Logistics: Crossing Iceland
L O G I S T I C S : I C E L A N D C R O S S
HOW TO PLAN A CROSSING OF ICELAND ON FOOT
T H E R O U T E
TOTAL DISTANCE: 660KM
START: Kötlutangi, (63º23’N, 018º45W)
END: Rifstangi, (66°32’N, 016°12’W)
* Many locals consider the lighthouse at Hraunhaufnartangi (20km east of Rifstangi) to be the true northern point, geologically speaking the difference in latitude is a matter of metres. Our journey lead us to both points ‘just to be sure.’
Our route was broken into four stages which were dictated by food supply positions. It was our choice to travel from a south to north bearing to make best use of the prevailing wind which predominantly blows from the south west.
Stage 1 (5 Days): Kötlutangi – Vik – Skogarfoss – Fimmvolorhaus pass – Þórsmörk – Landmannalaugar.
Stage 2 (12 Days): Landmannalaugar – Lake Grimsvotn – Askja
Stage 3 (4 Days): Askja – Lake Myvatn – Reykjahlíð
Stage 4 (5 Days): Reykjahlíð – Aysbergi Canyon -Kópasker – Ristangi via Hraunhaufnartangi.
D E S C R I P T I V E
Our route was largely dictated by unexpected conditions, the summer we arrived was the coldest for 69 years and as a result experienced a delayed subsidence of snowmelt. This meant inland rivers became impassable until July and rather than proceed on our initial plan to traverse in June we chose to wait a month following an unsuccessful first attempt. In hindsight this time to acclimatise was exceedingly beneficial.
Following first along the main road to Skogarfoss we proceeded to follow the Laugarvegur trail to Landmannalaugar, here we allowed a few days to explore before continuing inland. From here on we entered the interior and left fellow hikers to a more committing and remote environment.
Our initial plan had been to skirt the fringe of the Vatnajokull glacier, however a recent sub-glacial eruption at Grimsvotn volcano had flooded most of our intended route. Instead we opted to follow the well marked dirt road optimistically named a ‘highway’ (Route F26) before detouring between Tungnafellsjökull and the Vatnajökull glaciers. Making us of a remote backcountry hut at Kistufell we then headed north, across the impossibly flat and barren desert to Askja.
From here we traversed across a large a difficult to trek scoria field heading north to Lake Myvatn and Reykjahlíð. Beyond here we went east to Dettifoss waterfall and followed the spectacular Aysbergi canyon to the coast. Two days on tarmac led to Kópasker township before crossing difficult hummocky grasslands to the north.
R A T I O N D R O P S
Our first re-supply was the campsite at Landmannalaugar at the end of the Laugarvegur trail. We mailed our food split between two boxes via the BSI bus service in Reykjavik at a cost 2000IKR each (Price in 2011).
Our second re-supply was at the outpost hut in Askja. For this we mailed another two boxes via the local postal service to a local tour company in Myvatn who agreed to shuttle them down to Askja during their guided tours, again for about 2000IKR each.
Our third re-supply was in the small town of Reykjahlíð on the northern shore of Lake Myvatn. We arranged to mail a parcel to a local hotel, however this could be avoided by replenishing supplies at the well stocked local supermarket.
B U D G E T
As students this was an extremely budget journey. Through our degree in outdoor education we had already accrued much of our necessary equipment so I will leave ‘gear costs’ largely out of this.
We booked our flights well in advance via IcelandAir, who kindly agreed to sponsor our secondary hold luggage which contained our dried food. The dried food was also sponsored at a 20% discount from Expedition Foods. The flights cost us around £200GBP return.
Visa and medical insurance costs were minimal. Iceland operates under the E111 European health system which is a free suffice you register for a card prior to travel. Mountain rescue is also a free service if required. Basic travel cover for gear and emergencies was taken via the British Mountaineering Council.
During our three month stay we had a remaining budget of £600 each. For this we fundraised about 200 of which by selling cups of tea on the hill behind our university. Out with the expedition we lived mostly on packet powdered potato, soups and oatmeal.
S A F E T Y
PHYSICAL HEALTH- The Icelandic search and rescue, ICESAR are one of the finest in the world. They are extremely professional and free of service. They were very happy that we took the time to inform them of our plan and provided valuable information on what to expect.
This said rescue is a last resort and not a luxury ‘opt out’ option. We planned every eventuality possible to maximise our ability to be self sufficient in case of the unplanned.
As emergency contact we carried a SPOT2 Personal Locator beacon which worked well. I would however now recommend using a Garmin Delorme which has superior coverage and applications with its two way communication abilities.
Map and compass were essential- we used 1:200000 scale maps which were the best available at that time, this was occasional very difficult to micro navigate with but on the whole worked well. Backed up to this we used a basic Etrex GPS. This was seldom used.
We allowed a minimum 20% leeway on food rations- carrying with us an extra two ’emergency’ rations incase of delay or emergency. Had we been able to carry more, we would have.
