ABOARD THE OCEAN DIAMOND – Today we walked on a glacier. I’ve seen many glaciers in my travels but I’ve never set foot on one. This was quite an adventure.
First we docked in Stykkisholmur at about 10 a.m. Those of us going on the glacier tour (and it seemed like almost all of us were) then disembarked and climbed on tour buses. One nice thing about our cruise, I’ve been told, is that we seldom leave the ship before 9 or 10 in the morning for our day’s activities. Makes for a leisurely breakfast.
During our bus ride to the Snaefellsjökull glacier, our expedition team member Hermann Guõmundsson shared some background about Iceland and what we are going to see. He also shared a local joke that I have already heard several times since arriving in Iceland only two days ago.
When the first settlers came to Iceland in 784, they immediately set about cutting down trees to create today’s treeless landscape. “The land was 40 percent forests back then,” Hermann said. “Today, it is about 1.2 percent forests.”
Despite efforts to reforest Iceland, the island is still recovering from those early Vikings and the island deforestation. Then Hermann told the joke – “What do you do in case you get lost in a forest in Iceland?”
He waited a few seconds for travelers to think of an answer. Then he zinged, “Just stand up and you can find your way out very easily.”
Glacier considered one of world’s energy centers
The glacier we visited is one of the most famous sites in Iceland primarily because it was featured in the novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne in which the entrance to the mysterious interior of our planet is located on Snaefellsjökull.
“The glacier is considered one of the energy centers of the world,” said expedition team member Birgir. The earth supposedly has about seven main energy centers and this remote part of Iceland has long been associated with supernatural forces and mystery,
When all the hoopla around the year 1999 turning into 2000 happened and people feared computers would malfunction and the world would be chaos, many people went to Snaefellsjökull to escape the catastrophe. “What they were afraid of didn’t happen but many people showed up here just in case it did,” Birgir said.
The glacier is an active volcano, having been built up through numerous eruptions during the last 800,000 years. Three eruptions have occurred under the glacier in the past 10,000 years, the last around 250 AD. Snaefell means “Snow Mountain” and the glacier mountain was first climbed in 1754 by Eggert Óafsson and Jrarni Pálsson.
For our trip we took the easy way. We rode a snow cat to the top but I did see several people walking up the steep climb. Glacier tours on snowmobiles and snow cats are available during summer months between May and August.
In our open snow cat, we sat on benches with metal bars lowered in front of us, much like an amusement park ride. We soon saw the necessity for those restraints as those of us with our backs to the incline kept sliding forward into the people across from us. On the way down the glacier, the people opposite of us were doing the sliding.
Although I get cold very easily, I can’t say that I felt cold any time on our glacier trip. The secret, an expedition leader said, is to layer. So I wore a T-shirt, long sleeved shirt, vest and raincoat. Not even my feet got cold and I wore only a pair of Merrill fleece-lined leather shoes and one pair of black socks. No boots.
The bumpy ride to the 4,800-foot-top was exhilarating and eye popping. On clear days, the shores of Greenland can be glimpsed beyond the North Atlantic Ocean. Looking around, it was a scene of other-worldly beauty. Hard to tell where the blue of the sky met with the blue of the ocean or whether the white puffs in the sky were clouds or snow.
Huge lunch bags filled with goodies
On our bus ride back, most of us were shedding coats and other outer garments. On our bus, we also explored the huge lunch bags that the ship culinary staff had prepared since our five-hour tour meant we would miss lunch onboard the Ocean Diamond.
I don’t know if ship cooks feared we would get stranded or that we would need tons of energy to fuel our adventure but those lunch bags were packed full. First, there was a small loaf of bread filled with generous helpings of cheese and meat, plus a bag of chips, apple, banana, two cinnamon cookies, can of Coke, bottle of water, piece of cake, energy bar and what I thought was a hefty fresh-baked cookie.
However, when I took the clear wrapping off my “cookie” and bit into it, I quickly discovered it was a fried breaded chicken fillet. I don’t eat chicken if I can help it so I rolled it back up as a snack if we encountered a dog. We did and he was quite appreciative.
I later heard that several passengers saved their chicken until last thinking it was dessert. The folks who ate it said it was good. About that bottle of water, the ship is very generous with water for our many outings. Complimentary bottles are readily available at any bar on the ship and are usually sitting on tables when we embark and disembark.
Icelandic water is said to be about the best in the world. Icelanders have access to an almost limitless and inexpensive supply of natural hot and cold water. The cold water from the tap is pure spring water free of contaminants or heavy metals and without any additives such as chorine. The hot water often smells slightly of rotten eggs because it comes from a different source than the cold. Icelandic hot water comes from the country’s geothermal origins.
Back on ship, we are just in time for a bird watching jaunt on the ship’s Zodiacs, followed by a quick shower, evening briefing with the expedition team and dinner. See what I mean about most passengers heading to bed before midnight. A very full adventurous day.
Makes me want to reread Jules Verne or maybe tonight I will dream about journeying to the center of the earth. After all, I had walked on the portal to the center that very afternoon.
Photos and video by Jackie Sheckler Finch
Video about the glacier:
Video of the snow cat ride to the top: