Iceland. The very name is quite suggestive of the type of landscape one will find. As you'll find out in this trip report, however, Iceland is much more than just ice. In fact, maybe they should have called it Elemental
-land, for I believe that the term elemental
is quite appropriate.
Based on this idea, then, the theme for this trip is the concept of elemental
. Elemental as in, raw. As in, wild. Rugged. Or, as in the classical elements of Greek times: Earth. Air. Fire. Water. Or perhaps as in relation to the basic, elemental processes of the planet itself. All of these concepts aptly apply to the small island nation of Iceland.
So, let's first get the basics out of the way: Iceland is an island nation, situated in the North Atlantic only a few hundred kilometres south-east of Greenland. Although it is quite separated by distance, it is considered part of Europe, although it has not yet joined the European Union (it isn't clear whether it ever will, either). As a country, its population is quite small: only 320,000 people. Iceland is a wild and rugged place, with many mountains, glaciers, interior deserts and rocky coasts. It is continually shaped by ongoing tectonic and volcanic activity - indeed, there is so much volcanic activity that geothermal power plants are very viable, and supply 30% of the nation's power.
Such an interesting place is surely worthy of exploration, and that's why after years of eyeing Iceland, we finally decided to go on a trip to visit it. Due to Roland's work-shift constraints, we had to fit the trip into an 8-day window at the beginning of July. Invitiations were sent out, planning meetings were held, and in the end, we ended up with quite a sizeable crew: myself, Jennifer, Roland, Caroline, Ewart, Brian and - for the first time on one of these larger trips - work colleague Chris Hatko.
Part of the aforementioned planning sessions were devoted to deciding what locations and activities we'd visit. We chose many of the typical things one chooses when visiting Iceland for the first time - visit its capital city, sample some local food, see evidence of Viking legacy, and visit hot springs, waterfalls, and geysers. Us being somewhat fond of mountaineering excursions, we alighted upon one particularly attractive prospect: a glacier climb to the top of Iceland's highest mountain. Research indicated that it was a relatively easy climb technically, and do-able in a single day - although somewhat long. This, then, became one of the centrepiece destinations of the trip.
Since our circle of outdoorsy friends doesn't get to do glacier climbing and travel often enough, the plan to climb Iceland's highest peak (which is called Hvannadalshnjukúr, by the way - and no, I won't ask you to pronounce it) required us to brush up on our glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques, since we've always been fond of eschewing guide services and doing this sort of thing our selves.
We therefore held a series of backyard refamiliarization and re-training sessions, going over the important aspects of the craft: properly setting up in a roped team, setting up crevasse rescue pull systems, and practicing self-rescue ascent of the climbing rope. All of this was especially important for Chris, since this was for him all-new, rather than merely a refresh of techniques that still lurked dimly in the cobwebs of our minds.
All-in-all, I felt that the backyard training sessions went quite well, and iterating a practice of the same techniques over several separate sessions did much to bring everything clearly back. Among the group there was some hesitation about whether or not we could easily complete the climb in a day; the statistics of the climb sounded a bit challenging: nearly seven thousand feet of elevation gain (2100+m) over a 24 kilometer distance. However, as the date of the trip approached and each of the group completed a reasonably thorough regimen of hiking, stair climbing, cycling, running, and rowing, most everybody had done enough training to satisfy their inner worries. Mostly.