting for the ghost of Hvuiternes to pay us a visit, but she did not.

Hvuiternes means (roughly) white river, which is suitable because of the, ahem, white river that flows right next to the hut.

Hvuiternes means (roughly) white river, which is suitable because of the, ahem, white river that flows right next to the hut.

Mountains, glaciers, rivers, and wide open spaces... what a great place to spend the waning hours of our trip together.

Mountains, glaciers, rivers, and wide open spaces… what a great place to spend the waning hours of our trip together.

Group photo!

Group photo!

The next morning, on the way back to Reykjavík, we stopped at Gullfoss, The Golden Waterfall. It is Europe's most powerful waterfall, and quite beautiful.

The next morning, on the way back to Reykjavík, we stopped at Gullfoss, The Golden Waterfall. It is Europe’s most powerful waterfall, and quite beautiful.

Plenty of rainbows, at least when the sun is shining.

Plenty of rainbows, at least when the sun is shining.

"Geysir" is actually an Icelandic word. See, you didn't know you spoke Icelandic, did you? This is Stokkur, which erupts every few minutes.

“Geysir” is actually an Icelandic word. See, you didn’t know you spoke Icelandic, did you? This is Stokkur, which erupts every few minutes.


Back to Iceland 2005


 

 

Mývatn Nature Reserve

We visited a place called Hverir soon after arriving at our campsite. It's a geothermal area where you can walk around and actually see the heat coming to the surface from the magma plume that formed Iceland. The whole area had a very strong sulfur smell, as did all the hot water in Iceland.

We visited a place called Hverir soon after arriving at our campsite. It’s a geothermal area where you can walk around and actually see the heat coming to the surface from the magma plume that formed Iceland. The whole area had a very strong sulfur smell, as did all the hot water in Iceland.

An mp3 file would be better than this photo... the ground here was hissing quite audibly, like when you flick a few drops of water into a frying pan.

An mp3 file would be better than this photo… the ground here was hissing quite audibly, like when you flick a few drops of water into a frying pan.

The general rule is if it's bubbling, boiling, or steaming, don't touch it. That goes for this mud pot here, bubbling and plopping and churning like a kid blowing into the straw in his milk carton.

The general rule is if it’s bubbling, boiling, or steaming, don’t touch it. That goes for this mud pot here, bubbling and plopping and churning like a kid blowing into the straw in his milk carton.

Pretty flowers!

Pretty flowers!

This pile of rocks was steaming constantly, and the steam had that warm, wet, rotten egg sulfur smell. Mmmm, delightful!

This pile of rocks was steaming constantly, and the steam had that warm, wet, rotten egg sulfur smell. Mmmm, delightful!

July 20, 2005
We’re at the campsite in Mývatn now, right on the lake. It’s beautiful and stays light enough that I can read in my tent all night… odd. There’s a sign in the bathroom next to the sinks that says “CAUTION HOT WATER IS VERY HOT”. They’re not kidding. An easy way to learn curse words in a variety of languages is to stand by the sinks and wait for people to wash their hands for the first time… they always crank that hot water handle and then burn themselves. Considering you can look outside and see cracks in the ground that are spewing geothermic steam, maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise. Chas suggested that the sign read, “Water from the Center of the Earth. What do you reckon?”

There was a little mountain overlooking the Hverir area, with a wonderful footpath built by past BTCV volunteers. This photo was taken looking up the mountain from the path.

There was a little mountain overlooking the Hverir area, with a wonderful footpath built by past BTCV volunteers. This photo was taken looking up the mountain from the path.

Looking down on Hverir and the parking area

Looking down on Hverir and the parking area

Nice view!

Nice view!

The path continued over to this mountain, I think, that was hiding in some low-lying clouds.

The path continued over to this mountain, I think, that was hiding in some low-lying clouds.

This volcanic crater, called Hverfjall, is a very recognizable part of the landscape and also the site of our first assignment

This volcanic crater, called Hverfjall, is a very recognizable part of the landscape and also the site of our first assignment

There were two footpaths up to the rim of Hverfjall, and one of them was past its prime. Our job was to erase the path as best we could by digging it up and smoothing out the profile that the path had cut into the crater. A new path would be opened that followed a more natural line in the crater's topography and which would be less visible from afar.

There were two footpaths up to the rim of Hverfjall, and one of them was past its prime. Our job was to erase the path as best we could by digging it up and smoothing out the profile that the path had cut into the crater. A new path would be opened that followed a more natural line in the crater’s topography and which would be less visible from afar.

