I had hoped that today would be an amazing day and it was, but not at all in rather way I imagined.
Last night I checked my crampons, packed my waterproofs, compass, food, got Lexi's harness and rope and flask out ready for hot soup in the morning. This morning we were up and off en route to the meeting point.
As I turned off the main road, onto the road with only 1 destination, another 5 cars materialised behind me...great (!) leading a convey up what I knew to be a very steep ascent, in my trusty Landrover. This drive was to be my first challenge of the day, with the road just disappearing into the air, hairpin bends that appeared from nowhere and a white out that left me stationary as I couldn't even see the end of my bonnet! This did not bode well for the hike, but I'd paid £10 just for the privilege of going up this perilous road so there was no way I was turning round.
As soon as I was parked alongside cars already covered with falling snow, Lexi's harness was the first thing on, if for no other reason than it made her more visible. Once my boots were on I went over to join the group that had gathered for the same walk. The wind was horizontal, bringing snow with it and the temperature was biting. Lexi's whiskers were already starting to freeze and the guide was speaking entirely in Norwegian, but I didn't need a translator to tell me that everyone was being given a safety harness to put on and their own ropes. I got the attention of a second guide and established that this group were already booked in and I needed to book in and then wait for the next departure, which was the 10am that I was expecting. She also said there was a high chance they wouldn't get to the top due to weather. I went inside to book and also took the opportunity to decide if this was the right thing to be doing. With the current weather (and this was at base camp) the wind was downright vicious and the snow already on the ground meant that Lexi would struggle to determine safe footing between the large stones, hard ground and drift and there was no way she would enjoy the walk. I was feeling quite emotional to be honest, this was something that I really wanted to do and the weather conditions would certainly make it a challenge for me, albeit an exhilarating one, but I couldn't bring myself to put Lexi in danger or risk of any sort and so did the right thing, took my coat off and went to buy a coffee.
I waited for the walkers/mountaineers to leave and then I would maybe take Lexi for a walk in the immediate vicinity. Meanwhile I got talking to a small Swedish group who were going to do a tour into the glacier, it sounded interesting and would have meant I hadn't wasted my trip up that blooming road.
The guide was great and everyone thankfully loved Lexi because you got it, it was more than just the glacier, we had to get there first! The terrain was tricky to say the least, so I wasn't the only one to grab her harness as her legs disappeared down 'holes' in the snow. The wind was blowing us around and was measuring 12metres per second, apparently 3 days ago it was hurricane winds up there, 32 metres per second, windows were smashed and the dog shelter blown down......12 metres a second was quite enough for me thank you. Add to that the snow in the wind which acted like grit and I could see why so many people up there were wearing snow/sunglasses or googles. Lexi's muzzles was completed frosted over, the fur around her eyes was frozen and most of the time she just kept going, trying to do an impression of a cuddly blonde mountain goat. Rather than tread between the stones (which are harder for her to get a grip on) she soon learnt to avoid large patches of snow, jumping over them completely and I held my breath every time her leg disappeared down a deep hole, praying she could stop in time to pull it UP and out.......and to think I was considering the 6 hour walk........
We eventually got to a doorway in the snow face and it was quite surreal, walking into the ice. The carving out of the tunnels had been done by hand and our guide was one of those who had wielded an ice pick for 7 months! There was even a small theatre area with benches carved out of the ice, a projector in it's own little nook and of course the screen, thankfully there were plenty of thermal pads to sit on.
We emerged an hour later into bright daylight, but still the snow and biting wind and when we got back to base camp it was hot soup and coffees all round before going up to one of the meeting rooms to sit down. Lexi wasn't allowed so she sat inside at the front of the building and one of the ladies working there had taken a shine to her and promised to keep an eye on her. When I came back down she was in her element, surrounded by people sitting on the floor eating sandwiches. It turned out the walkers had had to turn back due to the weather and hadn't even got half way.
Eventually it was time to leave and I said goodbye to the many people I had met up there. I was not looking forward to the journey down but it didn't look like any other cars were leaving at the same time, but I'd been told you've got a good car, just keep it very slow....well I didn't need telling that twice!
The scenery going down was spell binding, but the road was just as lethal as it was on the way up, in fact more so as I was actually already going with gravity and there was coating of snow. However I did manage to take quite a few photos through my windscreen, although quite what the quality will be like is anyones guess, as I added a new dimension to 'point & click'. The engine was wanting to scream if I stayed in the low gear required, meanwhile the other option was burning brakes, so it was a fine act between the two. A car did appear behind me, the Mercedes Jeep driven by some of the people I'd met up there and they stayed far enough behind me that I knew he was trying to do the same juggling act.
When we eventually got to the bottom there was a mass of waving from the windows of the Mercedes as we both pulled back onto normal roads and went our seperate ways.
Please, please, no more hairpin bends.......I'll happily leave them all to the guys on Top Gear......