Iceland – geology 2

The geology was initially supposed to be covered by one post only, but as you can see, there were too many exciting geo-sites to fit in in one post 馃槈

So, let's continue the photo-journey through the magnificent, raw Icelandic landscapes with some geology in mind.

Driving along the southern coast may be a bit monotonous, but if you are a curious observer, you will notice that there are kilometers and kilometers of moss-covered fields of pillow lava dominating the landscape of area close to Kirkjubaerjarklaustur. These are attributed to the extrusion of the lava under water in the ocean ridges as well as subglacial eruptions, which is likely the case for these fields.

On the way, there are many signs of volcanic activity including 脕lftaver cone group (first picture above) and Eldborg (second picture above). The 脕lftaver cones are actually pseudocraters, while Eldborg is a real volcanic crater rising 60m above the surrounding lava.

The group of pseudocraters was formed during a volcano eruption, which resulted in lava flow over the wetland. The insulating crust shields the hot lava in the lobe interiors from the water, which inflate and expand laterally in response to the injection of lava. As the lava thickens, it sinks into the water-logged sediments below until the basalt crust cracks and enables the glowing hot lava to flow straight into the water-logged substrate and initiates the steam explosions. It these explosions are powerful enough, they burst through the overlying lava to emerge as rootless eruptions that build cones around the vents. *

Eldborg is a beautiful real crater close to the road 54 North from Reykjavik. It was formed during volcanic eruptions 5000-8000 years ago. It's a symmetrically-shaped crater, about 60m tall and 200m wide.

* From the information plate at 脕lftaver.

Geysir area of geothermal activity is named after the biggest of the geysers. The eruptions of Geysir can reach as high as 70 metres in the air. However, eruptions are rather infrequent and hard to observe. The biggest attraction in the park is Strokkur, which explodes every few minutes.

The formation of geysers requires particular hydrogeological conditions, which exist in only a few places on Earth, so they are a fairly rare phenomenon. Generally, all geyser field sites are associated with volcanic areas with magma activity. When the surface water reaches deep down and gets in contact with hot rocks, it starts to boil and results in ejecting of hot water and steam out of the geyser's surface vent (a hydrothermal explosion).聽

There are very few places on Earth which provide the conditions for existing of the phenomena: Yellowstone National Park, U.S., Valley of Geysers, Russia, El Tatio, Chile, Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand and Iceland.

One of the coolest geological sites, however very under advertised: lava caves. We visited Raufarholshellir Cave on our way back to Reykjavik and were quite impressed with it's size, even though it is only the 3rd lardest lava tube on the island. The cave is located on top of the hill, which is one big lava deposit. It's quite amazing to imagine that the volcanic eruption and lava flow reached so high above the sea level.

The last but not least, the 脼ingvellir park. While most people are following the marked paths with historic notes and admiring the oldest Icelandic Parliament, we have been amused by the idea of standing on the connection of two separate continental plates: Eurasian and American. The rift zone crossing Iceland makes it grow, increasing the Atlantic Ocean and pushing Europe and Americas away. But we will hold it 馃槈

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Iceland – geology

Anyone at least moderately interested in geology should visit Iceland at least once in a lifetime! If the process of Earth creation and development could be seen within a person's lifetime, this is definitely the place to watch it.

Both me and Gustavo have geological university background, so what I am going to write is probably strongly influenced by this fact: personally, I think that some (at least basic) knowledge about geology adds extremely a lot to the experience of a trip to Iceland. Of course, anyone can appreciate beautiful places, waterfalls and rock formations and it's hard to stay insensible to those landmarks in Iceland. But understanding where they come from and that they were created just a second ago in a geological timescale is what adds a prickle on the neck and make you REALLY appreciate what you see!

J枚kuls谩rl贸n is the most well-known glacier lagoon in Iceland. It's the place, where you can observe the icebergs cracking from the moving glacier and floating towards the sea through a blue lake. Quite an amazing thing if you imagine being a witness to the glacier reaching it's final destination...

