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MOUNT HEKLA, AND THE SULPHUR MOUNTAIN.
Having viewed the wonders of the valley of Rykum and Hankadal, our travellers at length arrived in the plain from which Hekla rises ; but they had no view of the mountain as they approached, for it was unfortunately enveloped in thick clouds. Their road lay through lava which had been exposed to view by the blowing of the sand that covers so great an extent of country. Storavellir is situated in the midst of this tract; and round it there is a great deal of excellent grass. The provost had a large stock of hay, which, without any report in his favour as a good moral economist, would have been a sufficient proof of his merit.
On their road as they drew near Hekla, they traversed the river Wester Rangua, the water of which is perfectly transparent, and flows along the foot of the mountain on the west side. The bed of this river is very remarkable, being formed of rugged masses of lava, which is here and there elevated in peaks, and causes a great rapidity in the stream. Owing to the clefts in this lava it is very dangerous to attempt crossing the river at this place, without a guide.
On the end of a long ridge, running nearly north and south, close to the base of Hekla, is a small farm called Naifurbolt. Near this tenement our travellers halted and pitched their tent. The cottager owning this farm was an active intelligent man, and he undertook to be their guide in their expedition to mount Hekla. They rose the day after their arrival at an early hour, and highly delighted at perceiv. ing the mountain free from clouds, began their arduous undertaking. Their route lay though sand and lava for about three miles, when the surface became too rugged and steep for horses. Their guide proposed they should leave the poor animals standing till their return ; but though they would not have stirred from the spot, Dr. Walker sent them back not chusing that such valuable and steady servants should remain a whole day without food. They now proceeded a considerable way along the edge of a stream of lava, and then crossed it where it was not very broad, and gained the foot of the south end of the mountain.
From this place they saw several mounts and hollows from which the streams of lava below appeared to have issued. Their journey had hitherto been attended with little difficulty, but when they arrived at the steepest part of the mountain which was covered with lovse slags, they sometimes lost at one step, by the yielding of these loose masses, a space that had been gained by several. In some places they saw black sand collected in heaps, which, had the wind been high, they would have found very troublesome.
Beautiful as was the morning, before they reached the first summit, they were surrounded by clouds, which prevented their seeing beyond the distance of a few yards. Placing, however, implicit confidence in their guide they proceeded, and having attained what they thought was the nearest of the three summits, they sat down to refresh themselves, when their guide informed them, that he had never been higher up the mountain, than the spot on which they then rested. As the clouds divided, they were soon convinced they had not reached even the southern summit; they therefore resumed their labour, and after leaping over some fissures and stepping carefully along masses of slags, that lay over others, they at last arrived at the first peak. Here they were so enveloped in clouds that they began to imagine they should proceed no further, for the peak con. sists of a very narrow ridge of slags, not more than two feet broad, having a precipice on each side many hundred feet high, and to attempt to move in the dark under such cir. cumstances, would have been the height of presumption.
One of these precipices forms the side of a vast hollow, which seems to have composed a section of the craters. At length, however, the sky cleared gradually and enabled them to discover a ridge below them, that semed to connect the peak they were on, with the middle one.
“ Now you must keep the centre of gravity, Edward,” said the Doctor, “ with as much precision as a rope-dancer while we pass this narrow ridge of slags, which appears scarcely wide enough for our feet."
Having su-mounted this difficulty they at length attained the highest point of this celebrated mountain, and the sky having resumed its former brilliancy, they had a full view of the surrounding country. Towards the north it is low ex, cept where a jokal here and there towers into the regions of perpetual snow. Several large lakes appear in different places, and among them the Fiske Vata was the niost conspicuous. In this direction our travellers saw pearly two
thirds across the island. The middle peak of Hekla fornis one side of a hollow, which contains a large mass of snow at the bottom; and is evidently another crater. The whole summit of the mountain is a ridge of slags, and the hollows on each side appear to have been so many different vents, from which the eruptions from time to time have issued.
The fog again returning, they were prevented from ex. amining, to the extent they wished, whether there were any indication that lava had flowed from the upper part of the mountain.
Edward, who was engaged in collecting a few slags, as curiosities for his sisters; having removed some from the surface, in order to get what he thought better specimens, burnt his fingers in attempting to pick up one which he thought particularly valuable. Dr. Walker immediately placed a thermometer among these stones, and it rose suddenly to 144o. It had been remarked to them by several of the inha. bitants, that there was less snow on Hekla at that time, than had been observed for many years. The heat therefore which the Doctor had ascertained, he concluded was rather the symptom of reactivity in the mountain, than the remaining effects of the last eruption. The crater, of which. the highest peak forms a part, does not much exceed a hundred feet in depth. The bottom is filled by a large mass of snow, in which various caverns have been formed by its partial melting. In these; the snow had become hard and transparent, reflecting a bluish tinge, and their whole appearance was extremely
beautiful, reminding our travellers of the description of magic palaces in the eastern isles. Their descent from their elevated situation was greatly retarded by a thick fog; and their task was much more dangerous than in their ascent. They missed their way, and were under the necessity of crossing the lava they had passed in their way up, at a place where it had spread to a much greater breadth; and from the rapidity of the slope along which it had flowed, had become frightfully terrific. “Well, Edward," said Doctor Walker, as they directed their steps towards their temporary home, --- What think you of Mount Hekla?”
