Climb Every Mountain – Puffing And Panting Up The Esja

Climb Every Mountain – Puffing And Panting Up The Esja

Main photo by
Julia Staples

The handsome, looming monstrosity of Mount Esja emerges from the sea, and sits, keeping watch over Reykjavík. It is a very good mountain to admire from afar, like a secret crush whose house you just “happen” to drive by. Then comes the actual first experience, in person (yes, in person!) of talking to the crush: the sweaty palms, the avoidance of eye contact, the dry mouth, all the usual signs of studied familiarity, yet unknowing expectancy.

Luckily, I had a guide from Mountain Climbing to initiate communication and ease me into really getting to know the mountain. She picked my fellow intern and me up at 9:30 in the morning. Not so bright and early – it was a dismal, rainy day, not exactly what I had pegged as the weather I would have on my “perfect” hike. Luckily, she had thought ahead and provided us with some more suitable pants which ended up being very necessary. We drove about 30 minutes to reach the base of the mountain. My confidence waned a little as I saw the mountain grow in front of my eyes; it was much larger than I had anticipated – 914 meters of volcanic rock to be exact.

After a look at the map, we started on our way. The beginning twenty minutes of the walk were easy enough, as we walked on a slowly inclining gravel path. Hell, I could have been doing it smoking a cigarette. Then the stairs began. And the rocks. And the inclines. I was left puffing hard behind my colleague and guide. I kept looking down at my feet in slight defeat and embarrassment as I walked along; I was pretty convinced this mountain and I weren´t clicking so well.

My guide knew exactly what to do. We stopped a few times as she told us about the landscape below, and the plants and trees in the area. She regaled us with stories of the early settlers in the area, of the hidden people, and many other tidbits that made the hike amusing, and helped me acclimate to the unfamiliar surroundings. The obvious respect my guide had for the history of Iceland and, specifically, the mountain, pushed me onward. A little shot of positive outlook was what I needed.

As the hike continued, we stopped a few more times to take in the views. The immensity of black rock swelling up around us was overwhelming. But my view was on the upper final destination. The path faded as we reached part of the summit, and there were large and loose rocks between us and the destination. We trekked up this area as quickly as possible, and the ending rock was in sight. When we finally reached it, after a short incline, I felt like throwing my arms up like fucking Rocky. Instead, I looked around. The views were impossibly pristine, and seeing the land I had just traversed was pretty insane. We took a long breather, heard a few, longer traditional stories about Esja, and signed our names in a guestbook located next to the end rock (another tradition).

In the time we took at the top, the skies had opened up in the unpredictable, lovely Icelandic way. The hike down seemed like a cinch; any previous nervousness gave way to full-on, carefree hiking. Smooth sailing, if you will. Once we reached the bottom, our guide treated us to a snack of flat bread, or flatbrauð, and cheese. It was delicious, especially after the three-hour trip up and back. On the drive back, it was clear that the mountain and I had established something past far-off, unknowing glances, with the intercession of my guide, of course. I was glad I got to know the backdrop of the city up close, and it was (relatively) painless in the end. If there was any doubt of my new relations with the land, I received my certificate within the week, stating: “By participating in the Esja tour of Mountain Climbing, you have made this dream yours and you have made it come true. Congratulations!” Why, thank you.

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