09 March 2010
Clamp THIS On
This will come as no surprise. I don’t really care for (read: despise) organized tours. They’re cumbersome, expensive and controlling - three traits I do not value unless they’re being attributed to me. Needless to say, I was not thrilled to learn that the only way we could go glacier trekking was with a guide equipped with professional grade clamp-ons, ice picks and a Land Rover Defender that can driver vertically up the side of a cliff. “What’s wrong with my sneakers and rented Nissan Versa, huh?”
We booked in and hit the road in the wee hours of the morning (it was 10am but it felt like the wee hours because it was still pitch black) to meet our Defender-driving Icelandic outback version of John Wayne. After fording a few raging streams (the Nissan could have handled that) we arrived at our destination: an enormous block of ice that has been permanently frozen between two ridges for more than 500 years. No big deal.
Sadly, our Icelandic moutain men had forgotten our rental hiking boots, which left me strapping military-grade clamp-ons to my multi-colored Aasics Tiger sneakers. Bad idea. An hour into the half-day escapade I was walking flat-footed doing all I could to not bend my ankle as the clamp-ons ground deep into my achilles tendon at the back of both feet.
The trek wound up the side of the glacier where the oldest ice now rested. Because it’s ice, as the new layers form in the winter, the older stuff slowly moves downhill, meaning the most ancient layers are furthest from the center. The darker the ice looks, the more compact it is. In fact, that dark blue color comes not from a different or superbly clean source of water, but from being so tightly compacted that no light can be captured, reflected or filtered through it.
If you’re looking to get a visual on climate change, this is the place to do it. The glacier we were hiking across is roughly one mile wide, five miles long and half a mile deep (TWSS). Twelve years ago, however, it was nearly double the size. While research has been done on whether such changes in mass are cyclical, it was determined - without question - that this latest thaw does not match - in any way, shape or form - the traditional freezing and melting patterns of this glacier. In fact, the glacier has lost the same amount of mass in the mast twelve years that it lost in the previous 500 years before that. But yeah, this whole climate change thing is totally made up.
After leaping back down onto earth with tired legs and gashed feet, we re-boarded the earth-galloping Defender and headed back to the “big city” of Reykjavik, a whole lot of earth to think about and a whole lot of nighttime during which to do that thinking.