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Skiing in Iceland: The Volcano Erupts

Skiing in Iceland: The Volcano Erupts

[ April 18, 2010 - 10:15am ]
Iceland Volcano
I set out on a ski-touring trip to Iceland—and the day I arrived, a massive volcano on Iceland’s southern shore erupted, spewing enough ash and smoke to close all the airports in northern Europe. Would we get to ski? And would we ever be able to fly out?

The last time I posted, I was waiting in the Denver airport getting ready to board a flight to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, for a ski-touring trip to test gear with Black Diamond Equipment and a group of American and European journalists. Sure, we knew we were heading to an island covered with volcanoes (one of which erupted two weeks ago after 200 years of dormancy), but we had no idea that our trip would coincide with one of the biggest volcanic eruptions the country has seen in a long time.

The day we arrived in Reykjavik, the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano erupted a few hundred miles from the city. The news stations in our hotel covered the explosion, but we couldn’t see any signs of the ash or smoke in the air—the wind was blowing it all south toward Europe. We were planning to climb and ski the biggest volcano in Iceland, 2,110-meter Hvannadalshnjúkur (don’t even bother trying to pronounce that), which is on the southern shore of the island not far from Eyjafjallajökull. But the eruption shut down the road that accesses the southern shore—and the ash and smoke were severe enough that the explosion closed all the airports in northern Europe, which is making international news around the world.

Instead, we tried to ski a nearby peak called Hekla, a 1,491-meter-high volcano that is also due to erupt any day now. We were being led by two guides from Icelandic Mountain Guides: Leifur Orn Svavarsson, a tall and tough avalanche forecaster, and Hallgrimur Magnusson, our steadfast driver and the first Icelander to summit Everest. They thought we could drive our four-wheel-drive, 15-passengar van to the base of the mountain, but warm temperatures and torrential rains had melted the ground enough to make the drive impossible. We tried, of course, but after several failed attempts to get the van up a steep, muddy embankment and through five-feet-deep ravines, we finally gave up and had a picnic of fish paste sandwiches in the freezing rain instead.

The day’s highlight ended up being a trip to the local microbrewery, where we sampled a dark, chocolaty beer appropriately called Lava. But would we ever get to ski in Iceland? Stay tuned for another update tomorrow to find out. 

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