simple-voyage.com, Lea brassy & Vincent Colliard

Iceland 2014

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BEING THERE - A self supported ski journey to the waves of Northern Iceland

Winter in Iceland is ridiculously unpredictable, beaten by swell and wind, infused by silence and solitude. Appealed by its wilderness, my partner and I have been dreaming of an adventure together up there for a long time. Combining both of our passions for surfing and exploring, we would go self-supported, by skis, to the snowy valleys of the North, in search for a unique experience.


Picking a special location

We need high reliefs that hold snow when winds blow strong but yet not too steep so we can pull our sleds uphill by skis equipped with sealskins. We look at the map, again and again. One valley seems to match our needs: mountainous, remote, approximately 20 miles long, not too steep approach, very snowy but possibly tricky due to many unfrozen rivers.

Hoping for local knowledge, we catch up with surfers, skiers and mountaineers around Reykjavik. As friendly as they are, they don't like to give tips away about their spots. It's fair enough. As we point the chosen valley on the map, their eyes go surprisingly big and they say: "You will for sure be the first surfers up there, if you ever reach the place! Honestly, accessing there is tricky, good luck!" Our motivation only grows from these words. We decide to take this itinerary.  

Preparation is half of the journey

Aware that a successful expedition is carefully organized logistic with a bit of luck, we want to make sure we do our best.

Packing 10 days of supplies in limited weight and space became our main concern when we planned that expedition. Our technical equipment comes from France and food is purchased in Iceland.

Up North, we stay in a guesthouse at some farmers place during a snowstorm. Blocked inside for a few days, we pack our rations of food. Our breakfast is a fast cooking oat-based recipe in which we only add boiling water. Lunch is a daylong snack made of a mix of nuts, dried fruits, crackers and chocolate. Each ration of breakfast and lunch is packed separately in a Ziploc bag. Rooibos tea is our all purpose drink. Dinner is dehydrated soup and lyophilised main course.

We have three sleds loaded with food, tent and cookers, mattresses and sleeping bags, warm clothes, surfing gear and surfboard, cameras... Vincent will be pulling two sleds of about 65 pounds each while my sled will be 90. 

Around a delicious Icelandic lamb diner in Reykjavik, our friend Magni accepts to be in charge of weather reports. Twice a day for ten days, he will be texting us precipitation, wind and waves. In theory, we should have cell phone service if not in the valley, at least once we reach the fjords. We take the risk to carry no satellite phone, mainly because we don't own one.

A question of timing

A window of one month between mid-March and mid-April should be good enough to hope for several days of kind weather conditions. We will of course give priority to weather rather than swell. To be honest, the ski expedition requires calm conditions that most likely won't coincide with swell. Iceland is so high in the Atlantic Ocean that swell often come quickly, with bad weather, and disappear fast. It would be very lucky to have both. Note that it's also the best time of year to watch Northern Lights.

When a quiet weather window shows up after two weeks of waiting period, we are ready. Local farmers are aware of the trip we intend. Icelandic people are interesting characters, never intrusive nor curious, they don't ask us any questions about our preparation or our knowledge or even the surfboard on top of my sled. And I feel that they expect just as much discretion from us. It's only once we will be back that they will express the pleasure they have in seeing us enjoying their beloved nature in activities they had never seen before.

Embracing freedom

Our route is registered on both of our GPSs. We are good to go. We depart from a farmhouse in early morning. A horde of sheepdogs keeps us company until we reach the plateau. First day is long and slow up hill skiing. My all body feels stiff and allows doubts to share my thoughts. Vincent is progressing at a distance so I have to keep moving. I know he does that on purpose. At the moment I hate it but really I love it, he knows my mind can play tricks on me even though my body is resourceful.  As I go I think that's what lovers are here for, bring the best of each other.

By midday, we are surrounded by an immensity of white. Old snow scooter tracks seem to be leading the same way as our GPS route. Weather is calm and overcast; wind is still. For a few hours we ski over the plateau, awaiting the sight of the sea, taking a short break, bite in a few nuts and sip some tea every hour and half or two.

