I’ve never really travelled more than about ten miles on foot, so claiming that I have now completed the hardest walk of my life, isn’t really much of a claim when compared to this. However, walking across Iceland was more than a little bit of a challenge.
My brother and I arrived in Iceland not quite knowing what to expect. We had searched for climate data and information about the centre of the island, but found little. We now realise that this is because no one lives there. There are however, weather stations, and upon completing our journey, I found out that just after we finished our traverse, the wind peaked at 50 miles per hour and the maximum daily temperature was about five degrees Celsius (data taken from one single station).
What made this journey so difficult?
Many things, but ultimately they all stem from three basic properties of the centre of Iceland: it is barren, windy, and cold. All day, every day (for the majority of our journey), we would march across a barren moonscape with the wind battering us in the face. On a couple of days, it was hailing, then snowing. We even woke up with snow upon our tent.
I now hate the (unrelenting) wind.
Crossing this barren landscape, there was no shelter until we put up the tent at night. For this reason, we marched on throughout the day with our hoods drawn tight, nearly fifty kilometres per day – other hikers we met were only doing twenty five kilometres a day, but we couldn’t bear to stay in the cold for so long and thought that if we stopped moving, we might become sick. We achieved this higher walking rate by dumping almost all of our food, carrying just 2,000 calories per day (the original plan), but for a much reduced time span. We initially anticipated our crossing would take double the time of the reality.
Breakfast was a chocolate bar (202 calories), so too was lunch and three other snacks during the day. Each chocolate bar was almost frozen and we had to break it with our teeth while we walked before marching on and when we had the energy, we would munch on a packet of dry (uncooked) instant noodles. We were too exhausted to cook them. On days where we were too exhausted to make ourselves eat, we struggled for 1,500 calories, on good days, we almost consumed our target of 2,000. Before we left, my brother calculated that he needed 2,700 calories a day, simply to maintain his body weight. That was without walking for up to twelve hours a day with a backpack on.
Another difficulty was the glacial rivers. I have never known cold like this and on one occasion, I almost fell into a river I was crossing and dread what to think would have happened if I did. Fortunately, everything was OK, although my brother did end up losing a bit of one of his toes – I told him not to worry, he has nine more perfectly good toes to use instead.
For the first time, my knees became painful and swollen. I counteracted this by taping them tight with super tape. It held the swelling and subdued the pain enough that I could walk. My brother got such bad blisters that he walked the majority of the several hundred kilometre hike in flip-flops.
I have more to add on this journey, but today all I am sharing is that it was very, very hard, but we doggedly marched on and we made it. Yet my brother and I both agreed (before we had finished), it was absolutely one of the best things that either of us had ever done. The challenge, the raw nature, the everything about it, pushed us and pushed us hard. In hindsight, there are many things that we could have done to make our journey easier, but as two foolish brothers who have never before tried a journey such as this, we didn’t know what to expect and didn’t pack as well as we might have. Next time, we will do things better / make things easier upon ourselves.
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First: You guys are awesome. Wow.
Second: I’ve been planning to do the same thing, which is how I stumbled across this post. Right now I’m working on how we’re going to get back to Reykjavik to fly home (because walking back across the country would take far more food and time than I have at the moment)–do you have any advice on that from your experience?
Thanks, Jaaz. We hitchhiked back. It cost nothing and we got rides super quick. It worked out quicker than a bus.
Great, I assumed as much. Thanks!
What about the water guys? Is there enough on the way?
Water is everywhere. We took two one-litre containers each and filled them up from the streams. We rarely walked more than five kilometres without encountering a stream.
Thanks a lot for the quick answer! Sounds great!
wow that is some challenge Jamie, well done- what an achievement 😉
I’m about to head over to Iceland for the winter – your stories of struggle are certainly inspiring and are helping me to mentally prepare for a freeeezing season!
Please pack warmer clothes than I did!
Man. I think we fall prey sometimes to the romantic aspects of an adventure and don’t realize how truly grueling some adventures can be. Following Cory Richards and some of the other Nat Geo guys has given me a bit of perspective on how truly hard traveling to the far reaches of the world actually is. Still, you’ve survived and your stronger and more experienced for it. I’m sure it’ll be one amongst many to share with the grandkids 🙂
Those guys are incredible and an inspiration, I don’t know where they find the iron will to carry on at times. I guess that it is simply keep going or die which is quite a good incentive to keep going.