Day Two: Glaciers, big rocks, footpaths and Snipes…

An Icelandic Saga: Chapter Two

Two-thirty pm, Saturday 23 July, the intrepid Conservation Volunteers arrive at Skaftafell National Park (having first passed the twisted and rusting remains of the last bridge – what stands for sculpture in these parts). Retrieving our luggage swiftly, we make our way to the where we will be making our camp, a corner of the second field around a central mess tent and in close proximity to the toilet and shower blocks. We set to work straight away in pitching our tents – an easy enough task if the carpet of lush grass were not a thin covering of topsoil laid directly onto the rock you can see stretching for 30km to the coast on the other side of the rock. Now we each regret our light alluminum tent pegs.


A cup of tea, a biscuit later, and we are off again … this time a short walk from the campsite to visit our own local glacier, Skaftafellsjökull. We will walk up above this tongue of ice in about a week’s time, at midnight, and watch the sun, but for now, it’s time to walk back to the campsite play a couple of games of cards and enjoy Chas’ welcome meal of pan-fried fish cooked to a traditional Icelandic recipe.

I had brought an eye shade to help me sleep under the twenty-four hours of daylight, but on my first night under canvass I decide to try without it … and I must say I slept reasonably well … disturbed occassionally by daylight, but otherwise … and then at six o’clock in the morning, lying in my sleeping bag trying to wonder if anyone else is awake … “whir-whir, whir-whir”, an almost mechanical noise, a child’s toy? What is this noise? I dress, clamber out my tent, wash and put the water on for tea. “Whir-whir!” The noise continues occassionally, in short little bursts. It is in conversation later that I discover that this “whir-whir” noise is that made by the wing movement of a Snipe. I do not think I shall ever quite get used to them.

By nine o’clock we are all sitting with our rucksacks, in the mess tent, boots on, sun-tan lotion applied … waiting. Chas, our BTCV representive (part Skaftafell ranger) arrives, and we set out up the trail to Svartifoss, stopping on the way to hear the history, the geography of the place. Taking the longer of the circular routes we collect tools hidden amongst birch scrub, and continue down to the waterfall flanked with it’s basalt columns, and then up the other side to a bald area of the hillside that has come to be know the “fag-stop” – on account of the tour groups who come to this point, look at the waterfall from this view point, have a coffee, have a fag, turn around and go back to the car park.


Not us! Chas shows us what we have to do, the water-bars, the surfacing, the steps … and he shows us the materials. Huge sugar bags containing severals tons of gravel rocks that have been ‘dropped’ on the hillside by NATO helicopters. Some of these rocks are two, three feet cubed in size – we have a large green bucket on poles – bit like a sedan chair, to move them in. An average rock will take four people to shift, a particularly large one would take six (two on spades hooked under the poles to provide extra hand holds … our work has begun, to the accompliment of chat, jokes, and a sun breaks through the clowds. We are interupted only be coffee breaks (during which we eat traditional Icelandic Volunteer food – Mjölkurtex – great slabs of biscuits, hard at first bite, but which grow on you), lunch, and tour groups of ten plus people walking over our path.

Day Three: More glaciers, ice-climbing, and flying…