At West Buckland School CCF we are keen to get some of the more intrepid cadets away from the DofE treadmill of Exmoor and Dartmoor and do something far more adventurous. Expedition TIGER VENTURER ICELANDIC EXPLORER (catchy, I know) was born, and in August seven cadets and three staff travelled to Iceland to extend the cadets’ mountain walking experience and their ability to look after themselves in hostile conditions. The four older cadets also completed a Gold DofE expedition; Iceland must look better on a CV than Dartmoor.
Iceland is just an amazingly cool place to hang out (yep, literally and figuratively). Now for a bit of basic Norse mythology; when Odin and the other gods were throwing the world together, they decided to keep all the most dramatic and exciting bits in one place and call it Iceland. They filled it with elves, fairies, trolls and beautiful women and towed it far out into the North Atlantic, so they wouldn’t be plagued by famine, war or tourists. To be sure about the tourists, they made the language unpronounceable and the food challenging.
Iceland is a superb place to go walking. It is only 3 hours from the UK and yet has some of the most dramatic scenery this side of Middle Earth; in one small country you can see waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, hot pools, geysers, deserts and lava tubes – geologists kill to get on field trips here. We visited the following areas to see as many of these features as possible.
The Laugavegurinn is a long-distance footpath from Landmannalaugur in the interior of Iceland to Þórsmörk further south; just think of the Pennine Way after a month in the gym and pumped up on steroids. To make things more difficult, the four DofE cadets did the walk back to front (south to north) and we added an extra two days from Skogar. The route took the four boys between two small ice caps, Myradlsjökull and the infamous airspace-closing Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Although waymarking simplified navigation, the boys can be justifiably proud of completing an arduous long-distance path while backpacking camping gear and 6 days’ food and coping with 40 mph winds.
Skaftafell is a national park on the edge of Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest icecap, and from our tents the trekking group had views of glaciers and mountains. From sea level we climbed the mountain Kristinartindar (1126 m), which some found very challenging, never having walked on scree before. A gentler walk the next day explored the Morsardalur valley.
Landmannalaugur is a god-forsaken lava bowl in the interior at the start (or in our case the end) of the Laugavegurinn. Windy, cold and dusty, the area has amazing multi-coloured mountains, dried lava flows and steam belching out of the ground. The icing on the cake here is the natural hot pool at the base of a lava flow, which gave us en-suite tents! The trekking group climbed Blahnukur (945 metres) while waiting for the DofE group.
Myvatn, or “midge lake”, is a shallow lake surrounded by volcanoes, lava towers, lava fields, lava tubes and hot springs in northern Iceland. We undertook two walks to explore these volcanic features, including a 1.3 kilometre circuit around the rim of an explosion crater.
Akureyri is the capital of the north and Iceland’s second “city” (that’s a bit like calling Llanberis a metropolis). Our final walk took us up Mount Sulur, rising 1213 metres above Akureyri, which gave extensive views of the large fjord and snow-capped mountains.
The cadets did brilliantly and the expedition’s objectives were achieved. They overcame many challenges, including river crossings for the DofE group, dug deep in spite of cold, blisters, wind and rain and can all be very proud of their achievement. They all left their comfort zone, never more so than when sampling hakarl, an Icelandic “delicacy” (catch one Greenland shark, bury it in the ground for several months, dig it up and check it has putrefied, hang it out to dry and then cut it into cubes and pop one in your mouth, ensuring you are no more than 15 metres from a toilet and the door is open). Actually, hakarl is possibly a massive joke the Icelandic people play on tourists.
The stunning and unique scenery and the remoteness of some of the walking areas make Iceland a fantastic destination for adventurous training. Our thanks go to the Ulysses Trust for supporting our expedition and making it affordable for young cadets.