Monday, 9 July 2012

R+R Iceland style

Pit digging, tephra collection and driving around Iceland have been on hold for the last few days as we enjoy the best Iceland has to offer in climbing and mountaineering. The van's crew increased by 2 on Thursday night when Gemma and Dave, expert field assistants and climbers, arrived from the UK to join the fun.

Time for some climbing

With mild weather and sunny skies forecast for the weekend we headed to Hnappavellir, Iceland's premier sport and trad climbing venue on the south coast of the island, 4-5 hours drive from Reykjavík. Despite an abundance of very impressive volcanic rock around the island the way in which much of the basalt lava cooled in contact with water or ice means a lot of the rock is very broken, loose and isn't that great for climbing. Hnappavellir is a basalt lava flow that has bucked the loose and chossy trend; the rock is pretty compact with great friction and an abundance of fantastic routes. A very keen and dedicated group of local climbers continue to put up both trad and sport climbs and have set up a little campsite at the foot of the crag which provides a great base to access the crag from. It's a very friendly and enjoyable location!

Bolt clipping in the sun. Photo: Gemma Stevenson, 2012

Iceland's highest mountain

Hnappavellir is also below Oraefajokull on the Vatnajokul Ice cap. It is Iceland's highest mountain (and volcano) with a nunatack peak called Hvannadalshnúkur. At 2,100 metres (1.5 Ben Nevis') it's a reasonable climb to the top, made more interesting by glaciers which guard it on all sides. The guide book times for completing the walk are between 9-16 hrs depending on the weather and state of the snow. We opted for a liesurely and not to alpine start of 8.00AM from the car park as catching the snow before it was too soft and tedious to walk through was more important than being benighted – not a problem you really suffer from in a country where it doesn't get truly dark at this time of year. We took the popular Sandfellsleið path up that wasn't too eroded considering it is the easiest route to the top and used by guided parties on an almost daily basis. It makes makes walking routes in the Lake District and Scotland look like motorways.

The crevasses (large cracks in the ice) close to the summit were particularly impressive and the natural snow bridges that enable you to cross them won't last long if the current hot weather continues. The surrounding ice cap is covered in a thin dark ash layer from the Grímsvötn eruption of 2011, which is located further north and west under the Vatnajokull Ice cap. In certain places on the ice the ash is several centimetres thick and has insulated the underlying snow from the heat of the sun, this leads to some interesting hummocky mounds that can be seen below. John has an interesting post about these ash cones and the Grímsvötn eruption on his blog 

Ash cones on the ice. Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

From Oraefajokull you get an impressive site of the Skeiðarársandur area, from which we get the word sandur plain. This is the sediment that is washed out of a glacier and accumulates in the outwash plain below, slowly building land into the sea and helping increase the size of Iceland. A jökulhlaup, or glacier flood occured here in 1996 due to the sub glacial eruption of Grímsvötn that destroyed an ice dam and sent 3.2 km3 of water, ice and rock down onto the plain, destroying a bridge on the main road amongst other things.

Lunch stop, with the great expanse of the Skeiðarársandur plain below. Photo: John Stevenson, 2012

From start to finish took 10.5 hours; not bad considering the snow was pretty slushy although the high cloud did a superb job of shadowing us from the full strength of the sun. The summit rewarded us with some great 360 degree views.

View from the summit. Photo: Alasdair Monteith, 2012

Happy team at the end. Photo: John Stevenson, 2012
We're now back on the road and from tomorrow will be heading towards Hekla with the intention of sampling much closer to the volcano. It will be interesting to see how much tephra has acuumulated so close to the volcano. In the mean time don't forget to watch the BBC'sVolcano Live programme these next few days and follow the links on Twitter through #volcanolive 

No comments:

Post a Comment