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Saturday, 7 August 2021

Walking In Iceland 4: Stormy Weather

links to: introduction - previous day - next day

Saturday 27th August 1977

Yesterday, the first proper day of our guided walk in Iceland, we arrived at the Sveinstindur hut near the western edge of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest ice cap. We are to stay here for two nights. 

Just after arrival at the Sveinstindur Hut

Today’s itinerary directs that we ascend the remaining 1150 feet (350m) to the top of Sveinstindur mountain (3585 feet, 1093m), one of the most magnificent viewpoints in Iceland. It boasts panoramic views of Vatnajökull and five other ice caps, the twelve-mile-long lake Langisjór, winding rivers, hundreds of mountains, volcanoes, and distant horizons in all directions.  

Unfortunately, yesterday’s bitter wind has brought terrible weather. Paul, the walk leader, reluctantly declares the day to be a ‘holiday’. The weather really is awful. We stay inside the hut where it sounds even worse because of rain drumming on the corrugated iron roof. Fortunately, nowadays, I can turn to the internet to pinch pictures of what we missed. 

This is a total surprise to me. I had absolutely no idea what it could be like up there until I saw these. Even if we had made it, visibility would have been nothing like this.  The first picture looks east towards Vatnajökull, the second in the opposite direction.

Views from Sveinstindur

The hut is small for the incarceration of thirteen people, but we have to accept that Paul knows best. At one end, a bridge school has started. Others read books. Some, complaining of a restless night, go back to sleep. One by one, even those who are awake get back in their sleeping bags to keep warm.

I join in card games for a while, and then, for something to do and to escape the state of lethargy into which most have fallen, I go for water, twice. This involves a ten minute walk each way, up a hill, down again and then across a kind of beach beside some flooded mud flats, and then over another promontory to a trickling stream.

Ascending the hill takes no effort, you simply sail up in the wind, but returning is a step by step struggle against flying hailstones. Frequent back-to-the-wind rests are needed. On the final descent down to the hut you have to keep sitting down so as not to be blown away. It is the strongest wind I have ever experienced. At least it makes your hands so cold you cannot feel string of the bucket cutting into your fingers. What a pity we can’t use the gritty water from the nearer mud flats.   

Although Sveinstindur mountain is hidden in cloud, the weather seems slightly better at lunch time, but by tea time it is desperate again. Apart from the business of cooking and washing up we continue to vegetate inside the hut. 

The huts are maintained by parishes for use by shepherds during the October sheep round-up. The remoteness and distances involved make it necessary to do this on horseback, so the huts are both stables and human quarters. 

At Sveinstindur, the single hut doubles up for both purposes, the human area at the rear being raised by three or four feet to form a sleeping platform. I get a spot on the lower floor. It would be a lot warmer if we had a horse, as the Irving Berlin song makes clear:

The snow is snowing and the wind is blowing
But I can weather the storm
What do I care how much it may storm
I’ve got my horse to keep me warm…
The other well-known Irving Berlin song composed during his secret, anonymous and undocumented holiday with Icelandic sheep herders was:
I’m,
putting on my jumper,
putting on my jumper,
putting on my jumper...

Fred Astaire was scripted to sing this in the film Top Hat but refused on the grounds that traditional Icelandic jumpers are inelegant and wearing three made him too hot for dancing. 

There are warming mugs of cocoa at bedtime. Why do those with the weakest bladders bag the spots furthest from the door so they have to pick their way in pitch blackness over the lumps of snoring sleeping bags strewn across the floor? They risk falls, injuries and very abusive language.  

                                                     *                    *                    *

For the orienteers amongst us, here is a 1:250,000 map of the area in 1977 (four miles to the inch or 2.5 km to the centimeter). The blue arrows indicate the positions of the first four huts, with Sveinstindur centrally towards the top. The first picture above looks east towards where ‘Sidujökull’ is written on the map, and the second in the opposite direction along the ridge of ‘Graenifjallgardur’. Our trek will later continue to the south of this ridge. 

To view the detail in images such as this:  (i) right click the image and select ‘Open Link in New Tab’ which should be one of the top options (nb ‘Open Link ...’ not ‘Open Image ...’) (ii) in the new tab you should now see the image with a magnifying glass cursor; a left click will expand the image to its original uploaded size; you can use the scroll bars to see different parts of it. It won’t expand if it is a small image. 

(next part)
I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

38 comments:

  1. Weather can do in the best of trips. Sorry you missed the view. Perhaps you learned more about your companions that you might have wished to know during that hut stay.

    Must say that the weak bladder ones are also invariably the ones who take the window seat on long overnight flights--similar to your weak bladdered hut folks--with the same kind of responses from those in the middle and aisle seats after their third trip to the loo in seven hours.

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    1. I'll say more about the travelling companions later. The ones who got to sleep furthest from the door were the fittest ones who arrived first at each hut. Could there be an inverse correlation between fitness and bladder size?

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  2. We used to say, "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes". It doesn't always work. I recall, not too fondly, emptying the entire contents of our truck into our tent on a camping trip to Mývatn in a pathetic effort to keep it on the ground. Sorry you missed the view, they can be tricksy to see even in the UK when the weather decides otherwise.

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    1. That sounds an experience worthy of a blog post. But I can imagine in such circumstances it's too much effort to get out the camera to take pictures. That was certainly the case here. How I now wish I had.

