I’m no stranger to a little adventure; I’ve done the 3 Peaks Challenge, the London to Brighton Bike Ride twice and ridden on the fastest accelerating rollercoaster in the world. So, when I saw a poster in a local shop advertising an Iceland Challenge – an opportunity to climb 3 volcanoes to raise funds for local charity, St Wilfrid’s Hospice – I jumped at the chance.
Once I’d signed up along with 7 other excited fools the race was on to raise at least £2,500; St Wilfrid’s Hospice has operated for over 30 years providing care and support for those in the last phase of their life and I can’t think of a more deserving charity. Thanks to the generosity of customers, suppliers, family and friends I hit my target and as a team we raised over £17,000.
Iceland Challenge – Marks story
12th October 2017
The whole team met for the first time on the flight to Reykjavik and it took only one beer to find we were all like-minded folk excited to be taking on a once in a lifetime challenge.
13th October 2017
We set off with our guide, Maxim (A French man, working in Iceland, speaking English!) to Hengill in the South West of the country with an elevation of around 803m. The land was very barren except for a hot water pipe system that dominated the landscape; it carried water directly from the ground at temperatures of up to 200degC into Reykjavik, providing free hot water to the masses.
The minute we jumped out of the van the cold hit us and I knew that none of the training I’d done would quite prepare me for the weather conditions we were about to face. The walk was hard going, incredibly steep uphill and then spirit breaking drops down that were unmerciful on the knees; repeat for several hours. The rock formations were simply breath taking with deep glacial striations crossing the landscape, the wind and cold were even more breath taking making each step a challenge.
Hitting the summit brought huge relief, and unfortunate cloud cover, but the sense of achievement for the team was immense and we as we watched the Northern Lights form our hostel that evening we all felt positive about the next day.
A long drive warranted an early start, 7:30am; we headed to Heckla, a stratovolcano in the South with an elevation of 1488m. Unfortunately, on arrival we found that due to adverse weather conditions access was being denied to all walkers; not a problem in Iceland as we had 129 other ones to choose from!
So, with perfect weather and under clear blue skies we walked up the smaller yet incredibly steep Prihyrningir; the views from the top were incredible as was the sweat on our brows!
We ended the day with another display from the skies.
We spent the morning learning to walk with crampons across the Myrdalshreppur glacier which was crisscrossed with deep crevasses and impressive ice formations. Due to global warming, the glacier is shrinking by 150 metres a year; within 150 years there is a real possibility that there will be no glaciers left in Iceland.
The afternoon enabled us to explore Reynisfjara Beach with its black sands and impressive rock formations reminiscent of the Dorset coast and the Giants Causeway in Ireland; the day ended under the raging Rangárbing eyestra waterfall before we fell to bed preparing ourselves for the biggest challenge of the week.
The unpronounceable Eyjafjallajökull is best known for causing disruption in 2010 when it erupted sending ash plumes several kilometres up into the atmosphere grounding planes across Europe; to us it was to be nearly 6 hours of uphill struggle!
We started early, reaching the bottom of the mountain just before 7am with our head torches still on we began our trek across steep rough and rocky grassland which certainly kept us on our toes.
By the time we reached the halfway point, at the edge of the glacier, we had already lost 3 members of the team who felt they would not be able to continue. Those of us able to plough on donned crampons, harnesses and roped up for safety; an arduous few hours of plodding our way snaking across the icy plain to avoid deep crevasses. It was slow progress due to an unusually bright end to the season which left snow bridges weaker and the sound of cracking hollow cavities below our feet.
We could see the pre-summit for some time however it seemed to be continually beyond our reach; when we finally reached it, we were able to look down into the snow packed crater, with the main summit only another few minutes’ walk away.
The views were impressive as you can imagine and I think we were all silently taking in the enormity of our achievement; normal folk, with normal day to day lives who had just climbed a volcano with a 1,651m elevation, more importantly we had to climb back down!
Flying home, we must all have felt incredibly proud of what we’d achieved as individuals, the camaraderie we’d given to each other as a team and most importantly the much-needed support to a charity that provides essential care to those at the most vulnerable times of their lives.
So, what’s the next challenge…..?