My day on the Westman Islands was nicely split into two parts. In the morning, I hiked a mountain ridge surrounding a beautiful valley, and in the afternoon I climbed the two volcanoes: Eldfell and Helgafell.
The following two photos show both volcanoes–Eldfell on the left, Helgafell on the right.
At first, I did not know which volcano was which. I saw a classic-looking volcano on the right and a big pile of lava debris on the left. So, I started by climbing the big red pile on the left.
As I hiked, I was surrounded by huge piles of red stuff on all sides, and I didn’t find it that exciting.
I found a junk yard amongst all this old lava, and while it caught me off guard, it makes a lot of sense. Might as well use a volcano’s junk yard to hide our junk, right?
I eventually reached what seemed to be the peak and looked around:
I really didn’t know what I had just climbed. In that previous photo you can see a girl on her knees digging around the lava rock, but I just shrugged and climbed down this lava junk yard. I wanted to climb the thing that actually looked like a volcano!
Looking at my map, it looked like I had to walk all the way to other side of the volcano to reach the hiking trail. Luckily, I found a makeshift trail on my side–all it takes for something to be a trail is for enough people to walk that path until it LOOKS like a trail, ya know? Anyway, the peak of this volcano gave me an unbelievable view. I could see the ENTIRE island.
The southern tail that you can’t see in the picture above:
And I think this is where the lava shot out from!
From the top of Helgafell, I was finally able to get the appropriate perspective of Eldfell and understand its immensity:
Best of all, I saw a group of people playing in the field below, and they were playing ULTIMATE FRISBEE!
It was impossibly windy on top of the volcano, so I couldn’t believe they were playing ultimate frisbee in that wind. Also, with the World Cup craziness and the fact that I hadn’t seen a frisbee for over a month, I was ecstatic to see my sport being played over here.
Before descending Helgafell, I made sure to pull out my ukulele and play some songs. A woman was at the peak as well, and she listened to me play a couple songs. I played “Pompeii” and felt all clever (they call the Westman Islands the ‘Pompeii of the North’), and took my favorite picture of the trip:
As I came down the volcano I saw that the ultimate game was 7 vs. 6, so I hurried down, hoping I could jump in for a point or two. Unfortunately, the game ended just as I reached the sideline. Disappointed, I walked back to the town.
But then I stopped: when was the next time I was gonna run into a group of people playing ultimate frisbee in Iceland? I HAD to meet them, so I awkwardly made my way across the field. Turns out, they were a cool group of dudes (one of them was even from the States), and we played some 4 vs. 4. Lesson learned: when you have the opportunity to play ultimate in the shadow of a volcano, DO IT.
After our game, two of my new friends dropped me off at the ferry. What a day!
So, it turned out that Eldfell, which I formerly saw as just a pile of lava garbage, is the active volcano responsible for the eruption in 1973, while the 5000-year-old Helgafell is dormant. I learned from my ultimate friends that, if you dig a hole on Eldfell about 30 centimeters deep, you can still feel the heat from the eruption (all the way back in 1973!). Another lesson learned: don’t judge a volcano by its cover. The one that looks like a giant mess is probably the one that just erupted, creating that giant mess…duh!