Tag Archives: glacier

Iceland Journal – “The End” – Svínafelsjökull – South Iceland

“The End” - Svínafelsjökull - South Iceland

“It’s not the endings that will haunt you
But the space where they should lie,
The things that simply faded
Without one final wave goodbye.” 
― Erin Hanson

The long journey comes to an end, silently and slowly, in water.

Nothing is quick for a glacier, including its ending. The ice slowly flows down the mountains, slowly melting, cracking, and disintegrating. The last vestiges float about in a muddy pond, eventually fading not the water, at the feet of their majestic source..

In the image, you can clearly see the progression down the mountain, including the widening fissures at the face of the glacier. I made the photo from the edge of the pool, looking back up the glacier and waiting for the clouds to clear so that I could see the high peak of Hrútsfallstindar towering  behind the glacier at 1,570 meters.

My son and I walked the edge of the pond, amazed at this natural spectacle and watching all shapes and sizes if ice floating around in front of us, or stuck to the muddy bottom and gradually melting away. What really surprised me was the variation, not just of shape and size but the colours and textures of the icebergs. Some were simply dull gray masses, others were made up of layers in every vibrant shade of blue imaginable, and some were absolutely crystal clear.

Behind us was a high mound of rock and gravel, the terminal moraine, made during the last advance of the glacier, as it pushed and piled the rock into a hill in front of it, creating a dam that is responsible for the glacial pool.

It was such a lovely place that we spent over an hour exploring the shoreline and photographing the icebergs and surroundings. It was an experience that I had not expected to ever have and one I will not soon forget.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 75 mm
1/320 sec, f/10.0, ISO 400

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Iceland Journal – “Face to Face with the Glacier” – Svínafelsjökull, South Iceland

“Face to Face with the Glacier” - Svínafelsjökull, South I

“Ice, deep, blue and tortured ice;
The vault of time, and memory, long past.”
– Ed Lehming

Words can barely describe the feeling of standing side by side with a glacier. Ice, formed tens of thousand of years ago. Ice, that has travelled for kilometers from high mountain peaks to slowly melt into oblivion, in a muddy glacial pool.

The photo hardly does it justice; layers of ice and dust, reminders of Iceland’s recent and distant volcanic past, laid out before me to ponder, close enough to touch. There are too many shades of blue to name, and light plays from and through the ancient mass before me.

Glaciers cover almost ten percent of Iceland’s surface, all melting at an accelerated pace in recent years. And now, I stand and witness their slow decay in the sound of dripping water and splashes far below the lead face.

I’m so glad I made this journey, at this time. I fear much of this wonder will soon be gone; though it’s hard to imagine that this much ice will someday by be nothing more than a muddy brown pond and a memory of what once was.

This, is Svínafelsjökull, close up and personal, this is Iceland’s past and future, a visual history of the land of Fire and Ice.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 200mm
1/160 sec, f/6.3, ISO 200

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Iceland Journal – “Svínafelsjökull” – South Iceland

“Svínafelsjökull” - South Iceland

Ice, massive ancient glacial ice, sagging and flowing under its own weight;
A great white beast, carving and devouring the mountains which contain it,
creeping forward, unstoppable;

It’s only foe, sunlight and warmth.
I stand humbled by its patient and persistent force.
– Ed Lehming

Svínafelsjökull glacier, or rather, the “glacier of Svínafels”, since jökull is Icelandic for glacier is actually one of the smaller glacial outflows associated with Hvannadalshnúkur, mentioned in a prior post.

I saw this glacier ahead of us as we continued to travel east along Iceland’s Ring Road. The sheer size of this incredible mass of snow and ice, piled high between the rugged peaks is humbling. The photo hardly does justice to the scale. At the far right foreground, a few vehicles sit parked along the road in front of a terminal moraine of this glacier. Basically, a pile of rock created by the front of the glacier plowing up the ground in front of it. The moraine itself is over 50 meters high and hides the lead edge of the glacier and the glacial pond formed by the meltwater trapped behind the moraine. More on that in a future post.

As we drove, ever closer, I hoped the road would bring me closer to this magnificent sight. I was not disappointed, the road came to within two kilometers of the glacier itself and we had opportunity to get even closer via a horribly potholed dirt road that led us to paths along side of the glacier and around the pond below.

As I said, the experience of walking along precipitous trails next to this massive and ancient ice is humbling, as we gazed across the deep crevasses of the slowly melting glacier and witnessing, close up, the unbelievable colours and patterns of the ice within meters of us. Then, looking upwards and seeing ice on ice, wedged between unyielding rock, piled ever higher and disappearing into the clouds above us.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 172mm
1/320 sec, f/9.0, ISO 200

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Iceland Journal – “Glaciers Ahead”

“Glaciers Ahead” - South Iceland

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien

This single photo can sum up my Icelandic journey. By the way, I was not driving when I made this photo, I stopped and stepped onto the sparsely travelled road. The landscape, in its varied layers, over the visible distance, changes from rugged lava fields, the Eldhraun, covered in ancient moss, to rugged plateaus and the ever present yellow grasses flanked by steep talus slopes, filled with waterfalls and the dark high cliffs of Lómagnúpsnef, the bounding landmark to the western edge of the massive Skeiðarársandur, yet another glacial washout plain, this one, some 56 km wide and filled with a tangled network of creeks and rivers winding their way through black sand and golden grass to the sea. Their source: the vast glacier field known as Vatnatjökull, visible in the far distance.

