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Iceland & Greenland August 2015

Discussion in 'Member Trip Reports' started by LegoBloxs, Sep 21, 2015.

  1. LegoBloxs

    LegoBloxs Tiger Shark

    It has been a long road waiting for this trip to come to fruition, it did not disappoint. Birddog and I arrived in Reykjavík on a cloudy Monday morning and after the normal airport formalities arrived at our hotel, Iceland Air’s Marina hotel. This would be our base for a few days in the city before the expedition took place. The hotel building was the oldest paint factory in Iceland before it’s conversion into a very nice hotel complete with a small café and bar/restaurant that serves local Icelandic craft beers. The hotel is located by the harbor which has two slips used for ship painting; it’s impressive to see how quickly they can paint the large trawlers.
    We had arranged to join a whale watching tour on Monday evening with my parents who had come to Iceland to meet up with us for a few days. Our first sighting was a whale breach followed by a few blows. If you are heading further north In Iceland I would wait until then to do a whale watching tour but more on that later.

    Whilst in the capital we also took a visit to the Maritime Museum, a very interesting exhibit dealing with the Icelandic peoples relationship with the surrounding seas and the impact it has had on the local population. It also had a new section on women in fishing in Iceland which was very interesting. The museum also includes the former coast guard vessel Odin which served in the Cod Wars; unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to go aboard. I’d recommend one of the city bus tours, they take about an hour to go round the city and it is a good way to see the city if you are pressed for time, the tickets are valid for 24 hours so you can jump on and off at any sites you like.

    On our second day we had signed up for a two tank midnight sun dive at Silfra. We were picked up from our hotel and after a short drive arrived at Thingvellir National Park. One of our guides was from Northern Ireland and Ragnar, our other guide was delighted because after 5 months he actually heard her talking in her 'full' Northern Irish accent!! The park is located across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and covers the land being created as the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are moving apart at around ¾” per year. On the way from the visitor’s center to the dive site you can see the old seat of Icelandic Parliament, the oldest democracy in recorded history. This is a UNESCO world site twice over for the parliament and the Rift Valley. After gearing up and a dive briefing by our guide Ragnar we made the short walk from the parking lot to the entry point. The entry is very easy as there is a fixed set of steps leading down into the crystal clear water. As this was an evening trip we had the lake to ourselves. With everyone in the water we completed our buoyancy checks before our group of four divers and guide, the maximum group size per site rules, descended and made our way through the various sections of the fissure. Each section has its own particular ambiance as a result of the variations in depth, width and bottom composition – check out the gallery for some pictures. The sections are separated by shallow section where over the millennia rocks have fallen in. The fissure is feed by crystal clear water, just above freezing, the result is 200-300 ft viz along with a degree of current making it a drift dive. In the shallows this is fun as the current gets a bit quicker as you glide between the rocks. The dive ends as you make your way up from the Cathedral along the sandy bottom and turn left into the lagoon. The lagoon is only about 15ft deep but you can see the full length, the clear water creating a wonderful blue tint. The exit point is one of easiest I have ever seen, there is platform at about 4ft where you take your fins off and then a flight of steps out – easy! Then it’s a walk back to the parking lot for hot chocolate. The second dive saw our group reduce in numbers, Birddog and I being the only ones partaking in the second dive. Our guide offered me the chance to lead this dive, suffice to say I didn’t need asked twice. Dropping into the Cathedral with no other divers in front was breathtaking, surreal and incredibly humbling, a definite high point for me. A big thanks to Birddog for allowing me this opportunity as I know how much it meant to her to dive Silfra from a geological perspective. We also met another DM from Spain on the trip back in the mini bus who gave us some details of good sites in the Canary Islands.

    A rainy Wednesday morning had us board the bus for the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal pool and spa complex feed by the waters leaving one of the geothermal power stations. The pools formation was not intentional but this fortunate accident has become one of the iconic Iceland destinations for both visitors and locals. The water is rich in minerals creating the very opaque blue water. The lagoon was not very busy the day we went with most people staying by the main complex due to the inclement weather. We of course ventured out through the swell being created by the wind and found a lovely quiet spot in the lee of the surrounding rocks and relaxed in the glorious warm water whilst enjoying a nice red wine and some beer.
    to be continued....
     
