Sep 14, 2014

Iceland Traverse

I'll start by stating that my preferred backpacking terrain is mountainous.  Iceland was a 170 degree turn (the 40 km of the hilly Laugavegur salvaged the final 10 degrees) and I was debating for a while with The Onion if it was something I wanted to commit to.  Well, after 40+ emails we made it official and headed over to Reykjavik.  Our plan was to follow Jonathan Lay's route he came up with in 2006 and we had Trauma's 30+ detailed maps with us but turned out to be completely useless weight in my pack.  After spending a day in the capital mailing re-supply packages via bus to Myvatn, Nyidalur, and Landmannalaguar I took a small propeller plan to Akureyri to meet Onion.  After meeting at the bus "terminal" we bussed it to the whale capital of Iceland, Husavik, in the hopes of catching a ride to the "official" starting point of Hraunhafnartangi.  I got restless after an hour of failing to get a hitch that would probably take us another day so I convinced Onion to start from Husavik which is still on the Greenland Sea and hike east until we meet the original route.  Instead of a blow-by-blow account, I'll talk about what was unique and I'll let the photos and videos below paint a picture.

It took us a little over a day to reach this beautiful canyon while hiking in a seemingly endless cloud to reach this canyon and meet back up with Ley's route.  The route hugged the cliff side and we were awarded with a great views with the culmination of a great waterfall.

 Dettifoss, at the end of the canyon, was a powerful waterfall filled with black sediment.  A sight to behold.

After our first re-supply, we finally start heading into the barren Highlands of Iceland.  Nothing exists here except glacier, rock, and volcanic ash.  A black desert exposed to the harsh weather of erosion: wind and water.  

Another characteristic of the trek that was unique was the 24 hours of light.  For the entire trip I never once saw darkness so items like an eye cover were critical to get some sleep.  The natural rhythms of light and dark usually dictate when to start and stop hiking.  Without darkness as a guide we usually got late starts, starting between 8-9 and usually didn't stop until 9-10.  The below clip shows what it would be like at 3am.  And there was nowhere to hide from the wind and rain.  Protection for our shelter were hard to come by.

Headwinds with pelting rain seemed to be more common as we ventured further south.  Sometimes it would be quite piercing as it would coming off the massive glacier of Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður.  Good luck with that word.

The character of the landscape changed almost suddenly, as the Highlands gave way to beautiful colorful hills where the popular Laugavegurs northern terminus is located.  We would actually be on trail for the next 40-50km.  It was the most spectacular section of the trek. 

Several times during the trek we encountered steaming vents that had the odor of sulfur.  The entire country is a breeding ground of geothermal activity but none was so visible to us then on this section of the trek.

If we ever hang out you can ask me about the last day of the trek and what hell we went through to get to the North Atlantic Ocean.  It was certainly the worst weather (hurricane headwinds, sub-freezing temps, sleet for 7 hours) by far I've ever encountered and it involved getting lost, saving a French couple, and being close to hypothermia.  When Onion had a chance to pull out his camera he took some clips.  They don't tell the full tale but they're fun to watch.

The final walk to the North Atlantic was a time of reflection on the journey and what the trip was about. 

Another main reason why I did this trek was because I didn't think I would ever get a chance to again.  It's something I had no interest in doing alone and I honestly don't know any other person that would do this besides The Onion.  I'm glad to have taken advantage of the opportunity to walk across a country unlike most others I will probably ever see. We heard that some volcanoes were ready to go and hoped they would hold off until we left.  It turns out a volcano under the massive glacier we walked several kilometers from decided to erupt several weeks after we left.

To see the full photo album, click here.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to The Onion for convincing me to go on this trek and for providing good company, some extra food, and the videos above.  

Stats: The route was around 300 miles but it's impossible to get an exact number and it took us 12 days and change to complete it.  I brought a low amount of calories, roughly 2000/day, and it took a toll on me and my body, especially being 1 week post Western States 100.

Gear:  I used my regular 3 season gear with a few exceptions.  I used a synthetic quilt by Enlightened Equipment Prodigy that proved light and useful in the wet conditions, the ULA Circuit: a larger 68L pack than I'm used to using to accomodate the extra gear, Marmot Scree softshell pants that proved to work quite well for the trip.  My gear list for this trip without the weights.

1 comment:

  1. Such an epic adventure, the videos give a good overview of the harsh conditions you guys experienced.
    The surface looks very uneven and rocky and that wind and rain is no joke! Solid quote that you started this article with. Can't wait to hear more about it soon Michael! Cheers, Flo


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