Treacherous Volcano Trek in the Land of Fire and Ice

This guest post is written by Shankar Arul. He is an emergency physician with a significant case of wanderlust that takes him around the world. He does photography, videos and lighthearted stories. Shankar has been traveling frequently since 2011.

We could hear the thunder rumbling in the distance. Storm clouds were rolling in from our right. We had a couple hours before it hit our location. Thor was gently reminding us that we were in his land and he was in control. 6 hours into our hike up Eyjafjallajökull we stopped to assess our situation. Our guide tested the snow on the ascent up ahead and finding it unsatisfactory, he decided that we should turn around.

Now the snow wasn’t really snow. It was more like slush. Wet and slippery, it kept giving out from underneath our shoes. It made for quite the challenging and exciting hike. Portions of the trail had us traversing cliff sides with a 300 foot fall to the river below. For someone with a serious fear of heights, this was a little too exciting. Add to that an uneven and slippery ground and it was definitely an adventure.

I remember one portion of the hike where we crossed a very narrow ridge called the cat’s back. It was about three feet wide and a couple hundred feet down to the bottom. If I fell, at least it would be quick. Luckily our guide with his mountain goat sense of balance guided us through without losing anyone. Now as we were trudging along this hike and struggling a fair bit, our guide started talking about the ultra-marathoners that train in this area. Apparently they start their run in Vik, run up this very trail we were going up, traverse the mountain and run down to the other side before heading back on the high way. Now if I didn’t feel small before, I definitely felt that way now.

He also started talking about the legends of the place. The peaks of the volcano were named after Thor’s sons, Magni and Modi and the land itself was named Thórsmörk or Thor’s land. Norse legends are alive and well in this land and permeate through the culture here. The land was definitely aptly named. When E15 erupted in 2010, it should down air traffic to Europe. Large ravines were everywhere with enormous rocks thrown about. Other rocks which couldn’t be moved  had perfectly circular holes cut into them from the lava flows.

The whole hike was constant reminders of the incredible beauty of this place. The land of fire and ice had literally been carved into what it is by those two incredible forces. Glaciers and volcanoes dominated the view. Everywhere we looked, there was a volcanic peak. Two of the largest glaciers in Iceland flanked us. Nature is a great artist and this land is a gorgeous masterpiece. There has been only one other place that I found as beautiful.

Our ascent up was about 6 hours but our descent was closer to 2. The constant threat of the rain had us moving in a frantic pace to our van. By the time we arrived at our original meeting point, I could hear the thunder rumbling over the mountain. Driving back to Vik seemed like a dream. Everyone in our group was exhausted and asleep.

Now every travel story talks about heading back. And I do. Desperately. I want to ascend the mountain, to see Mogdi and Mani, to descend on the other side. The weather was against us this time, but hopefully next time, the God of Thunder will afford us good weather.

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