This is the inside of the crater, as seen from the rim. The tephra crater formed about 2500 years ago and is about 1 km in diameter

This is the inside of the crater, as seen from the rim. The tephra crater formed about 2500 years ago and is about 1 km in diameter

Iceland sprawling out away from the crater (also taken from the rim)

Iceland sprawling out away from the crater (also taken from the rim)

 The path cut pretty deeply into the surface of the crater, and we need to move a lot of lava to cover it up.


The path cut pretty deeply into the surface of the crater, and we need to move a lot of lava to cover it up.

We worked at Hverfjall for three or four days, and had decent weather most of the time. Some cold rain, a few misty clouds, but a fair amount of sunshine, too.

We worked at Hverfjall for three or four days, and had decent weather most of the time. Some cold rain, a few misty clouds, but a fair amount of sunshine, too.

July 20, 2005
Today on the crater, one of the assistant rangers asked where in America I grew up. I said Michigan, and then explained that it’s the state surrounded by the great lakes. Heck, there are plenty of Americans who don’t know where Michigan is, how would an Icelandic park ranger know? But he nodded and said, “Oh yes, I know Michigan. Home of the white rapper.”

WHOA. I’m standing on a volcanic crater in Iceland, and this guy knows my state as the home of Eminem?
Totally surreal.

Looking up the crater at the progress we'd made so far.

Looking up the crater at the progress we’d made so far.

Pretty flowers! Even prettier because they're growing out of a big pile of rocks- only the strong survive.

Pretty flowers! Even prettier because they’re growing out of a big pile of rocks- only the strong survive.

This was the "before" picture, on our first day. The task seemed impossible, frankly. Note the many layers of clothing, coats, hats, and gloves... we started out pretty chilly.

This was the “before” picture, on our first day. The task seemed impossible, frankly. Note the many layers of clothing, coats, hats, and gloves… we started out pretty chilly.

And this was near the end of our last day, during our lunch break. Once the path has been weathered a bit and the finer sediment settles down below the more coarse rocks, it'll blend in better.

And this was near the end of our last day, during our lunch break. Once the path has been weathered a bit and the finer sediment settles down below the more coarse rocks, it’ll blend in better.

I took this sitting on the edge of the rim, but there's not much contrast between the rim (brown and rocky) and the ground hundreds of feet away (green and rocky). At the right edge of this photo, you can see part of a ring of lava formations known as Dimmuborgir, which translates to Dark Castles. During an eruption, a pool of lava formed where Dimmuborgir now sits. As the lava slowly drained out of the pool, steam bubbled up through the magma, cooling it in places, and leaving behind tall pillars.

I took this sitting on the edge of the rim, but there’s not much contrast between the rim (brown and rocky) and the ground hundreds of feet away (green and rocky). At the right edge of this photo, you can see part of a ring of lava formations known as Dimmuborgir, which translates to Dark Castles. During an eruption, a pool of lava formed where Dimmuborgir now sits. As the lava slowly drained out of the pool, steam bubbled up through the magma, cooling it in places, and leaving behind tall pillars.

Dimmuborgir was the site of another pathwork assignment, which included widening and smoothing the paths through the lava formations. We shoveled gravel and dirt, removed big rocks from the path way, and broke apart (as best we could) the rocks that were too big to move. The goal, eventually, is to make portions of the paths accessible to wheelchairs.

Dimmuborgir was the site of another pathwork assignment, which included widening and smoothing the paths through the lava formations. We shoveled gravel and dirt, removed big rocks from the path way, and broke apart (as best we could) the rocks that were too big to move. The goal, eventually, is to make portions of the paths accessible to wheelchairs.

We also got an "off road" walking tour of Dimmuborgir from a park ranger, Bergþóra, which included scrambling up some rock faces, crawling down through some caves, and inching along some rather intimidating dropoffs.

We also got an “off road” walking tour of Dimmuborgir from a park ranger, Bergþóra, which included scrambling up some rock faces, crawling down through some caves, and inching along some rather intimidating dropoffs.

There are similar lava formations off the coast of Mexico, but are not known to exist anywhere else on dry land.

There are similar lava formations off the coast of Mexico, but are not known to exist anywhere else on dry land.

Properly stormy clouds hovered over the place of dark castles.

Properly stormy clouds hovered over the place of dark castles.

But Katherine and I also had some beautiful blue sky to hike beneath.

But Katherine and I also had some beautiful blue sky to hike beneath.

This was a vacation, but it was also really hard work. As it got hotter and the rocks got heavier, our lunch breaks were often accompanied by sleepytime.

