Drive Through Iceland 10: Snow Mobile, James Bond Style

                                        In continuation of earlier blog DTI 9: Icebergs and Glacier Walk

While planning my Iceland itinerary, I surely wanted to visit Katla volcano glacier as well as experience the snow mobile thrill.  the earlier night’s 125 kilometer drive Westward, day 6 was the most exciting day of the trip for me.

Snow Mobiling is not commonly available in the world.   Out of the available ones, Iceland is supposed to be the best of all.  This is where many famous films like  the Bond film and others were shot.

Various sources had mentioned that advance booking is a must for snow mobiling. We booked ourselves for snow-mobiling, the earlier day and the earliest slot available was at 12.30 PM.

When we reached the booking office, I learnt that, for snow mobiling,  we would be taken to a glacier top.   I expected that.  But what I did not expect was that the concerned glacier in this case would be the one formed on the top of Katla Volcano. This is one of most scenic and romantic glaciers in the world.  That was where I wanted it to be.  Some times lady luck works in your favor too! Two of my ambitions were to come true in one stroke!

Snow Mobiling on Katla

Snow Mobiling on Katla Glacier

Snow Mobiling

Snow Mobiling

We had a special one-piece-gear covering us from top to bottom, heavy gloves, boots and helmet.  It felt like we were astronauts in space suits.

A special mountain vehicle took us to the top of Katla glacier and we were soon seated in snowmobiles!

Snowmobiles are two-seater bikes. They don’t have enclosures on the sides or the top.  It has two skis in the front and two wheels at rear.   For most of the fun time, Pushpa and I drover together with her sitting behind.  Nishi shared another with the instructor.

We drove like James Bond for 2 hours and 20 kilometers on Katla Glacier! Ascending and descending, driving on a uneven snow surface, curving right and left, set the heartbeats ablaze!

It was difficult to accept that we were on the top of Katla glacier, formed by 2010-11 volcano eruption.   We were not just standing, we were snow mobiling like in action movies.  Surely a first for me. For a pause, when we were standing in the center of the glacier, it gave a different sort of fear when the instructor told us that as per the seismographic studies, the land and ice below us was expected to explode again any day now!

After snow mobiling, we had enough time to visit Dyrholaey. Puffins, the beautiful birds are found at Dyrholaey coastal area in South Iceland. Puffins, the lovely seabirds are synonymous with Iceland. They are normally seen for 3 months till mid-July. Though it was off season, there were thousands of them flying across.  They were either enjoying floating in the cold seawater or gossiping on a pinnacle like stone formation.


Puffin – Pic from Google

Nishi was quite excited about the puffins.  She wanted a closer look.    But I still wanted to try if we could find anything closer than we had at Dyrholaey. The next day we went to two other places where Puffins were known to be sighted.  At the sea coast of Vik, we found Puffins flying around the mountain. Some of them flew together  in hundreds, as if to show their camaraderie.  Some were in a bow and arrow formation!

Black Sand Beaches, Vik, Iceland

Black Sand Beaches, Vik

Our hunt, to see the puffins from a closer angle, continued.  15 kilometers further down we visited another place where the birds were known to be closer.  They were resting in groups on the mountain reefs.

Then we understood that the puffins can be sighted only from a small distance and  cannot be watched from as close a distance as the penguins we saw in Antarctica, South Pole.

Vik coastal area is also famous for its black sand beaches, again an outcome of volcanic eruptions.


To be contd……………

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 9: Icebergs & Glacier Walk

In continuation of earlier blog DTI: 8: Lava Mountains………

We woke up to a drive of about 70 kilometers to the east to reach Skaftafell where the much looked forward to glacier walk was to start.  However, we could get a spot only in the tour that started at 2 PM.

Jokulson Iceberg23Not known for sitting at one place, we used the time to drive 60 kilometers, further to the east to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. The icebergs were in various forms and shapes. They reminded us of our visit to Antarctica (South Pole) and  North Pole-Alaska, USA.

The Jokulsarlon icebergs are an outcome of drops from Vatnajokul, the largest glacier in Jokulson Iceberg 12the country.  There were hundreds of small and large icebergs happily floating in a lagoon formed between the glacier and the Atlantic ocean. Most of the icebergs were twinkling and blue. The blue hue meant they had been  compressed for long; the twinkling indicated their urge to break free from the long burden of compression.  They were slowly drifting to their destiny, the ocean, just a few hundred meters away.

We watched the icebergs for a couple of hours, as long as we had before the glacier walk tour.

Glacier Walk - Nishi

Glacier Walk – Nishi

As luck would have it, there was some confusion.  We were left behind.  The bus carrying the group had left about 5 minutes ago. The organisers were good enough to concede to our request and arranged for another bus to get us to the group.  Our walk was on Virkisjökull glacier around Skaftafel.  We hired special protective shoes, crampons, ice axe and metal hats.  During the glacier walk, the guide went into details of how glaciers formed and dissolved.

