Utter the word ‘Eyjafjallajökull’ to many non-Icelanders and you’ll get a cringe and a travel horror story as a response.
Actually, say ‘Eyjafjallajökull’ and you’ll get a “God bless you! That was some sneeze!” Then when you explain what Eyjafjallajökull is (the glacier covering a volcano that erupted in 2010, stopping air traffic across the world) you’ll get the cringe and a travel horror story. These people probably haven’t been to the top of Eyjafjallajökull and if they have, they don’t appreciate the stunning beauty of the view and the grounding experience of seeing the crater from which all that ash erupted.
But to reach this view, there’s a four-hour hike to overcome.
MISSING: NATO MILITARY VEHICLE
When taking this professionally organised hike, on an average day you’ll be a picked up in an 8×8 former NATO military vehicle. However, the day I went, that NATO car had a ruined transmission, due to serving in a rigorous rescue mission a few days prior. Bummer. Instead, we made the journey to 1000 metre altitude in a jeep with extra-large tires.
The pickup time was rather early, at 06:30. Luckily, this tour’s pick-up happens to be wherever you are accommodated (with reasonable limits), so this greatly adds to the convenience factor. From there, we drove for an hour until we arrived at an N1 service station, where we got a quick coffee break. At this point, our guide stressed that if we didn’t bring some of the things on their list of necessary gear, that they should be purchased there at the N1.
On a lot of hikes I’ve attended, the guides tend to ask you to bring a lot of unnecessary things, which can lead to frustration when you don’t get to use that brand-new flash light (with laser pointer!). On this hike, that isn’t the case. It is absolutely necessary that you bring everything that you are asked to bring. I very nearly discovered this the hard way by not bringing sunglasses. Half way up the glacier, when I took off the pair I had bought at N1, I couldn’t see anything. Consider yourself warned.
After our stop, we hopped back in the car and drove another 45 minutes to the base of the ascent. The first 1000 metres were a bit bumpy. We were tossed around the interior of the jeep like a bunch of maraca beans.
When we got closer to our destination, the snow got deeper. Through one of these spots, our guide Atli requested we “think light thoughts.” It seemed to work, because we shortly arrived at the place where we would begin our hike.
At the outset, the hike took a surprising turn. Within ten minutes, every member of our group was sweating profusely. We stripped down to T-shirts for the first bit of the hike, making our way up a 1.666 metre high glacier bare-armed.
For the duration of the trip, the group would stop to take snack breaks to renew our energy, a necessity on long trips. During one of these breaks, we were required to rope up. The harnesses were provided for us, and a rope was strung between each member of the group. This was to prevent from anyone falling into a crevasse. Atli instructed us that should we fall into one, this system would prevent us from falling further than to our waist—and then he’d come and fish us out—so there was really nothing to be worried about. Thankfully, no one fell into a crevasse.
As we continued our ascent from this point, the temperature dropped again. We were level with the lowest clouds—an amazing sight to behold, and something I had only experienced through the window of an airplane.
Finally, we reached the summit of the volcano and were able to look down into the crater created by the March 2010 eruption.
The crater still steamed from the heat of the eruption. Looking out, there was a beautiful view of Iceland that even the biggest hike-o-phobes out there should witness. After spending some time at the top to take in the view, we headed back to the jeep, to return to Reykjavík.
The trip to the top of Eyjafjallajökull was a memorable experience that gave a positive perspective on an island/mountain/glacier that is otherwise cursed by people all around the world. But the view from the top isn’t all there is to this hike. Getting to walk through clouds and notice the landscape dwindling behind you is all part of the hiking experience. If you are feeling rushed, don’t be afraid to tell the guide to slow down the pace. After all, hiking is as much about the journey as the destination.
The ‘Eyjafjallajökull Day Tour’ by Trekking Travel can be booked at www.trek.is or by calling 445 0881 and costs 19.800 ISK. The tour is guaranteed to run Thursdays and Saturdays between June 10 and September 15, and will run any other day for a group of at least four. The total time spent is 10–12 hours.