This was a vacation, but it was also really hard work. As it got hotter and the rocks got heavier, our lunch breaks were often accompanied by sleepytime.

I took a photo of my tent every place I camped- here's my home right on the edge of Lake Mývatn.

I took a photo of my tent every place I camped- here’s my home right on the edge of Lake Mývatn.

Our campsite was on the outskirts of the little town of Reykjahlið.

Our campsite was on the outskirts of the little town of Reykjahlið.

The campsite had a common kitchen area for campers to use, and not a bad view at all.

The campsite had a common kitchen area for campers to use, and not a bad view at all.

We, however, had our own kitchen- the food tent. We prepared all of our own meals, taking turns cooking and cleaning up.

We, however, had our own kitchen- the food tent. We prepared all of our own meals, taking turns cooking and cleaning up.

Our mess tent... at the moment I took this photo, it certainly lived up to its name. It was also our dining tent, meeting room, and drying rack.

Our mess tent… at the moment I took this photo, it certainly lived up to its name. It was also our dining tent, meeting room, and drying rack.

Wow. (What else can I say?)

Wow.
(What else can I say?)


Back to Iceland 2005


 

Reykjavík, Iceland’s capitol

sizeReykjavík

Iceland is pretty small when compared to the U.S. Of its approximately 300,000 citizens, something like 70% live in the city of Reykjavík. One of the coolest facts I learned during my research was this: Of all the magma that has surfaced on the planet in the last 500 years, ONE THIRD of it has emerged in Iceland. Awesome. But this page is about Reykjavík, not liquid hot magma.

reykfromdomeDowntown Reykjavík, as seen from a big domed restaurant that slowly rotates. I read in the airline magazine that Reykjavík is on par with any modern European city, but since it’s the only European city I’ve visited, I can’t really offer an opinion on that. I did think it was quite nice.

Pretty flowers, and corrugated metal siding, which is quite common.

Pretty flowers, and corrugated metal siding, which is quite common.

This statue of Leif Eriksson looks out over Reykjavík. The text on the monument reads: Leifr Eiricsson Son of Iceland Discoverer of Vinland The United States of America to the People of Iceland on the one thousandth anniversary of the Althing AD 1930 I guess whoever carved it wasn't really into the whole "punctuation" fad yet. The Althing was the first parliamentary organization in the modern world.

This statue of Leif Eriksson looks out over Reykjavík. The text on the monument reads:
Leifr Eiricsson Son of Iceland Discoverer of Vinland The United States of America to the People of Iceland on the one thousandth anniversary of the Althing AD 1930
I guess whoever carved it wasn’t really into the whole “punctuation” fad yet. The Althing was the first parliamentary organization in the modern world.

We went out to this lighthouse late in the evening on our first night in Iceland. I was jet-lagged and disoriented, but this was still a pretty stunning scene. reyklighthouse

 

reykbchgrass

The edge of the ocean, tidal smell and all. Reminded me of Portland, Maine.

A sculpture on the coast of Reykjavík at night

A sculpture on the coast of Reykjavík at night

I don't really know the story here, which is kind of why it fascinated me. In the middle of this pile of rubble (apparently where a house used to be) was this basically unscathed frame of lumber with "Bless Bless" written on it in marker. "Bye Bye".

I don’t really know the story here, which is kind of why it fascinated me. In the middle of this pile of rubble (apparently where a house used to be) was this basically unscathed frame of lumber with “Bless Bless” written on it in marker. “Bye Bye”.

Again, kind of reminds me of Portland.

Again, kind of reminds me of Portland.

I wasn't able to make much sense of this graffitti, but it seemed to be your basic combination of political overstatement and disaffected youth. Some things are universal.

I wasn’t able to make much sense of this graffitti, but it seemed to be your basic combination of political overstatement and disaffected youth. Some things are universal.

Just one section of the downtown area

Just one section of the downtown area

reykskylineI took this photo of the Reyjkavík shorline on my last day in Iceland. I had stopped at a bakery and gotten a little loaf of warm bread (yum) and sat on a bench enjoying the city’s commotion and calm. What you can’t tell from this photo, though, is that it’s rather cold and very windy, so after sitting on the bench and following the adventures of Ari and Ása for about 40 minutes, I had to go back to my tent at the youth hostel to thaw out.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Back to Iceland 2005


 

The Icelandic Language

Talar þú ensku?

Learning Icelandic

Those of you who live, work, or play volleyball near me know that I tried to learn some Icelandic before my trip. In fact, you probably were forced to learn some as well, as you were repeatedly subjected to me fumbling through the Icelandic names for vegetable toppings at Subway, parts of the body, and colors. Not many people in the world speak Icelandic, particularly in the greater Grand Rapids area, so even when I slaughtered “Where are the suitcases?” (“Hvar eru ferðatöskurnar?”), it probably still sounded pretty Icelandic.