  2. LegoBloxs

    LegoBloxs Tiger Shark

    With all our gear packed and check out complete we were again collected from the hotel for the start of the Icelandic leg of the expedition. We made our way round the city picking up the other divers, Pascal from Switzerland, Nicole and Corina from Germany and Christiane from France. After a quick stop at the dive shop to do the paperwork, get tanks and weight we set out for our first dive site, Silfra. The site was busier than it had been on our visit two days before with more divers and snorkelers but the DM’s do a great job of working together so each group has its own space. You wouldn’t know there were groups just round the next bend so it feels like a personal dive. It’s funny watching the hikers mingling with divers in dry suits and scuba gear on the footpath. Birddog was asked to stop on the dive crossing so some tourists could have a diver in the shot with the dive crossing sign!! We did one dive in Silfra before beginning the drive around the west of Iceland with a few café stop offs enroot to our next hotel just outside the town of Akureyri on the north side. This would be our base for the next few days.
    After a hearty breakfast we headed to Strytan Dive Center on Eyjafjörður fjord, the plan was to make two dives on the hydrothermal chimneys in the fjord. The first dive was on the small chimney, this is a short ride by rib to the mooring buoy. The small chimney lies in 75ft of water and has grown to a height of approx. 50ft as the minerals in the hot water exiting the ground solidify on contact with the cold water of the fjord. Conditions were a little rough top side so we had to modify the backward roll off the boat so that you could remain in contact with the Zodiac until you got hold of the line heading to the mooring buoy. As we made our way down the line Birddog realized her camera had flooded but she wasn't too upset as we are greeted by the first of the wolf fish which came up to join us. We re-grouped at the bottom of the mooring line and were treated to some time up close and personal with the wolf fish who would come in for some treats being given out by the dive guide and a tickle on the chin. We had been told they liked their chins tickled but it was amazing to watch 'Stephanie' come right up to Birddog literally asking to be tickled. Apparently this was worth a flooded camera!!! There are 3 wolf fish that now come in to interact with the divers and it really is a surreal experience as they do look like some prehistoric creature that time forgot. The local cod also joined in the fun providing a great experience, they will come right into the camera and the Alpha cod is recognizable by his twisted jaw. We then made our way over to the chimney and made a couple of laps at different depths enjoying the towering majesty of the structure and the warm water exiting the vents before returning to the line and making our exit. This was the first time diving from a rib for both Birddog and myself and having removed our gear and handed it up we were hauled back on the boat in what felt like a very undignified manner.

    On the way back to the harbor a number of humpback whales joined us and spent the majority of the trip close enough to the rib that their blows got us wet!!. After lunch at the dive center the weather had turned and we were not be able to make the second dive on the larger of the two chimneys. Instead we went out in the rib to do some more whale watching. The fjord at this time of year is home to approximately 20 humpbacks and our guide did a fantastic job of keeping up with the various pods. As before the whales came in close, almost within touching distance so we could get some great pictures and enjoy the spectacle of these magnificent creatures. We rounded off the day with another fantastic meal and some local beer in the hotel before packing for the next day.
    After a good night’s sleep we packed the van and went to our next hotel to drop off our luggage before swinging by a local bakery to pick up some provisions for lunch including some great pastries. We then began the two hour drive East towards Nesgjá. We made a stop enroute at Goðafoss, the waterfall of the gods, a spectacular waterfall with no guard rails or paths so you get right up the edge by making your way across the rocks. The lack of health and safety was refreshing and no one fell in!!! We then progressed towards our next site, stopping at the puffin cliffs on the way. We did see some puffins on the water but at this time of year most had already gone off shore. Located down a dirt track in the middle of nowhere is the Nesgjá fissure. The fissure, like Silfra, is a crack in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge fed by glacial melt water. Unlike Silfra, there is no supporting infrastructure or constant passage of tourists. The entry is a giant stride from the edge of the fissure at the south end of the crack. Nesgjá is a constant depth of around 20ft, the first section is 10-15ft wide and the water clarity is something else, if not for the bubbles you would think divers just hung in midair not midwater. Four arctic char joined us on this part of dive curious about the group of bubble fish that just entered their world. Two thirds the way along the fissure the crack narrows to around 4ft and you continue along drifting on the current engrossed by the formations and checking left and right as you see where the earth pulled apart. The crack ends with an ascent into a shallow cross over before you turn right and drop back down into the lake. 150ft out into the lake is another interesting rock formation created as the crust buckled upwards and cracked and is ended by a series of high flow rate spring producing strong haloclines as the warm water merges with the cool lake water. You can feel the warmth of the water through your gloves but I wasn’t going to take them off as I knew we still had some way to swim before we reached the exit. Upon exiting we ditched some of gear, the track back being somewhat of a goat path and not ideal for traversing in full gear. In the sunshine and t-shrit it wasn’t a big labor to make a few extra trips. A short drive from Nesgjá was our next stop, a geothermal river called Litla. It was a relatively tropical 62f and crystal clear. Dry suits back on and snorkels in hand we spent an hour marveling as the base of the river dances with the vents in the sands. Any of you familiar with Cream of Wheat at Spring Lake will have seen this in smaller scale. The day was rounded off with some sight-seeing around mud pits of the Devils Kitchen and Myvatn lake.

