Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Iceland Day 6: The Highland Trail

I'm finally going to lead with the news in a blog post.

That is me standing on a real frakking glacier! It's Langjökull—the second-largest glacier in Iceland. Walking on it was a literal out-of-body experience; at least three times I stopped spun in a circle and said to myself "I'm standing on a glacier right now." All the science from Willow Ridge Elementary School (where my favourite library book was Arctic Lands) and earth science with Mike Aronica in eighth grade rushed back to me in a good way.

When I woke up I wasn't sure what to expect this morning. Saturday's improvised substitute for our aborted volcano tour ended up scuttling my original plan for Tuesday's tour. After much research I found what appeared to be an acceptable substitute: The Highland Trail tour offered by Iceland Excursions. The description said:

We start our journey by driving through the tunnel underneath the Hvalfjord to meet our guide at Deildartunguhver. From there we continue on to Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. Our route now takes us over the Kaldidalur pass, which is the second highest pass in Iceland, past Langjökull glacier. We stop at Jaki for a walk towards the glacier. Our last stop before returning to Reykjavik is at Thingvellir national park.

A walk toward a glacier sounded pretty great, but on Saturday I saw a group get it's glacier hike canceled. And this just said "toward" a glacier, what does that even mean? Regardless it was my last fully day, only $100ish and a 7.5-8-hour tour that didn't start until 1 p.m. What's to complain about? I'm in freaking Iceland FFS!!!

This is Barnafoss, one of many amazing waterfalls I've seen in Iceland. Seriously, if you love waterfalls (Dave) then Iceland is the country for you. This was one much bigger than the others in terms of width, but not as high.

When I'm home in L.A. I'll upload about a dozen photos from here. Wished I had a little more time here to try to figure out how to get lower. Gorgeous though.

More of the the glacier here.

OK, when the fam went to the Grand Canyon in sixth grade my father was worried that me (and my mom) got too close to the guard rail-less edge. It's become a running joke in the family for my dad to say "don't get too close." He of course reminded me before this trip. Hell, when I went to AZ with my friend Jon, even he got in on it (but seriously, because as usual I like getting close enough to see over edges).

Well, with the glacier it's not really the edge that matters. Though the opening shown here is actually much deeper than this looks and the water was moving crazy fast, I'd never fit in and the traction was surprisingly great for my hiking boots. (Hooray Keen!) The rub with glaciers is that the surface is unpredictable and could be covering something dangerous, like a fissure or a soft spot. Our guide, Mathias, told me that earlier this year two major accidents happened on this glacier, but much further in.

As we were all leaving, little Ian (who looked about 8) was about 70 feet in front of his mom and Mathias and about the same distance behind me and the Canadian couple I'd met. Suddenly I hear him yelling out something unintelligible. He's been really excitable on the glacier ("I'm gonna walk where I want," "I'm gonna walk as far as I want," "Have we walked a mile?") much I like I imagine I would have been, so I ignored it momentarily. Suddenly, though ...

"I'm stuck," Ian yells out.

I turn around and see him struggling to free his right leg, which is submerged into the slushy snow all the way up to his hip. He keeps yelling out that he's stuck and is clearly getting super scared. This kid had been all confidence, suddenly he was a helpless 8ish-year-old.

I sprint to him and start pulling him up. Of course, one of my legs sinks into the slushy snow.

"Hold on, Ian," I reassure him. "I gotta free myself before I can get you out. But don't worry. You're gonna be fine." I free myself quickly, find more solid footing and start pulling. I'm getting him part way out, but I can't quite free him. Thankfully, Winnipeg guy comes over and we get him out together.

By now, his mom is saying almost caught up to us and saying "thanks" and reminding Ian to thank us as well. All's well that ends well.

The tour continues along the super bumpy dirt road, which is actually the highest road in Iceland. It literally looks like we're on another planet. There is zero light and virtually zero evidence of humans. Living in L.A. now, it's sometimes hard to remember that there are unmarked places on the Earth.

OK, we get back to Reykjavik at about 8:45 p.m. I am famished beyond belief. Rather than explore for something new, I head to B5 (again) where I know I can get amazing fries and a great veggie burger for 1000 isk, which is like $7.85. Thankfully, Arnie is working again so I'll get to say farewell. I order a Scotch and he's never poured one. I find out he's been working as a bartender for just two weeks. Prior to that he had been in law school/considering law school, but realized he didn't want to become a lawyer.

I teach him that to eyeball it rather than use the shot measuring spoon, pour the scotch to as high in the glass as the width of a finger. He pours me a little extra and also doesn't even know what to charge. He ends up charging me less than a beer. I end up ordering three and each time I get the super cheap rate (cheaper than a beer) and nearly a double with the first two. At the end of the night I have a final question.

"Arnie, I have a strange request."

"Sure, what is it?"

"Can I buy a Gull pint glass?"

"No," I'm a little surprised, given the rapport we seemed to have. "But you can have one for free. They give them to us for free. Here." Then he gives me two more so that I end up with one of each kind the bar has. BONUS!

Here's Arnie ...

1 comment:

conbon said...

yay, mike saves the day!