The Icelandic alphabet has 28 characters, including a few that English does not have- the most visible of which are the thorn [þ] which sounds like “th” in “think”, the eth [ð] which sounds like “th” in “the”, and the ash [æ] which sounds like “i” in “time”. Icelandic also pronouces the “j” like the English “y”, and all of their “r”s are trilled. Good luck with that.

Here are some of the more common words we heard and used while in Iceland:

Já -Yes (sounds like “yow”)
Nei – No
Takk – Thanks
Skál – Cheers
Halló / Goðan daginn – Hello / Good day
Ég skil ekki – I don’t understand
Talar þú ensku? – Do you speak English?

One of the most interesting things about Icelandic is that it has remained virtually unchanged since the Viking settlers arrived nine centuries ago. As a result, any Icelandic speaker could pick up one Iceland’s oldest literary works and read it fairly easily. Iceland’s literary history and folklore play a strong part in the culture, and the Icelandic sagas are cherished for their academic and historical value, but also as a matter of national pride.

Icelandic grammar is pretty overwhelming, and I barely know any of the rules. I do know that words change depending on how they’re used and where they are in a sentence. But hey, I figured, I’m a fairly intelligent person. I can learn a little Icelandic. So I bought myself an Icelandic-English dictionary and some children’s books to translate. The first one was for 2-4 year olds, so I was actually overshooting it by a good 26 years. That seemed fair enough.


langammaThere were a few books in this series in the bookstore- The series title (in yellow) means “I recognize and understand words.” That sounded like a good place to start, because I would like to recognize and understand words. It had bright, festive pictures and attractively short sentences when I flipped through it. My dictionary is small but has 354 pages in it, so I felt fairly well-prepared.

As a bonus, if I needed to buy any meat or deli products while in Iceland, I could bring this book along as a visual aid.langmeats

Well, look back at the cover of the book. See that subtitle in the blue bar? I couldn’t translate it. I managed to figure out that it was SOMEONE’s birthday (also used my towering intellect and deductive reasoning and looked at the pictures of cake, candles, paper crowns, and gifts), but the fact remained that I could not get past the title page of this book for 2-year-olds. Talk about humbling. I tell you what, they’ve got some smart tots over there in Iceland.

As it turns out, it was Grandma’s birthday. She had a very fun party. At least, she looks pretty happy in the pictures…
langariasaThe other book I bought was called “Ari og Ása leika sér” and this one went much better for me. Ari and his little sister Ása and their dog Hvatur play games, sing songs, and play dress up. Shannon looks up words, squints at her dictionary, and asks Icelandic park rangers for help.

Nearly everyone in Iceland speaks English, and most speak it extremely well, so learning Icelandic isn’t really necessary to appreciate the country, but it’s still a challenge and an interesting way to keep my brain active.langkrafla

If my Icelandic gets really fantastic, or I become really masochistic (or perhaps bedridden), I can work on translating a brochure about the Krafla geothermal power plant. I took one brochure in Icelandic and one in English, so at least I’ll have something to help me when I got stuck.

August 13
Landmannalauger was beautiful. On our morning off, I climbed a little mountain overlooking our campsite and the lava flows. On the way back down, I started chatting with an older Icelandic couple. They asked where I was from, and when I said America, the guy immediately said, “Did you know the first European to discover America was Icelandic?” I laughed and said yes, I knew about Leifur Eriksson, and he nodded and said, “Some say after he found it, he had the good fortune to lose it again.” They were very nice. They’d been to America once, to Iowa City… quite a contrast. The man had been a surveyor in the area, so he was sharing the names of the mountains and places he used to work. He pointed to the mountain next to the one we were descending and said, “This mountain is called Barmur. It means woman’s breast,” (he thumped his hands on his chest as he said this, then gestured to a taller mountain) “and that one over there is called Hár Barmur – Bigger breast! Ha ha!” When we reached the bottom, he said that he worked there for years but had never had time to hike the mountain because work had kept him busy. “Now I am retired, and I have hiked Blue Mountain, so we can go home.” And he and his wife started walking back to their car.

Before today, I’m not sure I could’ve imagined a scenario where a man I didn’t know could teach me the Icelandic word for breast without creeping me out. Life is full of surprises.


