As the end of the OTC training year drew to a close an expedition to the world renowned, Laugever Trail still lay on the horizon for 14 Officer Cadets and Instructors. This was the first time NUOTC had run this expedition and the first time many of the group had been to Iceland. All bar one had gained our Summer Mountaineering Foundation so it was a great opportunity to not only continue to use navigation and admin skills in an unfamiliar environment but also to develop group management abilities, essential skills in progressing towards Mountain Leader Training (MLT).
We all met together in the early hours of the morning at Luton airport to board our flight to Reykjavik. Not the most scenic of starts but well worth it for the jaw dropping natural landscapes of Iceland. Upon landing we headed straight for our accommodation. The temperature difference was immediately noticeable. Following the UKs hottest summer on record it made a surprising change to be wearing a coat for the first time in months! We stored our luggage away and walked into the city in search of fuel; both gas for our cookers and food for ourselves. After sourcing both we made our way back to the hostel. Being our only day before starting the trail meant we couldn’t be lazy and admin began almost immediately. Solely dry bagging our wet and warm kit didn’t seem sufficient given the changeable weather conditions and the reported river crossings, so triple waterproofed they were packed into our rucksacks along with all the other necessities. Exhausted after a long day of travelling, exploring and packing we were all relieved to enjoy the culinary delights of two of our fellow officer cadets and an early night.
Day two of the expedition didn’t let up on the early mornings as we awoke at 0500hrs in order to have breakfast and walk into the city to catch the bus from outside the concert hall. The journey to the trail took the majority of the morning as we arrived at the trail head in Landmannalaugar around midday. Following a quick snack for lunch we moved straight onto the trail. The weather conditions changed drastically over the course of the day from warm sunshine at the base to icy cold winds at the evening’s campsite so learning to managing our layers effectively became paramount.
Getting back into the swing of camping admin began with a frosty start. Taking down the tents and repacking our rucksacks was a challenge in the cold however a warm breakfast helped keep spirits up as we began day three of the exped. This was the first day were we really saw the ever changing scenery of the trail, from walking over ice rinks to volcanic greenery that looked akin to a set from Jurassic Park! We detoured from our route to climb an extra peak and appreciate these views. From here we could see the lake which was the setting to our campsite for the evening. Pushing on we covered the distance in good time and had the opportunity for pairs to take turns in leading the group.
Our second evening camping was great, we pitched in the most picturesque campsite imaginable. Now becoming increasingly efficient in our admin we saw our tents up in no time and gave us the evening free to enjoy with one another. After supper the party ceased for most of us however a few individuals stayed socialising in the hope of seeing the Northern Lights. Despite a below average forecast, we were all woken up at midnight to see the distinct green glow of Aurora borealis. This was an amazing moment to share with the group and highlighted the immense environment which we were so lucky to be exposed to!
On a high from the previous evening we merrily set off onto the trail. Day four was the first route to encompass the much anticipated river crossings. We came to the first of two that day soon after setting off. It not only added an exciting feature to our expedition and a chance to don our crocs (as voted “The People’s River Crossing Footwear of Choice 2018”) but saw us all think strategically about routes and how to best ensure the safety of the group. Again we made good time and learned to adapt to unfamiliar terrain. Upon arriving at the campsite, we found that there was a canyon a mere 10 minute walk away and being the intrepid explorers we are we couldn’t resist an opportunity to see yet more of this beautiful country! The short walk was definitely worth the outstanding views from the canyon. Thursday evening also saw us have a wonderful curry night as we all enjoyed our dehydrated, exped curries. After a long few days it was great to all have some fun on our final night camping together!
The morning of day five brought about mixed emotions as we set off on our final day on the trail. The weather had miraculously held off for almost the entirety of the expedition and the blue skies of Friday morning were no exception despite some warnings from the clouds the night before. The trail saw some increasing challenges for us, primarily that of the river crossing. Previously the water hadn’t been too deep and the river width was manageable however skills we’d developed thinking about route planning became necessary as we attempted to cross a much deeper, wide and faster flowing river.
After conquering this the trail moved into enclosed woodland and yet another surprise surrounding. The day flew by as we put into practice all our group management and navigation skills we’d developed over the week and before we knew it we’d made it to the end of the trail. Whilst waiting for the bus to return us to civilisation we chatted about and consolidated some of what we’d experienced over the last four days on the trail and our prior packing and preparation. Thinking about how these skills can be utilised in a leadership position was great as many of us look towards MLT in the near future.
To round off our week in Iceland we managed to enjoy a group meal and take in the incredible Gullfoss Waterfall on route back to the Airport which was a fabulous way bring the expedition to a close.
Regarding the experience of this incredible expedition one officer cadet said,
“The expedition was a huge success and pushed all of us out of our comfort zone into the remote and demanding wilderness of Iceland at the same time enabling us to develop our leadership, planning and navigation skills in a truly unique environment.”
Another commented on his clothing choice for the expedition stating,
“Whilst remaining a stylish footwear choice, the Crocs saved me from minor injury when crossing hazardous rivers and outperformed any rival shoe available.”
Overall the exped was a huge success, and special thanks must be given to the staff who worked so hard to organise it.
Many skills were learnt, fears overcome and good times were shared, and it goes without saying that the trip would not have been possible without the extremely kind funding supplied to us by organisations such as The Ulysses Trust, Reserve Forces and Cadets Association (RFCA) along with other Military funding streams – We wish to express our sincerest thanks to all, in enabling this life-changing expedition to take place!
All-in-all, yet another truly outstanding and highly successful Adventurous Training Expedition led by NUOTC!
Written Credit: OCdt H Brackenbury
Photo Credit: All Expedition Members