Christmas in Iceland

Visiting Iceland has been a travel wish for me for a long time. I was mesmerized by the landscapes, flavorful food with focus on presentation and of course Northern Lights. We knew it would be expensive, but longed to see the nature before the landscape changed too much. The trip was worth it.

Let me take you on this untamed and beautiful journey in the Land of fire (volcano) and ice (glacier):

Itinerary of the trip:

Day 1:

Landed at Keflavik airport, blue lagoon and stayed at Grand Hotel,Reykjavik

Day 2:

Golden circle tour, with Thingvellir(Pingvellir) National Park, Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss waterfalls and snowmobiling on second largest glacier,Langjokull. Stayed at UMI hotel, Hvolsvollur

Day 3:

Glacier hike on Myrdals-jokull, Black sand beach,Vik. stayed at Icelandair hotel, Klaustur

Day 4:

Ice cave tour of largest glacier in Europe- Jokulsarlon glacier, glacier lagoon,Diamond beach and . Came back to Klustur, Northern lights

Day 5:

Dyrholaey, southernmost point of Iceland with black sand beach, skogafoss waterfalls and drove back to Reykjavik. Stayed at Grand Hotel.

Day 6:

Explored Reykjavik more and flew back home.

Trip Summary:

Day 1: We landed at Keflavik airport and took WiFi hotspot in the airport which we pre booked. From there we rented a car and drove to blue lagoon. Driving in Iceland winter is not for feeble heart with the icy roads.

Blue Lagoon

Blue lagoon is a natural geothermal pool with it’s milky blue waters in the backdrop of mountains. Water temp is 100 F and it renews itself in 40 hours. Water is sea blue because of the silica in the water. It’s a beautiful sight with all the volcanic mountains in the background. Before you get in the water, dump a lot of conditioner on your hair so that hair won’t be tangled up as much when you come out. There will be still tangles and coarse, but little better with conditioner.

Walk from showers to the lagoon is so cold before you step into the beautiful blue waters. The minute you step in, it’s soothingly warm 100 degrees feeling to stay in the water. There will be an hour for you to pick the check in time and after you enter, you can stay as long as you like till closing time. There are multiple options you can pick from which includes silica mask, algae mask, massage etc.

Blue Lagoon

After nice balmy blue lagoon, we took shower there and came back to the hotel. All the restaurants were closed outside and we enjoyed a scrumptious meal at the hotel itself.

Day 2: Christmas Day

We took golden circle bus tours to the famous Geysir geothermal area with Strokkur hot spring, 2 step Gullfoss water, and pingvellir (Thingvellir) national park where scenes from game of thrones were shot. This golden circle is one of the most visited tourist routes. This was the only bus tour we booked and rest of them we booked on our own and travelled in our rental car.

Pingvellir National Park

Pingvellir is a UNESCO world heritage site and world’s first parliament was set up in 930 AD. It is also a national park where Eurasian and American tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of 2-3 cm each year. You can snorkel in the fissure between the two plates. Visitors climb up the hill near parking lot and get a view of the rift valley and the area.


Pingvellir

Storkkur Geysir

From the parking lot, you can walk to the geysir. Path is very icy and North Face winter hiking shoes came in handy. You know you are near hot springs when you smell H2S, rotten egg smell. This is geothermal water emitting 200 degree water fountain every 3-5 min intervals like old faithful in Yellowstone. Nothing can beat the majestic Old Faithful, but this geysir is beautiful on its own and erupts every 3-5 minutes. It shots up water to 30 meters.

Geysir

Gullfoss

Gullfoss is a beautiful 2 tier waterfalls.You can walk up the stairs to the waterfall or walk from the cafe depending on where you parked. It was surrounded by snow and sunlight was shining on the water, making it a marvelous sight. There is a wooden walkway that provides a great view of waterfall.

Gullfoss

Snowmobiling on Langjokull

From the parking lot, we boarded the huge black truck with mountaineers of ice to go on snowmobile ride on Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjokull. This was one of the highlights of our trip. It was an hour ride to the glacier and they provide all the equipment. It’s an adrenaline rushing ride with spectacular views of the glacier,moon on one side and sun on the other side in bone chilling wind blowing in your face. Whizzing through the glacier with white land as far as we can see was exhilarating. Despite 2 layers of gloves and hand warmers, our hands were still freezing, but it was an amazing experience.