Back to Iceland 2005


Migration

September 18, 2006

The puffins leave Iceland toward the end of August. The nights incrementally fade from bright to dim to properly dark. The stars poke tiny holes in that new darkness, and eventually the Northern Lights dance across the sky as autumn approaches. During our final days of work, flocks of birds were heading to warmer places, and the sheep that had been running wild in the mountains all summer were being rounded up. The lush green landscapes began to age into softer golden hues, and the rowan trees hung low, laden with their bright red berries.

Oh yes, and I started wearing a hat, gloves, and five layers of thermals and fleeces and waterproofs to work every day. The waterproofs functioned as a much-needed windbreak, as our worksite was consistently sliced with cold blustery wind (but thankfully very little rain). We were back at the viewing platform in the bubbling mud, building boardwalks to try to keep people out of the scalding water. Earlier I sent a photo of the framework that we began and the steamy backdrop for our work… Well-meaning tourists often stopped and asked if we were building a) a coffee shop b) a visitor’s center c) toilets and d) a house. They also suggested that we use power tools, because it would be so much easier to cut all those boards with a “real” saw. Cross-cultural communication being what it is, I usually just said we didn’t have an extension cord quite long enough to reach the car park (from which they had just walked) that was probably about a mile away. They seemed satisfied with that answer.

So here I am, back home (at my parents’), doing some really rank laundry and relearning the comforts of modern life. The first thing I noticed when I got out of the car at 1:30 a.m. this morning after the ride back from Detroit was the crickets. I can’t remember if there aren’t crickets in Iceland, or if I just couldn’t hear them because of howling wind, pattering rain, and cursing campers fumbling their way toward the toilets in the middle of the night. Of course the warmth also struck me like a hot breath, as it was still above 70 degrees (that’s 22 deg C, Chas) when we got back. Today it’s raining a bit, but the rain is so vertical and gentle that it almost seems quaint, like the weather is just playing at being bad.

Thanks for sharing my adventure with me, and I hope you found it interesting and entertaining!

Takk fyrir daginn (thanks for the day),
~shannon from Temperance, Michigan, USA, where every day is New Sock Day

Some cows hanging out in front of a pseudocrater near Lake Mývatn

Some cows hanging out in front of a pseudocrater near Lake Mývatn

There are herds of reindeer roaming in northeast Iceland- we were lucky enough to spot these after leaving Leirnjúkur to head south.

There are herds of reindeer roaming in northeast Iceland- we were lucky enough to spot these after leaving Leirnjúkur to head south.

We also made a trip into the interior to see this sad sight... the controversial Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Dam. Two glacial rivers are being dammed to create a power plant. The dam is 730 meters long and 200 meters high. As a volunteer for the Environment Agency of Iceland, you can guess which side of the argument I'm on.

We also made a trip into the interior to see this sad sight… the controversial Kárahnjúkar Hydroelectric Dam. Two glacial rivers are being dammed to create a power plant. The dam is 730 meters long and 200 meters high. As a volunteer for the Environment Agency of Iceland, you can guess which side of the argument I’m on.

To get some perspective, look for the tiny specks of color on these roads. They are industrial-sized trucks, backhoes, and digging machinery.

To get some perspective, look for the tiny specks of color on these roads. They are industrial-sized trucks, backhoes, and digging machinery.

The reservoir created by this dam will eventually reach the edge of the Brúarjökull glacier. The place where I am standing when I took this photo, and everything you see, will be underwater. The wildlife will be destroyed and the landscape permanently changed. Completion of this project is scheduled for 2009. Many Icelanders have been making a pilgrimage to the site to say goodbye to the land before it disappears.

The reservoir created by this dam will eventually reach the edge of the Brúarjökull glacier. The place where I am standing when I took this photo, and everything you see, will be underwater. The wildlife will be destroyed and the landscape permanently changed. Completion of this project is scheduled for 2009. Many Icelanders have been making a pilgrimage to the site to say goodbye to the land before it disappears.

This camping and climbing equipment was found on Skaftafellsjökull in July 2006. It belonged to two British undergraduate students, Ian Harrison and Tony Prosser from the University of Nottingham, England. The students were participating in scientific fieldwork in the summer of 1953 on Morsárjökull, a valley glacier in Skaftafell National Park. They intended to hike up to Oræfajökull after they had made scientific observations at a camp north of Ragnarstindur. They never returned.

This camping and climbing equipment was found on Skaftafellsjökull in July 2006. It belonged to two British undergraduate students, Ian Harrison and Tony Prosser from the University of Nottingham, England. The students were participating in scientific fieldwork in the summer of 1953 on Morsárjökull, a valley glacier in Skaftafell National Park. They intended to hike up to Oræfajökull after they had made scientific observations at a camp north of Ragnarstindur. They never returned.

