JENNY TOUGH FASTPACKING: ICELAND
Jenny Tough travelled to Iceland for a week of fastpacking. A runventure completely lacking in agenda except for finding hot springs, killer bivvy spots, ice and fire, trolls and fairies. This is what Iceland is all about. Staring up at the looming peaks ahead of her, revealed for the first time by the typical Icelandic weather, she decide this adventure definitely needs a pointless summit, too.
“…It wouldn’t be right to call this hard – this is a true pleasure. Exploring the wild places of Iceland begs to be done on foot, fast and light, with no agenda.”
The clouds part and the Trollaskagi Peninsula opens up in front of me for the first time in three days. I let out an audible and involuntary “wow” at the snowy peaks ahead of me – pointy like witches hats, the types of mountains that would be drawn in a Doctor Seuss book. The tops are covered in snow which is melting rapidly down to the valley below. I can attest to this: my feet are permanently soaked from running on boggy ground, the earth is saturated by the remains of winter.
While the sky is clear I can assess the mountains ahead of me and pick the one that most likely goes. I check my contour maps to be certain, and quickly put together a safe route to the top. I ford a bitterly cold river, submerging myself in icy water up to my thighs, and set off at a brisk pace up the mountain to try and warm up again.
The soil is loose and wet, and my shoes sink in with every step. Occasionally a patch of snow covers the mountainside, and the snow is wet and unstable. I kick in with my toes to create decent footholds, knowing that I’ll be coming back down this way later. Although I’ve picked the smoothest route to the top, it’s still incredibly steep and I begin to fear slipping on the wet snow – it would probably be a long slide, with nothing in the way to stop me until I reach that icy river at the bottom. I kick my feet in harder.
It’s not long before the blue sky disappears and I am shrouded in cloud once more. The world around me completely disappears, and I am immersed in white. There is nothing ahead, beside, or behind me. Only the ground underneath my feet and the sound of my laboured breath as I pump my legs up the mountain, now with no way of knowing how far it is to the top. When I summit, it truly is the most pointless of all pointless summits: there is no view in the total whiteout, and after a quick break to pull on my fleece, I turn around the descend the exact same way I came. Truly and utterly pointless.
It’s hard to know when to set up camp in Iceland in May. The sun only goes down for a few hours every night, so I find myself trying to get to sleep under a bright sky. Tonight, I find a clear, blue-green glacier-fed river with the most beautiful rapids under the shadow of another Doctor Seuss mountain, and know it’s where I want to stop for the night. The moment I stop running, cold sets in quickly, so I don all of the layers in my pack and put my stove on to boil something warm for dinner immediately. I crawl into my waterproof sleeping bag, my all-in-one ultralight sleep system, and watch the clouds roll over the mountain until the stars briefly make an appearance for the short night. The thunder of the water coming down the rapids is deafening, and lulls me to sleep.
If you’ve never made your morning coffee from water that came from a glacier, I strongly suggest you add that to your bucket list. The morning sky is foggy, but not raining (yet), so I linger in my perfect bivvy spot, even enjoying a second Glacier Coffee (there’s an idea for a hipster coffee shop!), taking it all in before another long day of running.
Iceland is simply a magical place. Around every bend is a view that I never could have imagined I would ever see, and can’t believe my luck to have it to myself. Running out here with a backpack that allows me to stay out long enough to find these secret gems is a total pleasure. Of course, the running has been gnarly, my feet are blistered, legs knackered, but it wouldn’t be right to call this hard – this is a true pleasure. Exploring the wild places of Iceland begs to be done on foot, fast and light, with no agenda.