The Magic of Iceland: Lost in Skaftafell

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Svartifoss

This is the eleventh story in our series on the Magic of Iceland.

SKAFTAFELL NATIONAL PARK is the undisputed crown jewel of southeast Iceland. It didn’t take long for Nora and I to find out why as we made our approach from the east after a rainy, one hour fifteen minute drive from Hotel Smyrlabjorg.

Were the Norse gods governing the entrance? Two majestic glaciers, Skaftafellsjokull and Svinafellsjokull, were side by side and appeared to stand guard. The entrance didn’t have a moat and drawbridge but who needed one? A short drive on Route 998 after turning off the Ring Road served the same purpose.

Skaftafell is a rather large park, encompassing approximately 4,800 square kilometers. It offers glaciers, waterfalls — including the renowned Svartifoss — and great hiking trails. Svinafellsjokull, although not officially part of the park, is closely affiliated and famous for being the setting in numerous films and television shows, more recently in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Nora and I were humbled. The sun was out and we were fully equipped for a long day of exploring. After gathering trail maps at the welcome center, we were ready to channel our inner Magellan.

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Hundafoss, the first of three waterfalls on the trail to Svartifoss

Hundafoss is a beautiful, well camouflaged waterfall along the trail that leads to Svartifoss. Stopping there seemed innocent enough. When we were deciding which trail to start with, Nora favored the S1 route named Skaftafellsjokull, a 3.4 kilometer loop that took about an hour and a half to complete. It was easy and went to the base of the glacier. That was cool!

But to access the other trails, you had to hike an incline that went into the heart of the park. It felt right to dive headlong into the overall Skaftafell experience.

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The view above Hundafoss

“Let’s go this way,” I said. “We can finish up with that trail (Skaftafellsjokull) later.”

For me, full steam ahead is the only way to climb a hill or a mountain. Nora was annoyed. To her, climbing the hill was part of a leisurely day. Not me. I would rather get where I was going 20 minutes earlier rather than 20 minutes later.

By the time we reached a sign for Hundafoss, the over-the-shoulder bickering was peaking. As she stopped to take pictures, I walked further up to see how close I could get to the top of the waterfall. A short path about 20 feet long took me to where the Bæjargil stream crashed over the rocks and into a ravine. I could almost look down over the side. Pretty cool! After a few minutes I walked back to the trail, expecting to see Nora. I was ready to take a break. She wasn’t there. I walked back to where she was taking pictures of the waterfall only 10 minutes earlier. She wasn’t there either. Uh-oh. Where did she go?

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Magnusarfoss

Our American cell phones were not getting a signal inside the park. I walked the trail toward Svartifoss for about 10 minutes, hoping to find her, then back to Hundafoss. Nothing. Was it time to panic? Did she fall off a cliff?? I decided that wasn’t the case. I went back to the welcome center and waited for 45 minutes. Still nothing. My phone had a signal so I texted Nora. I told her to meet me at the welcome center at 5 o’clock. I knew she would eventually get the message. I didn’t want the day to be wasted.

My adjusted plan called for hiking the trail to Svartifoss, hoping to see her, then hiking a trail to the Sjonarnipa viewpoint over Skaftafellsjokull. I would then return to the park entrance on another trail called Austurbrekkur. The entire loop was 7.4 kilometers long and took about 3 hours to complete. It was labelled challenging, just like Nora! At some point I knew our angry worlds would collide.

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Skaftafellsjokull, from the Sjonarnipa viewpoint

It was almost three hours later when a stream of Nora’s texts started buzzing in. I was on the Austurbrekkur trail headed toward the welcome center and my phone was getting a signal again. Nora was angry but at least I knew she was OK! I tried to give a few thoughtful responses but it was not the time to be texting and hiking. Austurbrekkur was cut into the side of a hill and the footing was treacherous!

Nora’s anger didn’t last. We even discovered our visit to Skaftafellsjokull was simultaneously shared; I was several hundred feet above at Sjonarnipa when Nora was at the glacier’s base. It made for a shared laugh. We left Skaftafell knowing more than 20 glaciers hugged the coast on the way back to Smyrlabjorg, including the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

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The logjam of icebergs at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

We stopped at Jokulsarlon and watched in fascination as small icebergs dislodged from a logjam in the lagoon and got swept to sea. A tour of the black sand beach near Jokulsarlon led us to turquoise colored icebergs the size of cars that somehow got stuck on the beach!

The rains that avoided us most of the day had returned but it didn’t matter. Day 8 was complete. A travel day to the interior was up next, with Landmannalaugar and its volcanic hiking trails the destination. The southwest coast had some treasures, including the historic town of Vik, and we were ready for whatever adventure came upon us, minus the separation anxiety.

Check out the entire Magic of Iceland series right here (Click on each link):

Part 1-Overview, Part 2-The Golden Circle, Part 3-LatrabjargPart 4-Midnight Sun DrivePart 5-Westfjords and IsafjordurPart 6-Fire and the MountainsPart 7-Date Night at HverfellPart 8-Surreal SaturdayPart 9-Beyond Fire and Ice, Part 10Taking the 939, Part 11-Lost in Skaftafell, Part 12-F208 DilemmaPart 13-Volcanic HighlandsPart 14-Homestretch to Remember

More Magic of Iceland:  1. Jokulsarlon – Glacier Lagoon,  2. Kirkjubaejarklaustur,

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This iceberg from Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon didn’t make it out to sea

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