December 16, 2007

IF ONLY YOU COULD GET THERE BY TRAIN:

Glacial awareness: Trekking across Iceland’s frozen landscape warms the heart of Philip Stone (Sunday Herald, 12/16/07)

WE BEGIN our trek early in the morning, eight of us, still a little sleepy and anxious about whether our muscles will endure four arduous days. After spending the night at a guesthouse in the Skaftafell National Park, we are taken by truck and dropped further up the coast, on a fine black-sand beach peppered with melting icebergs.

As soon as we start walking, a fierce wind blows up off the Atlantic and blasts cold air in our faces, forcing us into single file, each trying to find shelter behind the other as we progress slowly. We can barely see as the mist closes in on us, so we just watch our feet, tramping over the spongy green moss that covers the uneven ground. The mist is actually a rainsquall which then hits us head on, and the group stops briefly as we rush to pull on our waterproof layers.

Less than a mile into the trek we are all quietly wondering whether the whole idea of a walking trip in Iceland was really such a good idea. "I'd rather be in Largs," I hear someone mutter.
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And then a little miracle happens. The rain eases and the mist lifts away. There is no sudden ray of sunshine, just a soft, golden hue that gently warms. It gradually occurs to me that I can now lift my head and I notice my companions are doing the same, staring in awed silence at the landscape.

Down the slope and to the right is a broad, shimmering lake filled with a marvellous array of icebergs. Those that have been facing the light are matte white, while others are a soft, translucent blue. Eventually I realise that the opposite bank of the lake is not land at all, but the face of a great glacier, stretching up many hundreds of metres towards two towering volcanic peaks. The water is the giant puddle left behind as the ice retreats.

A shout breaks the stunned silence as someone points out the shape of a frolicking seal. Then another, and another: a whole family lounging on the ice like holidaymakers on the beach, staring at us with curiosity. Framing this whole scene is the perfect, sweeping arc of a full rainbow, both ends touching the water.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2007 6:24 PM
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