    We returned to Akureyri late that evening and had dinner in a converted furniture store. Following the financial crisis this furniture shop set itself up as restaurant, all the furniture and décor is still available for sale. You really can try before you buy. We didn’t bother with the menu and opted instead for multiple courses of fish and fresh vegetables and a very tasty dessert. Everything we had was fantastic and had been something we had dove with that week, it was tasty but we all felt a little guilty. We awoke to a fantastic clear day the following morning and returned to Strytan Dive Center for a second attempt at the larger of the hydrothermal chimneys. The large chimney is located in the middle of the fjord and rises from the seabed at 210ft to within 45ft of the surface. We rolled off the rib and made our way down the descent line slowly. There is a jump line across to the chimney at 60ft by the time we reached the line I was having a bit ear trouble. Birddog had been so excited about this dive as literally this is the only location in the world these structures are found at recreational depths. She descended down the line with her back to the chimney so that when she eventually turned around at 60feet she could see it in all its beauty!! Having taken a few minutes to settle things out we made our way across the line but my ears weren’t having any of it. With Birddog now buddied up as per our alternate plan I made my way up to boat. After a slow and cautious ascent enjoying the broad picture of the chimney and the jelly fish I made my way back on the boat not too far ahead of the others. They all came up with huge grins: apparently seeing the haloclines from the vents, soft corals, jellyfish and cod swimming around the chimney was a pretty awesome dive experience. Our humpback buddies again came out to join us for the afternoons’ whale watching trip, more great pictures and a bit of underwater footage thanks to a pole and the go-pro. After saying good bye to crew at Strytan Dive Center we got on the road back to Reykjavík.

    Our last day in Iceland started with some light rain, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. The plan for the day was a final dive in Silfra before some sightseeing. Whilst we entered Silfra in the rain we exited to glorious sunshine and blue skies that would stay with us the rest of the day. Making our way round the golden circle we stopped at a series of Iceland’s most famous natural land marks to the East of Rekyavik including the most photographed waterfall in Iceland, Gulfoss and the geysers in the Haukadalur valley. This is a country that lets you know it still being created and is most definitely alive. Back in Reykjavík we enjoyed yet more great seafood as we celebrated Christiane’s birthday and said our fairwells as she was not joining us in Greenland for the next leg....
     
  3. LegoBloxs

    LegoBloxs Tiger Shark

    An early start in the morning saw us make our way from Rekyavik to Tullusk in Greenland as we embarked on our next leg…..
    Located on a small island in East Greenland, Tullusk international airport is a dirt airfield with small terminal, literally the kind of place you stamp your own passport. We had a small lay over here before making the transfer by helicopter to the town of Tassilaq. Tassilaq is the regional capital of East Greenland, settled in 1894 and home to 1800 of East Greenland’s 3,000 inhabitants and consists of an eclectic mix of small homes perched on the hillsides rising from the town’s focal point, the harbor.

    We were met at the heliport by our guides from Northern Explorers who we would be spending the next few days with. Accommodation was in their cottage in the village, a nice little house with plenty of room for all and big deck for drying the dive gear. After getting ourselves settled we took a walk around the town enjoying the sunshine if not the hills we had to keep walking up and down!! This was followed by a scouting trip in the boat to find some icebergs, it didn’t take much looking as we had record ice for the time of the year. I have always enjoyed photographs of icebergs but there is something special about seeing the structures in person. The northern sunlight at the end of the day, rugged back drop and calm seas made it impossible to not take good photographs. After our iceberg safari we tucked into some Greenland style BBQ of pork ribs, local caught fish and lamb.

    Our first day of diving had us in the middle of Kong Oscars Havn bay, a short boat ride out after getting setup at the dock. After a back roll from the boat we made our decent through the halocline and made our way towards a blue iceberg. All the time the dive is performed to a soundtrack of the ice cracking. A quick check of my computer showed a water temp of 27f, glad I got some dry gloves before leaving Iceland. An iced up regulator cut Birddogs first dive short. She signaled she wanted my alternate so we could turn off her tank: we were planning on doing two dives so she didn't want to waste her air and miss out on the second dive. After Birddog got back on the boat I took the chance for a short solo dive on the berg before boarding the boat myself.

    During lunch we swapped out Birddogs 2nd stage for the spare before setting out for the afternoons dive on a white iceberg. The white icebergs develop a fantastic surface pattern, similar to a golf ball structure all over. Even knowing 90% of the iceberg is below the surface the scale of them is still mind boggling to see as the side of the berg disappears into the depths below you. We knew we would be diving on icebergs, but had not expected to be able to get right up beside them and actually touch them and swim through some of the formations. The water is cold but so worth it to experience this, but be sure to bring your heaviest undergarments!!

