Writings

Thoughts, ideas, comments, diatribes, and rambles. A subjective take.

Troll Hunting: Ski Touring in Iceland, Part 2

If you missed Part 1 of Ski Touring Iceland, you can find it here.

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After almost a week in Iceland and several days of skiing touring on the North coast of the island, we thought that we’d learned the tactics needed to put together an amazing line. The right approach, timing, and snow conditions would let us choose and then tackle a king line. With just a few days remaining before our flights home, the countdown was on.

Dalvik Round 2

Each afternoon after skiing, we had grown habituated to collecting our thoughts at the Kaffihûs Bakkabrædra. While slamming down coffees and sampling the full depth of local pastry, we stared up at the mountains around us. To the East, towards Akureyri, was the head of the promising valley called Skíðadalur. At the head of the valley was an enormous slope visible from the café,  stretching thousands of feet at a perfect thirty-five degrees. It was no extreme descent, simply an extremely appealing line.

Tempting views from the coffee shop.

Tempting views from the coffee shop. There’s nothing quite like a verdant valley surrounded by perfect ski mountains.

Following advice we’d heard about local custom, we planned to drive up the valley in the morning and ask permission of the sheep farm at the base to cross their pastures and reach the mountain beyond. Picking the farm that seemed like the shortest walk, we drove up the gravel drive around breakfast time to find all occupants of the little house fast asleep. Not wanting to wake them, we parked at the head of the road and assumed best intentions, loping off across the hummocky field towards the mountain beyond.

The old sheep-style approach.

The old sheep-style approach.

Fooled by foreshortening, we discovered that a ridge and another valley divided us from our goal. In retrospect, this is visible at right in the photo at the head of this article. Hiking the treeless, moss-dominated tundra reminded me strongly of Alaska, as did the roaring river that we found cutting through the valley beyond. Accepting the quiet feeling of isolation and responsibility that comes from complete solitude without means of communication, we carefully inspected the river and made a cautious wet crossing at an opportune point.

And what approach would be complete without river crossings and third class moss?

And what approach would be complete without river crossings and third class moss?

With the river behind us, and some spare socks in our packs, we donned ski boots and skinned what seemed a likely path to the summit. With an earlier start under our belts, we found the first truly firm snow of the trip, which made for quick and occasionally exciting skinning to the summit ridge. Thousands of feet of vertical disappeared beneath us until we crested from a calm bowl into the howling wind of the ridge top. Taking shelter behind a rock pile, we basked in the peerless sunshine and looked out across the fields and fjords below. It was all coming together.

Cumbre

Cumbre. 40 mph crosswind present, though not evident.

Always impatient to ski, we waited just a short while for the slope to soften before I committed to the face. It was steeper than it had seemed from afar, and I carefully edged into the meat of the thing, cautious against the possibility of a giant slip-and-die.

Instead of ice, there was perfect corn snow. Soft, silent, fast, and consistent, it surrounded me on a slope whose size and setting I have yet to repeat. The ocean was blue, the valley was green, and the skiing was amazing. I yelled to Taylor to follow.

Sweet payoff.

Sweet payoff. Taylor works a roll with Dalvik and the North Pacific beyond.

We leapfrogged our way down the face, stopping to grin, take photos, rest our legs, and talk about how amazing the skiing was. With an early start timed to match the aspect of our run, we had finally connected with perfect conditions. While summer breezed in the valley, we sprayed snow at each other, laughing.

Corn face shots

Corn face shots

The skiing stretched on forever. The giant face gave way to mellow rollers and then dirt-plastered corn above the river. From above, it was clear that there was better passage across the water, and we whipped across the river on a stout snow bridge, glad to avoid another wet crossing.

Taylor, with Skidadallur behind.

Taylor, with Skidadallur behind.

A quick trot down the tundra hillside brought us back to our car. We changed out of our sweaty pants into dry jeans and t-shirts, reveling in the Summer air. Hopping into our car, we drove away past the farmhouse, where the family sat taking breakfast in the yard, watching our passing car as if it was a ghost. Our parking higher on the property had gone unnoticed. We waved as we pulled onto the road, and a bit dazed, they waved back.

Natural Wonders

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I can’t sufficiently impress on you, using words and pictures, how amazing Iceland is. I’m torn, because I don’t want to give away too much and return to find every Boulderite with a budget booting these faces, but I trust in everyone’s lack of initiative.

Hot springs, water falls, bubbling mud pits, hot rivers, lava fields– if it seems prehistoric then Iceland has it. In good adventure spirit, I won’t share exactly where we found our  little gems, but I will give a quick point of advice: Lots of Iceland, despite what I’ve been telling you, looks pretty bland from a distance. It is vast, undulating, and a bit dusty. If it’s offered, get the gravel insurance on your rental car.

Hot pot, middle of nowhere, Iceland.

Hot pot, middle of nowhere, Iceland.

Still, time and again, if you set off away from the road with a bit of energy and an open mind, the landscape reveals amazing things hidden around corners invisible to the road-tourist’s eye. If you visit Iceland, don’t just drive the loop road around the island. Buy a decent map (bad ones will lead you to 4×4 roads with serious commitment) and take the back roads.

Ok, Iceland driving can be pretty fun too.

Ok, Iceland driving can be pretty fun too.

Get out of your car. You will be safe; on this island there is somehow no stinging, biting, pestilent, predatory anything. There is just a landscape populated by beautiful miniature horses, and you. And maybe some elves.

He wasn't having it.

He wasn’t having it.

Iceland runs on three things: sheep, manners, and geothermal energy. Never have I encountered not just so many hot springs but indeed a hot river. Hottest at the top, colder as it flows, we spent almost an entire day here, happy as clams in a light drizzle.

How about an afternoon in a hot river?

How about an afternoon in a hot river?

I’ll be coming back here. This was Taylor’s second trip, and now I understand the compulsion to return. The landscape rewards you for diving deeply into one little spot, and so it’s easy to spend days here and see little more than a few snippets. That’s fine. Come back. See more. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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If you missed Part 1 of Ski Touring Iceland, you can find it here.

2 Comments

  • Tom on Nov 21, 2015 Reply

    great adventure! Thanks for sharing!

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