The glacier was a fantastic introduction to the unique, enthralling world of ice, traversing the spectacular but easy tracks of the Virkisjökull glacier. We started with a short walk along the glacier valley where we were told about the features of the retreating paths of glaciers and their surroundings.

After the short walk in the valley, we approached the Virkisjökull glacier. We strapped on the crampons and started climbing the icy slopes.  The ice axe was handy in case we slip. Nishi was given a protective harness too.  On the way, we witnessed the incredible ice formations and small ice crevasses. We were told that the glaciers reshape continuously and their looks change week after week. We reached the awe-inspiring ice fall. It was a spectacular view. The ice fell hundreds of meters off the mountain-top and flowed down, as if in slow motion, towards the ocean. The journey of the glaciers to the ocean never completes in full form as global warming continues to melt the snow on its way.

We were at Eyjafjallajökull region.  It is the volcanic eruption which caused enormous disruption to air travel a few years ago. From 14–20 April 2010, the eruption threw ash and smoke clouds to 8 kilometers up in the air.  It led to a complete closure of commercial air traffic in 20 European countries for 6 days.  It affected about 10 million travellers.  It created the highest level of air travel disruption since the Second World War.  The disruption within Iceland continued till May 2010 and was officially declared over, only in October 2010, when snow on the glacier stopped melting.

In Iceland, there have been regular eruptions, thereafter. Of late, a group of well-placed observers have warned the world about the possibility of a next major volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2015.  Even the Government cautions visitors of the possibilities of volcanic eruptions while we are there.


To be contd…………...

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 8: Lava Mountains

                                                In continuation of earlier blog DTI 7: Tough Day Ahead……

Day 3 and we made an early start at 7 AM.  We reached the garage at 8.25 AM where the technician was fixing another tyre.  He was up and working at 7AM, on an Sunday morning!  He took us up next and we were all set in 25 minutes.  He had to leave to attend to another car stuck in a river stream about 30 kilometers away.  Thank God, the tyre hadn’t torn or split. Else, it would have meant another 300 kilometers to find a new tyre.

Hekla Volcano

Hekla Volcano

On the way, we passed by Hekla again, a beautiful, curvy, snow-clad lava mountain.  It looked like a large ship turned upside down.  It stretched for about 25 kilometers and was high enough to be noticed from a distance of 50 kilometers.

Hekla erupts every 10 years and last erupted in January 2010. The Icelandik Government allows visitors to climb to the top.  But they also warn travellers of an imminent eruption. After a point where an extremely rough F road ends, Hekla volcano top can be trekked – an 18 kilometer trek over the mountain and glacier, to get to the top.

At the beginning of the day, with one flat wheel, I could not have risked driving on that road.   We had to skip this trek and had to satisfy ourselves by watching it from the base.

We got to Seljalandsfoss in time to catch the mountain bus for Thorsmork, one of the most popular visitor site in the interiors.  This place could be reached either by a full fledge powerful 4wd like a Landcruiser or by special mountain bus.  The mountain bus has tyres that are as tall as me – certainly more than 5.5 feet and has a ground clearance of over 2.5 feet.

Pushpa-Nishi at Katla Volcano base

Lagoon 5-6 years back – Now lava land as in pic

On the way, we could see the place that was popular, about 5-6 years ago for its lagoons surrounded by snow.  The volcanic eruptions had thrown out huge burning stones, which formed large mountains.  The lava exposed to the cold temperature on the top formed ice glaciers.  The water at the base of the mountain, now has lava sand and stones.

It was a wise decision to have taken the mountain bus to Thorsmork as there were quite a few unbridged deep river crossings on the way.

Two kilometer climb to the top of the mountain at Thormork led us to a beautiful view of multiple glaciers around us. It was like a mini Kala Pathar, located near Mt Everest base camp, where one could see snow-clad mountains all around you.  We could see 3 ice glaciers, next to each other, making for a panorama of about 180 degrees.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall3After the visit to Thormork, it was time for Seljalandsfoss waterfall, a giant fall that drops at least 250 feet, from the top of a cave.  The cave can be reached at about half the height of the waterfall. A climb to the cave took us behind the waterfall. We repeatedly circled around the waterfall and the point at which the water hits the floor with great force.  As you can imagine, the circles were superb fun.

This waterfall became Nishi’s favorite.   On our way back, we had to pass by this waterfall again.  Nishi made sure that we trekked around the waterfall a couple more times.

140 kilometers later, we reached our night halt. We slept with the excitement of a glacier walk that lay ahead the next day.

To be contd……………

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra