It’s hard to say at this point what exactly “classic Iceland” could mean. Waterfalls, perhaps? Probably waterfalls. I mean, there are a LOT of waterfalls here. But I think my most recent trip is what actually perfectly encapsulates everything truly Icelandic about Iceland. After all, what are wind, rain, darkness, and glaciers if not the quintessential Iceland?
You may have caught on that I snagged a boyfriend, and his parents visited last week. They were generous enough to invite me this past weekend on their hiking trip at Mýrdalsjökull. In case your Icelandic is a little rusty, jökull means “glacier,” and the other parts of the word don’t really matter. (It translates to “mire dale glacier,” if you must know.) The point is, we hiked on a glacier. Now that’s what I call Iceland.
Also extremely Icelandic are the clouds and greyness and implicit rain (that had actually slacked off for a bit when I took this picture– at the end of the hike). So not only did we hike on a glacier, we hiked on a glacier in bitter polar rain. And the glacier is covered in ash from a nearby volcanic eruption in 1918. Which is even more Icelandic. Have I convinced you yet that this is the most Icelandic thing I’ve done?
We arrived to the location early, so we had a hot drink in the cafe to steel our nerves and pass the time until our scheduled tour. Then we put on our waterproof garments, as well as the gear that claimed to be waterproof and wasn’t, and headed out to gear up for the glacier hike.
Glacier hiking gear includes crampons (which to me sounds like some ill-advised feminine hygiene product), a harness, a helmet, and an ice pick. The last three, we’re pretty sure, only matter if you’re dumb and fall into a moulin or crevasse or some other such glacial formation I learned about on Friday. None of us were that dumb though, so we can’t be certain. According to our guide, the ice pick also serves as a neat prop in your photos.
Experiencing the glacier was much different than experiencing other natural phenomena in Iceland, and this is for several reasons. First of all, it was really rainy and cold and wet, which put a damper on things (ha ha, get it?). Second, what with the hat and helmet and hood, my view was slightly obstructed, so in order to actually look around me I had to tilt my helmet and lean back a bit– not unlike Sir Bedivere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Finally, and perhaps most specific to this particular setting, it is very important to pay attention to where you’re stepping since you’re walking on ice and have tiny knives strapped to your feet. In order to make sure your crampons are able to do their job (which is to keep you from dying), you have to kind of stomp around like a pouty teenager, and that is not the kind of step you want to take on something uneven. The raw beauty of Mýrdalsjökull is fuzzy in my mind, but I have a very clear memory of what its surface looks like since that’s where my gaze, by necessity, tended to fall. I didn’t even take many pictures of the glacier since it was so rainy and I was willing to endanger neither my phone nor my camera, but do enjoy the ones I did take.
Glaciers are amazing for many reasons, but especially because of how dynamic they are. Of course, they’ve been changing forever because that’s kind of what they do, but even in the short term they are constantly morphing and adjusting to erosion processes (like the moulins formed by little pieces of dirt and rock swirling until they bore a giant fucking hole– like hundreds of meters deep in some cases– through the ice), human intervention (like the steps carved in by guides), and climate change.
Look. Not to step on a soapbox because that’s not why any of us are here, but in ten years the view from the first picture will look more like this:
Or whatever, I’m bad at photoshop. The point is it’s melting and that’s our fault so like, use public transportation and recycle and stop denying it and stuff, I dunno.
Look, a volcanic lake.
That blue beauty is Kerið, which formed after a volcano blew up tae fuck and left a large bowl, or “caldera” if you’re fancy. It’s a lovely, delicate spot on the rugged Icelandic landscape where a very specific balance of factors created and continue to maintain its features. And we’re pretty sure you wouldn’t die if you rolled down the inside to the lake. Like, worst case scenario you’d be paralyzed, probably. We’re still putting together the experiment to test this hypothesis. Winner gets a Kinder surprise egg.
Despite the uncharacteristic lack of photographs, the trip to Kerið and Mýrdalsjökull was an awe-inspiring experience. I looked over jagged hills of ice with black ash settled in the seams and saw a landscape I never thought existed. The natural state of Iceland expands past imagination and is all the more remarkable for being real. It’s no wonder its inhabitants have found evidence of Hidden Folk not so far from home; there’s some kind of magic here.