At the time of their departure, the weather was clear and sunny, but it suddenly became much worse. A search was issued, both from land and air, but for 53 years not a trace of them was found. No one knows what happened. There is a saying in Iceland that the glacier always returns what is given to it, eventually.

At the time of their departure, the weather was clear and sunny, but it suddenly became much worse. A search was issued, both from land and air, but for 53 years not a trace of them was found. No one knows what happened.
There is a saying in Iceland that the glacier always returns what is given to it, eventually.


Back to Iceland 2006


 

The Soggy Tent Blues

September 3, 2006

I’ve been with a group of holiday volunteers for the past two weeks, and after our day off in Húsavík (when I last emailed), the summer slammed shut and winter moved in. We were working in the very northernmost tip of the country, so really there was nothing between us and the North Pole except for a thin row of birch trees on our campsite. Well, the birch trees and the Arctic Ocean. We were spreading gravel on footpaths, which isn’t very glamorous work anyway, but in dreadful weather it gets even worse. It literally rained for four days, nonstop. It was like Icelandic Water Torture… the constant drumming of rain on the hood of my waterproof jacket, the roof of the jeep, and the ceiling of my tent, day in and day out, all night long, was nearly enough to do my head in.

My tent, which has been valiant all summer, finally let me down and I returned home to find a cold, wet sleeping bag and soaked clothes. I think it was condensation and not a proper leak, but regardless of where the water came from, it was there. And there wasn’t much I could do about it, given the constant downpour, either. I was either in my tent, soaking up the water with my trousers and socks, or crouching outside trying to mop it dry while my back and legs got soaked by the rain. It was miserable, and really made me want to come home. We ended up pulling out of the park a day early because it was so cold and windy and wet, and we were afraid there might be some sort of Lord of the Flies rebellion if we didn’t change something. The final days have been much better, and I expanded my horizons by eating decomposed shark (putrid), sleeping in a haunted mountain hut (no sightings), and fording a river (no problems).

The green shark is an Icelandic delicacy, but it is not for the delicate. The shark is buried in sand for several months, where it starts to rot and the naturally present neurotoxins drain out of the body. At some point in history, someone dug it up and decided “hey, let’s try eating it NOW!” The rotting shark is cut into little chunks and served with bread, and usually with a shot of Brennivín (translation: burning wine), which is an Icelandic schnapps made from potatoes and caraway seeds. Some would say the only time you welcome the taste of Brennivín is after you’ve eaten a bite of rancid shark corpse. But the volunteers were trying it, so I did too, even though it was described as “chewing on a piss-soaked slug.” Mmmm. Can’t say I’m a fan, and there might have been some gagging involved, but I ate it. I think the piss-soaked slug might have been preferable.

We stayed in a remote mountain hut called Hvítarnes last night, which is the aforementioned haunted hut, but the woman carrying two pails of water said to visit the hut at night did not make an appearance. Hvítarnes is one of my favorite places in Iceland, so I was happy to have another night there before leaving in two weeks (!!!). The river I drove through wasn’t terribly deep (I’ve waded through deeper and much scarier rivers this summer) but it was my first vehicle ford, so it was pretty fun.

Tonight we’re all headed for a night out in Reykjavík and tomorrow the volunteers take off, leaving only nine of us still in the country, all leaders. The real work will begin, and we’ll give up doing the tour-guiding, boo-boo kissing, 24-7 care that’s involved with leading paying holiday volunteers. Wow, do I sound like a hardened cynic or what?? But really, I am looking forward to focusing on tasks and knowing that the people with whom I’m working can take care of themselves. Much less “faffing about”, as the British say.

I feel like I’ve been in a time warp, and the fact that it’s September is completely surreal. Nearly time to start thinking about jobs and bills and the so-called-real world again. The tent life has been good, occasional soakings aside, and there’s something beautifullyessential about carrying everything you need on your back. But man, it’ll be so cool to be able to change my clothes standing up.

Be well!
shannön

The Dettifoss canyon, where we've been working with this group of volunteers

The Dettifoss canyon, where we’ve been working with this group of volunteers

The Dettifoss Canyon is known as Iceland's Grand Canyon.

The Dettifoss Canyon is known as Iceland’s Grand Canyon.

Lava formation called The Church

Lava formation called The Church

A proper Icelandic expedition vehicle, fit for the interior, and a rental car.... see if you can guess which is which.

A proper Icelandic expedition vehicle, fit for the interior, and a rental car…. see if you can guess which is which.

