Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Weird stuff close-up

Basalt with some gorgeous coloring. Would make a great countertop. Well, if it weren't glass.

Hot spring. Brown/orange coloring is common from thermophilic micro-organisms.

Not sure what green goo this is, but it grows in the hot springs and is a beautiful, alien, lime green with funny 'hairs'

Iceland mosses.

More of the orange/brown thermophiles.

Laugavegur trek

We got up early and took the four hour bus ride from the capital Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar. They must have gotten new 4WD buses because we didn't have to change buses. After 3 hours on the highway, you drive over gnarly lava spit up - the kind of lava that the Hawaiians would call ah-ah because that the sound you make when you walk on it. The bus drove a twisty road trying to avoid the larger lava balls. 

The buses drive across rivers, which is really disconcerting the first time they do it. After you do your own river crossings by foot, you're really glad the bus does it for you! 

Landmannalaugar is a backpacker base camp. It looks like Everest base camp, and many folks camp here before the trek or for day hikes. It was a bit of a zoo: the campers are so excited to start their trek.

There are hot springs in the area and lots of stinky fumaroles (steam vents)  with their various colorings of gray, blue, pink, orange, etc. Think Yellowstone. 

Leo hiked up a storm, dragging his parents far behind despite his (20-25 lb?) load. I think this is because the lady at the bus station office admonished me for taking a ten year old on the trek: "I'd never take my kids on that trek! There was snow on that trail last weekend!" We hiked through a bunch of snow but it was slushy, corn snow, and was not icy or deep. There were a LOT of snow fields though. You definitely needed waterproof boots. But not gaiters.

The colors are amazing on the first leg of the trek, from the thermophilic microorganisms and the mosses to the black volcanic sand and the weird plants. 

It was about 7 miles and a lot of uphill. The first hut, Hrafntinnusker (yeah that spelling is correct), is "rustic" which means the pit toilets smell terrible. Tour groups get their own rooms with bunk beds and dining  tables. There were about 18 of us individual trekkers sleeping in the attic on mattresses on the floor. That turned out to be "good" accommodations because we actually had space between mattresses and places to put our packs. Luckily we didn't have any snorers that night. Here's Leo, thrilled to have reached that first hut (little red roof behind him):

Outside there were at least thirty tents of campers. They keep stats on where folks come from. Looked like at least 80% of folks were Americans. We had been previously told that Iceland tourists tend to be older Europeans who sightsee or younger Americans who trek and/or do adventure sports. 

Some of the big snow fields: They can be dangerous as you can see from this snow field overhang (with streams typically running underneath). The good thing about snow fields is that at least you aren't doing a river crossing!

Here's some hot water bubbling out of the earth with great colored micro-organisms:

One of the coolest parts of the trek was over the steam vents. The ground is soft and boiling and the air reeks of hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs). They'd keep you far off this stuff at Yellowstone. But in Iceland, it's every man for himself. You have to be careful.

The next day's hike was longer and had steeper trails and more ice fields. 

No one in the US would ever cut a trail straight up or down a steep slope - we'd have switchbacks. But I guess Icelanders don't believe in switchbacks so we dealt with some sandy, rocky steeps, fell a bunch, even with our poles, and generally slipped and slid our way down a hung of slopes. Would have been great skiing! The second day wasn't the colorful rhyolite rocks but the high dark mountains and lots of snow. 

Eight miles later we reached Alftavtn hut which is on a giant beautiful lake (you can see it above in the distance). We stayed in the brand new hut - if we had been earlier, we could have scored one of the four rooms of four people each. We were late though and got a bed in one of the two big rooms upstairs that sleep twenty each. At least we had spots to put our backpacks and you could buy five minute hot showers for $4. It was windy at the lake so we didn't hike much that evening. Leo played in the mud around the lake. 

Here's that gorgeous lime green moss against the black volcanic sand:

The third day was pretty miserable. Over ten miles of boring terrain. It was weird to walk for so long across desolate "desert" and then come across a street sign in the middle of nowhere:

There were some river crossings, one of which was pretty harrowing. We had to change into water shoes and shorts and wade across two big rivers. The second river had a deep section, up to Leo's hips and the current was strong. I had a hard time getting across myself. The water is glacial melt, so it's freezing and painful. Normal practice appears to be running fast while cursing as loudly and colorfully as you can. 

It rained on and off and it was quite windy, sometimes windy enough to push us around. We kept thinking the next huts were around the next bend but they inevitably were not. The Emstrur Botnar huts were three small old huts that had ten double mattresses, bunk bed style. This means they could shove twenty people into a hut, and for the most part, they did. We were literally crawling over each other in cramped quarters and it was raining so we were all inside. We got to know the tour group who had taken up most of the cabin. As soon as Leo arrived, looking wasted from over ten miles of backpacking, they fed him chocolate and cookies. We met a lot of young Americans in their late 20's/early 30's. That particular tour group had carried their own food but most tour groups had support vehicles that brought their gear (and cooks that made their food) so the trekkers only carried water and day packs.

The next day we left those huts behind. Yay!

Close to those huts is the beginning of a beautiful gorge:

The fourth day included some slippery rock handling:

down to this bridge over the gorge:

and over to this bridge along the edge of the canyon:

We followed the gorge for a long time on the fourth day. It kept winding its way back and forth into our path:

Leo had a great time jumping and shushing down the volcanic black sand:

We had some crazy terrain 

and spent much of days 3 and 4 eyeing the rock formation that we affectionately nicknamed "the rhino".

Leo was apprehensive about the last stream crossing because it was known to be the widest. Luckily, it wasn't deep at all, so he didn't get his swim shorts wet this time:

We trudged over ten miles the fourth day to the Volcano Huts at Thorsmork. Khiem said the other hut at Thorsmork is better and I'm sure he's right because we paid $200 to stay in a cottage and share a bathroom, and the hot pool was lukewarm and the sauna was a giant rain barrel with an electric heater. That being said, we were THRILLED to have completed 36.7 miles and Leo jumped into bed immediately:

He's the speck of yellow on the top bunk:

Got there in time to have a beer with a standing-room-only crowd at the restaurant which was streaming Russian TV so we could watch the Euro 2016 soccer finals. Oh, other cool thing about the hut was the resident arctic fox Kari:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Black sand beach and basalt columns

When you get towards Vik on the southern tip of the island, there's a black sand beach and at Reynisfjara, there are some amazing basalt columns. First off, don't go into the water at Reynifjara - they have dangerous sneaker waves:

Basalt is a volcanic rock. When the magma cools, the basalt contracts. If it contracts evenly on all sides, such as from water flow, it forms hexagons. The hexagons propagate all the way down to form the columns:

Roof of a cave nearby

There is also the jagged sharp basalt - must be a different type of cooling pattern. Wouldn't want a shard of this to fall on your head.

High dive off the columns: