Monday, October 20, 2014

"Why you going to Iceland, bro?"

Land of more than ice. Although we're standing on ice here.

When you tell people you're going to Iceland, you don't get the same response as when you say - I'm going to Brazil, Hawaii, or even Cheesecake Factory. Instead, people tilt their head slightly left, look you over from head to toe, and ask: why? But if you're a travel bandit - one who steals an opportunity to travel whenever they can - then you know Iceland is an experiential smoothie of geographic wonderment, action sports, and never-ending nightlife. The legend goes some vikings, led by Fran Tarkenton, wanted to hog all of the island's glory for themselves, so they called it the ever-so non-welcoming, Iceland. Meanwhile, they deceptively named a nearby island that was hardly livable and consistently miserable, the ever-so inviting, Greenland. Those tricky vikings! Scandinavians were getting suckered into going to the ice planet in "Empire Strikes Back," while Fran Tarkenton and Daunte Culpepper sipped on pina coladas with their toes in the black sand. Yes, there are black sand beaches in Iceland.

Yes. It was cold.
As it were, a crew of four dudes traveled out to Iceland for four days and four nights, to indulge in the formerly secret life of Walter Mitty (there's actually a Walter Mitty location shoot tour offered in Iceland). We booked a great apartment via (I highly recommend if you haven't signed up - it's a great cost-effective alternative to hotels during international travel, use me as a reference!), and the owner, Gunnar, even offered to pick us up from the airport since we decided to rent a car from him. 

Iceland has lots of waterfalls. This is actually someone's slip-n-slide. #TheyGoHard

Before we left the airport, we handled our hydration situation. Iceland is extremely
expensive and we were forewarned that drinks in downtown Reykjavik can quickly lighten your wallet. We stocked up on Reyka, an Icelandic vodka that was recommended over Katla and Elduris. Reyka was smooth and tasty - not in the same ballpark as Grey Goose - but at least the same sport. We also got a couple six-packs of Einstok, a pale ale and white ale. Both delicious, although I'm partial to the white ale. Think Hoegarden. For good measure, we picked up some Captain Morgan's, because our doctor buddy, Henry, thought we were preparing for rush at Lambda Lambda Lambda instead of vacationing in Iceland.

Einstein recommends. #IGotNothing
Not to be confused with that bootleg vodka, Javik. 
We got into Reykjavik around 1a, and had to leave by 7a for a four-drive to Skaftafell, the entrance to Vatnajökull National Park, which is on the southern part of the island (Reykjavik is to the southeast). Our car had some issues and we ended up stuck in a tiny town called Vik for awhile. On the bright side, Vik actually has a black sand beach with the famous Reynisdrangar off in the distance, a famous rock formation bursting out of the sea. On the pessimistic side, a storm was just rolling in and we were crazy late for our glacier climbing tour with no means of contacting the company, Glacier Guides. There was a distinct possibility that we might end up driving eight total hours for nothing. Ipso facto, we drove like Ayrton Senna and ended up being about 50 minutes late. Turns out, if you have a group of 4, it's essentially a private tour, so they waited for us without a problem.

 Reynisdrangar near Vik. 3 Rock formation. Famous from something.

Car probs. Mitty didn't have to deal with this. Oh wait, dude didn't even have a car.
Iceberg straight ahead!
We booked the Glacier X-treme tour, which would only be offered a few more days because of the season. In fact, the only reason we had to drive four hours to Vatnajökull was because an ice climbing tour in Sólheimajökull, far closer to Reykjavik, was already canceled for the year because of unsafe conditions. Vatnajökull is breathtaking and is where they shot the scene where Liam Neeson trains Christian Bale in "Batman Begins." Director Christopher Nolan also used the same area to shoot alien planet scenes for his new movie "Interstellar." When I booked the excursion, I told them we were all athletic and in decent shape, so give us a more intense climb. That would come back to bite us. Our guide was a Search & Rescue climber, as was his father, and who knows - the father before him, too? Who knew we were hanging with the Earnhardts of Icelandic glacier climbing?

Filmed some of "Batman Begins" here. I'm paying homage to the League of Shadows.

His climbing fortitude led to our good fortune. He was apparently clowning around the glaciers one day and stumbled upon a small ice cave. There was about a small 3-foot high parabolic opening off the ground, and this dude thought, let me walk into the darkness and see where it takes me? Glad he did, walking through an ice cave is fascinating. The ice above you is crystal clear. That would be it, though. God knows what the hell you're walking in!

Ice cave.

Drip cup. Drip it up!

The first glacier we climbed wasn't too tall, maybe around 40-50 feet. It was our training glacier. With crampons on your boots, the key to ice climbing is getting a good foot hold by digging in your front toe spikes, then jab your axes into the ice above you, but not too deep because that takes too many joules to remove. It's like Goldilocks - you have to get it just right, and saving joules is tantamount to successful climbing. Like rock climbing, you should primarily be using your legs, but if you don't get a good foot hold, you end up using your arms, almost like a pull-up, and that gets exhausting quick when you're climbing 100-plus feet. Needless to say, my technique was lacking and my arms ended up decimated.

Doing my Shawshank prison freedom pose.

Rainbow waterfall.

The second glacier we climbed was far more psychologically daunting. Instead of climbing up and rappelling down, we rappelled down a roughly 60-degree angle chasm in the light, that drops into an 80-degree angle in the dark. The drop-off point between the two angles is a trip. The guide suggested us not to rappel to the bottom where there's a little river of melted glacier water. I was tempted, but thought wiser. Good call. That 90-100 foot climb back was draining. I also stopped to take a million selfies, although I don't blame that for the energy drainage.

So we're going into that black abyss?

Selfie Time!

This is what's at the bottom of the glaciers.

That climb back is a real b.

By no means was this picture taken at an angle. We climbed at 98 degrees. #BigNickLacheyFans

Our last glacier was almost a 90-degree, 70-80 foot drop-off. The initial step off the edge was like a psychiatric test in trust; completely relying on the belay from preventing an unfortunate encounter with the feats of gravity. Disappointed that I didn't touch the water in my last descent, I knew I had to take advantage of this opportunity - in a manner of speaking, so I splashed my axe around in the water. After taking requisite selfies at the bottom, I tried to begin the final ascent, but the blue ice is so hard to penetrate with your spikes, that I kept slipping and falling. This last climb was like running the final mile of a marathon. You might actually be close to your destination, but it just feels like it's so far away. When we got to the top, I was utterly decimated. I just had to sit and lie down. The fact that none of us had eaten anything other than a bag of Icelandic Doritos in the last 8 hours also didn't help. Our caloric intake versus outtake was like a teeter-totter ride with Fat Bastard from "Austin Powers" - not exactly fair and balanced (insert Fox News joke here). We were completely dehydrated and famished, but rarely have I ever felt so full at the same time. 

That first step is harsh.
Oh yeah, so's the climb.
Normally not supposed to be spinning around down there.

But I got to get my pics in...

Blue ice, aka Zoolander's next look.

You know how I does... 
Next time, we take the elevator.


Iceland has never been so Asian.
We outchea

Next: Iceland's famous nightlife, Arctic surfing, and eating crazy shit.


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