Backcountry Ski Tours in Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland seems to offer unlimited potential for backcountry ski tours. Last week I returned from my second ski trip there. I’ve updated my original travel guide to backcountry skiing in Iceland with more resources on planning a trip here, and in this post I’ll share some details of some classic tours we conducted on this most recent trip. Enjoy!


Day 1- Karlsárdalur Valley and Siglufjörður ski resort

After settling in to our accommodations in Akureyri we planned a light warm up tour for the next morning in the Karlsárdalur Valley that we became familiar with last year. This scenic and easily accessed valley is just a few minutes north of Dalvik. We skinned up to about to about 650 meters on the second ridge coming off of 988 meter Karlsarfjall mountain and enjoyed a spring condition snowpack run back down.

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Skinning in to the scenic Karlsárdalur Valley just north of Dalvik
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Heading up a shoulder of Karlsarfjall
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
A rocky prominence at about 650 meters on Karlsarfjall with Eyjafjörður, the longest fjord in Iceland behind me
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Our highpoint on this quick morning tour is the prominent point in the background

Here’s our GPS track from the tour and relevant details. Keep in mind we took quite a few photography/filming breaks along the way and this could probably be a quick 2.5 hour tour without these breaks.

Relive ‘Morning Apr 12th’

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Warm up tour in Karlsárdalur Valley

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633935627

After this quick morning mission we jumped back in the car to scout some potential northern locations. We drove north on route 82 through Ólafsfjörður then hopped on route 76 through a virtually uninhabited valley referred to as “Tunnel Town” before reaching Siglufjörður, arguably the northern most size-able town in Iceland! Here, while scouting a potential tour location and running into our back-east-home-town guide-of-guides Mr. Marc Chauvin, we had a couple locals pull up in a truck to promote an upcoming ski race they were hosting. They also informed us they ran the local ski hill and invited us to visit free of charge!

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Faster than skinning! photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Most scenic T-bar I have ever been on!

This ski resort operates a series of 4 t-bars that whisk you up to 650 meters (our current morning highpoint) in just under 20 minutes! The views on the descent are stellar and their groomed main trail offers night skiing (though we opted for some off-piste on our second descent). A huge thanks to these folks, and especially Patrick who shared a lot of his towns history and info with us while we enjoyed some complimentary dried Cod and Icelandic beer on the ski lodge porch!

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Dried Cod, a tasty local snack high in protein
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Size-able avalanche paths threaten the small town of Siglufjörður hence the “avalanche fencing” visible high on the slopes above the town! Photo by Erik Howes

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633938322


Day 2- Sunrise summit of Karlsarfjall (988 meters)

For day two we rose at 0200 so we could get higher on Karlsarfjall and enjoy the spectacular Icelandic sunrise during our approach. We were also treated to an Aurora Borealis display as a bonus!

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Erik Howes captures some Aurora Borealis and the Big Dipper!
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Alpine glow starts to light the place up! Photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Looking southeast off the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Almost to the summit of Karlsarfjall… the Norwegian Sea stretches on for days! Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Summit of Karlsarfjall- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Layering up for descent- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
The prominent Kerahnjukur peak is off to the north and looks quite tasty!
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Spring turns off Karlsarfjall- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Enjoying the turns- photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Party ski with Baejarfjall in the background- Photo by Cait Bourgault

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633950042


Day 3- Rest Day and Sightseeing- Grjótagjá caves

With a forecast for rain and feeling some travel fatigue after touring for two days we decided that Day 3 would be our sight-seeing rest day before our final couple of tour days. We decided to explore the Lake Myvatn region about an hour east of Akureyri. About halfway along Route 1 we made a quick stop at the scenic Godafoss waterfall then continued to Route 848 and drove around the south side of Lake Myvatn to the small village of Reykjahlíð.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
The river below Godafoss- photo by Erik Howes

From here a very short drive back on Route 1 brings you to Route 860 and the Grjótagjá caves. This underground thermal hot spring has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, partially due no doubt to being the filming location of Jon Snow and Ygritte’s steamy encounter in the popular Game of Thrones show!

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Grjótagjá caves- photo by Erik Howes
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Fun exploring around this volcanic fissure revealed a few underground thermal pools

Day 4- Kaldbakur (1173 meters)

For our fourth day we decided to tour on the east side of Eyjafjörður just north of Grenivik. A small cat touring operation runs almost daily trips up this peak ($75pp) (phone +354 8673770). We opted to stick with human powered adventure and skinned up the peak basically following the obvious cat track.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Cool Ortovox Beacon Check
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Skinning up the cat track
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
View to the east as we near the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Size-able cornices near summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Summit of Kaldbakur- photo by Erik Howes
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Brent Doscher gets a great shot on the descent!

