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  Iceland
 
In 1997 I spent two weeks in Iceland with Exodus on a mainly walking holiday.  Iceland had been on the list of must-visit places for about 30 years - ever since I'd studied on exchange at Moscow State University and made friends there with an Icelander.

Iceland is unique:  a country which is really upraised deep seabed, straddling the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  It's thoroughly volcanic and geologically very young, with a fantastic landscape of black or grey lava and moss, many waterfalls, icefields (not merely glaciers), geysirs, basalt columns, an impressive iceberg lagoon, some fairly high mountains, including two called Snaefell (snow mountain), one of which - on a peninsula north of Reykjavik - is the setting for Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth

It's a very small country in population - still (in 2009) only 320,000 - about 64% of Tasmania's just on half a million.   Iceland's area is 103,000 square km, against Tasmania's 90,750 square km.

Typical valley in Iceland - bright green grass, no trees


Svartifoss ('black waterfall') at Skaftafell

We began our trip in Reykjavik and headed by bus southeast along the coast. to eastern Iceland.  We then headed up to Egilsstaðir in the near-interior, one of the warmest places in iceland because the elevation is fairly low and there are thickets of dwarf birch - and we also saw beautiful slopes of Iceland poppies growing n ext to  the white-trunked birches.

From Egilsstaðir we claimbed up onto the desolate, stony plateau around Snaefell, one of the higher mountains (about 1600 metres).  We stayed in a comfortable hut there and had time to explore the 'micro' of the surrounds:  moss, grass, delicate little flowers growing in rock and shallow soil.
 
 
Delicate small flowers in precarious thin soil on lava


Near the bottom, on the walk to about two-thirds of the way up Snaefell.  Me on the left in blue parka and gaiters

After Snaefellsskáli (the hut) we set out on a six-day pack walk - quite demanding: the first day was 26 kilometres!  But in high summer - this was early August - the sun is above the horizon for 22 hours, and it never gets really dark.

I thought it was remarkable that over the just six months between the winter and summer solstices, the day length changes by about 20 hours:  that is, by nearly an hour a week, or 8 minutes every day. 
 
  Start of our trek across Eyjabakkajökull, a protruding tongue from the northeastern side of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier (really, ice field) in Europe


Walking on the icefield was easy at first
 

A bit further on, the going got tougher, when we had to walk up a long slope and then cross a sloping section of glacier ending in a great drop with a roaring cataract surging out from under the glacier.  This was scary.

A great relief to have done the traverse of the sloping ice and not slipped down into the abyss below!  And yes it WAS cold.
 

You can imagine how agonizingly cold it is to walk across a fast flowing icemelt stream a bit more than knee-deep and about 30 metres wide.  Thank God for metal walking poles!  The cold was like a knife going through the feet.  Truly dreadful.  We'd been told to take boots off and do it in rafting sandals, but after trying this just once, I refused to take my boots off for subsequent crossings, and even then the feet ached badly.

Crossing a desolate area.  There was a broken ice bridge below the falls, but it was precarious finding a way across the fast-flowing freezing stream



I took this picture of the snout of Vesturdalsjökull ['west valley glacier'] with a 24mm lens, so the distance to the glacier is well over a kilometre.  The vertical ice front at the snout of the glacier would be maybe 50 metres high!
 
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