Sunday, 17 November 2013

Iceland 2012

Was I glad we spent almost four weeks in Iceland?  Absolutely.  Would I go back sometime?  In a heartbeat.

We started our adventures in 1976 by moving from Calgary to a small town in Northern Alberta “for a year or so”.  For the next thirty years we explored anywhere our car/truck/van could take us. The next step was to venture out of country so in 2009 it was three months in Australia and New Zealand.  2011 found us hiking and exploring the wilds of northern Scotland.  Next on the list was Iceland – puffins, volcanoes, waterfalls and making our way in a country whose first language was not English.  Where next?  So many places, so little time.
We spent a little over three weeks in Iceland.  We arrived on their Independence Day then left for a week hiking from Landmannalaugar to Skogar – including past Eyjafjallajökull and Fimmvörðuháls, sites of the volcanic eruptions in 2010.  A few day long adventures (yes we saw puffins) and then a small 4 by 4 bus tour around Iceland and through the central highlands.  In a country of about 300,000 people who call each other by their first names it seems that everybody knows each other and has had an experience with volcanoes.  It’s that small community feel that has kept us living in our small town in Northern Alberta.
Highlights of the trip included surviving day six of the hike – 14 km of a 900 meter elevation gain on lava fields, ash and snow, including lunch on the fissure where the eruption happened a little over two years before.  A fantastic cruise around the Westman Islands to see the newest island and flocks of nesting sea birds capped off by the captain demonstrating the echo qualities of a cave by playing saxophone.  Snorkelling along the Trans Atlantic Rift.  Riding an Icelandic pony on the same peninsula with the polar bear (every year or so, a polar bear arrives from Greenland looking for food and this year he/she arrived the day we were also there!)  Learning Icelandic politics from our guide, whose sister was the front runner for deposing the present President.  Staying in the most marvelous guesthouse in downtown Reyjkavik.  Icelandic hot dogs, puffin, whale, lamb, reindeer, fish, skyr.  And a bit of retail therapy in the shops of Reyjkavik and Akyreyi.
If you are on Facebook,  check my Iceland 2012 album for some pictures and comments.

More than a year later, my memory of day six of our hike is still vivid.  Confession time.  I have no depth perception and have discovered I'm not good with heights.  What this means is that going up is not a problem - you are looking at the ground at eye level and one leg is planted firmly while you move the other one.  Going down brings out the worst in me - have you ever noticed that to go down, you destabilize one leg while the other one is airborne and then hope that it will find a stable footing?  And you have to look at how far down it is when you fall....  If I can't avoid it, my approach to going down is to go sideways and/or slide down on my behind and definitely VERRRRRRY slowly.

So, we had been hiking with a group for five days with Bryn, our guide and miracle worker.  I managed to avoid steep cliffs and down hills and had a thoroughly lovely time.  Day six, our group was smaller and it was described as a significant elevation gain (uphill is good, right?).  Actually, it was serious up and down all day on loose volcanic rock/snow/narrow ridges.  There really were no paths - this is where the volcano had erupted a year before and changed the landscape. After our morning break, we started the first big downhill, and I mentioned to Bryn that I had no depth perception, and was not good with heights, but that I'd be fine and just going very slowly.  He looked at me with disgust (was my thought) and said, that no, I would hike with him and he would make sure I was ok.  On the down hills, he would plant himself securely, reach up and hold my hand as I climbed down - I was NOT to be doing any sliding on the butt on his tour.  We crossed a couple of narrow ridges step by step.  He slowed his pace over the snow drifts so I was walking in his steps.  It WAS a hard day and I was the least fit, but I found I was thoroughly enjoying the fact that I was doing it.  

We stopped for breath with about six km to go - directly across was where we were staying for the night, but we needed to go down and up and down again to where our food and sleeping gear was at the old hut.  Next confession, I didn't see the up and the down, and thought the lower hut was where we were going and had no idea of the distance.  When Bryn looked at me and said "You're really tired, aren't you?", I agreed, but reassured him I could make it.  His nod and "OK" felt like the gold star you get for good work in elementary school.  At that point, I was not going to disappoint.  Arriving at Fimmvörðuháls hut was worth every second of that exceedingly long day.  Would I do this again?  Hmmm, not sure.  Would I do something equally challenging?  Absolutely.  One step at a time.  And I now have a set of hiking poles for that extra security when Bryn is not around.

The next day (that I had been worrying about because the description was how many hundred meter elevation loss it was) was a piece of cake.

Oh, to put this in perspective, on Johnsmas (late June holiday), Icelanders park at Skogafoss and hike or run the last two days backwards to Thorsmerk in one day to party.  We met the first runners mid morning of our first day.

The two new volcanoes.  Yes we walked along this ridge.

Final (almost) steps.  Up to the top of the snow, down, then up to the hut for the night.

View from the hut.  Down to the ocean.

On our way the next morning.  Trust me, this is a steep downhill.

It is absolutely bizarre to hike for seven days and then finish
by walking down a set of steps with a railing
to this parking lot/viewpoint!

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