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…


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