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Landmannalaugar to Þorsmork, pt. 2

Þorsmork hut

What an amazing trip! We’re just finishing dinner in our final hut — barbequed salmon, and leftover meat soup from yesterday — and we’re enjoying some hard-earned beers.

Tuesday afternoon after we got to Alftavatn the wind and rain picked up speed and a real storm hit. We were fine and warm in our hut, but we gradually picked up some stragllers who came in with soaking clothes and gear: a couple from Belgium, a young man from Portugal, and a couple of French kids, completely soaked through and extremely greatful for the heat and our spare pasta. But the worst was hearing that a couple of young Spanish kids wearing jeans and sneakers had set out before us in the morning but had not been seen since — there was talk of launching a search and rescue trip. Eventually it was decided that they had probably headed back to Landmannalaugar and driven off without telling anyone. Sure hope that’s what happened!

Anyway, for us we had a warm night and set off rather late the next morning after waiting for the weather forecast. There was a very light rain and a lot of wind but the view had cleared considerably. We headed east and south, crossing a couple of rivers and heading down towards the glaciers and the desert. Before too long we were in the desert. Dry gravel and ash was swept up by the wind, which fortunately was behind us the whole way. After a long day of walking we did a brief side trip to a spectacular canyon and then made our way down to the Botnar hut, in the shadow of a glacier.

We had a very nice night at Botnar, though punctuated with a brief and entertaining interlude of a frustrated German hiker from another tour group waking everyone up trying to get our German hikers to stop snoring.

That brings us to this morning, when we woke up to find that the wind had died down a bit, and the sun was out. Nonetheless my wet shoes, which I had left outside, were completely coated in ash (and still wet). I packed them on the outside of my pack and we set off. Today’s trip had a lot of ups and downs and took us through a number of protected valleys between windswept barren plateaus. We gradually made our way south, and downward, running parallel to one glacier and heading towards the smaller (but much more famous) Eyafjallajokull glacier. After a final river crossing (that was the death of my sneakers) we arrived in the first forested part of our journey — Thor’s Forest, or Thorsmork, our destination.

Landmannalaugar to Þorsmork, pt. 1

Alftavatn hut

We’ve just arrived after our second day of hiking. Time to get caught up!

The first day was a long climb up from the Landmannalaugar Hut across lava fields and past steaming, hissing sulfurous vents. We had lovely views over the surrounding hills, and several stretches of sunshine. The rock is all kinds of crazy colours, with a lot of pink, green and orange.

At the end of the day we descended from the last pass to the hut, a compact two-story wooden structure on two axes. Our group took one of the downstairs rooms and, over a warm dinner, got acquainted: Marcel and Oliver from Germany, Helga & Willi from Denmark, Alain & Corine from France, Caroline & Amy from Ottawa & Whitby, José from Portugal, and Anne & me. The guide is Katarine, and the driver (who takes our packs from hut to hut) is Clemmi. A good group! Before we knew it it was 10 pm (very strange being somewhere that doesn’t get dark!) and we turned in to our bunks.

This morning was cold, windy, and damp. After an early breakfast we set off down across the valley, climbing up and down over the various ridges lined with snow. We climbed up the far side and then had a short descent to an amazing view down over the valley to Aftavatn, green and bright despite the gloomy skies. The trek down into the valley was pretty long, and included a short river crossing, but soon we were at the hut and settling in.

The countryside is amazing around here, raw topography with bright fluorescent green moss, black lava sand and creamy mud. We’re having a great time so far — but looking forward immensely to a hot shower!

Perlam, etc.

It’s Sunday morning and Reykjavik is overcast but still relatively warm — about 14 degrees. After emails and web posting from the hotel lobby we’re going to spend some time in the museums and galleries of Iceland’s capital today, before starting the big Landmannalaugur to Thorsmork hike tomorrow.

We made our way on the number 14 bus to Laugardalslaug, the city’s largest swim complex, yesterday afternoon. I think we both expected something grander, sleeker and more modern; swimming is, after all, Iceland’s favorite social and exercise activity and Laugardalslaug is the epitome of the civic centre facilities as far as the country goes, but what was lacking in sleek modernity was explained by the rock bottom entrance fee and the hundreds of citizens in the place, some doing serious laps inthe pool but many more simply soaking and chatting in one of the casual pools. We enjoyed both, as well as trying three of the four “hot pots”, with temperatures of 38, 40 and 42 degrees marked. Very relaxing.

Back downtown, we dumped our daypacks at the hotel and walked back out in search of dinner. We eventually found a nice tapas place (though its location in the LP guide book map was inaccurate) and stuffed ourselves with seafood, wine and souvlaki skewers. Finally we returned to the hotel, lowering the heavy blinds against the bright sunlight outside, and slept very well through to 8 this morning.

I expect I’ll get one more post in tomorrow morning and then we’ll be off the grid until next weekend. We’re having a great time so far, but my sense is that we won’t really get a sense of the country until we’re halfway through an all-day hike in the lava-strewn hills.

