Heaven and Hell {Hiking in Iceland}

21.4.10

 Heading to the trail head. The mountain to hike in the back.
Oy vey. I'm a broken woman. But, somehow I've come alive through the process. It all begins with taking "a little hike" up, down, up again, down again, and through, the Icelandic wilderness.

It goes like this ...

Last week I just started instructing an Ashtanga New Beginner's course. The only man in a sea of women, sat in the back of the room. Tickled by the scene, he stuck out like a sore thumb, and didn't seem to mind. I like that. No sense of self-consciousness what so ever.

After class he mentioned that he takes hikers on various tours in and around Iceland. I told him I'd be interested on going on the next hike. I've become a bit of a hiking enthusiast on several of my trips, and felt it would be a perfect opportunity to see more of the country.  He told me he'd be taking a group on a "little hike" up to see Iceland's tallest waterfall. Glymur. Perfect.

Later on, a "little hike" became a running joke. Oh, how innocent, and naive I was!

The next day I was given an email confirmation regarding the details of the hike. The only instruction given was to dress warmly, but that it would be sunny, clear, and to pack food for the day. Ok, cool I thought. I can handle it.

On the day of the hike the group met up at 9:00 am to drive to the trail head. It was a beautiful drive. Seeing more of the countryside was a treat. I was alerted to various volcanoes on the drive. None active at the moment. It's a bit surprising how many are laying dormant around these parts. In my mind I know there are over 100 of them on Iceland, but when they are visually pointed out it gives a different, more real perspective.

Once we arrived at our destination everyone tumbled out of the bus. I dressed warmly, so I thought, wearing four layers up top and two on bottom, gloves, two pairs of socks, and my trail shoes. However, I quickly noticed everyone else had on hiking boots, and other proper hiking gear. Like real weather proof pants,  and gloves. It crossed my mind that maybe I was out of my league.

When the hiking guide told us we'd be climbing up the mountain before us I did a double take. Whhhhhaat! I gazed up. This wasn't exactly what I signed up for. I thought I was seeing a waterfall. As we started down the trail he mentioned, "Oh yeah, if you look to your left you can see Glymur."

I squinted to take a look. Waaaaay down to my left. Nice. Not really.

So the pack took off, and I reluctantly followed. It was cold, about 0° Celsius, and mind you we were on the ground, steadily hiking up to higher elevation. I was already shivering.

 A closer look of the mountain, yet to climb.

Right away the path was rocky and I felt ill prepared with my meager trail running shoes. My ankles kept rolling out as I did my best to mindfully take each step without tumbling. Good grief. While the pack kept rolling on with their hiking poles, and well equipped feet, they glided, while I stumbled.

Guide number two told me, "This is the worst part, once we round the corner it gets better. Not as rocky."

We rounded the corner MORE rocks.

Later he reiterated, "Once we make it above the ridge. It won't be so bad."

Above the ridge. Bigger rocks. Higher incline. I wanted to scream. I was in hell.

"Once we round the bend it won't be as rough," he went on.

Around the bend we went. Even more rocky. Rougher terrain. He must be joking, I thought. He must be.

I said things under my breath that would've made a sailor cringe. Every explicative in the book. I wanted to hurl one of those rocks at somebody. Or maybe just knock myself unconscious. Obviously, I was in a sour mood. Which totally caught me off guard. With a mixture of low blood sugar - my bowl of muesli for breakfast quickly burned off - numb hands and feet, fatigued legs, and altitude, didn't make for a good combination. I was struggling.

Am I seeing elves? Okay I gotta get off this mountain. I had already made it up around 600 meters. 

Yes, many Icelanders believe elves inhabit the island, along with trolls of some sort. However, I was obviously hallucinating because the elves I saw were of the Keebler elf variety. Too bad. I would have preferred one of those elves from the Lord of the Rings. Lol.

Quickly I had to assess my feelings. This hike was really kicking intense feelings up for me. No it was kicking my ass. More than anger, I was feeling overwhelmed with frustration. Why?

Call it stubbornness, call it whatever, I don't like to quit, and I wanted to get up this mountain even though it wasn't what I had expected in the first place. Then I had to ask myself, what do I have to prove? I'm ready to accept my limitations in this situation, and bow out. I couldn't feel my hands any longer. Talking was becoming an issue because my face was turning numb. Do I need to struggle and push against the flow when everything else is telling me to just stop?

 Rocky incline.

Guide number two offered to walk me down the 600 meters we climbed. Haha. Which is easier said than done, but nonetheless eased my mind, with each knee cracking step. Then he told me ...

"By the way they call this trail Leggjabrjótur." Which literally translates as leg breaker. My word. Now you tell me. I just had to laugh. I was delirious, but something about the climb gave me a sense of inner compassion. Which was interesting. 

 A bit wearing, but happy the mountain is behind and not before me.


When we made it back to the bus I was able to de-thaw and eat something. I needed to refuel and get feeling back into my limbs. Essential number one. My mood started to lift. The clouds parted. The sun began to shine. 


Over another hour or so the hike leader was back at the bus as fresh and happy as he started. He told me the rest of the pack is still headed down, but he wanted to take me to see the waterfall. I hesitated. It would be about a 400 meter hike upward. However, his enthusiasm won out in the end. I relented. I let go. I changed my perspective. I decided, okay, I'll go. 


More rocky, intense inclines, but I was okay. Since we were ascending on the opposite side of the valley the sun shown more brightly and warmly where we were. Which made everything easier. Especially for my poor little fingers. Once to the top it was a spectacular view. A feeling of intense energy. In font of me, the tallest waterfall in Iceland rushing with life. To my left the mountain I didn't finish climbing with all it's beauty. To my right, a view of the ocean. It was sight to behold.


 Top of Glymur waterfall.
  





















The best part of the entire trip, at the top of the ridge I filled my water bottle up from a fresh mountain spring, water cleansed from Mother Earth. I tell you, and I'm not exaggerating when I say this, it was the best taste of water I've ever had. Amazing. The abundance of fresh, unpolluted water in Iceland is truly something special. I was in Heaven. 

 Filler up! Fresh spring water!

What did I learn? Weeeelll, I learned never to trust enthusiastic Icelandic hike leaders. Just kidding.

No really, accepting my limitations, having compassion for what I can handle, being alright with it, truly taught me something. It's okay. As simple as that. And, in the end, I was able to brush myself off and get out there again.
  
Guess it's true what the old adage says, it doesn't matter if you fall, or in my case stumble, it only matters if you get up again. 

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