Thursday 8 October 2015

Iceland Traverse 2015

The tempting thing to do with a blog like this is diarise it. I won't. So here's the quick facts, then a bit of editorial...

September 25th - October 1st 2015 - Black Ice Expedition. North-South Traverse of Iceland.

Day 1: Akureyri North Coast to Laugafell Refuge. 45 miles 7hrs01. 7020ft.
Day 2: Laugafell to Nyalidir Refuge. 30 miles. 5hrs00. 4274ft.
Day 3: Nyalidir to Veraslir Refuge. 35 miles. 5hrs24. 2642ft.
Day 4: Versalir Refuge to bottom F26. 23 miles. 4hr1. 2888ft.
Day 5: F26 to Landmanalauger. 20 miles. 3hr21. 3306ft.
Day 6: Landmanalauger to Posmork. Aborted. 7 miles. 1hr33. 2905ft.
Day 7: F208 to South Coast. 62 miles. 9hrs14. 5245ft.

Distance - 222 Miles.
Run Time - 35:34:01 (Moving Time).
Cumulative Time - 6 Days 8hrs.
Elevation Gain: 28280ft.


This trip was the brain child of Robbie Britton. I took my hands off of the wheel for perhaps the first time ever and let Rob arrange sponsorship, the logistics and the film crew. The idea was to traverse Iceland from North to South on foot in a 5 - 10 day time frame. Ground and weather conditions would be the primary dictators of that pace. We had no designs on an FKT if one should even exist. We wanted to enjoy the landscape and the expeditionary nature of such a run, whilst adding a degree of difficulty to it. The camera team of Dan and Iain would travel the ground with us in a 4x4, primarily in order to shoot footage for a short film of our adventure, but also to support us where required.

The film will tell far more than I am able to here, so I look forward to being able to share that.

We were graciously sponsored and funded by Lyon Equipment. Lyon are the UK distributor for many of the best outdoor manufacturers in the business and our kit lists included but were not limited to:

Julbo Eyewear
Petzl Headlamps
Exped Duffels, Tents, Poles, Sleeping Mats, Pillows and Sleeping Bags
Katadyn Water Filter
Optimus Stove and Pan Set
Light My Fire Cooking & Eating Utensils
Trek'n Eat Outdoor Meals
La Sportiva Footwear and Clothing (James)
Gregory Packs (James)

Robbie and I have also worked with Profeet for many years and Robbie posted daily dispatches which can be found here.

We also enjoyed nutritional support from Gu Energy (James), Chia Charge and Tribe (The Team).

The Run

There was a good amount of press coverage over the trip, and Iceland Magazine's article sheds a light hearted but realistic view on our adventure here.

Much of Iceland's coastal scenery mirrors the Lake District

In the end, we came away with much more than I'd hoped. It truly was an adventure. There were many times that individual factors threw themselves in the way of our ultimate success. In no particular order, the major elements & obstacles on the trip are listed below. The running was in many ways, the most straight forward part.

- The high petrol consumption of our 4x4 (incidentally if you ever go off roading on serious terrain, a Suzuki Vitara should only be considered the second very worst option - a Duster is the worst). 40km in, the gauge was showing we wouldn't even make it to half way across the highlands, with the nearest petrol station over 200km away. In the end we went with it to the end of Day One and made a decision to proceed based on the heavy duty nature of the first section, and the fact that the gauge had been going up over the last 20 km. GO FIGURE. When we made it to the petrol station 4 days later, it was with a palpable sense of relief.

- We were told we'd reach impassable river crossings on route, that the 4x4 would get stuck in the volcanic ash and we'd have to dig it out. Neither happened. Though how much of that was chance that full winter seems to have come slightly later than normal, who knows. I do know that we saw only one other human in the first 3.5 days, suggesting we were fairly 'out there' in terms of seasonality and timing.

One of many river crossings on day 1

- The headwind was horrendous. It's easy to say oh yeah there was some wind out there it really affected us, but there were times when running downhill was harder than running up. It also brought ambient temperatures of 0-5 degrees to way below freezing. Had we gone from South to North I would be confident of us having covered the 222 miles at an average of around 50mph. I hadn't expected it to be that much of an issue.

- The temperatures, combined with rain, sleet, snow and the wind made for at times, incredibly challenging conditions. Day 3 was the highlight, when I personally went through all 3 sets of waterproofs and finished in full ski gear including a down jacket and my Russian down mountaineering gloves. That's sure to look professional on film. The risk of cold related illness was exceptionally high and we both relied on all of our experience as well as the support of the crew to be able to keep moving forward. What made it more painful than anything else is that because of the complete lack of vegetation or relief, we could see weather coming for us from up to 30 mins out.

Weather ahead in a rare view of blue sky

- We had no plan for sleeping except camping. Which to be quite frank in some of the wind and weather we faced, would have been nearly impossible on open ground. To get around this, our first 3 days we camped in: A toilet block, a closed refuge with no heating (actually real luxury), a cow shed full of cow shit. These experiences really added to the adventure.

- We 'blew' two whole days, by running to Landmanalauger at the start of the world famous Laugavegur hiking trail, to be told by the refuge owner that literally nobody else was going out on to that trail at this time of year. Weather, snow depth, height of river crossings were the reasons. We went anyway having considered all the risks. In the end, in the worst weather of the week, we turned around less than an hour in to the next day. I know from experience that I can't stand up in 60mph winds, and for a while, both Robbie and I had to lay on the ground on a ridge in order not to be blown off. Linking arms we made it another 1.5km higher before descending cloud together with snow and the wind speed, brought our decision to retreat. When we arrived back at the refuge, the driver of the jeep who was supposed to be ferrying in Dan and Iain called and said that he couldn't get across the river in his car. We would have stood no chance at that crossing or many of the previous, and we would have been forced to make anything up to a 50km retreat with limited rations and emergency gear only. We covered ourselves by taking full down gear and sleeping bags on what was 'only' a 55km day, but it would have been sketchy and time consuming.

- The following day we planned to run out via the F208 Dirt Road east, which during the night got washed away by the glacial outburst off of the Vatnojokull. The video and images we saw afterwards were actually quite scary. Again, we avoided potentially being trapped or worse by the deluge.

- So with our first two routes to the coast literally wiped out, we were left with a 100km road run to the sea, headed west out of the highlands. I was slightly apprehensive of such a long day but in fact we ran a consistent pace for just over 9hrs to make a 99.23km trek to end the journey.

So that's it for now, the trailer and video that Dan and Iain will produce, will give a much better insight in to this trip than my words ever could. Here's a bunch of initial photos I took on my iphone over the course of the week.

What an adventure it was and I'm delighted to say that we worked better than I ever could have hoped, as a team. It's a week I won't forget in a hurry.

Rob is actually in this picture. It was too cold to stop so I hiked on ahead whilst he attended business. It's easy to wander off route in poor weather when there are no features to refer to.

Yours truly in terrain blending desert with the Lakes

Rob making his way on the smooth crushed lava road to Landmanalauger

Iain and Dan also had to battle the weather all week to get the footage they needed.

The beginning stretch of the final day, with temperatures well below zero

With 10km to go, a huge bank of weather missed us by a few kms and instead presented us with a double rainbow. 


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