by Kitty Calhoun
Iceland is frozen in time. Arriving there in February 2012, it was exactly as I remembered from 1998 when I was there to climb with Jay Smith and the late Guy Lacelle – grey, windy, and remote. It is the largest land mass along a mountain ridge that begins under the ocean, where the North Atlantic and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart. The soil is poor, so most food is imported or grown in greenhouses. The horses, sheep and cattle are 1,000-year-old purebreds, brought over by the Vikings. The quiet is only disrupted by the sounds of millions of birds born in the undisturbed sea cliffs.
My mission, along with Dawn Glanc, Pat Ormand, and Jay Smith, was to do as many first ice climbing ascents as possible in two weeks. Prospects looked good, since Iceland’s coast is barely eroded and most of the snow on the plateau above tends to melt and refreeze. Rapid changes in temperature produce wild features on frozen waterfalls such as tunnels, hanging umbrella-like roofs, and daggers that freeze horizontally. Iceland is not well-known in the climbing world and there are only an estimated 40 local climbers – most of whom find enough ice near Reykjavik to keep them content. Or so they led us to believe. In exchange for a slide show for the Icelandic Alpine Club, we diplomatically pried inside information from a very welcoming group. They confirmed our suspicions: the West Fjords, just below the Arctic Circle, was the mother-lode.
[Dawn Glanc and Pat Ormand on Angel of Mercy. All photos courtesy of Kitty Calhoun]