Each night we applied a 1-10 rating scale on our self-perceived enjoyment of the day. This allowed both self reflection on each days progress but also a visual cue to mental lows. A day below 6/10 was perceived as bad, if this lasted more than 3 days then a discussion was made on what the possible issue was, and where appropriate a change in routine given.
We split ourselves into ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ tasks on a two day rota. ‘Wet task’ was to set the anchors of the tent, collecting water and outside jobs, while ‘dry task’ could dive inside and begin setting sleep gear/food. This gave something to look forward to during extended wet periods and reduced arguments of task delegation.
Remi and I were already very firm friends, we knew and trusted each other and could read each others emotions well. This gave us the ability to lift the other when needed, or to give space to the other when that was needed. A good team is a team who can do this.
Throughout the three months we had less than a hand full of arguments, none major, most due to being tired or hungry and all quickly resolved without issue.
G E A R
We went for a lightweight approach for our expedition, even resorting to shaving toothbrushes down and cutting off bag straps- in the end as much a mental relief than physical weight. I added most of it back on with camera gear.
Tent- A Hilleberg Soulo – Remi used a Terra Nova Laser, which catastrophically failed. We shared the Soulo for the remaining 7 weeks.
Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardwear 32ºF (0ºC)
Sleeping Pad: Thermarest Z-lites
Stove: Primus Omni-fuel burning canister gas which was readily available.
Kitchen utensils: Sporks, strike-light flints, mugs and a 900ml pot, Katadyn Water Filter.
Camp Accessories: Shaven down toothbrush and Petzl Myo head-torch.
First Aid Kit: A basic first aid kit (plasters, bandages, epi-pen, painkillers, antiseptics). We later contracted an intestinal parasite (ironically via campsite)- highly recommend taking a dosage of anti parasite tablets (we used Vermox). Also SPOT2 Personal Locator.
Waterproofs: Rab Latok Jacket and trousers.
Base Layer: Icebreaker Merino t-shirt, two sets of Helly Hansen ‘smelly hellies.’
Mid Layer: Mountain Hardwear ‘Monkey’ fleece. A thick Icelandic wool jumper.
Add Ons: Cheap army issue liner gloves, synthetic hat, gaiters. Meindle Lhotse Boots.
Gadgets: Canon cameras: 5DMKII with 24-105mm lens & 600D with 18-200mm lens. Batteries…5 each. Powertraveller solar panel. Memory cards x2 and a 640GB Nexto hard-drive. Gitzo Traveller Tripod with a Markins ball joint headstock. A good book- in my case Jules Vernes ‘A journey into the centre of the earth’.
D I E T
Our dietary rations were limited with allergy requirements from one of the team. With severe reactions to nuts and eggs and significant reactions to some dairy we opted to remove these food groups entirely from our itinerary. The exception to this was butter, which we could both consume and cheese which I could consume and posed minimal risk to the other.
We based our diets on a 3500Kcal per day diet. This we anticipated would ‘starve’ us slightly so added an extra feast meal at each ration drop.
Breakfast: Pre-made muesli & oatmeal in two flavours; one with custard and cinnamon the other with milo chocolate powder.
Lunch: I enjoyed cheap (almost plastic) cheese whereas Remi due to allergies and being far hardier went for neat vegetable lard. We both used cheap Ryvita crackers for bulk. – In hindsight these crackers were pretty crap as they were bulky and low in energy.
As ‘reward to the low calorie lunch we also supplemented with a large blackfriars brand flapjack whose many flavour options gave something tasty to look forward to.
Dinner: we enjoyed excellent freeze dried meals from Expedition Foods (although if sharing a tent they have some rather smelly ‘side effects.’) It would be possible to replace these with cheap noodles, smash potato etc which we did later in the trip.
T O P T I P S A N D H A N D Y H I N T S
-In 2011 the ICESAR mountain rescue business cards entitled the holder to unlimited free coffee at all Olis garges (a popular petrol station). This was great when hitching.
-Wilderness Camping is permitted throughout the country on the basis that you are responsible. It is good etiquette in high traffic areas to camp at the organised campsites- many of which have free geothermal baths.
-Most DSLR cameras are NOT covered by their warranty if taken to Iceland, we were told this was due to the ash. Lesson unfortunately learned the hard way.
-Volcanic ash is sharp, Protect your zips!! Almost every item with a zipper failed over the three months of expedition abuse. This can be minimised by rubbing them with a HB artists pencil which lubricates it with graphite. Candle wax or a stiff brush also work.
-Brown glacial water will come out the same way as it entered if not filtered! Avoid having a bad case of ‘glacier gut’ by filtering all water. We used a very expensive Katadyn filter which at the time was their top range model- it bunged up and jammed in two weeks. Most of the locals used cheap, lightweight coffee filters a few times over.
-Learn to chew without biting all the way. Ash will get everywhere.
-A carpenters dust mask is valuable during desert sandstorms.
-Hitchhiking was relatively easy in Iceland.
-The locals are super dooper friendly.
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