    A good dinner of local fish followed by a little whisky with some free range ice caught on the way back from the dive site saw our first dive day wrapped up with smiles all round.
    The second day plan was for up to three dives. We began with a trip across the fjord to the wall on the far side for a dive amongst the kelp and soft corals. Viz was around 30-50ft so we could easily concentrate on the micro life without worrying about losing the group as we drifted along the wall taking in the sights. Sighting included crabs, lumpfish and corals. After a return to the dock for tank refills we returned to dive to the blue iceberg from the previous day, and we got to enjoy a half hour dive together as we explored the inspiring structure. During the second dive my dry suit leak got the better of me and I reluctantly elected to sit out the third dive and Birddog graciously said she would stay with me, so as the other divers headed out to find a another iceberg I hung my now very wet undergarments up to dry. The sun was shining and the air was a very comfortable mid 60’s so I set off with Birddog to do a little sight-seeing around the town and climb up to the cairn. This is the highest point in the town and offers amazing views over the surrounding countryside and fjord. More fresh fish and iceberg whisky rounded off another busy yet very relaxing day in Greenland.

    Our last day in Greenland would be spent off gassing further north with a boat trip to Ikkateq and the Knud Rasmussen Glacier. We left the harbor and made our way round to the Ammassalik Fjord, weaving a path through the icebergs toward the former USAF base at Ikkateq. This air force base, active from 1942-1947 and servicing up to 1000 flights per month was abandoned leaving thousands of fuel drums and many trucks and other equipment behind. This creates a post-apocalyptic atmosphere but instead of zombies there is just strong sense of peace as you walk around what had been a bustling Air Force base. One of the striking effects is that despite resting idle for almost 70 years there is very little corrosion of the metal work and this adds to the earie feeling.
    After a couple of hours at Ikkateq we re-boarded the boat and headed further north towards the Knud Rasmussen glacier. The boat put us ashore about a mile south of the glacier and we all tucked into a continental style lunch setup on a convenient rock/table and then set off on foot towards the glacier.

    We didn’t make it as far as the glacier having got caught up eating lunch but did manage to make it close enough to get some pictures and watch a few newly calved icebergs settle amidst the almost solid sea of new icebergs making their way from the base of the glacier. As with Iceland, you can almost see the earth being reshaped before your eyes as you watch on.
    Back onboard the boats along with that night’s ice rations, we made our way back to Tassilaq for another top notch meal and one more round of packing before heading back to Reykjavik in the morning.
    The return leg to Reykjavik was uneventful, or at least something I don’t want to commit to writing, and we arrived in Reykjavik airport where we said our final farewells to our new dive buddies as our logistics took us in different directions. Birddog and I got a taxi back to our hotel and after collecting our left baggage from the dive shop found a quick bite to eat before repacking for the trip back to Houston in the morning.
    So, the big question, would I go back? In a heartbeat. This was a fascinating, relaxing and very enjoyable trip. Everyone we dealt with at Dive.IS, Strytan Dive Center in Iceland and Northern-Explorers.com in Greenland was very professional and incredibly helpful. The diving is not resort style, it’s still frontier diving and you will need to prepared to be self-reliant but in my opinion it just makes it more rewarding. The dive conditions are fantastic, we had great weather and visibility.
    If you want more details etc. please don’t be afraid to ask, maybe we can do a CHUM invades the Artic trip sometime.
     
  4. Sushi Boy

    Sushi Boy DAM CHUMmer

    What an adventure! Thanks so much for sharing it with us. Great trip report and pics! :cool:

    There have been quite a few Gallery uploads recently, so if you're looking for their photos, Simon's are here and Tracy's are here.
     
  5. LegoBloxs

    LegoBloxs Tiger Shark

    Thank you for the photo links...still working on that bit.
    Now I know how Tolkien may have felt.:rolleyes:
     
  6. Sushi Boy

    Sushi Boy DAM CHUMmer

    Wow, these photos are really making me drool (and shiver). They're well worth checking out.

    I did notice that you can really get the full impact of the panoramic shots if you click on "view larger image".

    LOVE the pic of the dive shop dog, btw. "A dog and his buoy"?
     
  7. LegoBloxs

    LegoBloxs Tiger Shark

    Shiver... it was worse getting OUT of Spring Lake in February :eek:
     
  8. McLOT

    McLOT Tiger Shark

    Great report! I enjoyed your presentation at the meeting but this adds some detail.

    Thanks for sharing. :piratewithhat2:
    cheers,
    McLot
     

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