It's been super-hectic since our return from Iceland. Hopefully word has spread about what happened to most people, but for those who are still curious, please see the below piece which I've submitted to my old school for inclusion in their termly magazine:
"As the plane started its descent towards Keflavik airport and the barren rocky expanse of Iceland’s south-west coast came into view, my friend Jim came out of his reverie and said, “This just got real.”
6 months of organising, route-planning, testing different items of kit, negotiating with airlines, fundraising, and sending reassurances to our parents had led up to this point, and our plans were at last coming to fruition. It had been March when the idea struck – “Why not cross Iceland, by foot, unsupported, and in winter?” I had dared to propose.
Now, with £3,500 raised for Macmillan Cancer Support, and 75kg of luggage in the hold, we were finally touching down on Icelandic soil. By the following day we were on the north side of Iceland, at our start point in Akureyri, and making the final preparations for our 300km trek from the north coast to the south coast. The first few steps were possibly the hardest of the whole journey as we struggled to find the blind courage to begin our 3-week journey towards and through the deserted Icelandic highlands – a land of snow, rock, and ice, where the wind blows at hurricane speeds, and where the weather changes from sunshine to blizzard without any chance to react.
As the days passed we noticed an increase in our pace as we started to get used to the loads on our backs and mentally adjusted to the task at hand: one in foot in front of the other, repeat until tired, and repeat some more after that. The snow-covered mountains to either side of me brought back vivid memories of my first hiking experience – it had been on a Tanglin school trip to Nepal back in ’00, when we spent several days meandering through the Annapurna foothills. Those memories have stayed with me ever since and I believe has been the inspiration behind many of my outdoor adventures. I was happy to be in such glorious surroundings, despite the cold, and the days started to go by more easily.
Halfway through our third day we found ourselves passing our first milestone: the last farm in the valley, the last sign of civilisation we were due to see until we reached the south coast a couple of weeks and some 240km later. An hour later that too was gone, obscured behind a snowy outstretched spur as the valley began to twist and turn and the ground became more treacherous. It wasn’t long before we were wading through waist deep snowfields and watching anxiously as refrigerator-sized boulders toppled down the slopes to our left and right; any illusions of monotony were now fully dispelled.
It was even deeper into the same valley when our first real Icelandic storm hit us. In moments we were frantically trying to pitch our tent, hammering pegs and ice axes into the ground only to watch the force of the wind rip them up again seconds later. The tent poles bowed and collapsed, and the tent was crushed into the ground. After an hour of struggle we were able to erect some kind of shelter, but the continuing and restless squalls would not let us sleep for the rest of that night.
We stayed put for 2 days before burying our pride and ambition and making our decision to turn back, just 1/3 of the way into our hike. Walking back out of the valley, we were swooped by a small plane, and later found out that the local mountain rescue services were on the lookout, having just recovered the body of an unfortunate hiker not 10 miles from where we were. The lesson for us was clear: all the ambition and pride in the world are little without prudence.