I was putting this off because it was a big trip, but well, as can often happen with big trips that get put off too long, details fade, energy fades, and if it wasn't really exciting, the purpose fades as well.
For Jónsmessanótt, the night of the Summer Solstice, a few of the outdoor groups here organise midnight walks, and it's generally a popular evening to do somethign outside. (rolling around in the dew naked is a fertility ritual apparently) Anyway, Ferðafélag Ísland was organising a trip up Hekla, a big famous volcano I'd always wanted to get up. Hekla was regarded in antiquity as the entrance to hell, and erupted frequently. (Though some of it's friends were responsible for some more catastrophic eruptions.) Hekla last erupted in 2000, and I'd be perfectly happy if it erupted again. I want to see some lava!
But not today. FÍ is pretty casual, and I'd rung up and booked a place for Wolfgang and I, and closer to the day they'd rung up and asked me to pay, but on the night itself, no-one ever asked us our name, or checked us off a list. Basically anyone could have turned up and hopped on the bus, and gotten a ride out there.
It was an _enormous_ group, clad head to toe in goretex, with walking sticks and packs everywhere. I felt radically underdressed in street pants and a single jacket, but I always feel pretty underdressed compared to the locals when I'm walking here. 165 people or something. Shitloads. Insane amounts of people to be in a single group.
We cruised out, having a stop at Leirubakki, visiting the Hekla Museum. This is a rather interesting building, built half underground, with a quite nice presentation on Hekla and it's place in history. We also got a talk from a geologist and historian here, but as best as I could follow, this was largely a repeat of the signage in the museum.
From the carpark at the trailhead, we were basically introduced to the "trip leaders" a few people who would be scattered along the line, then the giant mountain climbing conga party started. This was marching. I stopped for a couple of pictures, and quickly lost wolfgang as he was carried forward by the marching horde. I've never walked with so many people, and I really don't think I would do it again, though it was rather festive on top.
The walk itself is rather straightforward. "Follow the big long ridge up from the carpark." There was one place where if you threw yourself around a bit, you might go for a long slide down some snow towards some rocks in the wrong direction, but it was largely just a long slog. In places without permanent snow, there is a good solid wear mark and sign posts. Pretty hard to lose. On the snow, unless you were in a very fresh, recent heavy snowstorm, I'd say just follow the foot steps.
Wolfgang and I took about 5 hours return, but the last people came in probably closer to 6.5 hours or so. We'd been a pretty tight group heading up, but this did begin to spread out higher up, and definitely as we came down. Some of us preferred to run and slide down the snow, and some preferred to walk slowly. Some were also just generally slower.
We did get specatular weather for our walk. Almost entirely clear, and mostly calm. We had some wind early on, and I'm glad I had my scarf with me to cover my ears, but for the most part, it was fantastic walking conditions. I'd almost have liked a few more clouds high in the east to make for more interesting pictures. The eastern slopes were cloud blanketed, which was a bit unfortunate, as the east side of hekla has the most mountains and interesting terrain. We did get to see the belt of venus quite nicely, and given our 360° views, we could even see the angle of this, slanting down into the horzion from east to west. (or thereabouts, the sun at midnight in summer in iceland is hardly "setting" in the west)
The top of the mountain was snowfree, and steaming/condensing the air around it, and although warm to the touch, was hardly warm enough to keep warm by. It was also very very windy on top. We had some snacks, some pictures, and some rum with a colleague from Wolfgang's work, and started back down.
Later that week, there was an article in the paper stating that Hekla was hotter on top than expected, and that it might be time for an eruption again soon.
After returning to the buses, enjoying a long run down some snow slopes, we sat around for a while being fairly tired, and then just a long bus ride home, and a weary drive home from the FÍ office, to crawl into bed around 5:30am. A worthy way to spend the shortest night of the year, strolling around in the snow on top of a massive volcano.
You can see the FÍ photos over at flickr