Foss farmstead near Kirkjubæujarklauster, on N1

Notes from the Field: 20 September 2015

Giljalandi-Skaftafell-Giljalandi

My first night in Iceland, a French woman who has made 26 visits to this country told me about a Norwegian weather site that, according to her Icelandic friends, provides much more accurate forecasts than the Icelandic service. I have been using both of me and honestly haven’t seen much difference – they’ve both forecast fog, clouds, wind and rain, every place that I’ve been. Well, this morning I awoke to more of the same at my cabin. But the Norwegian weather service, unlike the Icelandic one, said it would be partly cloudy becoming sunny at Skaftafell, about 60 miles away and one of the places I really wanted to visit. I took a chance with the Norwegian forecast and lo! A (mostly) sunny day had I! Everything was muddy from all the rain of previous days, but the sun was mostly out and I had beautiful views of Morsájökull, Skaftafellsjökull, Svinisfellsjökull and Öræfajökull glaciers as I wound my way along a ridge between two of them.

I had passed Skaftafell yesterday but due to the weather and lateness of the hour had not stopped. The approach to it from Jökullsarlon, and from it to Kirkjubæjarklauster, is across miles and miles of black sand left by retreating glaciers and seasonal floods. I learned today that this area, called Skeidarársandur, is more than 1000 km2. Thats enormous..!  to cross all the sand and braided rivers was so dangerous and time-consuming that people uused to “detour” into the mountains and cross the glaciers instead. Treading about the engineering that went into the bridges that cross this ever-changing expanse was also interesting – they are, essentially, designed to fail in a manner of speaking, in the event of once in a century flooding since the expense of building something to withstand that was far too great.

Last night I poked my head out the door of my cabin just before bed and saw that it was clear (how’d that happen?!). Various websites say the best time to see the Northern Lights is somewhere between 2100-0100, so I stood outside for a while watching the sky. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later there they were! I watched and took photos for about an hour, until encroaching clouds obscured my view. Tonight is forecast to be clear with moderate aurora activity so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another opportunity to watch them.

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