This will be an ongoing series that I plan on writing, in which I will be chronicling my misadventures and terrible decision-making ability while abroad.
Crater Lake Víti, Askja Caldera; Iceland– Most people haven’t a clue about fumaroles. A great majority have never even read that word, probably until just now, let alone have actually seen one with their own eyes or smelled one with their own nose (consider yourself lucky). I certainly hadn’t, until I did a little pre-trip research. However, now that I do know about fumaroles, I can pretend to pass it off as having a deep knowledge of geology. So, to all of the lazy people like me that slept through their boring Earth Science class, a “fumarole” is a hole in a planet’s crust. Get it? A fucking hole in the Earth. A hole that constantly spews thick, hot steam, as well as tons upon tons of noxious, putrid gases like Sulfur Dioxide (toxic), Hydrogen Chloride (toxic), and Hydrogen Sulfide (uh, fucking toxic).
So, you might ask, where do you find such a thing? Well, the answer is usually anywhere near volcanic activity. These particular fumaroles were situated at the base of the Lake Víti Crater and under a pool of melted glacial water. Oh yeah, how could I forget the water. The thermal energy emitted from the lava flow that is normally located beneath a complex of fumaroles can push the water to reach temperatures of 220 degrees Fahrenheit, creating instant steam. Or scalding hot water. Let’s say that I know, sadly, from first hand experience.
All I kept thinking to myself was, “be careful, because this is probably going to be hot”. All of that earth science and geology I just typed out? Yeah, well none of that crossed my mind. I was not thinking about the active lava flow that is nestled deep below Askja, nor was I thinking about the type of soil that sits at the base of a fumarole. I, and I can say definitively, was absolutely not thinking about the viscosity of the mixture you’d get when you superheat clay (spoiler alert, that’s the kind of soil that sits at the base of a fumarole) and ice cold water – which is pretty sticky.
Naturally, the compulsive maniac that lives in the back of my head was not going to let me sleep soundly unless I touched it. I mean, I absolutely had to, at the very least fucking touch it.
And that’s when the circus of stupid starts. You see, the first time it felt really hot – but nothing unlike a sink or shower running at it’s hottest. And yes, you read that right – I said, “the first time”. One time was not obviously not stupid enough to gather the amount of empirical data I’d need to satisfy the requirements of this test of my pain threshold.
So I stuck my hand in again, this time “gently” scraping the bottom. (The word “gently” is in quotations, because as this series continues, you’ll understand that nothing I do is capable of possessing the attributes of being gentle.) As I immediately retracted my hand, which now had slopping, slimy clay coating my fingers and parts of my palm, I experienced a searing pain that I imagine felt similar to what it would be like if you could touch the fucking sun.
It quickly started to dry on my hand, trapping the heat like a terra-cotta cocoon. How was I going to wipe this off, I need water! Where is there water? Why didn’t I think of this?
Luckily for me, there was water. Lots of it. The only problem was that it was about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It really was a no-brainer – the irony of me ever using that term to explain what you should do after sticking your hand in a hole in the Earth’s crust, is astounding. But it was either that or look like Hellboy forever.
The heat of the water quickly helped break up the drying clay, and the pain was immediately relieved by shoving my entire arm into a mountain sized deposit of glacial snow. Crouched down next to this disgustingly odorous stinkpot and now shoulder deep in the side of a glacier, I quickly glanced around, really hoping that no one caught me in the act. Of course, that wouldn’t be the case, as the first thing I see are my travel buddies sitting front row to my stupidity, keeled over in laughter – not a laughter that emotes “seeing you writhe in obvious pain is absolutely hilarious” (although it was later expressed to me that it definitely was), but more-so, a “wow, man, you’ve crash-landed on a whole new fucking planet of reckless” (which is a label that I won’t ever be able to shake now. Ha!).
I remember trying to recall this story for my mother, who by the way, also thinks her son is an idiot, and having to explain it to her in analogies. I told her that the best way to understand would be to pretend you’re home, and go to your kitchen cabinet and remove a pot of any size large enough to dip your hand in. Fill the bottom of the pot with a thick layer of honey, and then fill the rest of the pot with water. Now walk over to your stovetop, which you should have already preheated so that it reaches, I don’t know, the HOTTEST temperature it could reach. Like the temperature you’d need to reach if you wanted to spend the afternoon melting rocks. Carefully and gently, place the pot on the largest burner, and let it reach a boil. Like, seriously let this thing boil. Then proceed to stick your stupid, stupid hand in it. Like really in it, so you get that scalding hot honey on your fingers that doesn’
That’s what it’s like to stick your hand in fucking fumarole. Please don’t stick your hand in a fumarole.