As we start going slowly down, trying to manage the downhill course of our sleds, we see blue, far away on the horizon, in a snowy paradise. The scooter tracks finally lead to an old hut covered by snow. A narrow 3 meters high hole at the door allows us to snake in for the night. It's good shelter.

The next day is hard work too, especially with a tricky crossing over a river. But the feeling is like nothing else, in an immensity of white, there are no tracks and an absolute silence. Wild geese noisily make their way from the estuary. Vincent and I often turn at each other in a large satisfied smile. We pain to complete the last kilometer over the hill. The bay we discover is so beautiful on the sunset that we quickly feel better.

Turning point

We turn the phone on to share the good news of our arrival after 2 days on the skis. No service! It's a big bummer but exhausted as we are, we still sleep through the night like rocks.

Anxiety wakes us up early morning. First, if we can't give news, people will start looking for us, and eventually call rescue... Second, if we can't get the weather, we are not safe. We have forecasts for a couple more days but changes occur so suddenly here that we can't really rely on them. We would have to turn back right away. Our only option is too climb as high as we can.

Sore body and worried mind make the climb long and painful. From up there, the lookout is absolutely stunning. Sunrays light the cotton-like valley we skied across; it's absolute silence, divine cold fresh air. We overlook the other bay and its steep mountains. Vincent and I stopped talking a while ago. We are both hoping we can stay here for as much as the weather is kind, if ever we can get a report! At the summit, In a desperate move, Vincent climbs the summit cairn, remind of old times, with a bitter smile at me and his hand holding the phone pointing to the blue sky.

The phone miraculously buzzes and messages flow in.

Northern Lights delicacy

I feel the floor moving. I am too warm and comfy to bother. I think I am turning around, maybe sliding, never mind. His cold lips on my forehead and his singular smell of frigid air feel amazing. "Open you eyes Lilou", Vincent murmured. He had pulled me outside the Lavvu. As I lift my heavy eyelids, white mountains shine in the glow of a rising moon. It's so cold their contours are soft. Bright green dusts carefully infuse the sky, moving carefully as if the sky was breathing in and out.

In search for waves

According to Magni's report, despite a heavy rain during the day, weather should be relatively quiet for another few days. Although there is swell around, we can expect a peak in 48 hours. There are two bays to explore. They both look pretty flat as they are but we can hope for something. Our bet was on the reefs but they appear to have random rocks in the way and poor swell concentration. There is a river going out in the middle of the bay, with a high flux due to current melting snow, creating a sandbar that catches our eyes from up the hill. An offshore wind blows hard, it's tiny and getting dark already.

Back the next day after a 2 hours hike from our camp, it is looking clearly bigger. There is a hell of a current bursting out of the river mouth and the tide is going out. An old avalanche has thrown up snow 100 yards high, right on the beach. Well, it's intimidating. I get dressed in my 6mm outfit using the shipwreck bow as shelter from frigid offshore wind.

As I paddle out, a seal checks me out, then another one, and another one ... that last one was rather big, wait, huge! Did I see ok?! Suddenly I get busy with the set of hollow left-handers coming my way. I freak out on the first wave, shallow on the sandbank, and catch a long racer ride on the second wave. I have frozen lips, burning insides and heavy heart beats. There might even be steam coming out of my wetsuit. Seals keep coming closer and closer. Obviously, they are not familiar with sharing their hunting spot. They do mellow down as I keep surfing, fortunately.

Sets come in suddenly with many waves and very short period in between. First and second are good then the following ones suffer of too much water over the sandbar. The almond shape of the tube is gorgeous but the ride is fast. Not only the wave, but also the wild energy of such a phenomenal landscape and the loneliness make this spot so special. No idea if that wave breaks often or if it is only due to the large amount of snow melting down in the mountains.

 

For 7 days, Vincent and I lived a very simple way, observing wilderness, listening to silence, witnessing little things that were miracles to our eyes and made us deeply satisfied. Our bodies felt good exercising as our lung breathed the freshest air. Even our dry food tasted amazing. We were so balanced that we could have kept going a long way. I did not want to go back to the made up world, ever. This was real world to me. If this is what adventure life tastes like, I am hungry for more...