Monday, April 19, 2010


You know that conference I went on in March? The one where I had to watch out for the volcano to get there? Yep, turns out I should thank my lucky stars that the conference went off without a hitch.

That volcano is now erupting furiously, disrupting travel and stranding passengers worldwide. It's permanently on the front page of CNN reporting. We have BBC reporting.

I read entrepreneurship blogs and startup blogs to stay up on the happenings of that community, and everybody is complaining. TechCrunch says that "Eyjafjallajökull has become a curse word in Europe". It's putting startups in Europe in a nasty pickle.

But while I was in Iceland, it was still erupting in a happy, awesome-but-not-life-threatening way. A few other conference organizers and I decided that we wanted to go see the volcano. Because hey, how often do you get that chance?

There are various ways that you can get to the volcano. You can fly over in a little airplane, and take pictures out the window. But there is no airstrip in the middle of a glacier by a random volcano, so you can't land. You can take a helicopter, which will land in a clearing and you can get out and look. But you won't be very close, because you'd like to stay far enough away that you don't fly through lava whizzing through the air.

Or, OR, you can do what we did. Check out this adventure:

We drove to a little tiny town in the middle of nowhere that is as close as you can get by car.

We got into a huge tank-looking truck with tires as big as me, and 27 gears (so says the driver, who also added "most of them are low....").

The truck took us up the mountain to the top of the glacier - over rocks, ice, snow, and ridiculous slopes.

Then we loaded ourselves onto snowmobiles (paired up, two to a vehicle.) Guess who is driving? Ha!

We then drove across the glacier for AN HOUR. With the windchill, it was about -15F. The wind was blowing snow everywhere, so you had to stick close to the guide so you didn't get lost. Every so often the conditions would be nearly white-out, so we would have to stop and regroup.

We eventually made it right to the foot of the erupting volcano. The snow looks dirty because of the layer of ash. You could feel the ground vibrate, and hear the rumblings from deep inside the earth.

On the front side of the volcano, you could see the bright red lava shooting out the top. It was like thunder and lightning - first a rumble, then a crash, then a spray of lava high into the air.

Then we drove around to the backside of the volcano. Here, you could see the lava flowing down like a waterfall and melting into the glacier. We were standing on a cliff, and I wondered why there happened to be a cliff right there. It was because the lava had melted straight down into the ice.

There were all these holes in the snow - some as large as a dinner plate - and I was a little worried. I have read about Antarctic explorers - I know that there are such things as fissures in glaciers. You know, step on the wrong place and fall to your death down a bottomless crevice. But our guide reassured us that it was not the case. No indeed, instead of being warnings of unstable snow, those were simply cylinders melted into the snow by flying pieces of lava. At the bottom of each round hole, way down below, would be a piece of rock. Yeah, like being hit with lava is better than falling down a crevice.

Maybe we better stand a little farther away.

So how awesome is that? I got to go see a erupting volcano! Felt the heat of the lava, heard the crashing, watched the red lava turn black as it flew through the air.

Paid a bit of a price, though (and not only the money - and they do charge you for "an experience of a lifetime..."). While we were standing at the volcano, my feet were getting colder and colder. On the way back, the snow that had melted in my boots froze. Especially the foot that was on the wind-ward side of the snowmobile. By the time we were halfway back, I couldn't feel my feet.

I learned it's a little tough to walk when you can't feel your feet - a bit surreal. When we got back down the mountain, they warmed up, but I still couldn't feel my toes on the wind-ward foot. Even by that night. And my big toe was white.

When I got back to Boston, I went to see the doctor - and it turns out I got frostnip. Which is not as bad as frostbite, and not permanent. It just makes me a legit adventurer and adds a dramatic touch to the story. :)

So there is one tiny spot on the corner of my big toe where even now I still can't feel anything - although it'll heal eventually. It's my reminder of the mountain. Which I CONQUERED!

I'm so glad I got to do this while I was in Iceland. Because now that volcano looks like this:

Iceland Volcano Spews Anew from National Geographic. Gorgeous photography here and here from the Big Picture (one of the blogs I regularly follow).

You can see the road we took in this YouTube And look at the flooding - it's scary.

In conclusion, this was quite possibly one of the coolest things I've done. I mean, come on: snowmobiling across a glacier, in white-out conditions, to the mouth of an active volcano - braving negative temperatures, frostbite, and flying lava - to stand triumphantly for a picture with the eruption and lava in the background. AWESOME!

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