Saturday, November 10, 2007
DAY 2: Glacier Walk
wonderstuff but fresher and grainier.
A minivan picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the bus terminal where we met us with the rest of the adventurers. Half of them were going to go snowmobiling on the glacier; the other half joining Lucky and I on the walk. We were the only Americans. Another couple was from Australia, two from England, and others from other European countries. A couple of people commented how "prepared" we were which kinda surprised us... I mean really, it's rainy, we're about to walk up a big hunka ice, wouldn't you want to be prepared?
After a few hours, we arrived at our destination, a dingy grey-aired place with gritty black gravel and spongy, mud moss (the Solheimajokull glacial tongue of the Myrdalsjokull Glacier, the southern most, and fourth largest glacier in Iceland). A river streamed past us filled with water coming from a glacier cave, and frozen rain pelted our faces. We were greeted by our guide in a bright orange skisuit. He geared us up with crampons (which were attached to our hiking boots), and ice-axes. Those who were wearing fashion sneakers and no rain gear... or thin plastic ponchos (hello, you are on a trip to Iceland. Do you not read about the weather?) received spare leather hiking boots and better rain gear. And he taught us the basics about walking up and down the glacier.
Up was not a problem, but down was a complete different story. You have to trust the crampons, bend your knees and put your balance point behind you like if you're on rollerblades. But that fear of falling which doesn't allow me to stop while using blades (I step onto the grass to stop) made me had some mini panic attacks.
But up and onward we walked, stomp stomp... legs wide so there's no accidental spiking of the calves, hand on the top of the ax so there's no accidental swinging into a fellow adventurer. Watching out for crumbling ice and crevices. Occasionally, we would go by a large mound of black rock. But it wasn't really rock, just a mound of ice that had been covered by volcanic soot. That soot would eventually travel down the glacier in a stream. Yes, glacier water isn't exactly what the marketing departments of aqua refreshment companies lead you to believe!
We only went about 4 miles or so, but the ice cold rain which not only hit our faces, also eventually soaked down into my socks which soaked my "waterproof hiking sneakers." Plus somewhere along the line, I realllly needed to go to the bathroom (ya, that didnt happen) and I also started to feel a bit faint. Luckily, we had brought some water and licorice (which was rock-hard) so that I could bring my blood sugar back to normal.
Our guide would stop us every 15 minutes or so to show us large crevices... endless pits, some with waterfalls, others glowing with "blue ice." BTW, "blue ice" isn't really blue; all the air bubbles have been squeezed out and so it's actually clear. It's blue for the same reason that the ocean is blue (something about the red end of the color spectrum being cancelled out blah blah blah).
One of the coolest things was when the guide showed us these bubbles rising from a crevice filled with water. Those were air bubbles from about 70 years ago. Scientists are able to figure out what the air quality was like years and years ago by boring samples at different depths. One of the scariest things was finding out that there was a thermal lake under the glacier that would lift the top of the glacier and overflow into the valley (like boiling water in a pot). When that would happen was only a question of time.
I now see earth and am a bit disappointed that trek is over; I finally had gotten my stride. But wait, the walking isn't over... the bus hasn't returned with the snowmobilers yet. And we're in a dead-cel area. So the guide takes us to the river and shows where the glacier used to start, (apparently this glacier goes back and forth in size but there is a greenhouse effect at work as well). Then back to the parking lot; still no van, and now it's starting to get cold since we aren't walking as much. So the guide gets us to walk down the road toward the backup parking lot about a mile down the road ("You walk, you get warm.") And perfect timing... the van arrives!
:: DAY 2: Part 1 of 2 ::