Chasing the light in Iceland – Breiðamerkurjökul

Chasing the light in Iceland – Breiðamerkurjökul

This post was updated on July 19th, 2019

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The alarm goes off at 4a.m., but I have actually been awake a few minutes ahead of it. Who would have thought that? I usually stay in bed for long after dawn but not so here. Since we could not capture the Aurora yesterday evening, we are going to try again this morning, before leaving for Breiðamerkurjökul. But we also have to pack all our stuff as we are leaving Höfn behind to go to a new location tonight, where that location will be we do not know yet.

Vestrahorn

At 5a.m. we are ready to leave and try our luck again at Vestrahorn. The Aurora forecast was showing a good chance to capture something between 6a.m. and 9a.m., so we have high hopes. Once again we have to pay to enter the private road to Stokknes, while paying isn’t a problem the bar crossing the street won’t open with our first ticket. Somehow the mechanism to suck the receipt in for reading does not work. Emma runs off to buy a second ticket, hoping that it will be read correctly. Several more attempts at reading it we are ready to give up on this location when the bar suddenly reacts. Yea! Hopefully, it will also open up again when we come back…

 

Sunset over Vestrahorn
Moon over Stokknes

 

Unfortunately, the Aurora stays low behind Vestrahornet, giving us not too many chances to get outstanding photos of it. So after an hour, we decided to test out two more locations farther up the road toward Jökulsárlón, but with no luck.

A brief visit to Jökulsárlón

At 9a.m. we have to give up the search, Emma and I will join Iceguide’s guided glacier walk to an ice cave, while Michelle and Mark will stay behind at Jökulsárlón photographing the rising sun.

Mark contacted Oscar, the owner of Iceguide, two days ago to hear if there was anything we could attend if the weather would turn against us. As it turned out Oscar had just discovered two new ice caves to which he now was offering tours. Oscar also provided Mark with some photos of the caves that he was going to so we could make our decision. Of course we all wanted to go; unfortunately, Michelle damaged her knee earlier, so she is unable to. Since the opportunity came up, I have been thinking about it. The warm winter boots that were supposed to keep my feet warm and comfortable turned out to be an annoyance, to say the least. Walking more than three steps in them is painful, walking more than three steps on uneven terrain is close to torture. They are suitable for standing outside in the cold though.
Would I still be wearing them, despite the pain? Or should I go for my city winter boots, not as warm but comfortable to walk in? My choice fell for the city boots. Mark described the path as one going alongside the lake and the glacier before reaching the ice caves, and in my mind, the way would look like the path toward the Briksdalsbren in Norway, a gravel path of fine gravel, easy to walk on…I would soon learn how wrong I could be.

We are meeting up with Oscar in the Jökulsárlón cafe, where he points us to the minibus that will take us to the starting point of our walk. Here we also meet the other four people attending the tour and the second guide, Stephan.

Going to the Ice cave at Breiðamerkurjökul

The bus ride is an adventure in itself as we are soon leaving the paved street to continue on an off-road track including a steep but short downhill. Driving here must require some skills…and spikes in the tires.

After parking the bus, we are all given crampons, normal ones and those to walk over a glacier with, ice axes, helmets, and harnesses, which we will have to wear/carry with us. Two ways could get us to the caves. We can walk alongside the lake and glacier, or we can walk across the glacier. Of course, we are all keen to cross it, but this means the time we need to get to the caves will be twice as long, shortening the time we have in the caves. The final decision is to walk alongside the lake and glacier toward the cave and over the glacier on the way back.

It is not the fine gravel I had been hoping for. I could have anticipated it since the area around looks more like a moon landscape. So while my city boots aren’t a perfect fit for this walk across the moraine field, they are at least an improvement to the other shoes. My progress is a little slower, but I don’t think I could have kept up with the pace Oscar is leading on with otherwise. I am anyway not that far behind, so all is good. There would have been plenty of photos to take on this walk, but I don’t want to slow down the group any more than I absolutely have to.

The pictures did not promise too much, did they?

After about forty minutes we reach the first of two ice caves we are visiting today. What a stunning entrance!

 

Icecave in the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier 
Ice-cave entrance

 

It actually reaches farther into the glacier on a narrow path. This is real caving. When I visited the Cumberland Caverns last year, they had tours of proper caving too. I wasn’t sure then that what they described as very narrow sections would be something I could get myself doing.
Stephan asks to only enter if we do not have problems with narrow passages. But I haven’t tested it before, so I guess I will learn soon if it is a problem or not. In some passages the roof of the ice cave is low, so our helmets come in handy, through other sections we almost have to crawl through. But this is always rewarded with stunning views…

 

Icecave in the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier 
Iceformations

 

Everybody but Emma, Stephan and I have been in and out of this cave already, while Emma and I are getting busy taking photos. Stephan does not rush us in any way to get ready but gives us helpful advise to capture the best possible images.

 

Icecave in the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier 
Inside the ice-cave

 

Ice caves are created during the winter months by meltwater streams running through or below the glacier that carve labyrinths into it, or by streams and wind forming tunnels in snowfields. They usually collapse during the summer, and new ones will be created with the following winter. Since there are openings in the ice caves we are visiting, we have to be careful not to stand under thinner sections of the ice as it might melt in parts and break down even during the winter.

 

Icecave in the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier 
An icy lake within the cave

 

Returning to Jökulsárlón

We are spending about two hours in both caves before starting our return tour to the minibus and eventually Jökulsárlón. The view from the entrance of the cave down to the glacial lagoon is stunning, but getting my camera out of my backpack now again would mean that the rest of the group would have to wait even longer for me. I will have to remember this instead. While we are crossing the glacier, the sun is setting over Jökulsárlón. Emma and I are impressed by the view and would so love to take some more photos…but we cannot make everybody wait again. They all have been so patient with us already. Another 1.5 hours pass by in no time before we reach the minibus.

Mark and Michelle had in the meantime started to worry about us getting lost somehow, so they are a little relieved to see us finally back in the cafe of Jökulsárlón. Maybe Mark read too many of my stories of getting lost on previous tours? This time, however, we were just where we were supposed to be, we only stayed a little longer to take all the beauty in. 🙂

No dinner???

Unfortunately, the cafe is closing very soon, so the soup that I would so have liked, after this day in the Icelandic wilderness, has already been taken away. Guess another chocolate bar will do for dinner then…and I still have a sandwich I bought here earlier today. No one is starving today…just going a little hungrier than usual.

But we still do not know where we are going to stay for the night. Once again the weather forecast decides our fate. We are going to stay in the area. Mark treats us to an apartment in a nearby hotel, not that we will spend there many hours. We will just go there, drop our bags and go out again. This time to chase the Aurora over Jökulsárlón for the last time during this tour.

 

Aurora borealis over Jökulsárlón 
No, it’s not a car light shining…

 

And the Aurora is kind to us, dancing over the sky in green shades. For tonight Mark found a new spot, more accessible than the one we used a fortnight ago and without too much light pollution from cars parking at the lagoon’s parking lot or night time wanderers with head torches on the other side of it. It is a stunning display of the Northern Light tonight.

 

Aurora borealis over Jökulsárlón 
Aurora Borealis reflecting in Jökulsárlón

 

At 11p.m. we are ready to pack up and return for the night to our apartment. Tomorrow we will see where we are going to as our trip will, Unfortunately, soon end…will we are able to watch the Aurora one more time?

 

If you liked this post, you might also like the other stories from my Chasing the Light in Iceland adventure:

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