Following Antonio’s 16 pitches of climbing on Cathedral I re-scheduled his alpine climbing day to Monday based on the weather forecasts indicating some severe afternoon weather. It was with a little irony that by freeing up that day my boss asked if I could cover a Waterfall Rappelling adventure so he could attend Marc’s Guide Manual Clinic yesterday.
Avoiding getting caught above tree-line in a thunderstorm was therefore traded with standing in a river at the top of a waterfall. A closer look at the updated weather models though indicated the disturbances would not start until about 1 PM and I felt we could run our 6 guests through the course and be back at the cars before it got to hairy.
Everyone in the group got to rappel at least twice while I closely monitored the sky. It’s difficult to hear thunderstorms approaching over the roar of a waterfall but around 12 PM I felt the air change, the temperature drop, and an updraft develop. We had one pair returning to the top to conduct their third and final rappel when I heard the first boom, followed by a few big fat cold raindrops that lasted only a few seconds, then a second boom. I radioed my co-guide Peter that we were shutting it down and we packed up and casually hiked out reaching the parking lot in a light rain. 2 minutes later driving on Route 302 through torrential downpours I knew we pulled the plug at the right moment.
These storms would intensify over the next 8 hours and actually trigger at least three tornadoes in western Maine, just 15 miles west of North Conway! Thankfully no one was hurt through there was some property damage. I confess I am fascinated by extreme weather and to me this whole weather event was great to witness. Maine averages 2 tornadoes a year so three in one day is quite historic!
Tomorrow’s weather looks a lot nicer for an alpine objective so Antonio and I will likely be heading up high somewhere!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start
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A few days ago I returned from an amazing ski trip to the Tröllaskagi peninsula in northern Iceland. Six days of ski touring was more than enough to make me fall in love with this amazing country and I cannot wait to return! I’d like to share some tips for planning your own backcountry ski trip to this enchanting country. I’m also a stickler for planning and will include my detailed personal gear list for this trip with comments on what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully this will help you plan your own adventure to the land of the vikings!
So much is out there! Get an idea of what the country is about on Wikipedia then head over to the following websites for more ideas:
While I love online resources when it comes to international travel I really like getting a physical travel guide. The Lonely Planet: Iceland is a few years newer (2015) than the competition so that is the one I picked up.
There are two airlines servicing US passengers to Iceland, Iceland Air and the relatively new budget airline WOW Air which started operating flights out of the Keflavík International Airport (KEF) hub in 2012. On the surface WOW Air seams to be a great value but you should factor in some of the additional charges they add that are included with Iceland Air.
While flights from Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) can run as little as $99.99 US one-way on WOW Air you need to consider the $106 extra in baggage fees that would be included when price shopping. Also Iceland Air includes non-alcoholic beverages and free WiFi while WOW charges $3 USD for any 8 ounce non-alcoholic beverage including water!
My opinion of WOW Air was damaged by the fact that they failed to load one of our parties ski bags on to our flight and were less than helpful locating it after we arrived. Luckily the ski bag was found at BOS when we returned to the states but not after our group member incurred expensive ski rental charges. It is our opinion that WOW Air customer service did not try to locate and ship the ski bag on any subsequent flights.
Regardless of which airline you choose the best way to get a solid deal is to subscribe to both of their email lists from their websites here and here. If you select seats on the left side of the plane you might enjoy some views of Greenland about halfway through your flight!
Getting to Akureyri
From Keflavík International Airport (KEF) which is a few minutes outside of the capital city of Reykjavík you can either take a short flight (45 minutes) on Iceland Air for about $200 USD, bus, or rent a car and enjoy the scenic 5 hour drive. To get around the northern part of the island a rental car is the way to go. I’d suggest an SUV at around $35-$45/day. GPS is really not needed for navigation as it is quite simple to get on Route 1 (The Loop Road) and follow it north to Akureyri. Roof boxes are an optional expense but might not be big enough for full size skis so if you are 2-3 skiers per vehicle you can save some money by putting down one of the back seats and easily fitting 3 ski bags inside the vehicle. If you are 4 to a vehicle make sure you request the largest of roof boxes!
Lodging in Akureyri
There are a ton of options in the area and Airbnb is the best place to look. We found the above pictured group lodging option about 10 minutes from downtown. There is a cool looking hostel right downtown but we liked being a little out of the hustle & bustle and having our own cabins made drying and organizing gear convenient, especially since the floors of these cabins seemed to have radiant heat (geothermal is everywhere!). Private jacuzzi’s were enjoyed every day after putting in some vertical human powered effort!
Eating in Akureyri
The closest grocery store was a “Bónus Langholt” conveniently on the north side of Akureyri. Expect to pay about 150% vs. US prices for anything imported (which is almost everything that isn’t fresh vegetables, dairy, seafood or lamb. There is quite a varied culinary scene in the downtown area. The one place that absolutely stood out was Noa Seafood. This place served our large group a 3 main course meal; arctic char, cod, spotted trout. Each cooked in a large skillet with fresh vegetables, potatoes, and perfect seasoning. There is no question I will return to Noa Seafood on my next visit! Slightly more affordable seafood soup can be found at Akureyri Fish and Chips.