As the road makes another turn, a huge boulder dominates the scene and yet another waterfall, Gulufoss, I believe, falls from the rim of the plateau. I can picture this plateau in late spring, spewing water through every crack and crevice.

Actually, only one of the glaciers that make up Vatnatjökull is visible in this image, Skeiðarárjokull, the source of the washout, can be seen stretching out in a bright white plain before the distant mountains and glaciers of Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland’s highest peak, a 2,119 meter high volcano, also covered in ice, the summit obscured by clouds.

As the day progressed and we drew nearer to Hvannadalshnúkur, I found myself hiking through mossy lava fields to get a closer look at a small waterfall, driving a small potholed dirt road that rattled my teeth to get a closer view of Svínafelsjökull, one of several outflow glaciers coming from Hvannadalshnúkur. Here, I could almost touch the fractured glacier as it flowed between the mountains, melting into a muddy pool, filled with glacial icebergs of varying size and colour. We then spend time along the pond, enjoying the icebergs in their variety. I even had the chance to pick up a small, crystal clear fragment and taste it. A magnificent and unexpected experience. It was oh, so pure and pleasant. The taste of a glacier!

My journey, as I reflect on these images and memories did not end when I flew home, rather, it continues, as I begin to understand the incredible forces and dynamics that shape this country.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 200mm
1/160 sec, f/6.3, ISO 200

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Iceland Journal – “Mýrdalssandur” – South Iceland

“Mýrdalssandur” - South Iceland

“There was an ocean above us, held in by a thin sac that might rupture and let down a flood at any second.” 
― Stephen King

Mýrdalssandur is a massive outwash plain just east of the town of Vik, on Iceland’s south coast. The Ring Road enters this area after a short run along the mountains near Vik. I have never seen anything like this and at first had no idea what I was witnessing. As far as the eye can see, the landscape has been washed flat, yellow grasses and moss cling tenuously to the black sand, gravel, and lava boulders that make up this vast area for some 25 kilometers. There are warning signs along the road that dust storms of fine black sand, resembling smoke, can be created, if the conditions are right. I was concerned, as we entered the region, as the winds whipped up to over 80 km/h, but the recent rains and coastal fog held the dust down.

Threading their way through this barren landscape are glacial streams of varying size, faint reminders of the torrents of water, or jökulhlaup (glacial outwashes), that created this area.

This region was most recently sculpted by an enormous jökulhlaup, the result of a subglacial eruption of the nearby volcano, Katla.

In 1918, Katla erupted underneath the enormous glacier, Mýrdalsjökull (seen in the background, just beneath the clouds), melting the glacier below the surface and forming a massive sub-glacial lake. The volcano continued to erupt under the ice and increasing pressure caused it to burst out the side of the glacier, creating a violent flood, of water, ice and volcanic debris. The water volume at the peak of the jökulhlaup was estimated to be around 200,000 – 300,000 m³/s, making it, for a brief time, the largest river in the world, based on the volume of water. The jökulhlaup absolutely devastated the area, wiping out homes and farms and leaving this mainly barren plain as evidence of its power.

The region is largely unsettled, primarily due to the risks of future eruptions of Katla, which remains active below the ice, and the frequent jökulhlaups. Because of this and the alien look of the landscape, it was used for the opening scene of the Star Wars, Rogue One movie.

Nikon D800
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD @ 70mm
1/250 sec, f/8.0, ISO 200

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Iceland – Day 2

“Sveitarfélagið Hornafjörður - Glacial Pool” - East Icel

“Sveitarfélagið Hornafjörður – Glacial Pool” – East Iceland

“ If one looks at the glacier for long enough, words cease to have any meaning on God’s earth.” 
― Halldór Laxness

Today was a day of volcanoes, mountains, and ice (and rough roads), as I continue my journey around Iceland’s Ring Road.

We entered the south-east of Iceland, having departed from Vik this morning, travelling along Highway 1. Shortly after Vik, the landscape changed dramatically into a jagged landscape of tortured rock and cinder. Just north of us, loomed the massive ice fields which cover the now dormant Katla volcano. There is a real problem when a volcano erupts under a glacier; it has nowhere to go but out, through the base of the glacier, creating catastrophic flooding  and ash falls. The most recent eruption of Katla, was in 1918, but the area to the south-east of the volcano looks like it erupted a few days ago, with twisted shards of black stone and ash as far as the eye can see.

As we continued east, the landscape changed again, into a surreal world of mounds of rounded stone covered in thick green moss. This continued for quite some time until we entered yet another vast field of black sand and gravel, the runoff of the Vatnajökull glacier fields.  The black sand is crisscrossed by an endless network of glacial rivers.

Beyond this black plain rise the sheer cliffs, mountains, and glaciers which dominated my day. The best of all is pictured above. At the base of one of the many Svínafellsjökull glacial ‘tongues’ below Hvannadalshnúkur, the highest glaciated mountain in Iceland. We hiked along the edge of the glacier but were most fascinated by the small glacial pool at the base, filled with icebergs of many sizes, some a spectacular blue. Some smaller pieces lay by the shore, crystal clear and beckoning me to have a taste, which I did. Oh, so cool and fresh! I’ve now eaten a piece of glacier.

We spend quite a bit of time on the shores of this pond, away from the crowds who did not seem to be able to find the trail that led us here, making photos and enjoying the vast glacier which stood before us.

iPhone 7 back camera @ 4.0mm
1/556 sec; f/1.8; ISO 20

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