We aimed to catch the short good weather window and sacrificed a day of driving to be able to see the sun hitting the ice and water in the lagoon. The forecast was promising storm approaching from the East the same night.

Svartifoss is a waterfall located in Skaftafell in Vatnaj枚kull National Park. This was one of the big misses of my 2010 Iceland聽 bike trip and I wanted to see it this time unconditionally. It's said that the hike to the falls takes about 1.5h both ways.聽

After the long drive to see the Ice lagoon the same day, we decided to give it a go and squeeze the trip to Svartifoss the same day in the afternoon. The storm clouds were already well visible on the horizon, so postponing the hike to the next day would be pushing the luck too far.

With some energy in our legs saved during the drive, we managed to get to the waterfall in a much shorter time than expected and therefore had still plenty of daylight time to enjoy 馃檪

I have to admit that from all the pictures I've seen before, I imagined Svartifoss to be much bigger... It's still very impressive though. Who says that size matters?

Reynisfjara - black beach close to Vik is a popular tourist destination as it offers views to both Reynisdrangar and Dyrh贸laey. Not many people seem to pay much attention to the beautiful rock formations on the side of the beach...

Basalt columns are a persistent piece of the landscape in the southern Iceland. You can find them at the well-marked sites like Skaftafell Park, Reynisfjara, Dverghamrar, but also along the road if you pay attention to the surrounding cliffs.

Columnar basalt is formed when lava flow gets cooled and contraction forces build up. Cracks then form horizontally and the extensive fracture network that develops results in the six-sided formation of the columns.

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Iceland – the sea

Being an island, Iceland is naturally surrounded by the sea. I didn't use to appreciate the power and beauty of the sea for quite a while. Probably because I consider myself more of a mountain person and common 'beach vacation' is just not really my thing. However, since I moved to Norway, I look at the big water in a different way. I see a great natural force and beauty of it and a distant horizon which reveals the approaching storms... It can get even scary sometimes.

This time, I had a chance to experiment a bit with Gustavo's super-dark filter, which allowed to capture different moods of the salty water.

To be honest, we passed through the Skar冒sv铆k Beach and Londrangar by accident, as we decided to have a longer drive around after seeing Kirkjufellsfoss the previous day. That's what happens when you have to change all the plans on top of time because the weather decided to turn bad in the direction you wanted to go. And just like this, you encounter amazing places on almost every corner of this country! Isn't this incredible?

Another unexpected wonder of Iceland - beach nearby Eyrarbakki. Completely random direction. Don't even ask me why we went there...

Reynisfjara and Dyrh贸laey were possibly the most crowded attractions we visited this trip. And with a good reason - we passed there twice (!) and spent several hours shooting the waves crashing on the rocks. Very hypnotising...

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Iceland – the glaciers

Ice sounds like a natural thing for Iceland. But in fact, only about 11% of the country is covered by glaciers. It is a peculiar combination, as the white caps sit mostly on top of volcanoes. Actually, the main damage caused by the volcanic eruptions is due to flash floods rather than lava flow!

The majesty of the ice is incredible to me, but it's hard to appreciate it during the rainy and foggy days. I have been to J枚kuls谩rl贸n before (bike trip in 2010), but I have to admit that the gloomy weather completely spoiled its charm. This year, we managed to chase the sunshine and arrived at the glacier lagoon within a perfect window for pictures.

For those who like to explore some less known sites, Fjalls谩rl贸n would be a place to go. Especially that it's practically on the way to J枚kuls谩rl贸n and very close to the road. It's a smaller lagoon, but it compensates with a nicer glacier (in my opinion at least).

Skaft谩 river is one of the biggest glacier rivers in the area. On the way from Vik to the East, this is the place where the large, black flood planes become a major part of the landscape for many kilometers. You don't want to camp on top of these.

The glacier lagoon in the afternoon sun. It's hard to believe the storm will come at night.

Hvannadalshn煤kur comes down the mountains towards the sea. I really liked the shape of this ice tongue! So dynamic and beautiful combination of cold ice and warm autumn colours.