Day 1

Hotel Arnarhvoll, Reykjavik

Leif Ericson

We’re having a brief lull — somewhat jet-lagged — while we wait for our room to be prepared so we can lie down. The flight over was smooth and somewhat restful, but a five hour flight cannot replace a night of sleep. Still, we arrived reasonably awake, albeit at 2:30 am Toronto time, and a coffee in the airport set us up for our first day.

We’re in Iceland! The terrain is distinctly otherworldly. Raw rock breaks through the thin topsoil everywhere, and there are no trees to be seen. But it’s beautiful nonetheless, and we’re looking forward to getting out of the city into the topography on Monday.

My brilliant move of the trip so far was to leave my camera’s memory card attached to my PC at home, but it was soon replaced locally and we were quickly off for a walking tour of the downtown area, which is quite compact. After a brief stop alongthe waterfront to see a modern Viking ship sculpture (which Anne has photos of) we walked up the hill to the Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik’s most distinctive landmark, a towering church with a most impressive flared belltower. We took the elevator up for photos of the city, and then stayed for a noon-hour organ recital.

We’re contemplating our next move now. Either a museum, or (more likely) our first visit to one of Iceland’s famous swimming pools.

Vandalism in Toronto

The news reports are full of pictures of burning police cars, and the streets full of broken glass. It’s depressing, but Stephen Harper just made his case for the $1B security bill.

Doesn’t it seem like security has a disproportionate cost, though? Let’s review the damage: no major injuries, some broken windows, four or five police cars. Other than wondering what the police were thinking leaving their cruisers abandoned on a protest route, I have to conclude that this is all very picayune stuff. Yet the posturing and breathless crisis news coverage makes it sound like WW3 has just started and we’re all going to die. Quick, Steve, send in the army!

No. This calls for a more mature response.

First, the vandalism is a criminal matter, and should be treated as such. The police need a good way to identify and arrest the vandals. Shouldn’t be too hard with so many cameras in the croud, but maybe hitting the first few rock throwers with an identifying paint ball might have a discouraging effect?

Second, this is a story of 75 vandals, protected by maybe a couple of hundred sympathetic protestors, in a city of 3 million disapproving citizens. We need to make sure the vandals know that the rest of us are not on their side, and want to see them locked up for what they’ve done to our city.

Third, there needs to be an effective non-violent way to give air time to people who feel disenfranchised. Not sure how, but to start with, let’s take the approach of inviting protest leaders to meet with the politicoes on condition that their protests are violence-free.

There has to be an effective alternative to giving up civil liberties and paying through the nose for fences and police. Because otherwise, Mr. Harper wins and the rest of us lose.

6 wonderful years!

Today is my 6th wedding anniversary. I am the luckiest man alive, for many reasons, but here is some very specific proof:


A sparkline is a miniature line graph that shows trending information over a time period. It is designed to be shown next to the name of a data type in a table of data to show a quick “at a glance” reference of how the data is trending over time. Microsoft is introducing sparklines as a patented new feature in Excel 2010, which is causing some controversy as the concept was actually invented by Edward Tufte. In any case, I wanted to use sparklines now, not wait for Office 2010, so I wrote the macro below.

To use it, select your data set (must be in a single row but need not be contiguous) and then (holding down the control button) the cell where you want the sparkline inserted. Then run the macro, which should create a nice little line graph and align it to the cell you’ve chosen.

Please note that the macro has no error detection & handling logic of any kind so if your experience is not a happy one you are completely on your own. Have a nice day.
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State of the garden

Well, the garden is looking pretty good! The combination of lots of rain and lots of sun has the grass growing mightily, and the beds we installed last summer are shaping up nicely. Yay!

Plus, the gardener’s company is named Quercus, which is pleasing.

What’s up wit’ me?

Anne is home from a brief conference in St. John’s, reporting that the weather was freezing, the food was bad, the B&B was too far from the conference, and she had a great time. There was apparently dancing.

Here, there was less dancing, but otherwise things were good. It was very nice to see Kelly for a birthday lunch on Monday, and I’m feeling reasonably on top of things in my randomly-chaotic workplace. Most topics in a management office operate either as a burning issue requiring immediate responses, or a Process with periodic deadlines but little pressure between them. Mine are now mostly in that second camp and allow me, consequently, some flexibility to initiate things, point out issues, and smooth future paths.

Nothing new on the job search hunt. Can you call it a “hunt” if you’re not doing anything except hoping for a change? Probably not.

Happy Weekend!

Welcome to my newly updated blog.  I’ve finally switched from Blogger (which no longer supports posting to hosted sites through ftp) to WordPress (which Dreamhost set up easily for me) and I have all my old posts migrated and updated already.  If I get really ambitious I might start working on getting a new photo library set up.  Well, maybe next weekend.

My parents are visiting on their way home from England, and I had a nice walk yesterday with my Dad and another today with my Mum.  Anne left this morning for a conference in St. John’s, so it’s been a busy weekend all around.  The weather is rather muggy but not too warm, and I have some nice steaks ready for dinner tonight.  Only two and a half weeks to go before Iceland!