Slipping on Iceland

January 7, 2007

DSCN0152.JPGOut on the falls at the Golden Circle, the ice is covered in puddles of water. To get out there, I slid down an icy slope at the edge of a cliff with my hands on an ice-sheathed rope, slipping sideways the whole way. At the bottom, trying to keep my feet as I picked forward across frozen rock, people turned back. I followed Runar, the most Viking-looking Icelander with us, up over a pile of black stones dressed in snow and dead brown grasses the texture of horse hair. It was a stack of shrinking levels, each one a rocky and muddy edge on top of the next. To get up, you had to put your foot against the rock and the snow and let it slide away from you until it either dug into slush or stopped against the solid edge of a volcanic rock. If it didn’t, you’d slip down the grassy slope, across the ice sheet on the wet rock, under the rope line and off a cliff into the gorge beneath Iceland’s most famous waterfall. At the top of all this, the view along the canyon showed it winding away through black cliffs, out of sight.

“How far does this go?” I asked Runar.

“Oh,” he said, as if I’d asked how long until dinner, “about ten or twelve kilometers, until it runs out of rock in the southern lowlands.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to match his tone. “Holy shit.”

We’ve inched out across the rock table the waterway bends around before plummeting into the gorge, so we’re out over the falls now. If we chose to have a climactic battle at the waterfall — which is to say, if we chose to have Runar chop the hell out of me — this is where it would be. Of the thirty or forty of us from the bus, there are six of us here. From nowhere, walking up as if he’d just encountered us on the street, is Runar’s brother, Jon (which I’ve been mistakenly pronouncing as Yol for two days), in what I remember as a denim jacket and a scarf. The rain and the spray from the waterfall has turned his glasses into foggy blinders, like mine. He says something absently in Icelandic to Runar, who nods back at him.

We stand here for a moment, mentioning how wonderful it is to be so near to nature in a city like Reykjavik. I watch a raven circle overhead once and fly away. It’s huge, the size of an eagle. Finally, on the island at the top of the world, I feel like I’ve reached something genuinely remote. I’ve climbed farther than some, at least, and I’ve plugged into a part of Iceland that not everyone does. I’ve done something.

Then Jon fishes in his pocket and pulls out his iMac-colored little cell phone. It’s ringing. He mutters something in Icelandic and makes the universal phone-waggling motion that says, “I’ve got to take this.” He puts the phone to his ear, his hand in his pocket, and steps away from the group toward the falls and chats with his caller.

“Will,” says Runar, and I turn to look at him. “Let me show you where we climbed down the cliff to take our company picture.”

My feet hurt.


One comment

  1. God damn, I want to go to Iceland.

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