This is the fissure in Þingvellir National Park, which was the location of the first Icelandic Alþing (parliament) in the year 930. The site is at one of the seams of the tectonic plates, which heave apart during earthquakes every once in a while.

This is the fissure in Þingvellir National Park, which was the location of the first Icelandic Alþing (parliament) in the year 930. The site is at one of the seams of the tectonic plates, which heave apart during earthquakes every once in a while.

Also Þingvellir...

Also Þingvellir…

Fording a river on the way to Hvítárnes. Henar drove across, and I drove back across the next morning. Exciting!

Fording a river on the way to Hvítárnes. Henar drove across, and I drove back across the next morning. Exciting!

A volunteer group photo in front of the Haunted Hut- the girls looking to their left are watching me chase my bandana, which blew off my head as I ran to join the group after pushing the timer button on my camera.

A volunteer group photo in front of the Haunted Hut- the girls looking to their left are watching me chase my bandana, which blew off my head as I ran to join the group after pushing the timer button on my camera.


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Learning to Speak English

July 15, 2006

Hope you all are doing well and enjoying the summer. Sorry for the long delay in emails, my time online has been kept short due to logistics and financial constraints, but I’m working on it. I finally stopped wearing my thermal underwear this week! Could’ve used it some days, but as long as I kept digging and carrying rocks, I stayed warm enough. We’ve had rain and more rain, wild winds, and lots of mud, which makes work cold and clammy and sometimes unpleasant.

Thursday evening I had an exciting night due to the wind- I never knew a tent could buckle, sway, shudder, twist, snap, and strain so much without giving out. It kept me awake for several hours, not only the booming noise of the above mentioned deformations, but also the rather unsettling feeling of the floor lifting beneath me, if only momentarily. (Maybe I shouldn’t have used those old socks as tent pegs…) I had some Wizard of Oz imagery going as well, the scene with Dorothy’s house whirling through the tornado as she watches helpless from her tent vestibule, er, window. We had a small hut where I considered taking shelter, but I wasn’t sure that my tent would still be there in the morning without me as ballast. There I was, half in my tent, half out, looking for the tent pegs that had been pulled out by a gust and trying to keep my tent from rolling down into the ravine, from about 3:30 a.m. until it was time to go dig some drainage ditches. I’m sure it was all quite comical, and at times I did just have to laugh out loud to myself, but it made for a long day of work yesterday. There’s no place like home, but rigid building materials are also nice.

But about my subject line. Funny thing about British English… it’s not quite the same as what I speak, and when you throw in an Australian, a German, some Swedes, some French, a Spanish girl, some Icelandic folks, and the Scottish contingent, it all gets quite muddled. When I say pants, they hear underwear, so me saying “Oh man, I got my pants all muddy” cracks them up. When they say jumper, they mean sweater, so when a big burly guy is asking if anyone’s seen his red jumper, I dissolve into giggles. But the Versatility Prize goes to the word “wee”. It can be an adjective, meaning little- “I haven’t heard that song since I was wee!” It can be a verb, meaning to urinate- “Fiona’s gone off to wee in the woods.” And it can also be a noun, meaning a bathroom break- “If I could have a cup of Swiss Miss and a wee, I’d be the happiest person alive!” They say tinned to-MAH-toes, I say canned to-MAY-toes, but it all works out in the end.

About the photos I’ve attached- we have a nice photo of a valley in the Eastern Fjords, taken during my week of exploration with my parents. There’s also a shot from Jökulsárlon, aka Iceberg Lake, where a glacial tongue calves into a lagoon which eventually leads out to sea. And there’s also a photo of the town Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city with something like 17,000 people. Or I may have grabbed the wrong photos in my haste, and then it’s anyone’s guess… but it’s something cool in Iceland.

This week I’m tentatively scheduled to go on a four-day hike through the interior to mark the Old Kjölur trail with waymarking sticks. The whole walk is about 40 km, with four rustic mountain huts along the way so that I (and my two walking partners) don’t have to carry our tents and can instead carry food, water, lots of sticks and a big hammer. I’m very excited, although I’ll be more excited if the weather takes a turn and we see the sun for a while.

Best wishes to all, and goða ferð (good journey)!
shannön

My parents came all the way to Iceland to see this place I love during my week off, which was the week of Independence Day. (There's a certain value to being the only American leader... no one else really cared about the 4th of July. Go colonies!) We rented a car and drove the ring road, the single road that circles the entire country, where I could show them my favorite places and together we discovered new ones. One thing they repeatedly commented on was how vast the landscape seemed. We took this photo of a farm valley from the edge of the road.

