Articles > Kite Fantastic Iceland Snowkiting Expedition 2005 - A trip report.
by Jeff Snoxell. (See also the published article in the Feb/Mar issue (issue 16)of Power Kite Magazine.)
"Iceland trip. Who's interested?"
That's how it all started. I fancied a snow-kiting trip to Iceland, famed for its vast expanses of virgin snow covered glaciers, and also wanted to do something to help promote my kiting web site; so a few 'feeler' posts went on to some of the web's busier forums. Six months later, April 2nd 2005, and with somewhat higher blood pressure, I found myself sat on an Iceland Express flight out of Stansted to Reykjavik, Iceland. With me were 15 other courageous kiters who had seen my posts, and signed up for this extraordinary kiting adventure.
Kiting experience varied widely amongst the group. Most had never snow-kited before, and one had never kited at all. Some had even learned to snowboard at X-Scape, just prior to the trip. None of us really knew exactly what to expect.
Waiting for us in Iceland were Einar Gardarsson and his crew. Einar's company (www.vindsport.is) had been responsible for organising everything for us in Iceland. They looked a little perturbed about the amount of gear we'd managed to get through check-in!
Two hours later we arrived at a group of log cabins nestled in a small river valley, amongst the trees of a rather large Icelandic forest (see Icelandic fact #1). This was to be our home for the week.
|INTERESTING ICELANDIC FACT #1
Trees in Iceland can be anywhere up to 10, or even 12 feet tall! There's a saying in Iceland that goes something like this - If you ever find yourself lost in an Icelandic forest, don't panic, just stand up. What they don't tell you is what to do in an Icelandic camp site forest in a white out - we found a GPS very handy for such situations!
Each cabin was equipped with a shower, bunk-beds, living room, kitchen and most importantly, had its own outdoor 'hot tub' fed directly from hot spring water, straight from the ground. Great for soothing aching limbs after pushing 4x4’s and, if you're lucky, from kiting!
The following morning, after an excellent breakfast, we excitedly loaded up our trailer and set out to make the 26km journey up the road to the glacier. I use the word 'road' here in its loosest possible sense; perhaps 'track' would be overdoing it! This was the first chance we'd had to get an idea of our surroundings and it was absolutely breathtaking! Bordered by beautiful mountains on all sides, and in all directions as far as the eye could see were vast plains of sharp black pumice boulders (see Iceland fact #2), mountains, and rivers of silver-blue water and ice. Our distant glacial playground appeared like a vast cloud resting between two peaks. It was in view most of the way, as were black dots on its surface which later turned out to be huge 4x4 vehicles belting up and down its 15 degree slope. I've never seen scenery like it.
|INTERESTING ICELANDIC FACT #2 (one for the geography students)
Most of Iceland is made of gravel, although in places the gravel has a thin covering of either snow, moss or Icelandic forest. Under the gravel is bath water.
What followed was possibly the best day's kiting I'm ever likely to have.
The wind started off at around 12mph, perfectly clean, and was coming diagonally down the slope of the glacier towards us. It was just enough for my 161cm Burton Charger, 16m Peter Lynn Venom and I to progress upwind UP the slope. Behind us, as we faced downwind, was 950 square kilometers of fresh, virgin snow!
After about an hour the wind started to slowly pick up. By now pretty much everyone seemed to be getting to grips with kiting on a slope (seriously not that hard with a little bit of practice) and there were frequently 16+ kites in the air. An awesome sight! Some of the group had courageously ventured off quite some way and their kites were tiny dots on the horizon. It was such a great feeling to be in such an amazing location. I think my grin muscles ached as much as those in my legs and arms!
As the day progressed, Hartmut disappeared over the horizon, Woody started pulling off spins and all sorts of other stuff I don't know the name of, Geir, Lem and Mark were jumping all over the place and everyone else was zooming up and down like banshees. I just kept on trying to go as big as I could with my jumps down the slope. I was going bigger and further than I'd ever been before, I was loving it!!!
