Today the clear skies were replaced with grey clouds, which lingered for most of the day. Having such a fabulous day yesterday, it was a hard act to follow, and we pondered what to do.
We started with a breakfast-run to the local bakery – Cafe Bakari, getting there early and buying a random selection. But there were no traditional croissants, and what we did get was all a little weird – like pastries with hidden cheese and ham in them. The boys had the sweetest ones, and we got their scraps when they decided the chocolatey banana nutty pastry wasn’t what they wanted.
On the day of our snowy drive near Reykjavik Samantha had missed out on the lava tube tour – so we opted to book her onto a tour today and head West again, seeing some different sights on the familiar route.
We stopped in Grundarfjordur for toilets and food. I got a mini pizza to satisfy a craving. Forrest marched about the paved streets stomping his pink-spotted boots lined with red socks in all the piles of icy snow. ‘Cold’, ‘Cold ice’ he said, pointing and smushing.
At Kirkjufell we stopped to eat food and look at reflections. The pools opposite the mountain lay still, and we crossed the road and muddy grass to photograph next to them. I lifted the boys over a tiny stream, careful not to slip with my feet nestled in piles of snow. Obviously once we got there with the tripod the wind was up and the reflections were now ripples. But I did enjoy watching Conway running with the tripod, like a courier with an urgent delivery for daddy.
We crossed the peninsula, heading south-west to the national park then on to the Vatnshellir lava tube for Sam’s tour. We tried our best to convince Conway to join this too, to go with mummy and see another cave, but his moods were delicate, and he couldn’t make up his mind. In the end he stayed in the car with daddy and sleeping Forrest, watching something on the iPad.
Meanwhile Samantha found out she was the only person booked onto this tour, a personal tour, given by a somewhat less than interested guide.
Samantha got the impression this guy didn’t care much, he was parroting a lot of what he needed to say and his bosses were a lot more interested in caves than he was. At the same time he was candid – pointing out some fake stalagmites the owners had decided to put in, for some reason. Other features included a tall spiral staircase and a skeleton of an arctic fox.
The lava tube was a lot smaller than the one we’d seen previously, and Samantha left feeling underwhelmed.
After leaving the cave we continued along the peninsula, stopping briefly at an abandoned house – it was being reclaimed by the elements, and the boys enjoyed looking through the old window frames into what used to be rooms. “Climate change is real” was spray painted on the side.
Further along we saw many cars parked down a track – that’s usually enough to indicate there’s something worth looking at. We pulled in too, to take a look at what’s there. Ahh, a canyon with a walk, doesn’t look too hard, it’ll be a nice 10 minute excursion. Little did we know.
At the car park a sign told us the troll-lore, and the saga, Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss. There was a half-giant Bárðar, he pushed his nephew Rauðfelder into the gorge in an angry rage in retaliation for his daughter being pushed into an iceberg which floated all the way to Greenland. The canyon sits within Botnsfjall Mountain.
The four of us started up the craggy mountain path. “Rock”, “Big rock”, Forrest said. We motivated the boys to keep going by running from rock pile to rock pile, and adding to each of them.
Two-thirds up the hill the path is covered in snow, and there’s a narrowly trudged walk through it all. We attempted to climb this with the boys, and without crampons. To the right, the snow piled up the hill, to the left it fell away, steeply, leading to a stream. We should do our best to fall to the right if we must, and we did. This, it turned out, was not quick or trivial, and it would be harder coming down. Still, we persisted, carrying the boys, and sloshing through, chunks of snow falling into the top of my otherwise waterproof boots.
“Careful daddy”, “ok?”, Forrest said, unprompted, then he leaned out and looked back at mummy, “careful mummy”, “ok?”, he said too. Even our 2yr old could see the precariousness of the snowy route.
At the top a stream flows out of the canyon entrance. There is no path to explore the canyon, you need to hop from rock to rock, holding onto the edge, to avoid standing in the water. We couldn’t do this with the boys, and the boys couldn’t do it by themselves – not without the risk of some very wet and grumpy kids. So we took turns going in, braving the risk of getting our trousers very wet.
I went first, with careful footing, and leaning on a rock, I stepped from wobbly stone to wobbly stone, hugging the wall as I turned the corner into the ravine, mindful of the flowing stream, and wary of soaking my only pair of shoes. Once inside the route continues, deep into the cliff, along an increasingly narrow corridor, with large rocks for scrambling over the stream.
From here I turned back, and as I turned the corner and returned to sunlight, the worried faces of my boys lit up when they saw me, “Daddy!”. Now it was mummy’s turn, and I watched as the boys waited nervously for her to return too.
Of course this was the easy bit, now after our little jaunt along a stream, we had to get back down the slippery snowy path to the car. We tried at first to carry the boys, but our balance was off and we couldn’t stop from falling. Instead I held their hands, they walked, slowly, and I squatted and shuffled along, keeping my centre of gravity low. Undignified? “Super dad”, a passerby said.
We made it. From the rocky path, below the snow, we turned to look back up at the ravine. The flocks of nesting seabirds on the cliffs were unsettled, something was agitating them, and then as we watched we saw a gorgeous white-tailed eagle swoop in and out and around the rocks, looking for easy pickings as the birds scattered.
This was quite enough excitement for the day, and when we were back at the car we headed home.
We stopped once, on the mountain pass, to try and photograph some of the landscape in the low sunlight. But as I walked on what looked like asphalt, I found it was deep wet mud, that my boots sunk into, 2, 3 inches, then further. I turned back, and tried navigating the hidden quagmire by moving on snow instead. I followed some arctic fox tracks along a safer route, took a couple of shots and then we carried on, the car tyres caked in mud.
Back at home we cooked dinner, and did our bedtime routine – teeth, toilet, pjs, reading some books, watching an Amaury Guichon video on Instagram, waiting in the dark until the children are asleep.
It had been cloudy all day, but the Aurora KP index looked good, and after the children were asleep I peeked outside, in the twilight I could see a couple of stars, still some clouds, but stars too.
When it was dark, around 10pm, I headed out again to try and find the northern lights again. Up at Sugandisey lighthouse there was too much cloud cover, so I took the car south, driving until the stars became clearer, which was thankfully not very far, away from Stykkishólmur, to a small farm road off route 54.
Here I quickly aimed by camera up at the night sky for a long exposure. There were blurry clouds, but behind their grey the sky was bright green. There was a show being put on, but I needed to wait for the clouds to clear more to see it.
I was lucky, and overhead the clouds cleared, I couldn’t see the full show, but above me I saw wavy wispy clouds of grey dancing. This time I was amidst the aurora, and it was a whole lot more immersive – if the skies had been clear I imagine it would have been phenomenal. When they did eventually clear, the show was over.