River deep & mountain high in Iceland PDF Print E-mail

Read Simon Pitts’ fascinating account of his Iceland Trek in July, raising money for The J’s Hospice.

We are very grateful to all of our supporters who raise money for us. Simon Pitts went on a trek in Iceland and sent us the brilliant article below.

If you are interested in taking on a sporting challenge like Simon, please contact us: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 01245 475474.  

Iceland Lava Trek 13 to 17 July 2016 – Simon Pitts

It was almost 12.30am, it was still light and I was standing on the edge of a lake staring at a view lifted straight from an episode of Game of Thrones; rolling mountains, vivid snow caps and valleys of brown and green that stretched out in every direction. It was the end of day 2 of our Iceland Lava Trek, a 56km hike across some of the country's rugged volcanic landscapes. Iceland is an astonishing place, carved by nature, sculpted by lava flows and sprawling glaciers and cascading rivers. Geothermal activity forces plumes of steam to vent through surface rocks, as streams of boiling water bubble and churn.

Twenty three of us arrived at Keflavik airport late Wednesday afternoon where we met our guides, Miriam and Fanny, and were immediately whisked in a 4x4 coach to our first camp some 4 hours north of Reykjavik, at Landmannalaugar. Then the first challenge began: assemble a tent! I am no camper (a weekend away in the Cubs forty years ago doesn't count) but the tents were fairly easy to put up and - thankfully - remained standing all night.

If you can call it night. In the Summer Iceland experiences 21 hours of daylight, so apart from 3 hours of dusky gloom at around 1am, it's constantly light: a bizarre thing to experience.

After a carb-fuelled breakfast provided by our support crew we began the toughest day of walking: 24km to Álftavatn, which included an ascent to 3,600ft. There is a saying in Iceland that if you don't like the weather then wait 5 minutes! Our first day of trekking certainly proved that to be true. We started in dry, warm conditions and finished, 11 hours later, in high winds and relentless rain as a storm front moved in that would eventually keep us company for a further 18 hours.

The terrain is almost as changeable as the weather, as we traversed from the rocky climb out of camp to volcanic sand to freezing snowfields. Our constant companion was the extraordinary views: an exhausting panorama of breath-taking photo opportunities that demanded attention. From the distant tails of glaciers wound behind snow dabbed mountains to vast lava fields and picturesque waterfalls, every few steps bought the camera out once again.

By the midway point the wind had increased, waterproof overalls were put on and the temperature dropped considerably. To be honest, the snowfields were gruelling - well, this was a challenge graded as tough - and being open to the elements added to the discomfort. With visibility down to 15 metres it became apparent that the storm was going nowhere and we had to get down to our second camp as soon as possible.

The descent was steep but offered some shelter from the weather and our camp was one of the most welcome sights I have ever enjoyed. By the time we finished a hearty dinner and finally warmed up the storm had - by British standards at least - become considerable! We split into teams of 4 and hastily began putting up tents. At the time this was a horrendous job but looking back now, a group of strangers all working together to pitch each other's tents as quickly as possible was a quietly humbling experience.

Despite our best efforts, three tents didn't survive the night. Howling winds made sleep almost impossible (at one stage I woke to find the roof of the tent pressed against my face) and a fitful night gave way to morning and the realisation that our plans for the trek would have to change. The river just beyond the camp had risen too high for the support vehicles to cross so we were, effectively, stranded at camp. To their credit, the crew quickly rescheduled our day and we embarked on a 16km circular trek that snaked to a stunning valley and river that truly took the breath away.

On our return the storm had finally broken, the crew had fired up a BBQ and, with morale lifted, the group had a good night. I watched the sun 'set' beyond the lake before tucking into my sleeping bag for our final night.

Day 3 was spent walking across the lava plains of Emstrur. Underfoot, black volcanic sand gave way to lush green hills. But, between us and the finish line, was the one thing I had been dreading since signing up for the challenge last year: crossing a glacial river (actually, 2 rivers, as it turned out!)

Now, there is cold water and then there is glacial water - basically near freezing water cascading down from the mountainous glaciers that dominate the horizon. Being thigh deep in this water is, to be honest, a painful experience that only gets worse when you finally step out of the river. That said, we all did it and, as with the storm, the camping, the snow caps and monotonous rain, it just added to the challenge and the growing sense of achievement we were all feeling.

We shared the day with some hardy marathon runners (I kid you not) before we scaled the final hill to see our coach waiting for us in the distance. Oddly, while the thought of a comfortable bed at the hotel in Reykjavik, a proper shower and a beer was welcome, I was, like all the other Trekkers I spoke to, struck by a sense of sadness that the challenge was over. We all felt as though 3 days just wasn't enough time to fully appreciate the country and get to know each other properly.

It's strange how being divided from your creature comforts for just a handful of days can make you appreciate them even more. A pillow, sheets, shower cubicle and WiFi suddenly seemed like luxuries! Sitting in the restaurant on Saturday night enjoying superb Icelandic food at our celebratory meal, we all talked about how incredible this challenge had been and, without exception, how each of us would sign up for another adventure in the near future. To be able to combine a trip like this with raising funds for a charitable cause is an extraordinary opportunity and a privilege that wasn't lost on any of us.

This was my second trek (following the Great Wall of China in 2014) and was tougher than I had expected. That said, being able to see Iceland in such detail more than compensated for being removed from my comfort zone. As someone who doesn't do camping or the cold, I wanted a trek that would push me and Iceland provided just that: a hard, sometimes demanding challenge that gave as much as it took. I would not hesitate to recommend the Iceland Lava Trek to anyone, from novice to experienced walker. The sense of achievement - both of completing the walk and of reaching the fundraising target - is priceless and will stay with me for a very, very long time.