Ex Dragon Eldfjall 2017 began in the early hours on Thursday 31st of August, as twelve Officer Cadets (OCdts) and two supporting staff of East Midlands Universities Officer Training Corps (EMUOTC) were crammed into a van and whisked off to London Luton airport, ready for an early flight to Iceland.
The goal of the expedition was to follow the popular hiking trail from Landmannaluagar campsite to Skogar, on Iceland’s south coast. It was to be a five-day, unsupported hike, so OCdts were required to carry their own food, shelter and any other equipment required for the duration of the trek. The trek was made possible in large part thanks to a generous donation from the Ulysses Trust, and would take the team across incredible, diverse landscapes, from verdant grassland to stark glaciers and desolate plains. Whilst the ever-changing landscape was to bring its own set of challenges, the most challenging part of the expedition was to be Iceland’s notoriously changeable weather, which often left OCdts scrambling to get into their waterproofs when caught out in a sudden shower.
Upon arriving to a rather dreary day at the Reykjavik campsite, the group set up camp, purchased some supplies from a local supermarket for dinner and performed some final preparations for the expedition. The next morning, we broke camp early at 07:00, refreshed and ready to get on the bus which was to transport us to the starting point of our expedition- Landmannaluagar campsite. Once there, we jumped at the chance to bathe in a real geothermal pool before we began the hike. Our first day of hiking was perfect in almost every way- the weather was clear and cool, granting us brilliant views of the surrounding country. The terrain made for easy going, and we made short work of the first 12km leg of our trip. We reached the camp at Hrafntinnusker and set up for the night. Later on, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
The next morning we awoke to see our surroundings shrouded in mist and rain. A break in the weather allowed us to break camp without getting completely soaked, though the rain returned as soon as we set off and remained with us almost all day. Despite the rain the hike was easy enough. Along the way we walked through an ice tunnel, and forded an ice-cold river to reach the site where we would wild camp for the night.
Our third day of hiking began after a quick breakfast and after breaking camp we set off at nine AM. We kept an easy pace across the mostly flat ground. The first part of the day’s walk took us through rocky lava fields and over two gorges. Yet again we came upon a river which cut through the path we were following. Crossing the freezing water sans boots and trousers certainly does wake you up to say the least, but it was not a massive obstacle and before long we were back on the road. The path took us through lava fields and between enormous rocky mountains, which rose up starkly from the flat ground surrounding them. Finally the path took us over a seemingly endless series of hills before we reached the camp at Botnar.
‘Never again will I trust someone who says “it’s all downhill from here”- it’s never true!’
Botnar camp was situated on the side of a rocky hill, from which we could see the valley we’d walk through the next day, and nearby was a spectacular gorge which made for some great photo opportunities.
The next day we broke camp and cleared up, before setting off down the steep path from the camp. Shortly, the path led us to a gorge spanned by a bridge, which joined to a narrow path heading up to the top of the gorge. Once we reached the top, the rest of the day’s walk was across mostly flat ground and in good weather. We then forded another river, dried off and pressed on, following the path across a second, much deeper gorge, then into a rare wooded area. Soon after we arrived at the camp site, but our hopes of hot food and an early rest were dashed when we learned that our campsite was actually a few kilometres down the road. Almost immediately it began to rain heavily, so we pressed on, crossing two bridges (which were apparently made of old crane segments) and finally arrived at the campsite. We set up as quickly as we could in the rain, then sought shelter in the one of the camp’s huts to dry some of our damp gear and get a hot meal.
The next morning was to be our final day of walking, so we broke camp early, setting off at 08:00 as today’s 26 kilometre walk would be the longest of the trek. Fortunately the weather was good once again, and we were treated to fantastic views of the surrounding hills. We set off at a steep incline, eventually climbing to 1000 metres. The descent was slower, taking us through the hills and over the famous Eyjafjallajokull glacier. Once off the glacier we had a quick lunch stop and carried on, eventually crossing a gorge via a rather sketchy bridge (the handrail had collapsed and fallen off on one side). We followed the gorge south towards the coast, as it descended it formed a series of large and spectacular waterfalls, until we reached the final waterfall and the end of our journey, at Skogafoss. We stopped for a team photo beneath the waterfall and then set up camp. We treated ourselves to a hot shower and a meal at the nearby restaurant. Safe to say, we sorely needed both.
Report by OCdt Thomas Robinson