EDWARD" That it is a very wonderful mountain,but not so much so, as Vesuvius or Etna, I should think.”
Dr. WALKER." You are right : it is far behind those two mountains, both in the frequency and magnitude of its
eruptions. Its reputation arises perhaps from being placed in so cold a region, and from the difficulties which must be surmounted before it can be visited.
“ Iceland, however, independent of its burning mountains, and boiling springs, possesses yet a greater curiosity. I mean its sulphur mountain, which I intend you shall visit, al. though it is perhaps more wonderful than beautiful, but it is surrounded by that fascinating attraction danger.
“ You smile, Edward, at that expression, but it is a very just one--that which calls all our powers into action, is danger and difficulty, at least with minds of any sort of tone. There are beings indeed who are content to sit down and exclaim, I never can endure it,'-' I never can attempt such an undertaking,'—but, generally speaking, danger and difficulty enhance the pleasures of life. Have you never observed your cousin George, attempting to imitate you when you were climbing a tree to get him an apple, and if perchance, some one has endeavoured to stop his efforts, has he not burst from them, and exclaimed, Ah, but I'll try though.' What a look of exultation has accompanied his animated countenance, when descending in triumph with the apple in his pocket! Was the apple not sweeter, think you, than if it had been given to him? Would you have felt half the pleasurable sensations at the retrospection of your late excursion, if it had been unattended by difficulty or danger? Oh, no. But it is time to retire to rest, and to-morrow we will bend our steps towards the sulphur mountain.''
On the following morning Dr. Walker and his pupil resumed their journey, and upon arriving at the village of Kris-wick, three miles distant from the mountain they intended to inspect, they pitched their lent, and rested for that night in the vicinity of this wonderful phenomenon, “ Now Sir," said Edward, gaily, “ for our dangerous and pleasurable excursion,'' as they started for the sulphur mountain.
At the foot of this mountain was a small bank, composed chiefly of white clay and some sulphur, from all parts of which steam issued. Having ascended a ridge immediately above a deep hollow, from which a profusion of vapour arose, they heard a confused noise of boiling and splashing joined to the roaring of steam, escaping from narrow crevices in the rock. This hollow, together with the whole side of the mountain opposite, as far up as they could see, was covered with sulphur, and chiefly of a white and yellowish colour.
As they walked over this soft and steaming surface, the vapour rose so thick that they frequently could not see each other at a very short distance. The day however being dry and warm, the footing was not so very uncertain as it wonld have been, had the weather been wet.
Dr. Walker almost repented having brought his pupil to this terrific spot, for the danger in the present instance was so great, as very much to deaden the sensation of pleasure. One of the company suffered extreme pain from having plunged his leg into the hot clay. Wherever the sulphur is removed, steam instantly escapes, and in many places the sulphur was so hot as not to be handled. The sulphureous smell of the steam was mixed with hydrogen gas. When Dr. Walker plunged the thermometer into the clay, it rose gradually to within a few degrees of the boiling point. The guide gave them a particular caution to avoid stepping on the smallest hole from whence steam issued; indeed he was provided with planks, which were laid over from bank to bank, and greatly facilitated the peregrinations of our travellers. At the bottom of this hollow they found a cauldron of boiling
a mud, about fifteen feet in diameter; they approached within a few yards of it, the wind blowing the steam to the opposite side. The mud was in constant agitation, and often thrown up to the height of five or six, or even eight feet. Near this spot was an irregular space filled with water boiling briskly, and at the foot of the hill, is a cavity formed by a bank of clay and sulphur, from whence steam rushes with a great force and hideous noise from among the fragments of the rock.
As they ascended the mountain they met with a spring of cold water. “ This is indeed a place of wonders,' exclaimed Edward. " Who would have thought of meeting with cold water in such a place as this, which is a fit habitation for a fire king only.'
The higher they ascended the thicker they found the sulphur; it was from one to several inches in thickness. The crust was beautifully crystalised, and immediately beneath it they found a quantity of loose granular sulphur, which appeared to be collecting and crystalisir.g as it was sublimed along with the steam. Sometimes they met with clay of various colours, white, red, and blue, under this crust; but they could not examine this place, as the moment the crust