|Modified 4WD vehicles normally look completely over the top, but in Iceland it was our SUV (right) that looked out of place, as if it should have been on the school run rather than fording rivers in the interior.|
Coincidently, the night before we departed for Iceland, a BBC4 programme was broadcast in which TV walking woman Julia Bradbury undertook a hut to hut walk in the company of an Icelandic mountain guide. They walked around 40 miles, ending near the troublesome Ejafjallajokul volcano. As is generally the case when anything outdoors related is presented for a mass audience the extreme nature of the activity was repeatedly emphasised. As Julia wandered through the stunning Icelandic scenery she repeatedly commented on how she was slightly unsettled by the utter strangeness and unfamiliarity of it all and how glad she was to have some company along. I came to appreciate what she meant as we left behind the sunny skies of the northeast of Iceland and drove south, towards skies that were heavy, hazy, loaded with portent. The all pervasive dust provided a further dimming effect and by the time we reached the edge of the great lavafield our world was monochromatic. There was a particular - almost thundery - feel in the air. I wondered if being in the lee of the great icecaps would have the effect of imparting a charge to the air.
|Carefully inspecting the Lindaa river prior to an uninsured crossing. No pressure, we'd only have been liable for about 20 grand if something went horribly wrong......|
The outing was made more foreboding on account of the unavoidable river crossings, marked on the map with a special symbol that identified them as requiring extra care. The Lindaa river, pictured above, was knee height at its shallowest and much wider than it looks in the photo. It was disconcerting to hear the underwater river sounds - gurgling water and tumbling pebbles - transmitted so clearly into the cabin as we crossed. This was probably close to the limit of what is possible in a hired SUV and I certainly wouldn't entertain tackling any of the more ferocious and variable glacial rivers in anything other than a fully modified vehicle that was equipped with a winch. I dread to think how much it would cost to hire such a machine in Iceland. We met a lot of Germans and French who had brought their own modified Landrovers and Landcruisers with them on the ferry from Denmark. I presume that these had been purchased for forays into Africa, judging by the sand ramps, spades and jerry cans attached to the outside.
As we approached Askja we entered the famous 'lunar landscape' where US astronauts trained while preparing for the real thing. Vegetation was entirely absent. Jagged fins of black lava reared from the ground, which was composed of two types of volcanic gravel: a beige coloured, very light, honeycomb textured tephra in pieces up to the size of a small stones and a more dense black gravely ash. The two types of rock had been segregated by the forces of nature: wind, water and frost action, according to their size and density, and occurred almost distinctly, with little mixing. This contrast between light and dark lent the land a wonderful variegated texture, with the light-coloured stones occupying the lower lying ground and hollows. From a distance this gave the appearance of vegetation, like yellowed winter grass lining the gullies. All in all the effect was of a Zen garden. Every component of the landscape, right down to the grains of sand, appeared to have been so perfectly positioned by nature, that no amount of further rearrangement could possibly improve it.
|Mt Herdoubreid (left) is a mountain I would like to return to climb some day.|
|The hut and campground by Askja. The crater of the big volcano behind contains Iceland's deepest lake, Oskjuvatn (220 m).|
|Oskjuvatn is on the left. To the right is the Viti explosion crater which is a pleasant temperature for bathing.|
|This photo shows how the beige tephra gives the impression of vegetation, of short, winter-yellowed grass where there is none. The single blade of grass in centre left is the only living thing in shot.|
|What chaotic cascade of events led to the thrift lending its flash of colour to that particular spot rather than any other?|