|The Family Burgess on Vatnajokull glacier|
I read this morning that another volcano, Grimsvotn, has erupted in Iceland, this time under the Vatnajokull glacier in the south east of the country. I’ve been there, walked on the ice of that very glacier in the summer of 2007. I thought I’d share my memories of the day: –
The last of our pre-planned activities – a 3 hour glacier hike – which is classed as “easy” on the website. Always slightly dubious when they tell you this but I’m getting used to the knot in my stomach before these sessions and I’ve survived the snow-mobiling and the whale-watching so far. Arrive early at Skaftafell camp site and meet our guide who measures us up for crampons. Initially thought they were bits of crunchy bread you sprinkle on soup but discover they are special metal spikes which fasten round your boots, designed for walking on ice. They reminded me of the metal roller-skates I used to have when I was little: the type you had to adjust to fit round your shoes and your mother always complained when you wore them with good shoes and scuffed the leather. We were also equipped with pickaxes. At this point I’m rather wary as the idea of needing such equipment seems to suggest we’re not going for a gentle walkabout. I’m slightly reassured by the sight of another family with two children younger than mine and as we are bundled into the minibus to be driven to the edge of the glacier, I’m resigned to the fact that I’ve got to just go for it. With this more positive attitude I’m soon clambering out of the bus and keen to get going.
As we approach the ice, the wisdom of wearing crampons becomes clear….. ice is slippery! We are taught how to walk with the crampons on our feet and there is a definite knack to it. Each step has to be deliberate, lifting up from the knees like a puppet on strings. Going up a steep incline requires a waddling gait, a bit like Charlie Chaplin; downhill necessitates small deliberate steps, using the pickaxe behind you to stop you falling forward. It’s rather weird walking on the ice which is black with ash in places, and a beautiful blue in others. I can hear water running underneath my feet and the guide is at pains to ensure we don’t divert from his trail or we will fall down a crevasse. After a while I find this whole experience quite exhilarating and, for once in my life, I don’t seem to be the hopeless idiot at the back with no aptitude for the task in hand. Striding out like Ranulph Fiennes, amazed to be on the third largest icecap in the world, I absolutely love it. It’s hard work but the views are stunning and I’m so pleased I didn’t bottle out.