By about 6pm the wind was more cross-slope than ever and had picked up to around 25mph. It was still perfectly clean though. I started to be unable to hold my edge on the down-slope runs and decided, after about five "one last runs" to call it a day. And what a day it had been! 7 hours of non-stop kiting in perfect wind and mind-blowing surroundings. Absolutely awesome!
I remember thinking to myself, "well, if we get no more decent kiting done all week, It's all been worth it". Good job really, because unfortunately, that was about it!
Our second day on the glacier saw perfect conditions, but unfortunately very little wind. So we built a ramp and boarded down it, then tried to make an igloo.
That night it started snowing and the wind picked up, too much. It was Thursday morning (we were leaving on Saturday!) by the time it properly let up. In the interim we'd done our best to fly and, I believe, a kite was actually flown on every day - but it was mostly survival mode flying with minimal visibility in fields close to our cabins, great fun though! There was little chance we'd get to the glacier in conditions like these and even if we had, the wind would have been way too strong up there. We consoled ourselves with plenty of blizzard hot tub sessions and the odd vodka. Rolling in snow, in a blizzard, at -10C, in your boxer shorts because the tub is too hot to bear is something everyone must try at some point in their lives!
Iceland, we were told, just doesn't get weather like we had at that time of year. We were very unlucky. Fortunately, the conditions remain good for snowkiting until late May and early June, so our next trip will be a little later in the season.
On Thursday the weather lifted. It was a crisp, still day with intense sunlight and confidence was high.
|INTERESTING ICELANDIC FACT #3
"In Iceland, there is never NO wind. When it stops, it's just because it's changing direction." - Einar Gardarsson, April 2005
All the snowfall over the last few days had made the 'track' impassable with our standard 4x4 vehicles and we'd clubbed together to hire a monster truck style Land Rover. They're great! If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up! We almost made it to the glacier with ours, which was pretty good going considering that in places we made it through uphill sections which were covered in 3 feet of snow! Our partial success was attributable to the driving skills of Geir and the manual labouring skills of the rest of us.
En-route we made a quick photo-stop or two and everyone charged about in the snow to get the best angles. Apart from the creaking snow under foot, there absolutely wasn't another sound. It was really hypnotic. Not another human or human construction in any direction as far as the eye could see. A seriously moving experience. If only we'd had a little bit of wind as well - but unfortunately, it wasn't to be.
Another failed igloo attempt (wrong type of snow) and an expedition to climb and board down a nearby mountain couloir rounded off the day and with sadness, we drove away from the glacier for the last time.
|INTERESTING ICELANDIC FACT #4
The Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland says (in reference to Reykjavik and its nightlife), if you're a man, "don't be surprised if you get chatted up the moment you walk into a bar".
I'm pretty sure everyone managed to hold back the throng of blonde Icelandic women, but our last night in Iceland is definitely one I won't forget...well, the bits I remember. Imagine trying to get a taxi back to your log cabin, which has no name or address, while slightly worse off, using only a GPS to guide you! GPS in Iceland is essential! This almost proved too much for Dave and Gray, but we all made it back to our cabin, and hence to the airport, after a quick dip in a natural hot spring, in the end.
|INTERESTING ICELANDIC FACT #5
The Icelandic people are world renowned for the question they ask of all visitors to their country. It goes like this, "So, how do you like Iceland?"
Well, if any Icelanders are reading this, the answer is simple. Iceland ROCKS! ;)
A massive thank you to everyone on or involved with this trip. Especially to Einar and Geir. Everyone had such a wicked time! It was brilliant!!!
If you'd like to see more images and some video footage from this trip, or check up on future trips, then check out the Kite Fantastic web site. We'd be happy to offer advice on gear/insurance requirements if people need it: http://www.kite-fantastic.co.uk
If anyone fancies organising their own group trip to Iceland then check out Einar's web site here: http://www.vindsport.is/english.asp
Info and tips for anyone planning their own trip to Iceland.
