Epically Wonderful Day on Signal Hill

View of St. John's from North Head Trail

Classic View of St. John's from North Head Trail

Yesterday was the sort of gorgeous spring day with the sun streaming out hourly invitations to throw off the parka, throw open the doors, and throw ourselves outside. And we accepted. Graciously. For about seven and half hours on “The Hill.” It was another huge training day for Hvannadalshnúkur with the goal of ten ascents of Signal Hill.

I don’t think we totally grasped the amount of time it would take us when we began because, despite beginning our excursion at 10:00 am, we were late for our dinner date at 6:30 pm.

In the past, once multiple ascents of Signal Hill hit five or six, we’d orchestrate friends to come and shuttle us down the hill to allow for almost continuous climbing. This go, either due to laziness or lack of organization or some wonderful environmental values, we had no such arrangements. We would end up walking all of the descents, save one (which essentially doubled the time for the task and of course provided excellent training for our “go downhill” muscles).

Hvannadalshnúkur has an epic summit day with nearly six thousand feet of elevation gain and six thousand feet of elevation loss all packaged into a long 15 hour, 20 kilometer day. The route starts from sea level, climbs across the glacier and ends with a steep climb of the volcano’s crater. Perhaps it was the humbling that was handed out to us by Guatemala’s volcanoes, but we’ve done a much better job of getting out and putting on kilometers on our feet. Yesterday was not a bad approximation with about 4500 feet of elevation gain and 25 kilometers of distance travelled-not to mention the 6000 or so stairs we climbed.

I keep an unofficial record book in my head. It provides milestones to celebrate, dozens of reasons to turn and offer high fives to travelling companions. Our first celebration recognized our third ascent of the North Head Trail. Recently awoken after its winter hibernation beneath slippery snow and ice, it offers breathtaking scenery and 20 or so sets of breath-taking away wooden stair cases, the longest of which climbs the steepest part of the hill using 100 stairs. The North Head Trail is my favourite way to climb “The Hill” and it’s great to be back on it after a long winter. I’ve never climbed it three times in a day though.

A view of the Fort Amherst Lighthouse from North Head Trail

A view of the Fort Amherst Lighthouse from the North Head Trail

Our second celebration came in a series of three. We celebrated our 13th, 14th, and 15th stair climb out of the valley. These 264 stairs approximate one third of the elevation of Signal Hill and yesterday’s efforts yielded a new record of 15 climbs up them. Most visitors to Signal Hill drive to the top and descend the North Head Trail and come back to the top via the road. A few buck the trend and hike the loop, the other direction. At one point, one trend-bucking visitor said to us, “You’re taking the cheat route.” We were hiking down the stairs to come up again for the 14th time. We let him know in no uncertain terms that we weren’t cheating and that we had already done the climb he’d just completed three times. And then, we smiled warmly and congratulated him on his effort.

Marian and Nolan approaching the top of the 100 Stair Staircase

Marian and Nolan approaching the top of the 100 Stair Staircase

Our third and final high five came at the end of the 7.5 hours, when we finished our tenth ascent and could walk down for the final time. Draped in a day’s sweat, we bundled up before taking on the headwind once again. We secretly harboured hopes for one of friends to drive by and offer a ride, sparing our now tender toes from the pounding descent and we secreted hoped they wouldn’t, leaving us to claim the full achievement of the day.

It was great to see so many people out on “The World’s Greatest Stairmaster”. The city is returning to life outdoors. Special thanks go out to a fan who lives besides Signal Hill who presented us with two new walking staffs to use while climbing Signal Hill, to Nolan for joining us for three ascents and to Kellie and Michelle who fed us so wonderfully after the big day.

TA and Marian proudly showing off our new walking sticks

TA and Marian proudly showing off our new walking sticks with North Head behind us.


We’re a week away from departure for Iceland and starting to get very excited. We’ll be climbing Hvannadalshnúkur on April 21st and I look forward to reaping the benefits of all of our training efforts on that day. We’re taking the satellite phone since Thuraya promises coverage of half of Iceland (and fortunately the half that has our mountain) and hope to call off greetings from the summit. We’ll be praying and visioning and calling in weather favours for the 21st and we are starting to pack today.

Have a good week,


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2 Responses to Epically Wonderful Day on Signal Hill

  1. Jill Upton says:

    Gosh, I didn’t realize this trip was imminent! I have to get “geared up” to “help” you guys get up that mountain! How in the world do you pronounce the name, much less spell it?!

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