By Thom Van Vleck
I recently took a trip to Iceland for a Highland Games competition. While there I went to take a try at the Husafell Stone. The Husafell Stone is a lifting stone of 409lbs located near Husafell, Iceland. I think it’s history is well recorded in other better articles and most strength fans know of it so I wanted to focus on my day with the Husafell Stone.
I had been in Iceland for nearly two weeks. I had competed in the Masters World Championships of Highland Games in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland for two days and then circled the entire island. I had saved the Husafell for the last day so if I did try and lift it and I got hurt then it wouldn’t ruin the entire vacation! Most of all I just wanted to visit an stone that I had heard and read about for the past 25 years that has been lifted by some of the greatest strength athletes of all time.
So that last day Michelle and I drove up a valley called Reykholtsdalur. It is a valley sparsely populated now but historically a very significant area. As we went along we stopped at various places and visited ancient settlements and new ones that span a 1000 years of Iceland history. As we drove East houses became more and more sparse and the country more rugged. I had an image in my mind of mountains and a distant glacier with a mountain stream nearby with waterfalls. I pictured very few trees and lots and lots of rocks. The final location of the stone did not disappoint. It didn’t hurt that we had great weather. It was about 60 degrees and sunny.
As we pulled up I immediately saw the goat pens where the stone was located. I parked nearby and stepped outside. Michelle walked with me to the pens and even though there were no shortage of huge rocks lying around I immediately knew which one was the pen slab!
As I stopped and looked at it lying on the ground I could see traces of lifting chalk and maybe a little tacky. On the ground it was not that imposing. It is basalt and basalt is a very dense stone which means it’s heavier than it looks! It is a triangular, flat stone and very dark, almost black. As I turned it on it’s side I found out how heavy it really was!
Michelle took some photos while I warmed up. I lifted some smaller stones for practice. I put on one of my oldest Jackson Weightlifting Club shirts. I also slipped on my trusty old belt that I’ve had for almost 30 years. I was not as apprehensive as I thought I would be. I think I’m at an age where I feel comfortable with what I’ve done. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like to lose a battle. I just felt a comfortable confidence. I was honestly just happy to be there!
I went about the various challenges. There were a few hikers that went by as there is a trail that heads up the nearby stream. One came over to see what I was doing and watched a bit. I felt a little embarrassed to be honest. It was like a private moment. Kind of like trying a personal best in the gym verses a lift in competitions with witnesses. There’s a part of me that wanted this to be just me and the stone.
I spent a solid 2 hours there. I met a lot of failure in the process. Trying to figure out hand holds, dealing with some fatigue after 12 days on the road and going on hikes, and getting my 53 year old body to do what I wanted it to do. In the end I felt successful. Though I’m sure some might feel I didn’t do it “legit”. I would compare any lifting I did to a “continental” versus a “clean”. I was just happy to be there!
There was a moment I was just leaning against the pens and looking down the valley. I had an unobstructed view. Over my right shoulder were mountains, over my left was a distant glacier, to my left was the ravine filled with waterfalls that fed the nearby stream. To my right was Husafell and the forest of evergreens that obscured it. Directly in front of me was Pastor Snorri’s farm and a small Church. It was very quiet. The sun felt warm and the air crisp. The only drawback was a few midges that felt it important to let you know they were there. It was a good day to be alive.
Michelle and I walked over to the nearby Lutheran Church. It was a small, stone Church with a small cemetery filled with birch trees stunted by the harshness of Iceland. The Church was surprisingly open and we were able to go inside. You could tell it was still an active Church. The baptismal font, the communion cup, and the alter were roughly carved out of native stone. It was a beautiful, simple place that made me feel as close to God as the most amazing Churches I’ve visited and believe me, I’ve been to some amazing pieces of architecture.
Finally it came time to go. I was not sad. I felt like my trip was a success and part of me would carry the moment with me forever. So it’s not like I’ll ever really leave. Lifting has given me and excuse to travel to some amazing places but I think the best thing of all is it has fed my earthly spirit. The next day my forearms were bruised and my back was stiff. It felt great!