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.
Snæfellsjökull, Snæfellsnes Peninsula; Iceland – People think that I do the stupid things that I do just to get a laugh or so I have a crazy story to tell. I mean, really – how is almost killing yourself on accident something you could file under “Just For Laughs“? I do it because I’m essentially the lovely marriage of “overwhelmingly curious and willing to learn just about anything” and “reckless adrenaline junkie”. None of the things I’ve done overseas, which often turn out to be in perilous conditions, were done because I thought it was funny. However, when it comes to retelling the story, I have to insert as much humor (mostly self-deprecating) as I can, so I don’t actually feel like an idiot.
That being said, this next story is pure stupidity.
I used to read a lot as a kid. Like, an exorbitant, unnecessary amount – which is how I began my fascination with volcanoes. I was seven or eight years old when my parents got me a slew of classic books for my birthday (I know, so fucking lame, right? All I really wanted was Mario Paint), including two or three by Jules Verne. If you were also a nerd, then you know where this is going, but if you aren’t, I’ll break it down for you. You see, long before it was a shitty Brendan Fraser movie, that same brilliant French author wrote an incredible novel, “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. It was quite the fantasy tale, in which a German professor, his nephew and a guide descend to the core of the earth via a specific volcano caldera and encounter dinosaurs and all sorts of prehistoric shit. Although mostly, I remember reading the book and not being able to pronounce that particular volcano’s name: Snæfellsjökull.
Despite dreaming of conquering this volcano as a kid, I never actually thought that I’d have the chance to stand face to face with that monster. But as an adult, I’ve been taught one important life lesson: that little kid didn’t know shit about the stuff I’d do as a grown-up.
So that being said, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is just north-northwest of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland and our final destination. I should probably explain that for the nine days prior to today, we circumnavigated the entire island, counter clockwise starting at Grindavík, including a spectacular detour (which will be discussed in my blog that chronicles my hunt for the arctic puffin) in the Vestfirðir. This note is of massive importance, because in the nine days of trekking through lava fields and up volcanoes, I somehow convinced myself I was an expert hiker.
You see, the hike up to the summit Snæfellsjökull isn’t a particularly grueling one, unless you want to reach the true summit atop the glacier. Honestly, after my previous foray with glaciers, I wasn’t about to push the incredible luck I had been bestowed with in regards to my own life. Which, when you really think about it, is actually sort of astounding, because I still managed to mess myself up pretty good while trying to be careful.
So here we were, four of us, exhausted from the best road trip of our lives, to date, making our approach to the peninsula, and sizing up a volcano. (ed. note: I can’t believe I actually just said something like “I sized up a volcano”, and actually have it be true). Upon arriving and just parking literally right off of Route 1, the four of us sluggishly grabbed our bags from our rental, put on the driest clothes we had, and packed some water bottles. That was right before we looked at the clock on the dashboard of the car and realized that, despite the sun being directly overhead, it was getting late. “This really fucking sucks”, I remember mumbling out loud, my sentiment aligning with our groups frustration. It being this late really limits the amount of time we have to explore before we have to jump back in the car and drive around until we find a hostel that was still open and not at capacity. I really needed to see the crater that inspired Verne with my own eyes.
I guess I can admit that I was completely naive, and not taking into consideration that Snæfellsjökull is a stratovolcano, or composite volcano, which are characterized by their steepness. I mean, of course I didn’t take that into consideration – I mean, I ignored the fucking CLOUDS circling the summit like Tolkien’s Lonely Mountain. I was ripe to do something stupid.
We spent the first hour or so stopping sporadically to admire the landscape. The southern slope overlooks Faxaflói, or the Faxa Bay, and the views are stunning – on a clear day, you could see the capital. We would sit on rocks and talk about our trip so far, and just how unreal this whole experience had been. But as we rose higher, we started dropping like flies.
The first one was Peter, but in his defense, he was sick as fuck. It was also his birthday, and he didn’t want to spend it sitting in a parked car in soggy clothes. The fact that he made it as far as he did was actually impressive considering he could barely breathe, and a true testament to the iron will we all shared on this trip.
Number two was Robbie, but he lasted about another few kilometers. Chris and I joke around about using his tiny legs to maximum capacity in order to keep up with us Ents (That’s two Middle Earth references so far, for those keeping count). Also, the only clothes Robbie had at this point that were dry were jeans, and whether he admitted it or not – definitely chaffing.
So now it’s just me and Chris, and we turn our brisk walk into a jog until we start to reach glacier crevices. As we’re both nearing exhaustion, and with more than a 5K hike back down, Chris said the words that I didn’t want to hear yet. “Hey man, this shit is starting to look pretty dangerous, and the trail ahead is covered under a foot or more of snow. Maybe we should turn back.” I really should start listening to Chris more. I mean, he saved me from certain death and possible dismemberment at Vití when I decided that even though the fog was so thick that you could move it with your hands, I was going to try to walk to the lip of the crater. Had he not shouted at me like my parents, I wouldn’t have had the chance to stand next to him as the fog cleared to see that my footprints stopped less than two feet from a rocky 150 foot drop into a sulfur lake.
Well, this time, I didn’t listen to Chris. This is where you go to get to the fucking Center of the Earth. The child in me kept telling me to push harder, he absolutely needed to reach that crater. Like I said, I had dreamed of this climb, sort of like the way every other normal child my age dreamed of ringing that buzzer at the top of the Aggro Crag.
“You can start heading back without me, I’m just going to go a little higher. I think If I make it to where those trail markers are, I can see the crater.”
I started a careful trudge through the snow, keeping my eyes fixated on the ground. After my last adventure with quicksand, I was sure as fuck that wasn’t going to happen again.
I remember I was about knee deep in snow when the lights in the attic started to flicker, and I started to lose my sense of balance. As I started to sit down, I had a that feeling I usually get at the onset of a migraine, where my vision becomes strained and I start to feel really nauseous. What the fuck was going on, did I get bit by something?
Yes. I was bit by sheer stupidity. I mean, who runs up the side of a fucking volcano that apexes at more than 4,500 feet above sea level?
At least at the end of each episode of Guts, the kid that conquers the Crag the fastest gets to take home a piece of it to hold over their heads like the Stanley Cup of Nickelodeon. What did I get for tackling the great stratovolcano of my childhood dreams?
Migraines, nausea, and every other fucking symptom of altitude sickness for next three days.
Walk, don’t run, up volcanoes.