Gear: Surprisingly, you don't actually need all that much other than your usual kite gear (kites/harness/helmet), ski/snowboard, bindings and boots. Unfortunately though, this little lot weighs a ton, and the in-flight weight limits are VERY tight! Factor in the fact that food/booze in Iceland is (a) 5 times the price of the UK and (b) the nearest shop to your accommodation is an hour and a half away, and you start to realize that you've got a bit of a problem on your hands!
We solved this problem though! Some tips:
· Before you go, get a good set of bathroom scales, a tape measure and all of your gear together in a large room with plenty of space. Prepare to ditch non-essential items e.g. hair products and dinner jackets etc. Wear as much of your kit on the flight as you can (one of our group even wore his ski-boots! Though he doesn't recommend it).
· Pay the fixed, additional, price for "ski/snowboard" equipment (payable at check-in) and stuff as much as you can in your ski/board bag (be careful not to overdo this though! Try to keep it under 30kg and don't make it bulge too much!).
· Take a large bag on as hand luggage (you're allowed 5kg, which is quite a lot) and stick a kite or two in there (take care not to exceed the maximum dimensions).
· Any spare space you have left, cram full with dehydrated foods (eg super noodles, cup-a-soup, couscous).
· Drinkers - don't bring any alcohol with you. Once you've checked in to the departure lounge buy one 1 litre bottle of BLUE label Vodka. One litre is your maximum legal allowance and "blue label" gives you the best baggage specific alcohol optimisation.
· If you bring a laptop/camera - carry them separately, they're allowed on as hand luggage additional to your 5kg allowance.
Other than that mentioned already, there are some absolutely essential pieces of kit. Fortunately most of these are pretty small, light and/or can be worn on the plane; but you really do need them. Here's a list: Wind and waterproof jacket, trousers and gloves. Thin 'inner' gloves, non-cotton insulating clothing to be worn with the jacket/trousers (preferably a number of layers so you can vary your insulation levels), face mask or balaclava, plenty of thermal socks, water container, anti-perspirant deodorant, ski goggles with 100% UV protection, high factor sun block, a compass, a handheld GPS (and a knowledge of how to use it) and 1 set clothes to chill out in. You will also need a smallish 'day sack' to carry a lot of the above with you while you're kiting.
A standard walkie talkie is also a very good idea - but in our experience they can be rather unreliable. Take one, it might help - but don't rely on it.
I really can't stress highly enough how useful a handheld GPS can be. Get one and play with it. Get really familiar with how to use it. If you find yourself caught in a white-out on the glacier (which is likely), even if you're only 100 meters from the nearest other person, this could save your bacon. Seriously. White outs are totally disorienting. If you've ever experienced one you'll know what I mean. You can completely lose your sense of direction in seconds. You can even lose track of which way is up or down and find it difficult to see your own feet!
Apart from white-outs, the general danger of kiting/skiing/snowboarding, the danger of snow blindness, hypothermia, getting lost, exposure and going mad, there's another danger or two to consider. My personal favorite, crevasses, absolutely scare the willies out of me. Fortunately the Langjokull glacier (where we were) only has very few that aren't most often completely snow-filled. All of the potentially dangerous ones are quite localized and with advice (and possibly a GPS), easily avoided. It's also a good idea to watch out for rocks (see fact #4). Once you get a little way up the Langjokull glacier there's none, but near the 'terminal moraine' (technical term for where you first get onto the glacier) there are quite a few. Take care.
With all of these potential dangers there's one other last thing you need to take with you, insurance (and probably a new E111!). I only found one policy that came close to covering everything we planned to do, offered standard travel cover AND covered our equipment against loss/damage - Harrison Beaumont's extreme sports policy which wasn't bad at £41. Other firms seemed to miss out cover in one area or other. Make sure you read the small print! We were NOT covered, however, for "jumping crevasses or jumping from precipices" - which was a bit of a shame, but I figured I'd cope.