Hah! If you've been following along, you would have read that we fell into bed the night before, with the worst behind us, and expecing a nice short day walking back to the car today for our final day.
But as usual, the glacier had some tricks in store. Again, we should have known. This glacier had a Jökulhlaup (glacial burst, from volcanic eruptions under a glacier, Jökulhlaup is the technical term in english :) in 1996 that took out the entire highway system.
It was the river that was the problem. It's a great big river. Cold, fast, and full of glacial debris. Not the sort of thing you just pick a point and wade across. Of course, because we'd aborted trying to get off the east side of the glacier the night before, it meant we were now on the wrong side of the river. No matter. We'll just walk around the toe of the glacier back to the head of the river and cross over. Leisurely breakfast, some frisbee, poi, and admiring the view of Öræfajökull, Hvannadalshnúkur and the rest of the Skaftafell area.
While going for a morning stroll Nerida found a huge geode, but we couldn't find it again, so no pictures, but it was a sign of things to come. The rocks in the terminal morraine were all sorts of crazy hodgepodge. Quite interesting.
Pity about the morraine though. It's not exactly pleasant walking. Piles of loose rocks, and the alternative is 5cm of mud and gravel sitting on ice. More zigging and zagging and turning back on ourselves walking around the toe of the glacier and back up stream looking for the way across.
Seeing the river erupt out from under the glacier was pretty neat. It bursts out in about 3-4 spots, a few hundred metres apart, huge upwellings of water. Instant river. No dicking around with being a cutesy little mountain stream first.
The head of the river unfortunately never seemd to get any closer, and when we finally got there, there was a big set of cliffs covering the top of it. We certainly weren't just going to walk around and onto the other side. Jared started spying a potential ford, but I was looking at going up the glacier a bit further and climbing up onto the hillside, and traversing around and down. Nerida didn't like the sound of either of them, and given that we could see Skaftafell, and the ring road, we decided to give them a ring and see if they knew some local trick to get across the river. No dice, but we'd managed to create a quite concerned ranger. Wondering what the hell three foreigners with no guide were doing on Skeiðarárajökull :)
The ranger confirmed that there was no trick, and that going up onto the hillside was the best option. The scree slope turned out to be quite solid, and before we knew it we were off the glacier, on a beautiful mountain hillside, flowers, blue skies, and a massive glacier for a backdrop.
Traversing around the hillside was awesome, the rocks were all coloured, with small geodes embedded in them all over the place. Very neat. We even got to see an arctic fox!
Back down onto the sand, and it was like hitting a highway. Footprints from people that had come over to climb Jökulfell, or just look at the glacier. Before long we even had track marking posts, and then a road, a bridge, and a bit more walking and we strolled leisurely into Skaftafell.
Got a scolding from the ranger, "No guide! No equipment! Fools!" The truth is probably half way between. We were definitely underequipped, and were lucky that the weather held up while we crossed the glacier, but we weren't exactly amateurs. We'd all been on multiday snow and ice before. We did just scrape through though, and I was definitely more concerned on this walk than I think I'd ever been before.
It might have seemed a bit negative at times, but we really did have a good time. We were in pretty good spirits almost the whole time. (except for the final few hours trying to get the hell off the glacier) And it was truly magical. Absolutely stunning. All the little details of the glacier were just stunning, and beautiful landscape to be walking in, and having it completely to ourselves. A really fantastic trip. Though, if I knew how rough it was going to be ahead of time, I probably wouldn't have done it. Big shouts to Jared and Nerida for being part of the grand adventure!