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Iceland – chasing the rainbows

Despite all the challenges and sh**y weather most of the time, Iceland has something that makes me want to come back. Cold beauty - that's what she is.

My first trip here was in 2010, just after the blow up of Eyjafjallaj枚kull volcano, which stopped the air traffic in Europe for weeks. Just after it resumed, the tickets were quite cheap, so I took the opportunity to give it a try. That time, I have spent 3 weeks on a bicycle, going around the island against the wind, rain and sometimes myself. Today I remember it as the toughest experience of my life, but I am also very happy I had it.

Even though this country gave me a hard lesson, I seem to feel some kind of masochistic need for more. And here we are, September 2016 and time for another visit to this 'country of ice and fire' (however I would easily replace 'fire' with 'water' or 'wind' in this quote), where chasing the rainbows starts to have a completely different meaning.

This time, no bikes involved, we have rented a car. Not a 4x4 unfortunately, just a regular city car. This restricted the drive to the main roads and took more adventurous 'F-roads' out of the equation, but I am quite sure at some point I will get to that level too 馃槈

The trip was rather on a budget - the only costs were tickets and car rental. I prepacked and portioned all the food already at home, ready to spill hot water on it. To be honest, this was the first time I really did it right, as usually I overdo with food and have to carry and bring back loads. This time I can be proud of my planning. Since we both enjoy camping and it's easy to find places to put up a tent, the hotel booking was not an issue either.

Trading a rare, sunny autumn in Stavanger for a gloomy Iceland seemed a bit like a looser deal on the day of our arrival. Heavy clouds made us change the initial plan right away and instead of going South, we drove to the North. After a rainy day spent mostly on a transfer, we reached Kirkjufellsfoss just on time to enjoy the view and take few pictures before going for a hot bath in a local swimming pool.

Funny thing, but during the previous trip I didn't realize how many horses there were around here! It makes perfect sense, as people come to Iceland to do horseriding as the main attraction. Somehow, it never occurred to me they just owe the island. Together with sheep.

One of the places I just passed by on bike, but did not bother cycling extra 15km both ways out of the main route... Dyrh贸laey Arch - the big miss of 2010.

Some things look better in the sunshine - J枚kuls谩rl贸n Glacier Lagoon is one of them. Definitely worth a hectic drive to get there just before the storm.

And, of course, there are all these 'Golden Circle' highlights... Some of them deserve their fame. However, I still keep refusing to go to Blue Lagoon: there is just so much more to see in Iceland than an expensive hot soup of people! 馃槈

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Nepal – the high mountain dream

Nepal - the high mountain dream

Nepal has always been on my list of 鈥檓ust dos鈥. 8-kilometer high peaks over the head and villages hidden in deep mountain valleys鈥
In reality, Nepal is becoming more and more popular destination for all kinds of people and it is not exclusive to high-mountain climbers expeditions anymore. Hikers, backpackers and tourists swarm over the mountains. The most popular hikes, like Annapurna circuit or Everest base camp are the mainstream touristic routes with all the infrastructure in place: hotels and restaurants are ready to serve thousands of people every year.

It is hard or even close to impossible to find peaceful and deserted trails. Only the highest and most unwelcoming peaks are free from the crowds. Attacking these summits is not something I am ready or keen on taking up though.

When planning my first trip to Nepal, I tried to aim for a trail that would take approximately 3 weeks and provide me with as authentic Himalayan experience as possible.
After digging through the endless list of hikes and trips, the choice for the first trip to the great mountains was made: Manaslu circuit with Tsum Valley extension.

Why Manaslu?