We came back to Reyjkavick. Pho, a Vietnamese place was open and we enjoyed the nice, warm Pho before we drove to UMI, our next stay.I enthusiastically looked the whole ride for Aurora Borealis and thought didn’t see Aurora.

Welcome desserts were waiting at the hotel room when we checked in. Icelanders for sure know how to welcome guests.

Welcome

Day 3:

Glacier hike – Myrdals-jokull

We checked in dark at 9:30 AM to go on the much awaited glacier hike. We put on the gear and finally some light started coming. We started our 2.5 mile hike to the glacier tongue.It was an amazing walk on the glacier with crampons and ice chisel. You can see the layers of volcanic ash in between the layers of ice. Our guide showed us how the glacier receded in the last year or two. Twinge of sadness hit with the thought of human destruction of nature and by the time our kids grow up there won’t be many of these natural wonders left.

Glacier Hike

Reynisfjara beach (Black sand beach)

After the glacier hike we drove to Black sand beach and had lunch in the cafe. I never saw black sand in my life and was ecstatic to see the black sand. There was basalt rock on the beach carved into caves, and petrified trolls by the wind, fire and ice.

Black Sand Beach

We stopped in a small town,Vik on the way to next stop. This is also where game of thrones was filmed.

We headed to Kirkjubæjarklaustur a.k.a Klustur from there and checked into the icelandair hotel. While we were having dinner, whole restaurant ran out to see the northern lights. This was not what I expected of northern lights. I was disappointed. It was just a white cloud to naked eye. I kept thinking to myself that it’s a natural phenomena and I might not be able to see the picturesque northern lights in this trip.

Day 4:

Ice cave

We drove in the dark at 8 AM to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon to visit the largest free standing glacier in Iceland and Europe, Vatnajokull. Our guide Aagnes was a riot. She took us in this monster truck to the glacier. Ride was beautiful and riding in this monster with front of the car almost kissing the road was beyond awesome.

As the glacial river runs through the glacier, it forms natural ice caves. Ice caves are created when glacial river beds freeze over during the winter; each year they’re in slightly different locations, and formed in different shapes. We got down at the ice cave to put on the crampons. Wind was blowing at 60-80 mph and at times I thought I was going to fly away. We managed to put the crampons and looked up facing the glacier face to face. It was a breathtaking view of blue glacier. We got into the ice cave and you can see the picturesque blue ice and trapped 70 or more year old oxygen. You can tell when glacier layers formed in summer or winter depending on the volcanic ash thickness trapped in the layers. Sometimes you can see multiple layers depending on the river making its way from the melting glacier.

Ice Cave

Aagnes stopped on the way back so that we can take more pictures of the glaciers and lagoons. It was beautiful to see the glacier with sun rays reflecting on the ice. We also learned from Aagnes that Icelanders celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve at 6 PM and second day of Christmas. They give books as gifts for Christmas. They have 13 Santa clauses with their parents and each one is different. After we came down, we ate donuts in the cafe. Their donuts were so different than ours.

After that we enjoyed the glacier lagoon where the sea meets the glacial water and icebergs floating in the lagoon. We also got a glimpse of a black seal floating in that water along with some birds. This is where James Bond movie was shot. The lagoon is formed from the melting glacial water coming from the largest Vatnajökull glacier. There is a footpath alongside for us to enjoy the lagoon and to take pictures.

Glacier Lagoon

Diamond Beach

On the other side of the lagoon was diamond beach. Ice chunks from the glacier were sitting in the black sand and shining like diamonds in different shapes. It was a perfect contrast with black sand and the ice diamonds.

Diamonds in Black Sand Beach

Northern Lights

That night we decided to chase the northern lights. We went out of the village to where there was higher probability of seeing northern lights without lights. Aurora finally started dancing in with pretty green/purple colors and like a ballerina across the sky. It was much brighter green in the camera than to naked eye as KP index was only 3 out of 9 scale that day. But still it was beautiful to watch the Aurora dance in the vast sky from one end to the other in green and purple colors. Words were not enough to describe this beauty.

