Iceland, Post #1

I just returned from my first ever visit to Iceland, a trip I’ve been wanting to take for many years. I had a mixed mission to photograph and run up as many mountains & volcanoes as possible. But, alas, the weather conspired to make real running problematic at best. A day or two prior to my arrival, a blizzard deposited a snow all over the mountains and backroads of southern Iceland, making travel to trailheads via ordinary 4wd not possible.

Of course, if you had one of these, you’d be all set:

This is the vehicle you need to get around the backcountry in Iceland.

This is the vehicle you need to get around the backcountry in Iceland.

As it was, I had to drive 25 km on supposed main roads to get to the cottage I rented, and the wind had already begun drifting over sections of the road. When I took the side “road” to the cottage, I got stuck off the road, and had to dig out the snow from under the truck with my mittened hands. Finally I made it to the “R50″ cottage (just a name, not an insulation value)—it had a nice view of Hekla:

This is the little cottage "R50" that I rented. Cheaper than the car rental, and a great view of Hekla about 20 km away. It's super hard to gauge distance without trees as a reference. (Note the two trees attempting to grow in the from of the cottage.)

This is the little cottage “R50″ that I rented. Cheaper than the car rental, and a great view of Hekla about 20 km away. It’s super hard to gauge distance without trees as a reference. (Note the two trees attempting to grow in the from of the cottage.)

The hill on the left looks to be the same height as Hekla, but it’s not; as you can see in the view from a different vantage point:

Hekla is a famous volcano in Iceland (due to erupt soon supposedly)---it the 1500 m peak in the center. Since I couldn't even hope to make it to the trailhead via car, and because I did not bring skis, it was too far given the snow to do in one day. As it was, I was post-holing through thigh high snow just to summit the hill on the left.

Hekla is a famous volcano in Iceland (due to erupt soon supposedly)—it the 1500 m peak in the center. Since I couldn’t even hope to make it to the trailhead via car, and because I did not bring skis, it was too far given the snow to do in one day. As it was, I was post-holing through thigh high snow just to summit the hill on the left.

My first day, I went for a nice 12km run to explore the first hill; it was obvious that running shoes would be iffy at best due to the ice, snow and steepness as one approached the summit, so I resolved to come back in a day or two with my crampons and ice axe. More about that in another post.

On my second day, I ended up having the good fortune to have picked up two hitchhikers from Reykjavik University—they were headed to Seljavallalaug — a small pool built into the mountainside of the mountains by Eyjafjallajökull (that’s the volcano that erupted in 2010), a fifteen-minute walk (over rocky streams and under basalt turrets) off the end of road 242. I’d have not found this pool if they had not been hitching a ride when I drove by. Here’s the pool:

Nice thermal-fed pool built in the 1920's. I gave a couple of hitchhiking  students from Reykjavik a ride here, and they told me that when Eyjafjallajökull erupted, this pool was filled with volcanic ash, and it was dug out (by hand?) in order to restore it to use.

Nice thermal-fed pool built in the 1920’s. I gave a couple of hitchhiking students from Reykjavik a ride here, and they told me that when Eyjafjallajökull erupted, this pool was filled with volcanic ash, and it was dug out (by hand?) in order to restore it to use.

and here’s a picture of steaming hot water emerging from the mountainside:

You can see steaming hot water emerging from the mountainside, and the colorful green slime that grown in the scalding hot water.

You can see steaming hot water emerging from the mountainside, and the colorful green slime that grown in the scalding hot water.

On the way back to the “ring road” (rt. 1), I came by this house, and made my favorite image of my trip (click any image to view it larger):

House placed at a somewhat precarious location at the base of a steep slope.

House placed at a somewhat precarious location at the base of a steep slope.

A few things I’ve learned about traveling to Iceland: (1) if you come in March or April, bring SkiMo gear (this is an awesome place to ski tour, and sometimes, the only way to cover the distances over snow needed to reach trailheads, (2) don’t even think about seeing the whole island in a week. You need time, and the weather may not always cooperate, (3) Iceland’s weather is like that in the mountains of New Hampshire or Maine, it can be very windy and significantly colder than at the lower elevations.

More in my next post.