I recently had the opportunity to travel to Iceland for a ski mountaineering trip with work along with a group of guests at Mountain Tracks. This unique little island in the North-Atlantic is somewhere I have always been interested in visiting, its mixture of old Norse culture plus its stunning volcanic landscapes and the hopes of seeing the mythical Northern Lights.
We were heading to the village of Dulvik on the Troll Peninsular in the north of the island. Dulvik, a village of around 1500 inhabitants formed back in only 1998 is centred up the fishing industry. It attracts visitors during the spring for skiing and ski touring and during the summer for the midnight sun, whale watching and beautiful mountains surrounding the village.
Meeting up in Reykjavík’s small domestic airport we boarded our prop plane for the internal flight to Akureyri. Blessed with clear weather our 45 min flight across the centre of the island gave us great views of the glaciers, lakes, dormant volcano’s and its vast expanses of well nothingness. Landing in Akureyri we met up with our guide Owen Day from Bergmenn guides and drove on to our hotel in Dulvik. During the 40 mins drive we could see how much terrain there is available to ski, some stunning couloirs and big open faces. The views out into the Fjord where beautiful and with enough wildlife flying around to make the Spring Watch team quake in their welly boots!
The following morning after a leisurely breakfast we had our safety briefing and avalanche training session before heading off for our first ski tour. Most of the terrain you access from a short road journey and you skin from the road into the mountains. The coastal mountains rise from the sea to around 1000 – 1300m, inland from Dulvik they rise to around 1600m and in many places you can almost ski from sea to summit and back again.
Parking outside Karlsá Lodge, one of Bergmenn Guides ski lodges, we popped our skins on, crossed the road and clipped in; heading off up the valley towards Saudanes-hnjukar . Our summit some 1000m above us, mostly obscured by a light cloud cover, we arrived at the top after about 2.5hrs of skinning. On the summit we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the ocean, the cloud just above out heads, the sun glinting of the still waters; it was amazing to be in such a beautiful place with not another other sole in sight. It has snowed lightly all morning giving up a shallow layer of light powder snow to ski down on. The long swooping descent was over all too quickly, returning to the minibus with big grins on our faces looking forward to more of the same the following day.
On day 2 we drove to the town of Olafsfjörður a remote fishing village on the edge of Eyjafjörður, which until only 5 years ago used to be cut off during the winter months (over half the year) due to the poor road connection over the mountains. The Icelandic government dug a tunnel to connect it to Dulvik along with another one to link the town of Siglufjörður right on the northern edge of the peninsular. Parking above the town we ski toured out into the wilderness towards Kerahnjukur a peak at 1097m overlooking the village, we had a windy and snowy skin toward the false summit where we decided to call it a day and enjoy the ski down in relatively good light and great snow. Pitch after pitch of creamy light powder lead us back towards the ocean and the minibus.
We then drove onto visit the town of Siglufjörður, which is famous for its vast quantities of herring that it caught, processed and exported around the world in the 1940’s and 50’s. The herring now mostly gone the town has a tiny population of just 1,206 (Jan 2011) who mainly exist on the fishing industry and the growing tourist trade. After a visit to the cafe to warm up on coffee, tea and large slices of cake we visited the Herring Era Museum. This remarkable museum show visitors the extent of the herring industry, the number of people it employed during its peak and the harsh conditions they lived and worked in. What makes it really interesting is that you can visit all the reconstructed rooms of the houses where they lived, walk past and get on some of the boats used to catch the fish and see all the processing plant for the fish oil and other bi-products from the industry.
The following 5 days was more of the same, steady climbs in valleys towards a summit for the day. Starting out from our vehicle we would usually park at the end of a road, generally next to a kindly farmers house who seemed content with their existence miles from anywhere in the bleak landscape. Most days we would do 1 or 2 skins climbing around 900 – 1200m overall, doing a circuit or an out and return day. We had mixed weather over the week, with fresh snow falling each day, and quite a lot of overcast skies; usually from May onwards you would expect to ski spring snow with long days and sunshine. It’s rare in the Arctic to ski such consistent shallow powder snow day after day, but we certainly were not complaining.
For our last day we drove to JB’s main lodge Klængshóll Lodge, located deep in the Skíðadalur Valley. This is his family home transformed now into a base camp for ski touring and home to his Arctic Heliskiing business. The Lodge has been inhabited from the time of the settlement of the Vikings in Iceland in around 850AD. The last sheep farmers at Klængshóll Lodge where JB’s grandparents and he grew up working as a shepherd there.
It was a hive of activity with heli ski groups getting ready to depart and our treat of the week a bump in the heli to Holardalsfjall for a lift assist descent. Getting ready quickly as the weather was changing fast we split into two groups and myself, Stephanie, Neill and Viviane waiting for the heli to return to collect us. 2 minutes later we were coming into land beside the rest of the group in pretty windy and white conditions on the flat summit of the mountain. Once the helicopter had departed we were left in swirling wind and snow ready to start our descent, shame it was not perfect blue skies but you can’t have everything!
7 or 8 pitches of skiing later we stopped for a quick snack and some water before putting our skins on and climbing again. Heading back up into the wind and snow, we stopped after about 2hrs of steady climbing, swapped over and skied back down again. Some steeper pitches where good to ski but challenging in difficult light and cloud making it more ski by brail and guess work. Finishing with a traverse and schuss out into the valley bottom we skinned slowly back towards Klængshóll Lodge over the thinning spring snow cover and grass, arriving back happy after a fantastic weeks skiing but sad that it was all over.
After a final celebratory cup of tea and slice of cake we packed our stuff into the minibus and headed back to Akureyri airport and our flight back to Reykjavík. I would love to return to Iceland again next year to ski and explore more of the terrain, there must be 10 lifetimes worth to ski up there if your prepared to walk to find it. Compared to my home in Chamonix which is full of world class terrain, but crowds and busy skiing; this is the polar opposite for quiet, untouched, stress free skiing. With pretty much 24hrs of day light you can ski all day with no worries of beating the approaching dark, there is nobody else, or at least very few others out there to steal your snow and beat you to the top of the hill. It makes a refreshing change plus a huge difference of ski touring at sea level on mind and body. Now it’s back to my day job at Mountain Tracks and my home life of being a mum to my 1 year old daughter.