Skaftafell & The Icelandic Southern Coast

Skaftafell & The Icelandic Southern Coast

More on Iceland:

þingvellir National Park & The Golden Circle

Reykjavik

Skaftafell

The area surrounding Skatafell is the best part of Iceland. It gives you access to the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, and it is a short drive to Jökulsárlón beach. Fun fact Jökulsárlón is Icelandic for glacial river lagoon; you'll understand why soon enough.

 Northern Lights, Skaftafell, Iceland

Northern Lights, Skaftafell, Iceland

 

Vatnajökull Glacier

 Vatnajökull Glacier, Skaftafell, Iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier, Skaftafell, Iceland

It is not easy to get to the glacier, and if you lack experience in glacier climbing, you will need a guide to assist you. Walking on the glacier requires crampons, and you need to be in excellent health.
I stress excellent health because of an incident that occurred before we start the climb onto the glacier. 
I went with a guide and six other people. We hiked up to the base of the glacier; we stop to put on crampons, and this woman, all of a sudden, passes out standing there with us. Fortunately, her husband knew what to do because apparently this happens often! 
If that had happened on the glacier, she would have died. She would have slid down the entire thing, broken every bone in her body, and she could have taken out another climber.
If you have health problems, do not go mountaineering. It will lead to disaster and tragedy.

 Glacial Cave, Vatnajökull Glacier, Skaftafell, Iceland

Glacial Cave, Vatnajökull Glacier, Skaftafell, Iceland


On the actual glacier, you will have incredible views of the valley as well as the opportunity to go into ice caves and small crevasses that encompass the glacier. The ice caves change continually, and you will never see the same one twice! Keep in mind that to see the ice caves you will have to go in winter. During the summer, it is too hot, and they are too unstable to venture into.

 Vatnajökull Glacier, Skaftafell, Iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier, Skaftafell, Iceland

If you're going to glacial climbing, I would use Glacier Guides as they did an excellent job for me.

  Vatnajökull Glacier, Skaftafell, Iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier, Skaftafell, Iceland

Jökulsárlón beach

 

The other piece of Skaftafell that is necessary is one of the most beautiful things you will ever see-- Jökulsárlón beach.
It is about an hour east of Skaftafell and entirely worth the drive. You'll know you are there when you cross over a large metal bridge and see cars, in parking lots, on both sides of the road.

 Jökulsárlón beach, Skaftafell, Iceland

Jökulsárlón beach, Skaftafell, Iceland

This lagoon feeds straight into the ocean and brings with its huge chunks of ice that end up washing up onto the beach. Jökulsárlón beach at golden hour is breathtaking, and the photos that you will get are dumbfounding.

 Jökulsárlón beach, Skaftafell, Iceland

Jökulsárlón beach, Skaftafell, Iceland

Svartifoss waterfall


The last item to add to your list before leaving Skaftafell is the Svartifoss waterfall. The trailhead is located at the Skaftafell Visitor Center. The hike is a solid 40 minutes, or around 3.5 miles roundtrip, of hiking uphill. 


I ended up doing the hike in the middle of the night to try and catch the northern lights and though it didn’t pan out it did teach me something about night hiking when it is 0 degrees Fahrenheit-- sweating can be your downfall! The sweat froze to my thermals after I stopped moving and provided and a spectacular blanket of ice that froze me to my core.

I stood at the waterfall waiting for three hours to see if the northern lights would come out. They were out, and as I look back, I was photographing the falls completely wrong. I needed to be further away to get the shots I was looking for, and it is the reason I was getting hints of the northern lights and a bright horizon but not the entire scene. 

 Svartifoss Waterfall, Skaftafell, Iceland

Svartifoss Waterfall, Skaftafell, Iceland

 

Travel tips:

 

  • It rains and snows an incredible amount in Iceland. I was fortunate to get good weather for the beginning part of my adventure in Skaftafell but things can change drastically in an instant, and the south coast usually gets hit the hardest. 
  • They have travel bans on some days in Iceland because of rough weather conditions. Make sure your itinerary is partially flexible while planning your trip or you could end up driving around in a blizzard that has category one hurricane winds-- trust me, not fun.
  • Bring rain/ snow gear everywhere. 
  • If you stop on the road, do not pull off unless you can see a place to pull off. I pulled off to take a photo and ended up stuck in a ditch.
  • If you're looking for outdoor gear check out Back Country. I use them for grabbing anything I am missing! Link is below


Photography tips:

  • Come prepared-- exceptionally prepared. The shot you want might not appear for hours upon hours which means that you will end up waiting and if you do not have the right gear, food, and water you can get into serious trouble if you are not near civilization. 
  • Just because you went for an individual shot do not solely focus on what you imagined. The biggest mistake I see most people make is that they go looking for a specific shot rather than having the photograph present itself to you. 
  • Plan your trip around the moon. In one of the photos above you'll notice that the moon is rising it in. Unfortunately, if the moon rises your hunt for the northern lights is over.

I would spend at least three or four days on the south coast. It was my favorite part of Iceland, and I didn't allocate enough time there.

Gear

  • Canon 5DSr
  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 24-70mm ƒ2.8 L II
  • Canon 70-200mm ƒ2.8 IS II
  • Canon 24mm ƒ1.8 I
  • Mefoto Tripod

Non-Profit Highlight

350 is an organization that was founded with the goal of uniting climate activists into a movement, with a strategy of grass roots organization throughout the world. The number 350 stands for climate safety. They want to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere from >400 parts to below 350.

Their three Main goals are: keep carbon in the ground, help build a new more equitable low-carbon economy, and pressure governments into limiting emissions.

This is especially relevant for Iceland because the glaciers are continuing to recede at an unprecedented rate.

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