We went back in few hours in the midnight to watch Aurora again and capture some beautiful pictures. Then, we realized we have been seeing Aurora since day 2, but didn’t recognize the white cloud to naked eye.

Aurora

Day 5:

We picked up quick breakfast at a gas station and drove back to Reykjavík.

Dyrholaey

We stopped at Dyrholaey which is the southernmost tip of Iceland. Lighthouse and black beaches were so beautiful and the yellow grass reminded of Santa Barbara, California. We got a close look at Icelandic horses on the way to the beach.

Dryholaey Beach
Icelandic Horses

Skogafoss

We continued onto Skoga waterfalls. Nature is amazing. On one side there was frozen ice and these beautiful waterfalls were dropping in between the ice. We hiked up the waterfalls which was approximately 475 steps. View of the valley from the top was amazing. We ate in the restaurant and headed back to Reykjavík.


Skogafoss

We checked in at the Grand hotel and explored the city.

Grand Hotel

Day 6:

Even before we realized, it was time to fly back. So many fond memories of Iceland trip and watching Aurora Borealis was my favorite. So long Iceland….

Takk( Thank you) for virtually traveling in Iceland with me and gooan daginn ( good day),

Krishna

Food:

They grow their own vegetables in the geothermal greenhouses, but most of the food is imported except for fish and lamb. Icelandic lamb roam freely and eat herbs on the mountain which makes the meat very flavorful. Food here was flavorful and limited options for vegetarians. You can still get one vegetarian option on every menu.

Water:

No need to buy bottled water here. Tap water is pure and tasty.

Sometimes hot water has slight sulfur smell, but it’s plentiful.

Fun facts:

Icelanders have son and dottir(daughter) as their last names.

There are no forests in Iceland.

Late May to July there is 24 hours of sunlight.

Their Santas are different. These are 13 troublesome brothers, each arriving in one of the 13 nights before Christmas with their parents Greela and Lappeylooder. One of them is skyr (Icelandic yogurt) gobbler.

Weather:

It doesn’t get very cold in winter, but weather is unpredictable. You need layers even in summer with good quality windproof jacket.

It’s bad hair day every day in Iceland with the winds. Deep breath of clean, fresh air is taken for granted to Icelanders. As Iceland is located at the border between arctic and temperate seas and between cold air masses of the arctic and the warm air masses of lower latitudes,this makes Iceland’s climate extremely variable. There are not lot of trees in Iceland, it can get very windy in Iceland. Always remember to hold your car door when you open it. In December a muted sunlight shines on the island for a few short hours everyday.

 

 

Kilimanjaro – Debut to High-Altitude Hiking and Blogging

8 Day hike through Lemosho route to Uhuru Peak

8- Day Lemosho Route

Thank you for visiting my blog site and your interest in 8 day Kilimanjaro hike itinerary. We picked this longer route of 72 km (45 miles) to allow for acclimatization and maximizing success rate to the summit. This trail passes through few different ecosystems such as dense rain forest, moorland, alpine desert, snowy desert, the glaciers, and of course the summit. Without further adieu, let me take you on this splendid journey where one will push through  their physical and mental limitations.

Day -1 and 0:

We landed at Kilimanjaro airport at night and got the visa in the airport. Custom officers were very friendly and eager to learn visitor’s language. Freddie and Victor from Embark exploration co were waiting for us by the time we came out of the airport. We reached Parkview Inn in Moshi and rested that night.  In the morning through the clouds peaked the spectacular Mt. Kilimanjaro which made my anxiety of trekking dissipate.

Hotel_Flower
At the hotel

Hotel_room
Hotel room

Kili_First_Sight
First sight

We met with our guides Augustine and Isiah  who went through the trek details and checked our gear. They took us through the quaint town of Moshi. We ate lunch at Indo-Italian restaurant and walked back to the hotel. We ate dinner at the hotel that evening, checked gear one more time and went to bed to get ready for the big hike.

