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Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Iceland 8: Still at Strútslaug

links to: introduction - previous day - next day

Wednesday 31st August 1977

A week since we flew to Iceland. 

The Strutslaug hut, Iceland, 1977
The Strútslaug Hut

Strútslaug-14, as someone has renamed it, was built by Dick Phillips for his own tours. It is cold, cramped, and the floor is volcanic gravel. Most of us sleep on the gravel but there is room for three ‘athletes’ on a seven-foot high sleeping platform. Getting on to it involves a stomach-wrenching reverse-somersault technique. Of course, only the Bridge School G.T. boys have strong enough stomach muscles to do it.

Yet, they are the ones most likely to have to go outside in the night. There must be some correlation between the strength of one’s stomach muscles and the need to pee. Perhaps strong stomach muscles exert greater pressure on the bladder. As we continue to drink big mugs of cocoa each night, those on the sleeping platform have to jump down in the dark. It is not a good idea to sleep directly beneath the edge.

In the mornings there is a well established order of getting up. I am told that Ed and Neville are always first. I really don’t know because I am always one of the last. I compete with three others for the Rip van Winkle award.

We are staying at Strútslaug for two nights to allow a day’s walking on the Torfajökull ice cap. It lies on an extensive volcanic cone known the ‘high rhyolite’. However, because of the red-raw state of my heels, it seems fairer to the others if I take the day off, so I stay at the hut. The complaints about the frequent stops to wait for me the previous day have got to me. Ed should really have done the same because his feet are as bad as mine, but he goes off with the others.
 
Geothermal pool, Strutslaug, Iceland, 1977
Geothermal pool at Strútslaug

After they have gone, I go down to the geothermal pools for a long soak. The strong mineral content works wonders on my scabby blisters. Not only does it heal heels, it is also mentally therapeutic. To tell you the truth, I am not very good at spending all day and night, seven days a week, with people I don’t know. It is hard enough with people I do know. I would have been hopeless in the army. Back at the hut I read a book of D. H. Lawrence short stories. I enjoy the day on my own.

Obsidian, a heavy, black, glassy igneous rock, lies all around. I pick up a piece to take home. Gavin has collected about five pounds (2.25 kg) of the stuff. Rather him than me carrying the extra weight. I’m glad I’m not on his Christmas present list.

I still have mine:

Obsidian from Iceland
Obsidian from Iceland


The others return having had a superb day. Below is Neville’s picture of Paul, the leader, overlooking one of the views I missed. However, I am informed we will be walking part of the same route again tomorrow.  

The High Rhyolite, Torfajokull, Iceland, 1977

Even for just a day’s walk, Paul still takes his carrying frame, albeit not as heavily laden as usual. He has a rope and two ice axes for emergencies. I think these must be stored at the Strútslaug hut because I haven’t noticed them before, even though he always carries far more weight than anyone else, including fuel for cooking. The sturdy frame appears to be constructed out of angle irons. I suspect it incorporates scaffolding poles and a couple of rolled steel joists as well. 

This Icelandic saga is turning out to be even longer than anticipated. We are now half way along the route, east to west, north-east of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, with four more days walking to go:

Dick Phillips Torfajokull Tour, Iceland, 1977

(next part)
Some names and personal details have been changed. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was there.

35 comments:

  1. Completely understand you having a day on your own. I would have needed a break--probably long before seven days had past. As you said, your time in the geothermal pools was healing in more ways than one.

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    1. It was possible to find space on the walks by walking on your own, but a day off was better.

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  2. I like the idea of soaking my feet in those pools too Tasker - as for the walking it sounds like my worst nightmare although the surroundings look fantastic.

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    1. Apart from the feet probems, I loved the walking. They were over two feet deep (60cm) so there was room for a lot more than feet. It was strange because the air was cold and the pools were warm. I didn't experience using them to keep warm in a snowstorm.

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  3. Red raw heels. Oh my. I shall have nightmares tonight.

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    1. You will be relieved to know that I have no photographs.

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  4. I love natural, non-commercial, outdoor hot springs! I soaked in one in BC's Rocky Mountains once. A true highlight!

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    1. They occur in several places in Iceland and judging by the pictures on the internet they seem to be a highlight for everyone.

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  5. You wrote a very in depth journal. Are these extracts as they were in the original notebook?

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    1. Imagine 1973, no electronics, evenings in isolated huts with not a lot to do. Some of the humour, e.g. "Rip van Winkle award", is what others said, which I wrote down. So, yes, most of it is in the notebooks, although some more as brief notes. I have added bits about the route and some descriptions of photographs. I could include a page image but it wouldn't be fair to identify too clearly, for example, the people who were slow walkers or those who were annoyed with them. I'll look to see if there is a suitable page.

