Friday, August 23, 2013

Ice Caves and Riding Icelandic Horses

After making our final stop in Höfn, a fishing town in the south-eastern part of Iceland, we turned around and headed back the way we came along the southern coast. We had to stop at Jökulsárlón again to see the icebergs, and this time walked on the coast to watch the icebergs float out into the open ocean. The black sand beach was littered with huge chunks of white and blue ice that had washed ashore, and it looked like some sort of sci-fi crash site. 

We really wanted to see ice caves, but didn't realize you need to go with a guide in order to see them (and doing anything with a guide is a last resort for Yuriy). Ice caves are formed when the glacier melts, so the caves are always changing and in new spots every year. When we finally called to make a reservation, the guide was all booked out and we were super bummed. We decided to look for them on our own (not recommended because ice caves can collapse), and spent most of the day hiking around the Vatnajökull glacier off the beaten path, looking for caves and anything cool. We didn't find anything huge, but saw some small ice caves on the outer edge of the glacier and felt pretty satisfied (if you're in Iceland though, I would recommend booking an ice caves tour early).

Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Europe by volume. The average thickness of the ice is 1300 feet and the thickest part is 3300 feet! It was mind boggling to walk on this solid block of ice that's been frozen for thousands of years and stretches as far as the eye can see. The ice cap sits on top of 3 active volcanoes, which slowly melt the underside of the ice and can cause glacial melt floods. If you look at Iceland from space, Vatnajökull is the big white mass on the lower right corner of the island. There is so much to learn and explore in this country!

Closer to town, we spent an early morning horse back riding at sunrise surrounded by beautiful Icelandic countryside and mountains. We wore full body suits provided by the rental company, and still had numb fingers. Yuriy galloped for the first time on a horse and we both wished more mornings could start this way.

We have just a couple more posts coming up... exploring the Golden Circle with new friends from Canada, and visiting the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa before catching our flight home.

- Julia

Our last road trip stop before turning around was in Höfn, which means "Harbor town".
Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Europe by volume.
Exploring around the edges of the glacier and looking for ice caves.
We saw many caves we didn't feel safe walking out towards on the ice. I can only imagine how amazing it must be out there!
Vatnajökull glacier from above.
Ice caves are formed when the glacier melts and can collapse at any time.
I've never wanted to take so many rocks home with me! Look at this one with gold polka-dots...
Large chunks of the glacier floated out to sea, and washed up on the black sand beach by the force of the ocean.
Walking on the glacier made me so nervous because it was not uncommon to hear pops and cracks in the ice as it melted and broke apart. 
In a small cave we found along the edge of the glacier. The ice is continually dripping and eroding in spots like this.

Early morning horse back riding was a dream.