Eldfell: a True Story by Willie Wallance

During our trip we visited the Eldfell Volcano, located on an island just off the southern coast of Iceland. This story describes our trip from the perspective of Willie Wallance, a geology student, for whom this visit was more than special.

“The crisp sea air biting at my face with each gust, I stood on the deck of the ferry, staring at the horizon. It would not be long until we reached our destination of Heimaey—an Island just thirty minutes off the coast of Iceland. It was there that in 1973 the inhabitants had to stop the flow of lava from Eldfell, which threatened to destroy their town and livelihood. I and the others in our group were going to climb this active volcano, and take some samples for testing.

Heimaey grew closer until we were finally able to disembark, perhaps a little greener in hue than before we left. Our next objective would be to climb to the summit with the equipment. Tristan was already miles ahead of the rest of the group as we headed to the base of Eldfell. Long legs aside, even he was slightly put off when the earth began to sigh, but we were not deterred. Still we pressed on, determined to reach the top of the volcano which had once caused the evacuation of the entire island.

After struggling through the arduous climb, I hopelessly looked around to enjoy the view that I felt I had earned and take some pictures. A clinging mist filled the air and obstructed the view of my surroundings. The only thing that I thought I would have after leaving Eldfell was a cold from the thick mist—if only I was so lucky.

The sighing had been but a warning. A thunderous roar ripped through the sky, and the earth began to quake, bringing us to our knees. Stumbling to my feet, I began to feel the ground shifting below me, and soon I could see a rift forming just below the feet of Elena and Ivan. With all my might I pushed them, and just in time. A huge sulfurous blast of air erupted from the fissure, making me jump back just a bit too close to the cliff and lose my balance, but I was lucky. Ivan thrust his hand out toward me, and I grasped at it. I thought that I might not be able to reach it, but luck was on my side—so I thought.

The unstable stone gave way and crumbled beneath my feet, and I fell. Ivan did all that he could to hold on to me as Elena helped to try to pull us up. My world began to go into slow motion as I looked upon the horror on everyone’s faces when I slipped and slid down the rocky cliff face. As I fell, I tried my best to stop my descent by grabbing onto any rocky outcroppings I could see, causing my hands to get lacerated from the jagged basalt, but all of the rocks were loose and would break off when they came under my full weight; until, finally I did find a sturdy enough protrusion, but my stop was too abrupt; the momentum I had built up brought my head smashing into the side of Eldfell. My mouth was filled with hot blood, which soon began to trickle onto my cheek and chin through the hole in my face. I held on to the rock with everything that I could, but I had become so woozy.

I couldn’t have been there for more than ten minutes when I heard Charlie shouting something I couldn’t quite make out. I blinked and he was by my side. Through my delirium, I was able to make out that he was trying to tell me that I would be fine as he and Ivan pulled my cheek back together and covered it as best as they could, preparing for the trek back down to the town at the base of the volcano. Elena was nowhere to be seen. After providing Charlie and Ivan with all of her sanitized and organized first aid supplies, she had went up Eldfell to collect the samples necessary for the research—she was the only one brave enough to continue up a volcano that was falling apart.

Just as Elena came back down from the top, the volcano began to spew ash into the sky. The dark cloud loomed overhead, and the air began to get thick, making breathing all the harder for me. I blacked out and awoke some time later in the hospital. I’m told that Tristan, with his amazing running prowess, was able to carry me down the mountain twenty minutes faster than everyone else, and if Charlie and the gang had not been there with their fast responses and running, I would be dead. But, who would believe that?”

—– Willie Wallance

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3 thoughts on “Eldfell: a True Story by Willie Wallance

  1. This is very intense. I am glad that you are safe and and had the energy to blog what had happened to you. I hope things will get better. Science for life! :)

  2. I wanted to believe this was just exciting fiction. Very scary! It sounds like those present did the right things to keep this from being much worse.

    I hope the rest of your time will be less exciting.

    • It is exciting fiction, although like much fiction it was based in fact. Willie fell while we were working on the volcano but fortunately we travel with a first aid kit in our gear bag and there were two EMTs and a paramedic on that particular excursion. We patched him up on the volcano and then took him down to the local A&E. A bunch of stitches later and he was fine. Oh, and the nurse apologized for having to charge him $65 since he wasn’t a citizen; yeah for single payer public health care.

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