Chilling out in the Land of Fire and Ice

Hot on the heels of a frenzied few weeks of teaching for Microsoft and we’re off again – this time to Iceland! I’ve been wanting to come here for as long as I can remember but Kimberly’s already been here 3 times before. We’re teaching some seminars in conjunction with Miracle Iceland next week but decided to come a few days early to hang out in Reykjavik and see some sights.

Today we headed out of town with our friends Gunnar Bjarnason (Miracle Iceland’s chief) and his wife Thorun with the aim of getting to the top of the Skjaldbreidur volcano (dormant of course!). First up we headed through the Thingvellir National Park to check out the fault line. Iceland sits on the boundary between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates – hence all the volcanic activity – checkout this link to see how Iceland sits in relation to the plates. In the park you can actually see where the plates come together as the fault line is a very obvious cleft lined with basalt formations. At one point there’s a little bridge across the fault line and the strip-lake that formed in the cleft – not many places you can stand on a plate boundary. Apparently there’s a tunnel that you can scuba-dive through to the nearby Lake Thingvallavatn, and the lake has amazing visibility for diving as it’s fed almost exclusively from springs (see here). This is also where the oldest parliament in the world was established in 930AD. The Icelanders would meet here for a few weeks every year and the new laws would be memorized as there was a shortage of writing materials.

Next we headed out on road 52 for about 20km into the snowy wilderness, until we came to a set of power lines heading to one of the aluminum smelters on the island. Electricity is pretty cheap here (because it can be generated from steam from the geothermal activity) and so it’s actually more economic to ship bauxite (the mineral that aluminum is smelted from) from Australia to here to be smelted and then shipped back again. Electricity here must be really cheap! Anyway, we followed the power lines across country along the side of the volcano and then Gunnar decided ‘here!’ and we simply turned and drove directly up the mountain in the snow. We got about 880m up before we finally got bogged down 200m from the top, even with the balloon tires down to 2 psi so we very carefully turned round and sat admiring the stunning view over lunch before heading back down.

Due to the remoteness of the area and the possibility of things going awry it’s essential to have multiple radios and other emergency gear. We had no bother though, mostly due to Gunnar’s excellent off-road driving skills, and the rugged Land Cruiser we were driving. We had towed along a snow-mobile part of the way with the idea of racing to the top of the mountain but the -7C temperature with *amazing* wind-chill killed that idea. Once back down by the lake we did a spot of bird-watching to add some more species to my life-list (Teal, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Goosander). Kimberly and I dozed through our jet-lag on the drive back to Reykjavik, hitting the hotel 8 hours after we left.

Here’s a couple of photos – click for bigger images.

 Gunnar and Paul unhooking the snowmobile.

 The view from up the mountain looking at other volcanoes.

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