Notes from the Field: 24 September 2015

Giljalandi – Vik – Giljalandi

Wow! Blue sky this morning, with just a few powder puffs drifting aimlessly around. I could see what I guess must be Myrdalsjökull through the trees, and once I put binoculars on it I saw fresh snow high up on the hills. Not that I haven’t seen some beautiful views already but it’s absolutely lovely here when a bit of sunlight is added!

I went to Vik today, a village about 55 km from my little cabin in the woods. It’s small, tucked into a relatively narrow strip of flat(ish) land between Myrdalsjökull and the ocean. There are a couple of cliffs nearby and at the base of one is yet another example of columnar basalt. I didn’t expect to be following square rocks from one end of Iceland to another but that is in fact what I’ve done! I climbed the cliffs of Reynisfjall first and had a grand view of Myrdalsjökull and Sólheimajökull inland; Vik on the shore to one side and a long beach leading to Dyrhólaey lighthouse on the other.

I followed that with a visit to Reynisfjara, where the basalt columns rise from the black sand beach to form a cave of sorts. There weren’t too many people there when I arrived and most of them were polite, staying out of other people’s pictures and taking turns moving in close. And then there were the two French-speaking men who jjumped in front of several of us and took turns climbing up the rocks and posing on them. This annoyed me enough that I decided I’d needed to be in their photos and so I moved right on in, standing just next to or below the fat bearded slob on the rocks so there was no way his friend could get a picture without me in it. Rarely have I felt so satisfied. Shades of my mother, I’ll admit…

After a visit to the lighthouse at Dyrhólaey, I had a very late lunch of cured lamb, fresh bread and ice cream, all from local producers, at Halldórskaffi. The lamb here is good. Yeaterday I had some smoked lamb; today was cured… Maybe I’ll find some lamb soup tomorrow.  Anyaay, I headed “home” as late afternoon sun hit Myrdalsjökull. About five minutes after I got my gear inside… You guessed it… It began raining. The rain only lasted about 15 minutes and it looks like it might be a nice night to see the Northern Lights again!

Related Images:

Notes from the Field: 23 September 2015


Ahhhh, I’m sick of rain. In two weeks I don’t think I’ve had a single day without rain. Not thatbi haven’t had some hours of sunshine but they have been far, far, far out-numbered by hours and days and nights of rain.

Spent today alternating between short hikes and huddling, dripping, in my car waiting for the most recent down pour to pass. This area really is quite interesting, and beautiful when one can actually see it. An enormous lava flow, now overgrown with moss so the lanscsape looks like a lumpy green carpet, covers much of the land from the mountains about halfway to the sea. On one side of the lava flow it’s flat and marshy to the oceans’ edge, and on the other softly eroded cliffs leading up into the mountains. Here and there glacial “snouts” can be seen, each of them with their very own glacial lagoon. Sign after sign mentions farms and churches that were covered by lava in one eruption or another, and the inhabitants of this land were described on one roadside sign as being very serious and always waiting for the next disaster to strike. This was the last part of Iceland to be connected to the road system, because of the difficulty bridging so many enormous glacial rivers with their ever-changing beds and flows.

The nearest town, Kirkjubæjuklauster, has a small fish farming operation for Arctic Char, using a glacial stream that runs right through the village as the water source. I was sorely disappointed to find they don’t sell retail to the general public but was pleased to later find some of their fish at the local farmers market. The market also had local lamb (both fresh and smoked – tasty!), carrots and ice cream from a nearby dairy farm. Rutabagas, like the carrots, are also grown outside here but aren’t in season. I stocked up on a few things, knowing I wouldn’t be able to get more than food for the next two days as after that I have a long day of driving with no means to keep food cool.

Notes from the Field: 22 September 2015


I had a visit this morning from a mink. It came up two of three steps, looked about the porch and then headed toward the side of the cabin with that peculiar, humped gait all Mustelids have.

The  sky was stunning last night. The Northern Lights were visible but were low in the horizon, muted and diffuse. The stars, on the other hand, were brilliant! I could see the Milky Way stretching across a crystalline void, innumerable constellations I’ve seen (and can’t name) and even more that I haven’t. What a treat to be in a place with so little light pollution and so little moisture in the air!

Night sky at Giljalandi
Night sky at Giljalandi, Big Dipper at far left

This morning, on the other hand, dawned like almost every other: foggy, cloudy, windy, rainy. I had hoped to drive up into the Highlands today and so I did – or at least I headed that direction until my way was barred by a stream, swollen by at least two weeks of rain, that I was simply unwilling to ford in my crappy little rental car.

Ford at Eldgjá
Ford at Eldgjá

I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and a nap a better way to spend the afternoon… And thus I did!

Notes from the Field: 20 September 2015


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.