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  6. An in-depth journal as Rachel said. No slog to read. Graphic.

    Obsidian. Igneous
    The words alone delight never mind the glassy inky physicality.

    I am reminded of those small black mirrors which 19th Century painters kept in boxes, a way of resting their colour-haunted eyes.
    As visually refreshing as those geothermal pools for feet blisters.

    Someone gave Norman Mailer a piece of lunar rock, after he covered the 1969 moon landing for Life magazine. He kept it in his workroom.
    Iceland obsidian is the next best thing, and more haunting.
    Haggerty

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    1. I realised the journal was lengthy, but not that it would come out as a post for each day when pictures and route information are added. The obsidian fits nicely into the palm of a hand, cool, smooth, shiny, but you would be surprised how heavy it is. It might be useful in a Glasgow brawl. Mailer did not pick his up himself.

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  7. With roofs like that, who needs walls? I have a piece of bright blue obsidian which I stole from Lord Weinstock when I was restoring his grotto at Bowden Park. I do not feel guilty.

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    1. I didn't know it could be blue. I don't think they have blue obsidian in Iceland.

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  8. Still here, and happy to be reading your adventures.

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    1. Thank you Joanne. I'm still reading yours, too, but can't always think of sensible comments to make.

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  9. The quiet day alone to read in addition to the long soak in the geothermal pools must have been a wonderful break for you both mentally and physically. I imagine you felt refreshed when you started out the next day. Your obsidian is beautiful. It is mind blowing to me to think about the age of something like that.

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    1. The next day I was completely transformed compared to the day before. I don't really know but the obsidian might not be all that old, Iceland still being one of the most volcanically active places in the world.

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  10. I would have gone nuts, being 24/7 with so many other people for so long. Mind you, I would never have gone on the trip in the first place, knowing I would not have coped well with the lack of privacy.
    Your day off sounds really good, both for body and mind!

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    1. From what I've read, these trips have more modern facilities these days, and in some of the huts it's more like staying in a hotel. The Julia Bradbury programme about her Icelandic walk around 2011 gives an idea.

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  11. Just having the hot pools to yourself in the middle of remoteness would be worth missing a few more views of mountains.

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    1. I didn't think of it like that, but from what I remember I must have spent at least an hour in the pools and it was very peaceful. A bit of a shock when you get out, though. You get dried and dressed really quickly.

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  12. The remoteness and harshness is so different to the verdant landscapes we live in, a balm to the soul maybe but obviously an experience that is buried deep inside.

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    1. It was an intense experience which put a lot of things in perspective. This was amongst the most barren of landscapes there. It started to become much greener the following day as we began to get nearer the Markaflot estuary where the walk ended.

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  13. That carrying frame would come in handy to beat wild beasts with...or people that have to get up in the middle of the night and pee.

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    1. Ha ha. I wonder what it weighed, empty. Probably more than my loaded rucksack.

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  14. Haha, Tasker, I always enjoy your (ironic or humorous) remarks - and as I always "see" things before my eye I do not have to brood long to understand your advice why it is better NOT to sleep near the edge.
    "There must be some correlation between the strength of one’s stomach muscles and the need to pee. Perhaps strong stomach muscles exert greater pressure on the bladder" is interesting medical news to me. :-)

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    1. It's only a hypothesis. Probably a false one.

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  15. PS: I read that obsidian's power is to heal traumata - is Gavin feeling better now?

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    1. I didn't know obsidian had such properties. I will start handling it more often. I never saw Gavin or any of the others again, except for Neville who I went with.

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  16. I have a similar piece of obsidian that I brought back from Iceland. Stones and rocks make great souvenirs bur as years pass one can easily forget where we picked them up. Good idea to label them I think.

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    1. I wonder whether one is still allowed to bring it back. It's no longer legal to bring rocks or shells back from some places. I think obsidian is so distinct as to be the rock least in need of a label.

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  17. That chunk of obsidian looks amazingly dark (as it should). I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of seeing some in person. I did, however, recently find an intact geode at the local beach. -rather nifty.

    To soak in a geothermal pool must be really relaxing. I, too, don't relish the thought of spending a week in the company of strangers. One does need to get away and replenish, as it were.

    May you and the Mrs. be well. x

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    1. Thank you, and good to see you back. The obsidian is surprisingly heavy. Geodes sound interesting, I've never knowingly seen one but now I have some idea what they are I might. It was good in the pool because I had it to myself that morning.

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