Monday, December 28, 2009

Mountain climbing in Ísafjöðrur

Photos: (1-2) First views of Ísafjörður as we ascend the mountain; (3) Taking a break, look how steep! The town below; (4) On all fours, looking for a grip; (5-6) At the top - Gleiðarhjalli (496m); (7-8) Views from the top

At breakfast I’m finally formally introduced to Lee, the guy from Montreal. We meet again later at the tourist information center, which had been closed for a while for the holidays. Now the snow has been shoveled from the doorstep and two men are inside. I ask about the mail boat that takes the mail to the islands around here, and anyone is welcome to go along on that, but it already went yesterday. The guy says they were kayaking in the harbor yesterday but today the ice is too thick. He says he could probably arrange just about anything with a phone call, so what do we want to do? Lee and I would both like to do something outdoors in the snow, so the man offers to call a friend who would probably be willing to do some adventure stuff – Lee wants to ski. I’d just be interested in a short hike in the mountains or some snowshoeing. The man arrives and we agree on a hike up in the mountains today…

Siggi arrives at noon. We trudge through town and then straight uphill. I realize we’re climbing the steep mountain right next to the town, called Eyjarfjall. I thought we were going to hike IN the mountains, not UP the mountain. I would never have dreamed that was possible. It’s so steep, and with all the snow! It’s extremely hard work, and Siggi is fast. I don’t want to get too far behind. We climb up the rocky parts since the rocks offer good grip, except of course when they are loose and come tumbling down. It’s mighty scary at times. If you slip on the loose rocks, you’d tumble down the steep slope with no stopping. The snow covers the holes between the rocks, which make dangerous foot traps. I don’t even want to think about all the dangers and if I were alone, I’d probably never do this. Siggi tells us the rules of climbing – don’t use your hands because it loosens up rocks that might tumble and hit the person behind you. Unfortunately, his advice is nuts – Lee and I are crawling on all fours most of the time. One spot is so steep and icy, that it feels more like free rock climbing. I’m sure glad I’m wearing gloves with a good grip.

It’s snowing all the way up pretty hard, visibility is poor, we take a few breaks and Siggi tells lots of stories. He’s a fun guide and I feel confident with him. At the top at roughly 500 m (1600 ft), there’s a guestbook to sign, stored in a plastic container. In the distance, the near full moon has risen. The town is so far below. We’re soaked with sweat and proud that we made it, nearly 500 meters. We reward ourselves with a snack, some chocolate, dried fruit and water.

I’m a bit worried about the way down – there’s no way to go back down the way we came on the rocks, they’re way too loose and dangerous. But Siggi knows what he’s doing, and he leads us to a very steep snowy spot. The first stretch is rocky with deep snow, and at one point I fall in and smash my shin on a rock. It’s very painful, but no damage is done, so after a short breather, we’re ready to continue. Soon we reach a powdery slope, almost vertically steep, and Siggi jumps feet first and slides on his butt all the way down the hill. It’s a blast, just like sledding, and using your feet to turn and brake. We’re at the bottom in no time like that. That was so much fun, hiking and playing in the snow all day. I’m soaked but warm from the exercise. In the evening, I soak in the hotpot at the pool.