Fire and Ice-Land 3 (Dancing Lights)


Day 3 in Iceland and the weather was still occasionally sunny but mostly snow stormy.  Any hope of catching a glimpse of the fabled northern lights seemed to be all but lost as all northern light tours had been cancelled for 7 consecutive days on account of poor visibility and driving snow.

We consoled ourselves by hiring a Superjeep  tour up to Langjökull glacier to do snowmobiling and to visit a man made ice cave.  Along the way, there were stops to look at some of Iceland’s thermal pools, a rather pretty though small waterfall and a pit stop for lunch.

hraunfoss - 1
Mrs. Squirrel obscuring the view of the pretty Hraunfossar waterfall.

Along the way, there were a few cars that had got stuck in the snow and we stopped to render some assistance.  We were very glad to be in a Superjeep with huge tyres and retractable spikes which carried us steadily through the worst of the snow and weather.

And when we reached on top of the glacier, it was time to switch to the snowmobile.

snowmobile 2
Our two snow conquering chariots!
snowmobile 1
We had to bundle up in special snow suits, wear helmet, visors and get instructions.

Well, getting dressed up for the snowmobile ride was a thorough workout in itself and we were sweating from the exertion and glad to be out in the cold so that we could cool down.  There were 14 of us and we paired up to drive 7 snowmobiles.  Of the 7 drivers, only one had driven a snowmobile before.

Let me just say that it was not easy to drive.  I certainly found it hard to control, requiring a lot more strength and throwing around the body weight to get the machine to turn.  And when I managed to turn it, it would over extend in that direction and I would have to compensate in the other direction.  We were told to follow behind the guide in the lead snowmobile but we were all struggling to do that.

We were also facing driving snow and bitter cold, poor visibility and fresh loosely packed snow which made it easy to capsize the machine if we strayed too much to the edge of the packed trail.  The journey was supposed to take about 15 minutes to the cave entrance but it took us more than 30 minutes.  During that time, one snowmobile sunk about 2 feet into the soft snow and had to be dug out.  Except for two snowmobiles, the rest all had exciting moments when the machine tipped over trapping driver and passenger underneath.

It happened to me and Mrs. Squirrel.  I wandered too much to the side and the machine toppled over and slid down a small slope.  Both my wife and I were pinned down by the 350 kg machine.  From our prone position, we could see nothing at all and could only hope that the guides would notice we were missing and could here our feeble cries for help.  Eventually, they showed up and got us out of there.

Finally, we made it to the ice cave and I took out my camera from my backpack only to find that it had not fared well from the snowmobile ride.   The cold had completely caused my camera battery to be drained out.  So all the photos in this post is courtesy of my traveling companions.

We were joined by another group that had come up by monster wheeled buses.  “You mean we could have done the trip in comfort?”  One of my group tried to trade our return snowmobile ride for a spot  on the bus but there were no takers.

During the tour of the cave, we were shown the “chapel”.  The guide explained that the acoustics were particularly good here and asked for a volunteer to test it out.  The rest of the cowards nominated me to do it.  And so I found myself giving a rendition of “Amazing Grace” inside a glacier.

glacier cave chapel - 1
Singing “Amazing Grace” in the ice cave chapel.

When we got back to the base camp on the glacier to put away the snowmobiles and to get out of the snow suits, I asked my driver how I could get a refund for the northern light tour that I had previously booked with Superjeep for my first night in Iceland.  Now Superjeep and some other tours allow clients to go on a second tour at no extra charge if the first trip was cancelled or the northern lights were not seen.  However, the weather had been so bad and the forecast was for more of the same, that I had given up hope.

To my surprise, our driver, Loji, thought there was a chance that the tour would go ahead that night.  He called his office, consulted with them and then proposed to take us out that same night.  I really was skeptical given the weather conditions but decided I would regret not trying and so our whole group agreed to go northern light hunting.

Loji said that despite the snow and blustery wind, we just needed to look for breaks in the cloud cover where we can see the stars and we would have a good chance to see the northern lights.

star wars snow
This is not the Millennium Falcon jumping to light speed but the view of the driving snow from the windscreen of the jeep and the reason why I did remained skeptical of our chances of seeing any northern lights.

And so we left Reykjavik at about 8.00 pm and we drove and drove and we drove.  Around and around,  Chasing perceived clearer skies.  We made a few stops when it was not snowing as bad and strained to see stars but most of the time, the sightings were brief before the clouds and snow returned.

To warm us up and to dull the sense of disappointment, Loji gave out generous servings of hot chocolate fortified with vodka.  That certainly made us more cheerful and a little sleepy too – it had been a long day.  Then at about 12.30 in the morning, Loji delivered!

We managed to see the lights!  It appeared like a light green ribbon across the sky. It wasn’t the brightest but we enjoyed it, taking pictures and just taking in the sight.  But after maybe 10 minutes the clouds came in and the show was over.

We were reasonably satisfied and we settled down in the jeep for the long drive back to Reykjavik.  But Iceland had not finished giving us a show.  30 minutes later, we saw an even better display as we were driving back.  We pulled over and enjoyed this spectacle for about 20 minutes, thanking God for blessing us with this experience.

aurora 1

aurora 2
Hallelujah!

Next post:- Around Reykjavik.

11 thoughts on “Fire and Ice-Land 3 (Dancing Lights)”

  1. Sid,
    Thanks. The northern lights that we saw was certainly not the best possible (someone recently posted one from Norway which seemed to fill the whole sky and went on for hours) but I am very happy to have seen it.

  2. Mel & Suan,
    Sorry your friend failed to see the aurora on their two trips. One is truly at the mercy of the solar winds and the weather and those predictive forecast apps are of limited use as conditions can change rapidly on the day itself.

  3. So Squirrel, as a scientist how are the northern climes faring in your opinion?

    I have been reading of the ongoing melt and sea levels rising because of that melt. Greenland has been warmer than Michigan for a number of days this winter–Iceland too?

    I have unbelievably seen the Northern Lights from my front porch a couple of times–

  4. Mark,
    I think that unusual weather patterns seen around the world are totally in line with the predicted effects of global warming. When I was there, it was experiencing a long snap of bad weather which may be a bit unusual for the time of year but I am uncertain about that.

    The effect of global warming on Iceland is complex but is expected to affect their fishing industry, farming industry and their very important. tourism industry. Many tourists come to see the northern lights, glaciers and glacial lakes. Bad weather will make the lights difficult to see and warming weather will cause glaciers to retreat and the glacial lakes to disappear.

    In the short term, Iceland will get warmer weather but also more storms and rising seawater (more than an inch a year). In the long term, if the warm Gulf Stream is weakened by melting ice caps, Iceland may get much colder.

    Glad you had the chance to see the northern lights from the comfort of your own home. Sounds wonderful.

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