Iceland – Part Five – Akureyri and Myvatn
With skiing still on my mind, we headed to Akureyri, a “tick-list” item for most skiers visiting Iceland. The road wound with slow curves as the landscape transformed with each mile. The deep grays of the mountains to the west changed as we drove over passes to our next destination.
Akureyri is a hustling and bustling modern city with a large commercial fishing presence along with the 18,000 inhabitants that live surrounded by classic alpine mountains. Much like Valdez, it sits on a fjord, but with sheep and horse farms. The terrain, when visible between squalls, looked every bit like Valdez, but on a slightly smaller scale. As luck would have it, our first day was spent in drizzle, looking for things to do while keeping our eyes on the ski terrain to the west.
We were lucky on Tabitha’s birthday, and got a great deal for an hour-long horse ride along the coast. The fields were once again alive with birds. The Icelandic horse is the only horse allowed in Iceland, thus keeping them disease free. They were wonderful, as was our Norwegian guide. As we rode, the idea of using horses for a ski expedition to Iceland crossed my mind!
The following morning we headed up to the ski lifts in hopes of a sunspot and warm temperatures. While Tabitha went off hiking, I skinned solo to just under the ridge line along the track indicated in Tabitha’s picture below. Fog and drizzle moved in and out and the threat of wet slides or cornice failures was on my mind. With visibility poor, I descended wet snow back to the camper, but not without getting glimpses of the terrain. Again, the area just outside the lift-served zone has a bunch of touring options, and the couloirs in the picture below displayed a set of ski tracks, and another couloir had a boot trail. As I skied, I saw two other small touring groups heading up. The arrow is pointed at me.
Done by noon, we headed to the goethermal areas of Iceland that make the country an even more amazing place to visit. Godafoss quickly came into view and we were suddenly witnessing the power of melting ice and snow. Here, pagan icons were cast into the waters by Christians who were busy converting the Icelanders in the early years of settlement. Lutheranism is the state religion and has been since the Reformation.
With my skiing done for the trip, Myvatn looked close enough to check out birding, but what we found was doubly fantastic. The small town along the lake was busier than any we had visited yet. After finding a campsite, we headed to Myvatn Nature Baths, a beautiful pool perched on a hillside surrounded by steaming vents. The pools are sectioned off and as we floated around, we found pulses of warmer water being pumped from the earth below.
With two hikes planned the following day, we returned to our campsite and were treated to a spectacular display of colors as the sun set slowly through the cloud layers to the west.
As the sun set, the surrounding landscape deep colors were exposed as mystical geologic forms swallowed the countryside.
The next morning we headed a few miles north to some geothermal areas. As with most of the places of interest, wandering away from the trails brings solitude. We spotted this small outcropping above the steaming mud pits and vents and headed up to get a better view of the area.
We felt as if we were being escorted by a Mars Lander as we worked our way to the top. These colors are familiar to us from our treks into the Wrangell Mountains, since they too were formed by considerable volcanic activity, albeit much quieter than today’s Iceland. With a blend of geothermal and hydro power, the country runs 95% on clean energy with the remaining 5% consisting of mainly petrol for transportation. Below, the earth steams in all directions. As melting surface runoff drains and seeps through the cracks in the earth, it meets the hot earth and returns to our atmosphere as steam. Capture this immense pressure just below the surface of Iceland and you can run turbines.
We scurried down, passing a loud steam vent that hissed with a tremendous amount of pressure, unleashing stinky gasses that were easy to ignore or avoid. With the wind blowing, it was easy to decide to walk to the lee side of a vent and peer into its makeup. Our shoes became magnets for the damp red clay. New earth was everywhere and steam plumes could be seem in distant mountain passes.
The holistic volcano we spotted from our campsite was next on our schedule, and the guide book indicated a trail to the rim. The hike up to the rim was simple enough, so the next challenge was walking the entire rim which we observed only a handful of the visitors were doing. We were well prepared in case of inclement weather and scampered around this surreal, yet tiny, scar on the earth for a few hours.
Standing on top and looking around, the sense of the earth’s force rearranging its surface in ways such as this frozen lobe is quite apparent. Vastness dominates Iceland.
After one more hike looking for birds along Myvatn Lake, we drove into the night back through Akureyri and beyond, camping about half-way to a zone of even greater dynamics.
Next – Pingveller and the Great Rift