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A volcanic eruption started in an area called Fimmvörðuháls, between Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull, on 20 March 2010.
Some friends of mine had booked the alpine hut there for the evening and my plan was to walk up and await their arrival by 4x4. We were then to drive to the eruption site. Or at least that was the plan...
Stiff cold breeze from the south all the way up, temperatures around +2°c at sea level, becoming around -10°c at the hut. My sweat was freezing inside my goretex shell.
Snowline was around 900m, and it was quite hard. I wore crampons for almost all of my time on the snow.
Hazards and warnings
The route I used is the normal Fimmvörðuháls path, a well-know route across the glacier pass into Þórsmörk. It starts at sea level but steadily becomes more and more remote and serious. On the top it is quite alpine in character.
Oh, and there was a volcanic eruption going on, which was quite hazardous.
A long, serious walk in high mountain conditions.
I decided to walk the route alone because: i) I was meeting people at the top, ii) I have walked this route four times before and iii) I knew there would be plenty of other people on the hill and a big mountain rescue presence because of the eruption.
The walk up was glorious, in bright sunshine and comfortably cold air. I stopped at the bridge to eat a small snack, then the going got heavier up the road to Baldvinsskáli (Baldwin's Hut). I stopped there and forced myself to rest for half an hour while I ate my lunch, then onwards to my target, Fimmvörðuskáli. This section was as I expected: a hard snow and ice slog amongst intimidating rolling glacial landscape and a real test of mental strength. All the while my view ahead was dominated by a 20,000' pyrocumuclus cloud from the eruption and the snow became progressively more covered with ash. In places it was a couple of cm thick and resembled the tailings from a barbecue.
Fimvörðuskáli sits on a high, narrow ridge and its south side is a steep slope, which is just negotiable by mountain 4x4s. To the east is a small pass with a slightly easier-angled slope leading up: this is the route I've followed many times and knew, so I chose that. I slogged steadily up the slope in the company of others, but at the top they broke off so I turned left walked the crest of the ridge to the hut. This was one of my most memorable mountain moments to date: no other people in sight, my crampons loudly biting the hard ice of the ridge, a glorious view all round and the prospect of hot coffee just a few minutes away. I quickly reached the hut and spent a very pleasant couple of hours there.
Until around 19:00, when a new eruptive fissure opened up. I watched through my binoculars as the tongues of fire licked up and huge boulders were flung into the air. My 4x4 friends soon arrived, bearing the message that the mountain rescue and police had come on the radio telling everyone to evacuate the mountain. I ended up hitching a ride down in a Land Rover with 44" tyres, piloted by an off-duty search and rescue helicopter pilot and his wife. I got back to the car around midnight and drove carefully back to Reykjavík, watching the northern lights dancing across the sky as I drove.
What a day!
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