Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Langjökull glacier, Iceland

On the way to the Langjökull glacier

After we finished the sights of the Golden Circle, we thought we would take a little side trip to see the Langjökull glacier, which isn't that far from Gullfoss. Or, at least, it didn't seem that far on the map. A wrong turn and some pretty rough roads made it a longer trip than we expected. As you can see, though, the scenery was striking along the way, with rocky plains and beautiful skies. And at least once, some rather surprised sheep.

At the edge of the Langjökull glacier (photo by Q)

We drove the narrow, unpaved road for miles, seeing a few other cars, and one intrepid cyclist (we wondered where he was going and where he planned to sleep, as night was almost upon us). As we approached the glacier, there were no other cars on the road. We passed a building that advertised glacier tours, but it was empty (not surprising, given the late hour). We passed abandoned snowmobiles, scattered like toys left in the middle of play. And then the road ended. We were at the edge of the glacier.

Photo by Q

It was cold, and getting dark. The glacier tour company had another office here, so we parked in front of the empty building. The ice field spread out in front of us as far as the eye could see. The Langjökull glacier is the second largest ice cap in Iceland -- the ice is up to 580m (1900ft) thick. We did not venture onto the glacier, as it is unsafe to do so without a guide. There are deep fissures and other dangers that are best managed with an experienced guide. So we just stood at the edge and took in the expansive views and the silence, broken only by the wind and our own voices.

Photo by Q

Visitors to Iceland seem compelled to stack rocks. We saw numerous stacked rock piles by the side of the road as we traveled. Perhaps the visiting tourist just wants to make their mark on the country, to say "I was here" in some tangible way. But rock stacking can damage the ecosystem, killing fragile mosses and other plants. There were signs that prohibited rock stacking (it took us a while to figure out the meaning of the pyramid of circles -- what was being forbidden, exactly? Do not pile up cans?). We resisted the urge to stack rocks in Iceland, but clearly some prior visitor to the glacier did some rock-stacking.

Photo by Q

We saw snowmobiles scattered across the snow, presumably belonging to the glacier tours company. It felt as though we were at the end of the world, with these machines the last vestiges of human presence.  In the animated film, The Iron Giant, the blasted pieces of the Iron Giant fall onto the Langjökull glacier. There is an interesting contrast between the expanse of ice, with its natural purity, and machinery.

Photo by Q

We took one last look at the sun setting behind the snow-dappled mountains before leaving. We had a long way to go to our B&B and hoped to get there before they closed for the night. I didn't know what to expect from seeing the glacier, but the stillness and the vast expanse stayed with me. I'm glad we were there by ourselves.

Next up: Driving to Landmannalaugar

1 comment:

  1. In the middle of nowhere, with no one around and that vast ice field unfolding in front of us, there was a very real sense that we were standing at the edge of the world.