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Alwight Geyser! Iceland - A land of Extremes

By: Jo Payne, posted 2nd July '13

Never depart home shores, heading for a cooler climate than the UK. This is my cardinal rule when travelling. This is my rule I broke and after a week in Iceland, I will happily break again.

Sitting just over the shoulder of the UK, although Iceland may only be a two hour flight, a more suiting method of travel should be to wander through the back of your wardrobe door as you fall out into one of the most spectacular geological shows in the world! In a land where troll fables and Viking legends are the backbone of every childhood I was never quite sure if I was in Narnia , Lord of the Rings or I had just simply taken the wrong platform from Kings Cross?!  In no other terms, Iceland challenges your imagination and physicality.

That Volcano!

The question on most peoples lips on visiting Iceland is ‘Do we get see that volcano?!’. Max our guide grinned, ‘It’s the best free marketing we’ve had in years!’. He’s right too. That volcano has really blasted the profile of incredible Iceland. Perhaps it the childish nature within us all, that waits in hope to hear the rumbles of volcano or reel at the stench of sulphur! Whilst in Iceland, although I never witnessed a volcanic explosion, stark reminders of previous explosions shape the landscape. Leading due East from Rekjavik to the Skatafell National Park, the road cuts through a never ending moonscape of hardened lava and to my amazements, families continue to construct their small dwellings in amongst what once a sea of destruction.  Iceland is perfectly positioned over the Eurasian and North America plates and the geologically activity these plates create, shapes Iceland, their people and moreover delivered a most unexpected and memorable adventure.

The daylight

It’s quite rare that you can combine a walking holiday whilst being able get off the beaten track and visit a plethora of natural wonders! Yet the 24 hour daylight of Iceland also provides a secret energy! Having conquered Mt Botsnullur on day 2, we headed off onto the dirt tracks of Iceland and weaved our way to edge of deep canyons, to the bottom of picture perfect waterfalls and within soaking distance of exploding geysers.

Perhaps it was the excitement of exploring what felt like an undiscovered land or perhaps it was the camaraderie of my fellow travellers, but the weird and wonderful 24hours daylight, made me lose all concept of day and time! Isn’t this what holidays are supposed to do? Forget about those ticking clocks and deadlines which rule our daily lives!

Puffin up Iceland's highest peak!

It may be biased for me to say that the days were planned perfectly for this journey but it the best of Iceland drew back its curtains for us on our last day of trekking. Hvannadalshnukur in Skatafell National Park is Iceland’s highest peak and at 2109m and was about to give me my first taste of mountaineering! An early morning departure of 4.30am (by this time my body had no concept of time, so this felt really quite normal), saw us walking up steep terrain into thick clouds and thickening drizzle. Not being able to see a great deal helped! It was a case of ‘head down and jolly well plod on’. Little was said between myself and fellow walkers as we were all secretly talking to the Icelandic weather elves asking for the sun to shine! On reaching the snowline, things got serious! Axes, crampons and harnesses made an appearance and so did my weak bladder! With the realisation toilet opportunities were going to be few and far between my body went into expel mode! Once settled, Max did a great job of suiting, booting and dividing us onto two separate ropes and within what felt like minutes we were off again. Snaking up into a white abyss, I started thinking of the big dark icy abyss below! Some minutes later, the sun was beating down and layers were being peeled off, but then suddenly we all stopped for a rarity - silence! Looking around, Iceland had delivered! The simplicity of snowy mountains against an unbroken blue sky always captivates me and for several minutes we all stood in the deafening silence of Iceland. Moving onwards up the mountain, the summit came into view and so did Max’s smile ‘You guys think it is close, but like all things in Iceland, it is deceptive’. He was right! A long slog ensued to reach the summit. Eight and half hours to be precise, but having adjusted to Icelandic earth hours, combined with the ever on-going hilarities in the group, time seemed irrelevant.   The only thing that mattered were those all important group summit shots! Despite conquering the highest peak in Iceland, on the descent I peered over my left shoulder to view a series of volcanoes and their visible trail of destruction, Iceland is not a place to be conquered!


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