Glasgow West End: Hill climbing diary by Helen Rose:Iceland

Iceland 'Land of Fire and Ice' - September, 2000.


The strangest and youngest land on earth, peopled by descendants of Vikings and Eskimos with a high standard of living, heated by geo thermal power, regular volcanic eruptions, ice caps and glaciers, mountains and deserts, canyons and rock formations, close to the Arctic Circle and a sun that never sets in summer.

Where do you begin to describe such an unreal and magical place? I have always dreamed of visiting the real Iceland and seeing the remote areas so I booked a trip.

I met up with fourteen strangers ( the rest of the group) in Reykjavik and Valdi our leader. It was a very mixed group and there was even a Canadian couple on their honeymoon. We decided it must be some sort of Canadian tradition to spend a honeymoon sharing a sleeping space with fourteen complete strangers as it was a hut to hut trek!

ice camp

We travelled to the North of Iceland stopping on the way to see the old Parliament area which is the site of the North Atlantic tectonic plates and deep cracks are visible in the ground. Iceland has a very old Parliament which was founded more than a thousand years ago. We visited the geysers at Strokkur where there has been a recent increase in volcanic activity. One geyser is now spouting at 30 second intervals where just a month ago it was five minute intervals.

We visited the spectacular waterfalls at Gullfoss and Godafoss where the basalt rock columns can be clearly seen. The falls are over 100 feet high and are fed by glacial rivers. They are examples of waterfalls formed where the water followed a fissure in the lava and carved a passageway.

snaefellsThe centre of Iceland is virtually a desert of volcanic debris and most of the road is not metalled which makes it extremely dusty for cyclists with passing trafffic. At Akureyri in the North, we were only 30 miles from the Arctic Circle but the weather was glorious with clear blue skies and warm sunshine. The sun is low in the sky but it is virtually 24 hours of daylight in summertime. Conversely, in deepest winter there is very little daylight.

At Lake Myvatn in the North East area, we walked around the perimeter of the Hverfeall volcano crater where someone had managed to etch graffiti in the volcanic dust in the crater. The guide was very dismissive of this achievement as it was not written in Icelandic! We walked around nearby Mount Krafla where the rocks are still steaming from the volcanic eruption in the last ten years. Much of the lava is still brown but will blacken as time goes on.

turfhut On route to our next destination we visited a l9th century sod house where the exterior is covered in turf and grass for insulation. The man who showed us around had been born in the house but only visited it in the summer now to maintain it. He provided us with some preserved shark meat to taste and a sample of home-made wine. Afterwards we crowded into the tiny kitchen for coffee and home made pancakes which was very cosy as there was a cold wind blowing outside.

We stayed at the mountain hut at Snaefell for three nights which allowed us to ascend the 6,000 feet Mount Snaefell but the hut is located at 2,500 feet above sea level. The terrain is very rough and the rocks have sharp edges so by the end of the trek the tread in my boots had worn down considerably. That evening we shared the hut with a group of trekkers on horseback . lcelandic horses ride in herds and each rider had three horses where the horses without riders run alongside the riders. It was a bit like the cowboys riding into town!

When we left Snaefell Hut - it was into the remote wilderness of Vatnajokull and we had a ten hour hike with full pack to reach Geldingafell Hut. This trek involved a three mile crossing of the glacier which felt like walking on a crispy, crunchy surface but was surprisingly not slippery. The bad news was there were also three glacial rivers to cross so it was off with the boots and on with the rafting sandals to wade the rivers. Valdi assured me I would feel exhilarated by the experience and my feet did but that was only after the feeling returned to them as these were fast flowing glacial rivers which were barely above freezing. We discovered the best way to tackle the crossings was to run across and scream simultaneously to take away the pain. One man had a pair of pink jelly sandals which looked very fetching and he left them behind at one of the huts as a present to Iceland so if you are ever there you will know where they came from!


The following morning, a gentle stroll up Mount Geldingafell rewarded us with magnificent views of the icecap all around. I felt very uplifted looking around at this strange land which is in a state of perpetual change with the movement of the earth's tectonic plates. The trek continued in wonderful sunny weather to several huts where we were indulged with Icelandic pancakes and hot chocolate every afternoon. One of the highlights of the week on the trek was a visit to Trollakrokar Canyon which was an amazing landscape with the forces of nature revealed so splendidly. Finally, we were transported by four wheel drive vehicles to civilisation and flushing toilets.

During our trek we had breathed in the purest air I have ever known, we had seen herds of reindeer and Arctic geese and colourful alpine plants growing in the harsh landscape. We would bathe in geo thermal heated water rich in minerals at the Blue Lagoon, We mused over our experience and considered if there was anything we missed from home and I could only think my husband was all I missed. The trip was idyllic but we were lucky to have such excellent weather. I would like to see it in winter with the waterfalls frozen and take a snow mobile onto the icecaps.

On 19th September at 7.30, I am doing a slide show presentation on my trip to Cuba last year at Woodside Halls in Clarendon Street in the Westend. The evening has been organised by the Glasgow HF Club as part of their Tuesday evening programme. The Glasgow HF is a walking club which has a programme of wide ranging weekend walks for all abilities and also organises social events for members. E-mail me if you wish further informatiop on the club. Coming attractions in the diary are weekends in Islay and Jura, Ratagan, Strathpeffer and the wilds of Knoydart .

Comments are now closed on this page