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633956698


Day 5- Sulur Peak (1,213 meters)

For our final tour day we stayed close to our lodging in Akureyri and set our sights on Sulur Peak, the first prominent peak just south of town. The trailhead is only a few minutes from town. A long mellow skin leads to the scenic upper mountain and we reached the summit register box in just under 3 hours.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Cait & Corey all smiles on our last ascent of the trip
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Getting close to the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Erik sends it off Sulur high above Akureyri- photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Sulur Peak- photo by Erik Howes

 https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633961749


Summary

Northern Iceland obviously has a lifetime worth of touring to explore. I hope sharing these tours with you will motivate you to plan your own trip to this beautiful country. Be sure to check out my updated Travel Guide to Ski Touring in Iceland for advice on everything from flying to Iceland to eating & drinking when in country! Also if I left out one of your favorite tours let me know in the comments below! Are you interested in downloading the GPS tracks from these trips for future use? What else would you like to see in a trip report?

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Shop Climbing Clothing & Gear at Patagonia.com + free shipping on orders over $75!

Two Parties Rescued off Mount Washington

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of summiting Washington with 4 hardy climbers in very pleasant Spring weather while guiding for Northeast Mountaineering. This really is a cool time to climb Mount Washington as you start out in summer-like conditions but soon discover above treeline it is still winter. There is a lot of snow still up there and aspiring hikers should be aware that crampons and ice axe are still needed along with proper clothing.

We passed a group heading up the mountain while we were descending around 2 pm and they were crawling up the snowfields in sneakers with bare hands grasping at the snow while clad in sweatpants and flannel shirts. I considered chatting with them about their level of preparation for what lay ahead but allowed the “Tuckerman Spring Effect” to hold my tongue and we continued our descent. I regret not attempting the conversation. They ended up requiring some assistance to get off the mountain along with another party who needed a rescue off the auto road.

Make good choices folks! Three websites every White Mountain Hiker should be familiar with:

HikeSafe

Mount Washington Observatory Higher Summits Forecast

Mount Washington Avalanche Center

And if you’re new to above tree-line hiking consider hiring a guide for your first time. It is probably much cheaper than a rescue.

Anyways, our hike was great. Here’s a quick video of the trip and a photo gallery:

Next up I started my rock climbing season yesterday while guiding on Whitehorse and Cathedral Ledge, trip report tomorrow, along with a review of the Ortovox Tour Rider 30 Backpack I skied with for most of the winter. Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links help support this blog.

Travel Guide- Ski Touring in Iceland

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!

General Information

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:

http://www.iceland.is/

http://www.visiticeland.com/

http://wikitravel.org/en/Iceland

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/iceland

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.

Lonely Planet- Iceland
Lonely Planet- Iceland photo from Amazon.com

Flight Info

Flying to Iceland
Flying to Iceland

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.

Screen shot 2017-04-18 at 7.05.11 AM

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

Screen shot 2017-04-18 at 7.32.12 AM

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

Fagravik Vacation Home
photo by http://www.caitbourgaultphotography.com

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

Eating in Akureyri
“I’ll have one with everything” photo by http://www.caitbourgaultphotography.com

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.

Akureyri Nightlife
Akureyri Nightlife- @photocait

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.

Bacon-Wrapped-Icelandic-Hot-Dog-KaveyEats-cKFavelle-addedtext-8442_thumb

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.

Avalanche Danger in Iceland

Ski Tours

Iceland Ski Tour Map
Iceland Ski Tour Map

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.

Equipment

Here is my spreadsheet style list of what I am bringing. Below I will add some brief comments and links to each item:

