A couple of years ago when I was in Iceland, I was driving around Snæfellsnes when I spied an eminently climbable volcano beside the road. I can’t remember why I didn’t stop and climb it there and then but I filed it away under my mental list of things to do next time.
This year I drove around Snæfellsnes again and I came across the very same volcano again. It had been miserable and rainy all week, I wasn’t feeling so good and the morons in the next van had kept me awake half the night before with their lights and engine.
But the sun had been attempting to break through today and I was trying to be more me and less mopey so I stopped – skidded to a halt, really – and turned off the main road.
The track to the small patch of flat ground used as a car park is possibly the worst couple of hundred yards I’ve ever driven on. I feared for my van’s suspension. But I got there without losing any large parts.
The volcano’s name is Saxhöll and it’s a nice neat free-standing cone with part of its side quarried out (I parked well away from that just in case any of the side slipped). It last erupted about three thousand or four thousand years ago. It’s a whopping 109m high.
I was walking in Wales with a group of Mountain Leaders this weekend. One of them said that she just can’t visualise heights. Ten metre contour on a map, fine. Ten metres in real life? No idea. So she imagines ten metres as a two-storey house with a roof on. That means Saxhöll is ten two-storey houses and that makes it sound much higher than it really is.
And it has stairs going up the side.
I presume this is mostly a conservation measure. People are going to climb the volcano, let’s minimise erosion. It’s a fragile mountain – red crumbly scoria-pumice-like stuff and fragile enough that it’s explicitly stated on the sign at the bottom. Prolonged footfall is going to cause damage on steep sides; steep scree-textured sides might damage people. I counted those steps going up and going down and was out by almost exactly 100 steps. There are either 486 or 388 steps.
As mountains go, it’s hardly Everest. It isn’t even Snowden. It’s like climbing the Monument in London. But I hadn’t climbed anything recently. I had barely left the van. And it was in my mental filing cabinet so I was pleased to have done it.
The views from the top are probably better on a clearer day but if you want to look into a crater, this is a pretty good one.
As I set off back down, I met an American tourist coming up. I know she was American because she exclaimed in an American accent “Your feet must be so cold!” Now. It was September, which is the beginning of the Icelandic winter. It was not a particularly warm day and there was a breeze. And I had opted to climb wearing my mountain sandals. Excellent footwear for climbing a few hundred metal stairs and to amble along the rim. And you know what? Exposed to the weather, my toes were actually possibly the warmest part of me.