Iceland, February 2012 – Part 2

We then arrived at Gulfoss, a large waterfall that I had been looking forward to seeing. The guide warned us that walk to the waterfall was liable to be very slippery, and to give ourselves plenty of time to make the walk. As soon as I was off the coach the wind tore at my clothes, and felt like it was trying to rip my coat from my body. I could hear the roar of the water and edged my way down. The path was treacherous, and people were falling continuously. As we reached a fork in the path, the waterfall became partially visible, and many decided that this was as far as they would go. Just a few hundred metres further along was a wooden viewing platform that overlooked the waterfall. About a third of the group started to make their way towards it. 

I was moving so slowly that I began to feel faintly ridiculous, but eventually I made it along with a few others. The ice on the platform was thicker than we had seen elsewhere and make even more dangerous by the water thrown into the air by the waterfall creating a slick surface that proved impossible to get a grip on. To move down the platform, we basically planted our feet and pulled ourselves along using the guardrail. 


As the surrounding area was completely covered with snow, the waterfall itself seemed to have no context. The lack of contract in colour or shadow, tricked the eye into perceiving a flat surface instead of the sharp drop that there really was. This had the effect of making the waterfall resemble a giant tear in the landscape. Even the water blended into the landscape, as it fast flow and fall churned it to a white broil.

A tried to take photographs but it proved near on impossible. At first when I lifted the camera in both hands, releasing my grasp on the guardrail to do so, I would find myself sliding towards the edge; pushed by the violent wind and with no friction between the ice and my boots to stop me. I instead formed a strange brace against the rail, with my arm hooked around it as I tried to steady the camera. But even when I could steady myself for a second or two, the front element of the camera lens would become covered in show and water rendering the shot useless. 

In truth the visit to the waterfall, was an adrenalin pumping experience. It should have been a sedate walk, but instead it turned into a battle with the elements. At times I had a genuine fear that I would lose my balance, and the combination of wind and ice would take me under the guardrail and over the edge. Deciding that I would rather return another day then kill myself in pursuit of a photograph that due to the conditions would not be all that good anyway, I slung the camera back over my shoulder, paused to take one last look at the waterfall and inch my way back along the path and the safety of the visitors centre. 

Despite many slips and stumbles, I somehow managed to keep my balance until I reached the gritted footpath at the top. I turned around just in time to see the middle person in a group of three slip spectacularly and shoot a few foot in the air before returning to Earth and taking her colleagues with her. They slid backwards down the path a little before coming to a halt. I called out to them to see if they were ok and was answered with a couple of groans and the raucous laughter of the initial faller. 

Once inside, I purchased my traditional magnet, and just had time for a sandwich before heading back into the blizzard and heading to the hot springs of Geyser. 

Geyser is, unsurprisingly enough, a geyser. In fact it is for this particular geyser for which all others were named. The snow again made for a featureless landscape, although this time one punctuated by bubbling holes of various sizes, steam rising from them and circles of green radiating from them. Every few minutes a load whoosh would be heard and a huge plume of water would jet into the air. This would then return to earth and run down the hill, the warmth of the water melting the snow wherever it ran; creating a path through the drift. 

The earth surrounding the larger geysers was stained and assortment of colours by the minerals contained within the water. These seemed to glisten and shimmy as the water ran over them. I could not help but think of Red Mountain in Colorado, that I had seen a couple of years ago where strip mining had left an entire mountain looking like this patch of earth. 

I don’t know why, but I felt uncomfortable at Geyser. It could have been that the landscape looked alien, with the strange coloured ground, the venting steam and the difference in ambient temperature compared to its surrounding – not to mention the rotten egg smell of the sulphur all combining to throw me somewhat. It was all in the mind of course, but in my now worn down state, I was glad to be getting back on the bus and feeling something beneath my feet that I was sure wasn’t going to send me hurtling to the floor with one misstep. 

We then drove for an age, the landscape barely changing; the snow having turned it into a featureless blanket. That is until we reached the continental rift. Here we encountered a beautiful valley and lake, caught between the tectonic plates of Europe and North America. We were in the space between two continents and it was spectacular. Our guide explained that local people like to visit here at least once a year, and that she felt extremely fortunate that she could visit so often as a guide. 

After stopping for a while to walk around and explore, we were back on the bus and making the long drive back to Reykjavik.

Iceland proved to be a challenging trip. I’d envisioned a relaxing long weekend watching whales frolicking, the Northern Lights dazzling with their beauty, and then a day taking photos of this spectacular landscape. Instead it turned into a two day fight against the elements with everything seemingly designed to sap my energy and morale. It is indeed an amazing place, and even in the winter its beauty shines through. I couldn’t help but be disappointed that the weather didn’t play ball, and I’ve seen enough snow to last me at least the rest of this year. I think it’s because of the glimpses that Iceland gave me that left me with a feeling of coming so near to something so special. If only a whale, or a porpoise had shown up. If only those clouds weren’t there. If only the wind and sleet has dropped for a few hours it would have all been so different. 

I don’t think my Iceland story is finished yet. It can’t be, not when it hasn’t opened up to me. I’ll go back sometime, a warm spring day when the ice has melted and I can see the falls at their best. When the miles upon miles of featureless white blankets have been replaced by colour and maybe that time I’ll get to finally see a whale. 







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