Friday, July 1, 2011

Take a hike...on a glacier


Sev our glacier hike guide from Finland
working in Iceland this summer.
After an exciting morning finding puffins, I went to where I was supposed to be in Skaftafell at the glacier hike.  I arrived in Skaftafell to rainy and cold weather - I was starting to get used to this drill.  Luckily, I had a day of dry weather to let my gear dry out.  I met up with my guide, Sev, got fitted with my crampons and picked up an ice axe.  I loaded into a van with Sev and 4 other hikers to be transported the next canyon over.  We were going to this location because the glacial ice was more stable and the weather was typically nicer.  The sun appeared, as if on cue, shortly after we started hiking to the glacier and the ice was easy to navigate with our crampons.
At the base of the glacier falls - and the turn around for our glacier hike.
This is unfortunately my fierce look while wielding an ice axe
 – not very fierce with a smile.  The glacier is covered in ash (grey)
from the Grimvoln eruption in late May. 
We hiked about a mile on dirt trails (deposited by the glacier as it receded) to the edge of the glacier.  At this point, we put on our crampons, climbed a short ladder onto the terminus of the glacier and started our hike.  You will notice in the pictures that the glacier is gray with some white showing through.  The glacier is covered in ash (grey) from the Grimvoln eruption in late May of this year.  It is only a thin layer (I could scrape it free with my ice axe), but enough to take away the white & blue hues.  Most of the ash cloud from the eruption of Grimvoln blew west, but some of the ash came south-east to this area.  The ash fall lasted 2 days in this region, but today if the winds blow hard enough in the lower fields it will kick up some ash into the air. 
Ahhh...the taste of glacial springs water - several hundred (if not thousands) of years in the making.  I am drinking from a side channel overflowing out of the pool behind me.  Normally, you can drink the water anywhere running off of the glacier.  With all of the ash covering the glacier, we needed to drink from large pools like this.  The ash/silt has a chance to settle to the bottom of the pool and the overflow is again fresh glacier water.
 While we walked on the glacier, Sev showed us different features on the glacier.  He was able to tell us about how different features are formed on the glacier and show us various stages of some of these features.  An example of a feature he showed us were moulins, which are vertical shafts in the ice formed by the water flowing into that crack.  He even showed us the one that his cell phone is in from when he was adjusting some gear and it squirted out of his pocket and hole in one.  (Pretty good shot since the hole is pretty small – you would have trouble getting a basketball into it now – and it has been growing for the past month.)

"Glacial mouse" is the term used to describe these moss covered rocks.  The moss spores come from the surrounding hillsides and find a nice exposed rock of the glacier to land on.  As the moss spreads on the rocks, it causes the ice to melt down around the rock giving more area for the moss to grow.  Eventually, the rock will tip over allowing the moss to completely cover the rock...and a glacial mouse is created.

Sev is a lot like probably half of the tourist guides and informational staff that I have met throughout Iceland.  They are not Icelanders, but they have transplanted here during the tourist summer season.  Most of the folks that are not from the area tend to be from Sweden and Austria in my experiences.  I have met folks from all over Europe and one American who is married to an Icelander.  This couple spends the summer half of the year in Iceland and the winter half in the US.  The come to Iceland for the landscape and activities that are unique to them and they are able to enjoy them while getting paid. 

After a night in Vik, I head to Stokkseyri for an ocean kayak through the fjords in that area.  Unfortunately, the weather forecast is looking very wet and cold again, so we’ll see if they are able to run the trip…  Of course, I’ll keep you posted.  J

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