Thursday, January 22, 2015

On the road again

Home sweet home
My morning flight is delayed 40 minutes due to technical problems with the machine. Matta is kind enough to take me to the airport despite having to work, and we chat and sip coffee before leaving. The cat doesn’t want me to go. I’ll miss her. The flight is uneventful. I have a window seat as usual. Flying over the fjords is beautiful. I am extremely grateful, a bit melancholic but not sad. I have a good life with one foot on the island and one on the continent. I look forward to returning soon and know that one day it will be for good. 

 In Reykjavík there’s no snow and it rains like crazy most of the day. I feel like I’m in an entirely different country. I jump in a taxi, ride to Súsanna’s and let myself in with my key. After depositing my luggage, I head off to the hardware store. I really need a toilet seat! Back in the remote Westfjords, I just can’t find a seat that fits properly. My old one is held together with cable ties and its expected lifespan is very short. After finding what I need, I head straight to the post office and mail it back home, where Angela will take good care of it until I return. 

Then I jump in the bus and head to the mall to meet Björg for some shopping and a nice dinner at Hamborgarafabrikkan. In the evening I sit in Mezzo café with a mango chai latte and read. Later Súsanna and I chat until 11:30 and just after I fall asleep, my phone wakes me with a text message from Angela: fantastic display of northern lights in Ísafjörður. I’m homesick already!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

One last time

It’s almost time to leave again. Angela and I go out sledding one last time. The conditions aren’t really that great for sledding. The constant change of thaw and freeze has left the slopes slick with ice. My little blue saucer spins out of control and on the first run I make I really dumb mistake. I am racing towards the avalanche wall at top speed and panic. I dig my heel out in front of me to slow down and am promptly launched through the air in a somersault that lands me on the solid ice on my neck, head and hand.  I’m in a bit of a shock but think I’m ok. I am more stunned at how fast an accident can happen in just a moment of stupidity. I think about wearing a helmet next time. No. I just really need a new sled instead of this flying saucer. 

Back home, B. makes a nice dinner and we head out to the pool for a soak in the hottub.   

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sub-optimal elements

Our parking lot is an ice-skating rink

Crappy weather today, and I don’t say that that too often. It thaws and rains and there are heavy winds and the roads are so slick that it’s really difficult to walk. I go out at lunch for only 20 minutes and get absolutely soaked, right through my ski pants and all. The streets are nothing but foot-deep slush. The icicles fall from the roof with a huge crash. All flights are cancelled, but even in Reykjavik, affecting international flights as well. Too crappy to hike. Angela invites me over for fruit salad with ice cream and tea instead. It’s also time to take down the Christmas decorations.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A critical essay on local avalanches

B. and I have a late breakfast at Bakarinn. Around noon, Angela (with sled) and I (on snowshoes) head out into the mountains. We’ve gotten so much snow lately, and avalanche danger is high/red according to, although anyone in their right mind can see after all the snow lately that there’s a ton of it just hanging on those steep slopes waiting to come down. With the danger in mind, we purposely stay away from steep hills and play in an area we feel is safe. 

It’s a bit of a pain to strap on my snowshoes but once they’re on my feet it’s so much fun! The snow is so deep and Angela is having a really hard time walking, sinking in up to her hips with every step. I just glide over the surface like I’m walking on water. Angela’s sled is utterly useless in the deep snow except when she begs me to pull her along on it. :-) Sometimes it’s easier for her to crawl on all fours through the deep snow with the sled under her belly like a seal. I’m thoroughly enjoying her futile attempts at progress and we’re really exercising our laughing muscles today. 

We walk all the way into Tungudalur to the waterfall and once I sink in the snow up to my crotch despite the snowshoes. In one spot we see a snowboard trail and I later see a posting on Facebook from the local adventure company that “Icelandic snowboard legend Ásgeir was racing down Eyrarfjall” today. Hmmm, ok, as I will mention soon, it’s a good day to trigger an avalanche!

We’re sweating and thoroughly exhausted as we eventually trudge home. Close to town we spot an acquaintance known for his love of backcountry skiing, parked at the base of the mountain and he waves, while we wonder if he’s seriously considering going up the steep mountain on a day like today with the avalanche risk so high. 

