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Volcano Climb in Iceland

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From the summit ridge on Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland’s highest peak, the world dropped away to a blanket of clouds. It was late May, and I’d come from far below, a daylong climb up from near sea level to Hvannadalshnúkur’s 6,922-foot ridge in the sky.

As mountaineering adventures go, the climb on the hard-to-pronounce Icelandic peak is a slog. But what a beautiful slog it is, including an ascent from misty highlands, past waterfalls, and up a rock ridge. You pass through the clouds, then onto the snow. Finally, on a high plateau, snow stretches miles in all directions, a glacial scene unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Line of roped climbers near the top of Hvannadalshnúkur

(The news hound in me enjoyed Icelandic volcano climbing, too. Buried under clouds southwest of the high peak was another consonant-heavy volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, the country’s ash-spewing giant that caused havoc this spring to air flights in and out of Europe.)

My day on Hvannadalshnúkur was spent with literally dozens of Icelanders. A climbing program organized by Icelandic outerwear company 66 North included a series of training climbs over the past few months. Hvannadalshnúkur was the final test for the group of climbers, many new to mountaineering.

Climbers on the lower slopes of Hvannadalshnúkur

As the peak was non-technical — mostly hiking and kicking steps in snow — my gear was as lightweight as I could swing. Instead of rigid plastic mountaineering boots, I wore the Roclite 288 GTX shoes from Inov-8 (www.inov-8.com), which are flexible high-tops made waterproof with a Gore-Tex treatment.

For traction underfoot, I clipped into a pair of Kahtoola KTS crampons (www.kahtoola.com), a lightweight grid of aluminum spikes. They weigh almost nothing but provide grip for snow and ice on moderate mountaineering terrain.

The summit ridge

My other climbing gear came from C.A.M.P. USA (www.camp-usa.com), including the ultra-light ALP 95 harness, which is made of thin webbing and weighs a mere 3.4 ounces. The company’s XLA 210 ice ax — also amazingly light at 7.5 ounces — was my tool in hand in case of a fall.

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