She slides the rucksack off her shoulders, swinging it down amongst the basalt rocks and boulders scattered across the grey sand. Taking a water bottle from a side pocket she pulls free a stopper and puts the neck to her lips, quenching her thirst with cold, fresh, mountain water. She looks back, down across the valley from where they have come. The Jökulsárglfur canyon stretchs out towards the horizon lik a dark stain on the landscape.
Ben crosses the oak floorboards of his bedroom, packing another couple of t-shirts and thermal tops into his rucksack. In the corner his computer chimes out another task completed. He looks up, across at his desk, covered in paperwork. He crosses the floor reaching for the mouse and studies the computer screen.
Finnur smiles kindly, a broad grin. He offers Helen a mjölkurtex. Helen reaches out for a thick slab of square biscuit gladly. She bites into the hard texture, well-used to it’s dry yet milky taste. She steps back and perches on a rock, taking these minutes to relax. She takes a last look back down the valley at the peak that fades into thick, grey cloud a last look before they round they cross this ridge, and put the peak behind them.
"I'm sorry. I know how much, you wanted to reach it," Finnur, her tall and slim Icelandic guide, follows the direction of Helen’s eyes, "How many years, have you come here now. Trying?"
Helen smiles wryly. "Three. First year I was too young, last, not enough time. And now, the weather! Do you think I’ll ever get there?"
The question is rhetorical. She knows the answer from all those conversations between her Ben and their dad and the affects that climate change and global warming will have on tourism in Iceland. She doesn’t pretend to understand half of what they talk about, the general conclusions do filter through to preoccupy her mind at times like these.
Ben pages through his book, studying the figures, scrawling notes on the backs of printouts, he taps in numbers to his calculator piecing together the sums.
There are half a dozen, plus the two guides, in Helen’s party. Besides herself and the other members of the conservation holiday that is now coming to its conclusion, are two Italian students, and an English couple in their early fifties. Billy, the youngest of her holiday friends, breaks away from the main group to approach Helen. Bless him. At nineteen he really has formed quite an attachment to her over the last fourteen days. In response to his staring eyes, she cocks her head to one side, castng a wry smile at his young face.
"Bit treacherous that last bit," Helen remembers the steep, sheer sided ridge of volcanic rock earlier that morning, "Worth it though."
Billy nods again, beaming, "Yeah I guess..."
Silence. Helen’s eyes drift back up the mountain. Like herself, Billy’s disappointment at not reaching the summit is clear. The furthest corner to the national park. One day, she dreams.
Ben watches as the mathematical model integrates the data, mapping the new picture. He’s repeated this process with differing variations for more times than he can remember. Still he finds the redrawing of temperature and precipitation fields plotted against seasonal variations in population as mesmerising as ever.
The trail works its way up the side of the ridge, the rocks changing in colour as they go. Greys give way to earthy brown, and hues of or red, and green. Helen has gone beyond notices the views, the weather is grey and forever closing in on them again. All she wants now is rendezvous with the bus, and go for a shower, in bathe in a hot pool.
Ben curses his computer. He scratches out a hurried calculation, noting down numbers. He cross-references the accuracy of them, and pages through his book. Almost there?