The recent news that one of the largest glacial icebergs recorded, covering a Bali Island sized area of 6,000 sq kms, has broken off from Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf, illustrates the increasing threat to the longevity of glaciers.
The world’s glaciers dominate not only the Polar regions’ horizon-stretching landscapes with dramatically vast ice sheets, but also some of the remotest mountain ranges and frozen wilderness areas.
Iceland is without doubt one of the most thrilling and easily accessible of glacial destinations, largely because of the enormous Vatnajokull Glacier, which, as my previous blog posting confirmed, covers 9% of the island.
Of this, the Skaftafell National Park region offers the most intense and immediate glacial scenery, as well as outlandish flora and fauna.
One of my favourite Icelandic one-day glacier treks starts at the Skaftafell National Park Visitor Centre, off the South Ring Road. It follows an easy-to-navigate route up towards the Kristínartindar Mountain, via the dramatic Svartifoss waterfall, on to a stunning open plateau landscape. This gives direct views over the Morsardalar Valley, the Bæjarstaðarskógur woodlands, the Öræfajökull Volcano and the distant south coast. Most dramatic of all, below the plateau’s eastern-facing cliff escarpments the jaw-dropping Svínafellsjökull glacier sits silent, cool, calm and colossal.
The diversity of plant life in this glacial zone takes you by surprise, with a mixture of birch and rowan woodland, as well as an explosion of flowering plants, including wild cotton, soft harebells, yellow and pyramidal saxifrage. Furthermore, huge soft seas of lichens, moss and heather lie over some of the most exposed mountain scenery like enormous natural soft-skinned blankets.
Birdlife, especially during the summer months, is also prolific. Ptarmigan, meadow pipit, snipe, wren, redwing and redpoll can be seen as you climb up from the lower valleys onto the higher ground.
In addition to trekking up to, along and above the Svínafellsjökull glacier regions you can also enjoy guided treks onto the glaciers. Which, with gigantic cracking and creaking noises, hint at the ever-so-slow movement several hundred metres below.