Vail traveler visits infamous volcano |

Vail traveler visits infamous volcano

Vail Daily travel:
Special to the Vail Daily/Matthew CullVail Daily travel: Eyjafjallajokull sends a plume of ash high into the air above the countryside before heading off to make a mess of Europe.

I had to escape the cold, snowy, miserable spring of Vail for a land of sun and warmth – Iceland.

But not for a couple of days anyway. Reykjavik, it’s capital, lay under a wet blanket of impenetrable low cloud. I wandered the city streets, home to half the country’s population, but with the feel of a mid-size European town: Narrow downtown streets linked placid town squares and beyond, cute homes with corrugated iron siding painted in bright reds, yellows, blues and greens.

I dived into Icelandic lifestyle and joined the locals at the nearby geologically heated pool. Hot pots with sign-posted temperatures filled with locals eager to soak out the day’s load and relax – the perfect antidote to high-latitude living.

The following afternoon I joined some locals for a drive 150 kilometers down the coast to the country’s most famous landmark, Eyjafallajokull volcano (best said 10n times fast). Late-day sun turned the massive tower of billowing ash orange as it rose above the mountain; the ice that covers the peak now black from the ash of recent eruptions. We stood across the valley from a glacier that poured down from the summit but was now a mess of ice, ash and steam.

As the sky darkened, ejections of molten material became visible shooting up into the air amid the ash in wave after wave of geologic power. The ash plume rose thousands of feet into the atmosphere and bent south-east, heading off to wreak havoc on the busy doings of humanity.

The next day I joined a team of French and Icelanders for a one way hike over a range, climbing a snow capped peak along the way. The day dawned mildly clear but by the time we had climbed the flanks of the peak, and hit the summit ridge, the wind was blowing hard and we actually had to use the ice axes. Far below was Iceland’s largest lake, Pingvellir, and to the north, snowy peaks merged into the clouds that now raced by us.

We dropped into a snow filled basin and down onto moss and tundra. We walked by a collection of lakes and past Iceland’s highest waterfall, at 200 meters. When we were done we soaked in a natural hot pot by a beach with a view out over a fjord.

The sun came in earnest and the delight of Reykjavik was realized. I spent a day cycling its bike paths, a true marvel of urban planning. Following shorelines and streams, encircling lakes, linking homes, streets, communities, shopping, work and industrial areas, they fully utilize the natural attractions of the location and provide easy access to any part of the city by foot or cycle without the use of roads. Wide setbacks mean access to streams or foreshores is unhindered by private land, and continuous travel along shore or waterway is assured.

Surrounding the city is water. Set on a peninsula, Reykjavik enjoys waterfront views and beyond, impressive walls of mountains, many now still snow-capped.

But enough of introductions. Four days into this and I was still in Reykjavik. I loaded up the bike and left town bound for a loop around this high point in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. I am now just 65 kilometers north of Reykjavik, camped by a fjord. Low sun grazes the steep surrounding mountainsides and the snowy peaks at the head of the fjord. Hundreds of waterbirds bob around in the water and give out a few last calls before tucking it in. I am wearing all the clothes I have.

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