My parents came all the way to Iceland to see this place I love during my week off, which was the week of Independence Day. (There’s a certain value to being the only American leader… no one else really cared about the 4th of July. Go colonies!) We rented a car and drove the ring road, the single road that circles the entire country, where I could show them my favorite places and together we discovered new ones. One thing they repeatedly commented on was how vast the landscape seemed. We took this photo of a farm valley from the edge of the road.

More vastness, anyone?

More vastness, anyone?

Known as the "northern capital", Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland. (Yes, there's a hearse in the foreground- I didn't notice it when I took the picture.)

Known as the “northern capital”, Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland. (Yes, there’s a hearse in the foreground- I didn’t notice it when I took the picture.)

My mom and dad on a short little hike near Lake Mývatn. We were pretty fortunate with the weather, getting some gorgeous days so that they could see how amazing the landscape was, and some not-so-nice days for contrast.

My mom and dad on a short little hike near Lake Mývatn. We were pretty fortunate with the weather, getting some gorgeous days so that they could see how amazing the landscape was, and some not-so-nice days for contrast.

We also revisited an old worksite of mine from 2005. Descending from the peak of this crater is a path we tried to erase last year- the new path we opened is the lighter line to the right.

We also revisited an old worksite of mine from 2005. Descending from the peak of this crater is a path we tried to erase last year- the new path we opened is the lighter line to the right.

My parents were troopers and hiked to the top of the volcanic crater with me, where we circled the rim. It's not easy, but it's so worth it.

My parents were troopers and hiked to the top of the volcanic crater with me, where we circled the rim. It’s not easy, but it’s so worth it.

After each excursion, we'd climb back into our little Polo and return to the open road.

After each excursion, we’d climb back into our little Polo and return to the open road.

...waving and baa-ing at the residents along the way.

…waving and baa-ing at the residents along the way.

The Eastern Fjords of Iceland are incredible, but while the passengers are enjoying the view, the driver is clutching the wheel and trying not to skid down the sharp gravel switchbacks.

The Eastern Fjords of Iceland are incredible, but while the passengers are enjoying the view, the driver is clutching the wheel and trying not to skid down the sharp gravel switchbacks.

This tiny little fishing village, called Breiðdalsvík, is perched right on the sea.

This tiny little fishing village, called Breiðdalsvík, is perched right on the sea.

We've circled around to the southern side of the island and reached the Iceberg Lake. The blue color of the ice is caused by the refraction of light as it penetrates deep into the highly-compressed ice. No matter how deeply you dig, the ice will still be clear.

We’ve circled around to the southern side of the island and reached the Iceberg Lake. The blue color of the ice is caused by the refraction of light as it penetrates deep into the highly-compressed ice. No matter how deeply you dig, the ice will still be clear.

My mom took this photo on the beach just outside the lagoon.

My mom took this photo on the beach just outside the lagoon.

Helloooo from Iceland!

Helloooo from Iceland!

Sunset in Höfn, with the mountains of Skaftafell National Park off in the distance.

Sunset in Höfn, with the mountains of Skaftafell National Park off in the distance.

Fishing and tourism are still the primary drivers behind Iceland's economy, and there's just no way to make fishing an easy or safe profession. For those that have grown up in this country, though, it's just part of the deal.

Fishing and tourism are still the primary drivers behind Iceland’s economy, and there’s just no way to make fishing an easy or safe profession. For those that have grown up in this country, though, it’s just part of the deal.

We also paid a visit to Ingólfshöfði, also known as Puffin Island.

We also paid a visit to Ingólfshöfði, also known as Puffin Island.

These guys are very closely associated with Iceland, and have long provided a food source to coastal villages (though their hunting is now controlled to prevent population depletion). Visitors are sometimes taken aback to see puffin on the menu, but the Icelanders say, "Well you eat chicken, don't you? At least until the moment they are caught and killed, the puffins live free."

These guys are very closely associated with Iceland, and have long provided a food source to coastal villages (though their hunting is now controlled to prevent population depletion). Visitors are sometimes taken aback to see puffin on the menu, but the Icelanders say, “Well you eat chicken, don’t you? At least until the moment they are caught and killed, the puffins live free.”

When I think of Southern Iceland, this is what I see.

When I think of Southern Iceland, this is what I see.

Another iconic bit of Icelandic imagery- rock formations off the coast of Vík.

Another iconic bit of Icelandic imagery- rock formations off the coast of Vík.

And a small, hilltop church (complete with lupine) in the same town.

And a small, hilltop church (complete with lupine) in the same town.


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