Eventually back home, making dinner has priority and then I head off to the pool to soak in the hotpot. Around 6pm I can finally crash on the couch and rest my aching body, and I fall fast asleep. Later in the evening, I turn on the computer and check the local news. Oh no! Two local guys were backcountry skiing and triggered an avalanche! They had to call the search & rescue squad. One of the men was uninjured but the other was flown to the hospital in Reykjavík with a broken arm and neck injury. I wonder if it was my acquaintance and later find out it was.

Strangely the newspaper claims there was no particular avalanche risk today in town. However I beg to differ. had the risk at red/high and anyone in their right mind living in town was aware of the conditions. Even Angela and I were aware of the risk and played in a safe area today. These men are highly experienced with things like this, not only growing up in this area but at least one of them also works as a guide with the local adventure company. I personally think it was negligent to ski on the steep slopes today. It’s one thing to take responsibility for yourself, but here they required help and therefore put their rescuers in danger as well. I also heard no mention of whether they were carrying the proper avalanche safety equipment, which should be the least to expect when backcountry skiing in such conditions. I am assuming they had none, or it would have been mentioned in the press. Even I’ve been toying lately with the idea of carrying such gear when I go out on my adventures, and if you’re an avid backcountry skier, always skiing off the beaten track, this is essential equipment. 

Here is an interesting quote from Harpa Grímsdóttir, director of the avalanche center (snjóflóðasetur) “Við afléttum óvissustigi fyrir byggð á laugardagsmorgni og þá var komið gott veður.Svæðisbundna snjóflóðaspáin var þó áfram á stigi 4 af 5, en sú spá er einkum hugsuð fyrir ferðafólk í fjalllendi.” Regional avalanche warnings were lifted in the morning and good weather was expected, but the official warning remained at 4 (red/high), although this forecast is mainly designated for people travelling in the mountains.” What? Watch out for those nasty avalanches in your car but go ahead and ski on the steep slopes?  

The press and coverage of this event over the next few days is very interesting. The locals don’t like to talk about it and the press downplays the incident, making it sound like a harmless accident that could have happened to anyone instead of possibly being a result of recklessness. I realize that caution might sometimes lack where years of experience with nothing going wrong might give you a sense of false security. But the people in Flateyri or Súðavík also never imagined their towns could be flattened by an avalanche, and it wasn‘t until after these tragedies took place that considerable more effort was put into building protection walls. Deadly avalanches are rare but they are a real threat in these regions that shouldn‘t be underestimated. 

Here are some of the original articles, click to enlarge and form your own opinion!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The simplicity of Saturdays

Our porch
It’s Saturday. I love quiet Saturday mornings, sitting for a long time in the easy chair next overlooking the ocean with a cup of tea and reading a few pages in a good book before I even think about taking a shower and starting the day. I listen to the ocean and the creaks and groans of the old house and count my lucky stars to be here, to have all of this. My neighbors had a party last night which didn’t bother me in the least, but that means the house will be very quiet late into the day.

Friendly boy in the snow
I go for my walk alone today. I walk up and down the streets, watching everyone dig out their driveways after the snowstorm. Some people have the help of plows, others do it by hand. Only a handful of people have snowblowers. I chat with a little boy digging in the snow. Seeing my camera, he asks if I’m from around here. I try walking to the avalanche wall but the snow was way too deep.
Sun Street
I meet B. later for coffee and a chat at around 4:30. She’s the nice German lady who is renting the flat upstairs for a month while writing a novel. 

When I go into my bedroom about 10:30 pm, I see a fantastic display of northern lights over the ocean. After watching a while I decide to bundle up and go outside. Get some nice pics and watch them for about an hour.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Remembering Suðavík

Gríma would rather stay inside

Today is the 20th anniversary of the tragic avalanche in Suðavík that killed 14 people. It’s been snowing like crazy the last few days with high winds and I often get text messages from SOS Iceland announcing which roads are closed due to avalanches. Even the ceremony commemorating the Suðavík tragedy has been postponed due to avalanche risk and bad weather. 

I love shoveling snow and take every opportunity to grab the shovel and clear the steps. Although shoveling snow in Iceland is generally a pointless cause, because the high winds blow it right back again. I shovel straight into the street knowing that since I live next to the fire department, our street is one of the first to be cleared.  Sneaky, eh? Angela and I go out for our daily walks but it’s difficult in the deep snow. I’m going to try out my snowshoes one of these days. Also we have to avoid our usual route because of the avalanche risk.

Our beautiful house & raven