Skaftafell, a camp and area in southeast Iceland with all sorts of outdoor activities within the Vatnajökull National Park. The national park takes up 14% of Iceland which is insane! It’s actually a very young national park, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. Hiking, waterfalls, glacier walking, mountaineering, ice caves and the list of outdoor activities goes on.
It isn’t a holiday unless you’ve seen a mountain.
Getting in and camping there
I arrived on a bus from Kirkjubæjarklaustur. I worked out later that the driver overcharged me on what was supposed to be a 3,000ISK fare and took advantage of that on the way to Jokulsarlon.
Skaftafell Camping is pretty much the only option at this point in the park, but it seems an accommodation settlement is being built down the road. Urgh!
Camping is 1,600ISK and there’s an automated payment system for showers which takes card. Hundreds and hundreds of people will be there, but it’s all spread out enough that it doesn’t feel too bad.
There’s just the one cafe (which has expanded significantly in 4 years) and no shops so BYO supplies.
Vat to dö?
Walk on a glacier
Last time we were here we were blessed with blue skies – a rarity in Iceland. We took a walk on the glacier with the company next to the visitor’s centre.
Our guide was great! A cool young Icelandic guy who oddly looked like a pale blonde version of my cousin. I envied his job – probably one of the first times I thought about being a mountain guide of some sort. We took a bus out to a nearby glacier called Svínafellsjökull, donned our crampons and walked directly from the moraine onto the glacier. I guess that’s why they chose this one – noob level.
We walked along some small crevasses and out on the glacier for around an hour. The views were awesome, but I couldn’t help, but wish I was on one of the tours further up the glacier and hiking for longer on the ice. Small silhouettes could be seen slowly crisis the glacier what must have been kilometres away on the ice.
They gave us ice axes for safety and explained how to use them, unlike the mountain climb I did at Mt Vallunaraju in Peru. Probably not the best idea to give axes to a bunch of maniacs. Urban legend anyone?
Of course you could always walk to the glacial tongue that the camp is named after. It’s just an hour return and you can see the little glacial lagoon. It’s nothing compared to Jokulsarlon, but it gives you an idea.
Another short walk exists to Svartifoss, the famous waterfall amongst the hexagonal basalt walls. It’s not the biggest waterfall, but it’s setting is a bit different and it’s only an hour return too.
Numerous day hiking opportunities
There are a dozen or so well signposted and well advertised day hikes starting in Skaftafell.
I really wanted to do these two, but the weather was just rubbish this time around.
– S4 Kristínartindar via Svartifoss, to the peak with epic views of the glacier, 17.9km 6-8hrs, and
– M2 Morsárjökull, looks like a valley hike, but off the beaten track and to a glacial lagoon, 20.9km.
If you are really keen you can base here for a climb of Iceland’s highest mountain Öræfajökull. People debate how high it is because the rock is always covered in ice which is then covered by snow. Do you measure from the tip of the rock, the ice or the snow? Regardless, Icelandic people refer only to the original measurement of 2,108m.
For me though, I waited until the weather cleared a bit (I’ve become a real fair weather hiker haven’t I?) and then hiked from Svartifoss to the intersection of the S3, S5 and S6.
From there you could see out over Skaftafellsjökull, but today was not the right weather for views or climbing Kristínartindar.
In the end I spent most of the morning downtime on my phone in the café. A bit lame, but I really appreciate the downtime sometimes after over 130 days on the road. Besides, why not work with the weather rather than against it? I have time.
I had a good chat with this old Dutch couple who shared my table. They were in their fifties, their kids had grown up and moved out and now they were backpacking. Pretty cool of them. I hope I can still travel and backpack around at that age – actually no – I will still be travelling around.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that I’m supposed to learn from all these little interactions. Maybe I’m looking into it too deeply, but I’m sure there is something I’m meant to discover from each person.
From these two? Well I think it’s yet another reason to front load your retirement and enjoy life while you’re youthful (not young, youthful). There’s the old adage that you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, but for this old chap, his problem was that the government repeatedly extended the retirement age and kept cutting the value of his pension. So maybe he will live forever, but he won’t have the secure retirement funds he expected to enjoy one day.
For Gen Y, the retirement age is going to be 3 days before your deathbed, you’ll have to pay an early retirement tax and you’ll only get to spend your money on your tomb. But at least you’ll be staying somewhere nice. Gone are the luxurious retirements of the Baby Boomers. Opportunities and rewards are greatest where the numbers are few – just look at Australia. But now the babies have boomed, the world population is exploding and people can live until they’re 100.
But hey, they aren’t too old for backpacking. That’s why I said do things while you’re youthful, regardless of whether you’re turning 30, 50 or 70.
The other thing I learned, and I’m going to steal this phrase, is that it isn’t a holiday unless you’ve seen a mountain! I can relate to that.