An Elf in the Mist: Two Knitters Hike in Iceland
Hiking is a fairly recent pursuit for me. A couple of summers ago, I had an unstoppable urge to get to the top of things. To drink in the view. I needed an activity to lose myself in, to quiet my busy mind, to stop the nagging voices in my head. Many of us turn to knitting for this same reason, to carry us through the rough patches in our lives.
Enter my friend Hélène Magnússon, whom I met in Iceland. She leads hiking and knitting tours all over the island. Hélène is a dynamo—author of three knitting books, a children’s book, and a cookbook. She has a new book underway on Icelandic lace dresses, and to get the perfect yarn, she’s developed her own using Icelandic wool. In 2014, in the middle of a trip that spanned from Copenhagen to Nova Scotia, I found myself with an extra day in Iceland and Hélène invited me for a day hike. I eagerly agreed.
* * *
We’re at the base of a vast green valley with twin yellow cone-shaped peaks in the distance. They look so far away I can’t imagine they’re our destination. There are a few blue painted stones and a sturdy bridge to mark the start of the trail, but it takes a practiced eye to see the path through the verdant hills. We step from springy moss to fragrant thyme, brushed by purple heather while juicy berries pop underfoot.
The weather changes moment by moment. Pouring rain, delicate mist, followed by clear sky and hot sun, causing us to peel off our layers. Hélène wears modern hiking gear, adding flair with her own lace shawlette and a pair of knitted dolls strapped to the back of her pack. Her sparkling elfin eyes and cheery laugh keep us headed up, up, up! When the sky clears, we can look back and see the city of Reykjavík in the distance.
As we climb higher, Hélène tells the story of Grýla, the most fearsome troll in all of Iceland, after whom she named her new yarn. Grýla eats naughty children and has fifteen tails, each with a hundred bags to store the children in for making stew later.
At this point in the story, we are way above what would be the treeline if Iceland had trees, crunching laterally across a steep curve of a yellow slope. The mists are drifting up from below, veiling the way.
“This is the kind of weather trolls come out in, look there—those are petrified trolls.”
Rising out of the shale are huge, gnarled pillars of black lava (I presume). But then I remember—I’m in Iceland, and in Iceland most people believe in trolls and elves, even changing the course of roads so as not to disturb where they live.
“What do we do if we encounter a troll?” I ask.
It would be impossible to run across this track! The shale bits ping down to the green valley below; ahead the path winds up the spine of the peak. So I settle in, knowing I’m with a trusty guide, who might just be an elf herself. I look down at the sharp, many-colored stones. For her yarn, Hélène chose the colors of Iceland, and I recognize its pinks and lavenders beneath my feet.
At the top it is so windy it feels like we’ll be blown off, but it’s also exhilarating. From the peak of one cone, we have a 360-degree view. But it’s just the first of two; we have the taller one still to scale.
At a certain point, I realize I’ve become turned around, and I’m tired, but my nimble friend blazes ahead. This bigger, darker cone seems menacing, surely peopled with petrified trolls. The shale skitters beneath my feet, and I have to get on all fours to make it, struggling to find a handhold in the stones. The rocks come loose and bounce down the hillside; I can’t even hear them hit bottom. Now, it’s raining, and dark, but just over the ridge it looks sunny, and there’s a rainbow that gives me hope. And then I reach the top. My friend is there, offering me tea and chocolate. With relief, I drop to sit in the soft mist, and we take out our knitting.
Mary Jane Mucklestone is a designer and author of several books, including 150 Scandinavian Motifs: The Knitter’s Directory. Find her at www.maryjanemucklestone.com.
Find out more about Hélène Magnússon at www.icelandicknitter.com.
Featured image by Getty Images.
Hike Your Way Into Knitting!