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  3. I've always wanted to go to Iceland, though probably not for that sort of trip. It sounds really hard work

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    1. We knew what we were letting ourselves in for - the ability to walk double the distance and carry double the weight was emphasised in the brochure. However, there is always one ...

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  4. I imagine that was a cold and interesting night in that small hut. The pictures from Sveinstindur almost look like another planet! It would be nice for you if you did hear from someone that was on the trip. It's always fun to compare notes and maybe even pictures from the trip.

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    1. I'm still in touch with 'Neville' with whom I went, but it would be good to hear from any of the others. I suppose it depends on someone inquisitively googling the right terms. The travel firm must have taken maybe more than 5,000 people on various trips over the years, so I'm more likely to hear from soomeone on a different trek.

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  5. The scene in the photo with the person standing is spectacular. Cooped up in a hut with people you barely know while the weathers howls outside sounds awful. I suppose there was some form of heating.

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    1. I've known when standing in front of other spectacular views that you cannot quite believe it.
      No heating in any of the huts. I imagine that's still true. All fuel had to be carried so we only had enough for cooking. Although it is now accessible to off-roaders, I doubt the countryside authorities would allow fossil-fuel heating. I can't imagine there is an economic case for hydro or a wind turbine (even if that would be allowed), especially as they would be likely to suffer costly damage every winter.

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  6. The views you could not see are stunning. Thanks for the purloin.

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    1. Without the internet I would probably never have known what we missed.

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  7. What a landscape, it is like Mars, bleak and without vegetation. Only the young could endure such 'holiday' conditions. But of course what an experience as well.

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    1. I think I commented in a previous 'episode' that you truly see the processes through which landscapes and planets form and change.
      I suspect now that after a couple of days at best they would be sending for a helicopter to take me to hospital. Although then again, Chris Bonington climbed The Old Man of Hoy aged 80.

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  8. Aarrggghhh - we were just getting into that and you leave us hanging again! (or lying on a hut floor in the dark....) Shepherd huts in NZ used to be like that - basic, corrugated iron. Some had bunks made out of wooden frames with hessian sacks nailed in like a kind of hammock. We had to contend with ****** keas sliding down the corrugated iron roof, which they clearly regarded as some kind of sport to annoy the humans within. (Kea - very large mountain dwelling parrot).

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    1. Be thankful for corrugated iron. You're hanging because I doubt anyone would want to read an 8,000 word blog post in one go, even if I wanted to transcribe it and find the photographs all in one go.

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  9. What amazing views. Such a shame that you missed out.
    I am on tenterhooks now wondering whether you ever got the chance to spend any of your trip outside the hut.

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    1. Will they be stuck there all winter? Will they freeze to death? Don't miss the next exciting episode.

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    2. Does someone with a weak bladder get soundly pummeled in the night and decide to leave the party altogether?

      I can hardly wait!

      The scenery is amazing though.

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    3. It's not a good idea to pummel someone with a weak bladder until they've emptied it.

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  10. The second photo looks like a painting of some fantasy landscape, wonderful! I must admit that, even as a young woman, the lack of comfort and close quarters with a group of people I hardly know would have been hard to bear.

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    1. As mentioned earlier, there was one girl on the trip. More about the others next time.

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  11. That's the sort of experience which is only really appreciated years later from the comfort of an armchair in a warm house, I would imagine.

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    1. Like some of your more scary stonemason jobs I imagine. Actually, I would have gone back but circumstances never came together right.

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  12. It's a shame your views were obscured -- it looks like they would have been spectacular in good weather. But still, what an adventure!

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    1. It would certainly have been a memorable start to the trek, but the later sights were phenomenal too.

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  13. I might be wrong but I seem to recall that Vatnajökull means "frozen water" which is an original name for a glacier! The photo enlargement guidance did not work for me.

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    1. Works for me both in Chrome and Firefox. It's great for reading greetings cards on your mantlepiece.

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    2. It does not work in the third image above, because when you open it in the new tab you are already seeing it at the uploaded size. It should work for the others which are bigger. My own copies are bigger still but for the blog I reduced the size by 50% to cut down the file sizes.

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    3. And the other way to do it, once you've opened image in new tab, is to right click and save the image to your own computer and then you can zoom away to your heart's content.

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    4. Also, at stage (i) if you right click and open link in new tab (rather than open image in new tab) it gets to the magnifying glass in one go.

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    5. I have amended the instructions at the end to give the two-stage procedure.

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  14. "Without the internet I would probably never have known what we missed." - Tasker, that is a marvel of a sentence!
    I admire how you all endured the hardship of the walk, weather and climbing .
    The information about Fred Astaire made me laugh: I agree about the old-fashioned jumpers, though they might be warm, and that he took it literally, the three jumpers of the song, great!

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    1. That's why they changed the words to top hat white tie and tails (you shouldn't believe everything I tell you).
      The hardship is the holiday. I remember being almost violent harangued shortly afterwards by a girl at a party who took a clear dislike to me: "What an absolutely stupid place to go for a holiday."

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    2. "What an absolutely stupid girl". :-)

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    3. That's what I concluded but she got very worked up about it, shouting angrily and following me about when I tried to walk away. She was probably a sit on the beach in the sun type.

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  15. Well that's me caught up another episode. One of the advantages of bringing up the rear is that I get to see all the comments in one go as well.

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    1. True. We're up to epidose 7 (typing error deliberately unchanged) and this is 4, so you've some way to go. It's turning out to be a lot longer than I thought it would.

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