We left Skaftafell and drove back across the Myrdalssandur to Vik, the southernmost village on the Icelandic mainland, reaching it just after dark. The small fishing settlement looked like a metropolis after the uninhabited desert we had been in for the past few days: full of lights, homes, even some places of business. After putting our stuff in the guesthouse where we had rented sleeping bag accommodations for the night, we headed to the local gas station/convenience store/restaurant for some supper -- burgers, fries, and a couple of Gull draft beers -- then took showers and went to bed, because we planned to rise early and climb the promontory overlooking the village, as well as visiting the town's famous beach.
Vik must be located in one of the most beautiful spots on earth, on the edge of the sea near the Myrdalsjokull glacier, but underneath that glacier lurks the deadly volcano Katla. Katla is well overdue for an eruption - the past one was in 1918 and the longest period between eruptions was 95 years. Furthermore, each of the three previous eruptions of Ejafjallajokull were followed by eruptions of Katla. If Katla were to erupt, Vik could be destroyed by a glacial flood. There are periodic drills where the townspeople take shelter at the highest point, the church, because it is the only place likely to be above such a flood if it should ever occur. But a flood might not be the worst of it; Katla's eruptions have been of a violent magnitude from VEI-4 (that's the Volcanic Explosivity Index) to VEI-6, the latter comparable to Mt Pintatubo in 1991. Katla is monitored regularly, but while earthquake tremors have been frequent, the expected eruption has not yet occured.
But on that particular morning, Vik was peaceful and beautiful. We decided to forego breakfast at the guesthouse and just get some rolls and coffee before our hike, because we had to make a ferry crossing some distance away in the early afternoon.
Immediately after parking our car, we had company as we started up the long hill.
As we climbed, the view just got more and more spectacular, as the glacier, shining under a clear sky, was revealed behind the local hills.
Like the sheep, it seemed easy to feel oblivious to any danger other than falling off the edge.
Birds nesting in the cliffs cried and swooped in arcs above us, the glaciers shone, and back toward the east, the sea stretched out along the sands beyond the diminishing houses of the town, still asleep under the volcano.