Just six weeks after my first trip to Iceland, I returned on an 11 day photography tour with Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris. Why would I go back to a place where the weather is atrocious, the landscape is stark and there are hardly any people? Exactly! I love the dramatic weather and the otherworldly landscape of glaciers, ice lagoons, volcanos and icebergs. The fact that there are only 300,000 people on the whole island and there isn't a Starbucks there makes me even happier. Undeveloped. Untouched.
The Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon is pictured in the photograph below. It's difficult to get there in the winter because the backroads are rutted, icy, and interspersed with deep pools of meltwater. Drivers have to go fast enough not to get stuck, but slow enough to maintain control of their trucks as they slide, shimmy and bounce over the slippery terrain. Not only was I very much relieved to get out of the truck when I arrived at the lagoon, I thought the appearance of the lagoon was the most Arctic-looking location I've seen yet. I especially liked the pastel shades of the glacier ice and the pyramid shaped icebergs frozen into place. Empty, remote and still, it was one of my favorite locations of the trip.
I'll always remember taking this photograph on the beach at Vík, because a rogue wave caught me by surprise and filled one of my boots with freezing cold water. My two pairs of woolen socks soaked the water up quickly, which wasn't as uncomfortable as it sounds. Wool is a great insulator, keeping the Arctic explorers warm in spite of repeated drenching by storm-tossed seas. While I modestly don't compare my experience to those of polar explorers, I felt proud of myself for braving the worst the Atlantic Ocean could throw at me before I could run away.
Vík is Iceland's wettest location, battered by storms year round. During my first trip to Iceland, it was too dangerous to stand on this part of the coastline because of the massive waves, so I was glad to have the opportunity to shoot here. According to Icelandic legend, the sea stacks in the distance are the remains of a three-masted ship that trolls attempted to drag to shore during the night. At daylight, the masts turned into rock, foiling the trolls once again.
The weather during my 11 day trip consisted of 10 days of rain, fog, wind and overcast skies. No wonder the Icelanders are the highest per capita consumers of... Coca Cola... in the world! On the one day the sun came out, the harbor seals in the Jökullsárlón Glacier Lagoon took advantage of the unexpected warmth by sunbathing on the ice floes.
On my previous trip to Iceland, one of the more exciting and harrowing things I did was to crawl underneath a glacier to get to into an ice cave. (See my previous blog entry to read all about it.) Imagine my excitement when I learned I was going to have another opportunity to go to the same ice cave! I was seriously considering skipping it and staying in my hotel room, but when I learned that the cave had changed and looked completely different, I decided to see for myself. Movement by the glacier had indeed changed things around. No more commando-style crawling was required to navigate inside the cave. In fact, it was easy to enter it this time. There was also a large foyer, for lack of a better word, with a psychedelic ceiling made of volcanic ash and ice.
While Iceland has managed to stay undeveloped, climate change has been making its presence felt. The glacier ice is melting at unprecedented speed, causing the island to rise in the ocean as it's freed from some of the weight of the ice. With the loss of ice, volcanic activity is predicted to increase. The glacier lagoons are increasing in size as they fill with meltwater from the glaciers. In the past 15 years, Jökullsárlón Glacier Lagoon has doubled in size. At the current rate of global warming, Iceland could be ice-free within 100 years.