The most important culinary experience to try while in Iceland is the hot dogs. Seriously they might be the best hot dog in the world. It’s a combination of the pork, beef, and lamp. They toast the buns. They add 2 types of onions, raw and fried, then 3 condiments the highlight of which being a delicious “remoulade” I regret not buying a bottle of before returning to the States. While the article I linked to above mentions one popular place I can assure you that the farthest gas station in northern Iceland still served up the most amazing dogs I’ve ever had. Almost everyone in our group ate 1-2 of these treats every day. No regrets. None.
Weather & Avalanche Info
The traditional ski season runs from December through April with best conditions and increasing daylight from February to mid-April. On good snow years the back-country skiing may be good through May. The best online resource I could find for current and forecast weather is here. This website also links to a fairly brief avalanche report here.
We did all of our touring north of Dalvik and south of Ólafsfjörður mainly in the Karlsárdalur Valley. This area was recommended to us by friendly guides at Bergmenn Mountain Guides, the only IMFGA certified guide service in the country (and where our group member was able to rent a full touring set up at about $60/day). The trailhead forKarlsárdalur Valley is only 35 minutes from Akureyri and 2 minutes north of Dalvik. An often established mellow skin track takes you into this beautiful valley with a seemingly endless amount of tour options. We skied much of the south facing drainages with the most amount of time in the “third valley” on skier’s right. You can see our highpoint tour in this video and I may attach my GPS tracks here later.
The Topo map above is the best detailed map we could find at 1:50,000 scale and could be purchased from Penninn Eymundsson in downtown Akureyri.
Here is my spreadsheet style list of what I am bringing. Below I will add some brief comments and links to each item:
Dakine Fall Line Double Ski Bag
DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1 176 cm skis with Dynafit Speed Radical 2.0 Bindings
7 lbs 6 oz
Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Ski Mountaineering Boots, size 27/27.5
5 lbs 12 oz
Black Diamond Ultralite Mix Climbing Skins and storage sack
1 lb 4 oz
Dynafit Ski Crampons
Black Diamond Ski Poles
1 lb 6 oz
Ortovox S1+ Beacon
Ortovox Pro Alu Shovel
1 lb 12 oz
Ortovox Snow Saw
Black Diamond Raven Pro Mountaineering Axe
Petzl Vasak Crampons
Petzl Sirocco Helmet
Camp Alp Mountain Harness w/ ice clipper and storage sack
Climbing gear- two lockers, Reverso, double length sling, prussic
I’ve used this for over 7 years with trips to the Washington, Nevada, and Colorado. While it is designed to hold two pairs of skis I only pack one pair and use the extra space for almost all my extra gear allowing me to only check one bag and carry on a small ski touring pack. Be sure to check max weight of ski bags for the airline you are flying (WOW airline to Iceland allows max weight of 60 lbs when you purchase a ski bag allowance).
Simple proven design for when it gets a bit too steep for just skins but you’d prefer to not boot pack it! Snow conditions were excellent during our trip and I did not use these but they are easy added insurance for icier skinning conditions.
My personal beacon of choice for the last 5 years, and I have used just about every beacon on the market over that time frame as an active avalanche course instructor. This item deserves an long in-depth review but that will have to wait until after Iceland!
This has been my mountaineering axe for almost 15 years and is the right balance of weight and durability. Perfect for when you need a bit more security than an improvised axe like the Pocket Spike or Whippet.
Make sure you select the Leverlock option! Best all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! Like my ski crampons snow conditions were so good these never saw use but there is definitely some terrain in Iceland where I would break these out. We saw some nice looking ice lines in a few spots that would have been good fun with technical ice tools.
Say what you will about the color but this thing saves some serious weight from your pack while skinning while providing excellent protection while climbing. A great ultra-light ski mountaineering option IMO.
I’m not bringing a sleeping bag as we’ve rented a house with linens but this goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I often carry it with my bivy sack as a “just in case” option.
I’m only bring 4 spares to cover both my headlamp and avalanche beacon but this is the best deal on quality AA’s I have ever seen. Performance all winter as been as good as any high end brand name alkaline I have ever used!
Always said I would buy one and I finally did. Seems good for the price!
Well that’s pretty much it for “gear”. Clothing is listed in the spreadsheet at the beginning and does not include a little bit of casual wear. I am bringing my beloved Aeropress and a pound of freshly ground beans from my friends at Frontside Coffee Roasters in my home town of North Conway, NH because;
Good coffee is quite expensive in Iceland
I love my Aeropress coffee first thing in the AM
I’ll link more to my clothing after the trip but as you can tell from the list above it is mostly Ortovox. They make some amazing stuff and I’ll post detailed reviews on what I’ve been using this winter soon.
Iceland is a beautiful country with incredibly friendly and helpful people. They are adjusting to the new explosion of tourism the country is experiencing and you might sense some of these growing pains from time to time. As a back-country ski touring destination it is 5 star trip and I can’t wait to return!
See you in the land of the vikings,
Northeast Alpine Start
Disclaimer: Affiliate links help support this blog. Author is a DPS and Revo ambassador and Ortovox Athlete and has received product support from these companies.