Day 1:

In the morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel and left our valuables and suitcase in the hotel locker. We departed Moshi for Londorosi gate which took 4 hours in the Jeep. At the gate we finished formalities of passport copy check and ate lunch while our baggage and porter’s baggage was weighed. After another 30 min journey, we reached the gate on our way to first camp, MTI Mkubwa which means big tree in Swahili. Trail started at Lemosho gate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Londorosi Gate

Lemoshi entrance lead into thick rain forest with a sight of white tailed monkeys and birds. Path was surrounded by wild strawberries and colorful flora.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Rain Forest

It took us 3 hours to get to first camp Mkubwa after 4 miles and reaching elevation of 9,500 ft from 7,800 ft. We were welcomed by the singing and dancing of our crew at the camp entrance. Tent was set up and we had some popcorn and cookies along with hot coffee/tea. We cleaned up and ate dinner before setting our sleeping bags. When we came out of the tent in the night, sky was beautifully lit with stars.

Day 2:

Next day morning after breakfast, we continued hiking through the forest. Trail lead us through Moorland, a Savannah of tall grasses, heather, and volcanic rock draped with lichen beards. We ascended through lush rolling hills as the terrain changed. Our crew was waiting for us at the lunch tent where we had lunch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Day 2 Hike

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Moorland

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Moorland

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Moorland flower

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Moorland path

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lunch tent

We continued hiking through Moorland after lunch and got first view of Mt. Kilimanjaro on the way. We passed several streams and reached Shira ridge before coming to Shira 1 camp at 11,500 ft. This took 5 ½ hours for the 5 miles and view of kibo from the camp was beautiful. We walked around the camp,had dinner in the evening, and went to bed. Night was cold if we stepped out of the sleeping bag.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Shire Camp 1

Day 3:

We headed to Shira 2 camp after breakfast. We hiked for 5 hours through Shira Plateau, Shira Cathedral to Shira Camp at 12,630 ft. Shira is one of the highest plateaus on earth. On the way, we saw buffalo hooves and Salamander. We passed Giant Senecios, massive plants which develop one branch after 25 years. You can do the math and guess the age of the plant by its branches. We reached Shira 2 camp and camped above the clouds that evening.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View of Kili

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Buffalo hoof

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Salamander

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Day 3 Path

Tree
Giant Senecios

Day 4:

Our 8 hour hike to Barranco camp started after the breakfast. We started our hike at 12,630 ft and reached 13,000 ft to the camp, but hiked upto 15,000 ft of Lava Tower by mid day covering total of 9 mi. We passed towards the peak of kibo which was alpine desert. Half way through the hike, we changed direction towards Lava Tower also called Shark’s tooth. This is where I first felt the altitude which made my breathing tough. We sat down for sometime before lunch and felt slightly better. After lunch, we continued to Arrow Glacier at 16,000ft before descending to Barranco Hut at 13,000ft. After a long day of hiking and altitude effects, we had dinner and slept. Nights were getting colder and colder. I had to get my Parka out at night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lava Tower

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Incline to Lava Tower

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Path

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Lava Tower Path 2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Way to Lava Camp

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Above the clouds

Day 5:

Day 5 starts with the view of Baranco wall which is a steep ridge. Even though distance is only 2 mi, climbing this wall while almost kissing rocks was no fun. We hiked through alpine desert  to reach Karanga valley campsite. When we reached camp, majestic view of sunset with sun rays above the clouds was breathtaking. We watched starlit sky, milky way, and moon in the pristine wilderness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View from top of Baranco Wall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Day 5 Path

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
On the way to Karanga Camp

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View of Clouds

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sunset with Meru Mountain in the Backdrop

Day 6:

This was a short day preparing for the summit. We started from Karanga camp at 13,100 ft to Barafu (base) camp at 15,300 ft through alpine desert. Half way, we hit the junction where Mweka trial meets Lemosho trial. We saw multiple views of the summit as we continued our journey to Barafu. From the camp, we could see Mawenzi and Kibo peaks. On this day, rescue helicopter came 3 times which made me little nervous about the summit. But, I was ready to try. There were lot of white necked ravens near the camp. We ate dinner at 5 PM and went to bed by 6 PM to summit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Barafu Camp at 15,300 ft

Day 7:

We woke up at 11 PM, got ready, and ate breakfast before heading into the dark, windy, and cold night to summit between the Rebmann and Ratzel glaciers.. This day was completely different than all the days we hiked. My breathing was heavy and I walked very slowly at this altitude. This was mother of all other days. I lifted my head and can only see the headlamps of other people above and below us. We ascended through heavy scree towards Stella Point on the crater rim. All I could do was focus on my breathing. I tried to eat snicker bar and walk at the same time which I couldn’t do. I just looked at my guide’s shoes and followed him. Our guides were taking care of us, making us eat and drink, and move in the right direction. Half way through, I wondered why I was doing this? We chugged towards the summit slowly. I saw few people turning back either with breathing issues and one person looked totally disoriented which didn’t help my medical brain of all the possibilities of altitude sickness and pulmonary edema. Hands were cold when we take off the gloves. Then sun rays started peaking through.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sunrise

Kili_Day7_Summit_Path3

Kili_Day7_Summit_Stella_Point
Stella Point 18,885 ft

We made it to Stella point, 18,885 ft. Air was so thin and my lungs didn’t seem to get enough oxygen. My legs were like jello. I wasn’t even sure whether I had the energy to roll down the mountain to the camp. Our guides sat us down at Stella point and asked us to make a decision as a family if we want to continue to the summit. In my mind, I was ready to turn back. Our daughter stepped in and said, “We came all the way here, let’s finish”. I sucked on the hard candy and started the ascent.  It took us another hour to the summit from Stella point. Oh boy, I was so glad that we didn’t turn back at the Stella point and continued to Uhuru peak, highest point on Mount KIlimanjaro. Words were not enough to describe the ecstasy we experienced reaching the summit at 19,341 ft.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
WE DID IT !!!!!

Kili_Day7_Summit_Path
Snow at the Summit

Kili_Day7_Summit_Glacier2
Glacier

Kili_Day7_Summit_GlacierKili_Day7_Summit_SnowKili_Day7_Summit_Path2

It took us 8 hours to reach the summit. It was the most challenging portion of the trek both physically and mentally. Now, we made our descent to Barafu camp. It wasn’t easy coming down either with the exhausted body and mind. We made our way through loose gravel with trekking poles. We reached the base camp, rested for 45 minutes, packed up, ate lunch, and continued onto Mweka camp where trail was rocky. Camp was in the upper forest and we enjoyed the last dinner on the mountain. In one night and day, we went from 15,300ft to 19,341ft (and down to 10,000ft). It was 3 mi ascent and 7 mi descent that took 8 hrs to ascend and 6 1/2 hrs to descend.

Day 8:

We packed up, ate breakfast, and hiked through rainforest. We started at 10,000 ft and continued the descent down to Mweka Park gate at 5,400 ft. With elevation out of the equation, we ran through the rainforest. Path was all wet and muddy. Gaiters and trekking poles came in handy just like other days. We got a last view of the mountain peeking through the trees and waving goodbye to us. We reached the gate in 3 hours to receive our summit certificates. It was an amazing experience which we never experienced before. It was pushing the physical and mental boundaries we didn’t know that we could push through. Thank you Kili for letting us climb and bringing back safe. So long, Kili.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Elephant Trunk Flower

Now, it’s time for nice shower and warm bed!!!!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kili Kili Kili

Equipment:

We shopped at REI and Back country for all the gear including rain gear, osprey backpacks, gaiters, trekking poles, alpine pants, hiking shirts, pants, midweight base layer, lightweight base layer, mittens, liners, and sleeping bags. We bought headlamps, Salomon hiking shoes, wipes, toe and hand warmers, and bath wipes.

Food:

Food was fresh and delicious for everyone’s palate. Our guides and porters made us feel like family. Food was amazingly flavorful. Everyday was different including fresh fruit, porridge, toast, omelette, meats, hot soups, spaghetti, sandwiches, ugali, lentil fritters, fresh guacamole, pizza, and burrito. On day 8, Embark celebrated with a big party at a craft place near the Mweka gate. Our crew sang, danced with us after the feast that included chicken, whole fish, and much more. We presented each crew member their envelope with the tip amount and parted goodbye.

Planning:

We were so glad that we picked Embark for our trip. Their planning and execution was flawless and our porters made us feel like a family. A special shout out to our 2 guides, Augustine and Isiah without whom we wouldn’t have reached the summit and back.

Bonus:

On the way back, we met legendary high-altitude mountaineer Pat Falvey from Ireland who inspired us more with his stories of mountaineering and instilled the desire to do more mountaineering.