  • The views are fantastic! (but I guess this is the case for any Himalayan trip you choose)
  • Manaslu offers a trip long enough to be worth a fly to Nepal. Let's be honest - not many of us are willing to pay the expensive ticket and spend a week or less hiking 馃檪
  • The highest passage goes through Larka Pass (5160m), which is high enough to get the feeling of high mountain adventure, but still well achievable
  • It is not TOO overcrowded with tourists
  • It gives you a more authentic experience than the most popular trails
  • Tsum Valley (it can be a separate trip or an extension to the Manaslu circuit) is a very special place, quite separated from the main route, which gives it a more spiritual touch and gives opportunity to experience the simplicity of small mountain villages with local tribes running simple lodges

Organizing the trip

Independent trekking is possible and very achievable on the most popular paths like Annapurna, Everest Base Camp trek or Langtang, as the paths are well marked and infrastructure in place. Other treks are more complicated to do on your own and may require a guide or porter-guide who will help sort out the permissions and work as a translator, where locals do not speak English. They can also become very nice companions on a long trip - just like ours did 馃檪

  • You can book the trek via the Internet from your home if you want to save time in Kathmandu, but this is a more expensive option
  • Kathmandu is bursting with trekking companies, so if you can spare a day or two, you can find one that fits your purpose
  • Visas can be purchased at the airport upon arrival and this is the most convenient option, but check for any restrictions. Also, have an ID picture on hand in case it's requested for documents
  • Money. The local currency is Nepalese Rupee (Rs), the ATMs are common in Kathmandu, so it's easy to withdraw. However, you may expect a withdrawal fee to be charged. US Dollars are also accepted in some cases. Card payments are not very common though.

Equipment

  • No tent or camping equipment is necessary for this trip. There are enough lodges that provide both: place to sleep and food
  • Satellite phones are available in the villages, so if you really need/want, you can use them (I used twice). In the biggest villages there is even Internet! Both services are rather pricey and charge per started minute (just like old-times cards for public phones for those who remember:)). There is no mobile phone connection (besides first 1-2 days), but you didn't come here to stay connected at all times! 馃槈
  • Warm sleeping bag! Even tough the lodges have roofs, they sometimes lack windows or have holes in wooden walls, which makes the nights very chilly, especially at higher altitudes. Sometimes you can get an extra blanket, but don't count on any duvet! 馃槈 You may be hot at the beginning of the trip, but it will pay off later!
  • Good hiking shoes - take the shoes you can rely on, as you will be walking for many hours every day. Getting blisters several walking days from civilization may not sound dramatic now, but it really can destroy your trip
  • Sandals/flip-flops - believe me, you will want a rest from the hiking boots in the evenings! Also, useful for the 'bathrooms'
  • Comfortable backpack - just like with shoes, will be with it for the entire day, so you don't want to suffer
  • Hiking clothes - two pairs of trousers is more than enough. Also, do not exaggerate with T-shirts and underwear, as you can easily wash them on the way
  • Woolen underwear and socks - give heat and do not stink 馃槈
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers (should be super-light, as you may not need them)
  • Hat, scarf and gloves - very useful, especially in the mornings and evenings in the higher parts
  • Down jacket - recommended, as it's light and very warm
  • Sunglasses - especially useful when you reach snow. You don't want to get snow blindness on your dream trip (or any trip for this matter)
  • Sunscreen - although it may not be necessarily hot, the sun is dangerous in the mountains, especially at this latitude. Remember, you are reasonably close to the equator and have thinner atmosphere above you
  • Bathroom kit and washing wipes (in case you don't want to use ice-cold showers)
  • Hiking poles - useful equipment. It also seems to be a distinction between tourists and the locals, who give a s**t about the poles 馃檪
  • Water bottle/camelback - good to have the bottle, as it's easier to refill than camelback, but use whatever you prefer, just remember to hydrate! A lot.
  • Water purifiers - you may think them not necessary, but better not get poisoned in the middle of the trip
  • High altitude medicines - everyone reacts differently to the high elevation. Again, better to be safe than sorry. Manaslu trip seems to be a very gentle in this matter, as you ascent from very low and quite slowly, so not many people suffer
  • Head lamp(s) - it gets dark early at this latitude and you cannot count on electricity for light. Make sure you have a good, working head lamp, as you will be using it a lot!
  • Extra batteries/solar charger - in the lower parts (first few days) it is possible to use electricity from generators, but the higher you go, the less electricity will be available. Solar chargers work well.
  • Books/playing cards/etc. - good for a post-dinner entertainment before going for a rest. Just make sure they are light

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