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Monday, November 16, 2015

Scotland and Iceland in the Summer

What a tragedy; there were a few days between work engagements in Scotland and Iceland this summer. So forced to take some leave. Ah well, so it must be time for the Sons to do some bushwalking, or whatever it is called in those places.

The first destination was the Isle of Skye, where your blogger met up with a co-author and spent a few days there writing in the mornings and heading out into the wilderness afterwards.

Our first destination was the tiny loch in Coir Lagan; the lock is about 700 metres up in a tiny corrie - a kind of flat high valley surrounded by some of the most the impressive peaks of the Black Cuillin.

This is not a great picture, but look out on the left for David Plunkett, tiny blue figure, who will give some scale to it.

Next break was to be on the north-east of the island, where there is a rather mysterious set of rock formations called The Quirang where a massive ridge is very eroded. The weather was remarkably good and we headed off in good spirits to be greeted by some impressive views:


This last was taken just before your blogger slipped and fell about halfway down the slope you can see. No damage done, just a lot of mud and bruises. After dusting myself off though, the weather turned and rain and mist came in eliminating visibility. Plunkett was up at the top of the range, in the thickest mist, and there was no point trying to attain it. Waiting would be best policy, though it was wet and cold enough that I thought heading to the car might be best bet, as I couldn't be sure that he wouldn't go there by a different route from the top given the conditions. However, just as I was thinking this, the mist lifted and Plunkett emerged:

He ia the tiny blue dot in the middle, soon much more visible in the changeable mist:



We took the time to explore some of the strange formations given the weather had improved, and sure enough we were well rewarded for doing so:

One of the strange things for an Australian, is that these countries don't have wilderness in our sense; their landscapes are formed even more profoundly by human use than ours (pace Flannery) and they still are used - on our way back to the car we were treated by an amazing sheep dog demonstration in the valley below:

Can you spot the two Border Collies?

The next walk was a trudge in the pelting rain down a too well made for my liking path along a valley starting at Sligachan. But when we left the path and headed into a corrie contains the Bloody Stone the walk improved. Said stone is where, allegedly, a McLeod massacred almost all MacDonalds. Must have missed some given the fast food situation. A Skye tradition seems to be to interrogate tourists about any possible Scottish ancestry. Since I have a great-aunt McLeod there was much ho hoing from the MacDomalds whose house we had rented. Here is said stone:

The final walk of the trip that we managed to fit in was an ascent of Beinn Na Cro, a wonderful Red Cuillin with spectacular views of its red cousins. This photo is taken maybe twenty metres from the summit, where the wind conditions we so severe that we almost thought better of those twenty metres.

That unfortunately was it for Scotland, both work wise and walk wise. On to Iceland. The next picture comes from just outside our conference venue, which was in a thermal lava field.

Soon enough and the conference was over, and it was time to again head out into the wilderness. This time two of us had booked the  Laugavegur, allegedly Iceland's greatest multi day walk. But the day before we were to head out, we were told it was closed: massive unseasonal snow. Would have been tricky as the huts had been booked out a year in advance and we only had one hut booking for the four nights, and weren't really equipped for snow camping. Or indeed had we hired snow shoes it would have been much slower going, and we didn't have the time.

We oped instead for the Fimmvörðuháls, a remarkable crossing of the pass between two great glaciers, the Eyjafjallajökull glacier that covers the volcano that disrupted so much air traffic only a few years ago, and the even more impressive  Mýrdalsjökull. There is a hut midway that is a first come first serve kind of place.

Well we started off at Skógar after a night at a typically Icelandic hotel (think InTourist) and started the steep climb up to the saddle. It's amazing. You'll get bored if I post photo after photo of astonishing waterfalls, but hey were jus unrelenting. Here is the first where the Skógar river crashes down to the coastal plain:




And here is another, randomly chosen as the first that reveals we are reaching snow country


Once we were on the high plateau it became a bit navigationally challenging to find the hut in the snow. We were fine, of course, but we had the GPS coordinates. The woman at the parks centre had been blithely telling a couple of tourists that there was no problem, it was a romp, no need for a map or a GPS. Hmm. Likely so when there's no snow and you can see a path, but not in these conditions (and there are some fun and slightly hairy bits to come that I hope those poor guys handled)

But soon we found this massive cairn, which showed us the way:




Next photo is not so exciting, but I can't resist toilets in wild places, and this one is on a patch of freshly congealed lava that is kept snow free by thermal activity!


The next day was snowing and sleeting fairly consistently, and I'm ashamed to say that not having brought the right kind of camera condom (I am now equipped) I kept mine safely stowed away. But luckily Kristie was made of tougher stuff and kept hers out, and some of these are hers, some mine with her equipment, and the next one from a friendly walker. (all processed by yours truly though).


The biggest difficulty of the next day is something called Hell Ridge, which connects two volcanos. You can get some sense of the terrain here:


Here is the ridge itself, there's no real sense of scale. It plugs down 700 metres or so on either side at maybe 60 degrees. The safest way to approach it is to climb down to the line of snow you can see banked up on the right hand side, and use where that has been compressed by walkers into a 50cm wide path. All doable, but I would have liked to have had an ice-axe. A slight slip and you'd be down that slope and turned to jelly, but it would be an easy self-arrest if we had been equipped.


Here's a happy walker having made it across (and on the the first walk since major knee surgery for, amongst other things, a snapped ACL which made stability on the crossing a challenge:



Soon we were rewarded with views across to  Mýrdalsjökull; those laval flow valleys are over a thousand metres down:


As we got closer to the end at Thórsmörk, there were fantastic sights until the very end. Here I am pointing some out!


Well that was it for walking: but one last trip was interesting. There's a volcano called Thrihnukagigur, which hasn't erupted for 4000 years. But for some reason the magma chamber is empty - the magma for sucked back into the earth somehow whilst still hot after an eruption. As a result it's possible to go down a narrow shaft and descend 200m into the magma chamber! We couldn't resist! An old window cleaning lift has been pressed into service to lower people. Here's one of us excited by the massive coloured chamber:





2 comments:

  1. Your blog is really very nice and informative in which there is the authentic description. Thanks for sharing this.

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  2. stunning place and amazing photos. goes onto my bucket list :-)

    ReplyDelete

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