Item Weight
Dakine Fall Line Double Ski Bag 8 lbs
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 8 oz
Black Diamond Ski Poles 1 lb 6 oz
Ortovox S1+ Beacon 8 oz
Ortovox Pro Alu Shovel 1 lb 12 oz
Ortovox Probe 10 oz
Ortovox Snow Saw 8 oz
Black Diamond Raven Pro Mountaineering Axe 15 oz
Petzl Vasak Crampons 2 lb
Petzl Sirocco Helmet 6 oz
Camp Alp Mountain Harness w/ ice clipper and storage sack 11 oz
Climbing gear- two lockers, Reverso, double length sling, prussic
3 wire gates, climbing knife, 2 Petzl ice screws 1 lb 5 oz
Sterling climbing rope, 30m, 8.4mm 3 lbs
AMK .7 First Aid Kit 9 oz
Leatherman Supertool 11 oz
CRKT Lake 111 pocket knife 3 oz
Suunto MC-2 Compass 3 oz
Nalgene 32 oz water bottle
Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Liner 10 oz
SOL Emergency Bivy Sack 4 oz
Revo Capsule Goggles and Buff 8 oz
Revo Cusp S Sunglasses White w/ Solar Lens
Revo Harness Sunglasses Black w/ Green Water Lens
Petzl Myo Headlamp 5 oz
Lighter 1 oz
Three pairs of chemical hand warmers 6 oz
Snow thermometer 1 oz
Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch 3 oz
OREI European Plug Adapter
iPhone 6s+ with headphones & charger 10 oz
GoPro 5 Session with Polar Pro Tripod 12 oz
Travel neck pillow
Clothing
Ortovox 3L Guardian Shell Jacket 1 lb 14 oz
Ortovox 3L Guardian Shell Pants 1 lb 10 oz
Arcteryx AR Hoody 1 lb 2 oz
Ortovox Fleece Melange Hoody 1 lb 2 oz
Outdoor Research Echo Hoody 5 oz
Ortovox Rock’N’Wool boxers (2pair) 8 oz
Ortovox Rock’N’Wool long sleeve top 7 oz
Ortovox Rock’N’Wool bottoms 7 oz
Outdoor Research Project Gloves 6 oz
Ortovox Tec Gloves 4 oz
Ski Socks (3 pair) 8 oz
Outdoor research sun ball cap
DPS Trucker Hat
Bathing suit 6 oz
Toiletry Kit- soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, contact solution, eyeglasses 1 lb 4 oz

Dakine Fall Line Double Ski Bag

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).

Ortovox Haute Route 35

The perfect size for day touring and ski mountaineering this pack is well designed through-out and will be my only carry-on luggage. Detailed review posting soon and will be linked here!

DPS Wailer 99 Skis

I’m rocking the ultralight Tour 1 model of these award winning skis but some may like the stiffer Pure 3 construction or super affordable Foundation model!

Dynafit Speed Radical 2.0 Bindings

A great match for my ski/boot combo these keep the uphill effort to a minimum while still providing excellent downhill control!

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Ski Mountaineering Boots

This boot is insanely comfortable on the up-track and performs quite well on the down. Not only that I can ice climb Grade 4 in them in with no issues making it an excellent ski mountaineering boot!

Black Diamond Ultralite Mix Climbing Skins

Lightest full coverage climbing skin I have ever tried! Another natural fit for this lightweight Spring touring setup!

Dynafit Speed Crampons

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.

Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poles

Simple proven design, I’ve had mine for 6+ years. Will look to upgrade down the road.

Ortovox S1+ Avalance Beacon

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!

Ortovox Pro Alu Avalanche Shovel with Pocket Spike

A great solution to those ski mountaineering days when you can’t decide if you should bring a mountaineering axe or not!

Ortovox 240 Light PFA Probe

A great choice for ski mountaineering and Spring conditions. Super light and quick to deploy.

Backcountry Access Snow Saw

No nonsense straight forward effective snow saw at a good price!

Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

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.

Petzl Vasak Leverlock Crampons

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.

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

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.

CAMP USA Alp Mountain Harness

Lightweight, pack-able, ice-clipper compatible, and able to put on while wearing skis. Everything I want in a ski mountaineering harness. Detailed review coming soon.

Sterling Evolution Duetto Dry Rope, 30m 8.4mm

A solid choice for glacier and ski mountaineering trips.

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

I customize mine a little but this is a great base kit at the price!

Leatherman Super Tool

I’ve had mine for almost 15 years. No question it has come in clutch quite often!

Columbia River Knife Lake 111-z Serrated Edge Folding Knife

Simple serrated folding knife for multiple uses

Suunto MC-2 Compass

My favorite and trusted compass/clinometer for the last two decades!

Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle

A staple of every outdoor adventure

Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

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.

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

Super affordable and weighs less than 4 ounces means there is never a reason not to bring this!

Revo Capsule Snow Goggles

Pretty much the nicest goggles I have ever owned (and I’ve owned a lot!)

Revo Cusp S Sunglasses

I have the Solar Orange lens on this pair for lower light conditions

Revo Harness Sunglasses

I rock the Green Water lens on these for bright snow conditions

Petzl Myo Headlamp

My headlamp of preference for winter adventure for almost a decade!

Quality Survival Lighter

Fire-starter is on every gear list, and this one is a good value

Chemical Hand Warmers

I carry 2-3 pairs on every winter trip

Snow Thermometer

Hands down the best price on a quality thermometer for avalanche work

Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch

My current favorite GPS navigation capable smartwatch with optical heart-rate!

Europe plug adapter

Because you need one to charge your phone/electronics in Iceland and Europe and this one is the best price yet high rated one I could find!

Brunton AR Pocket Scope

Super light/compact affordable option to binoculars for scouting avalanche terrain/activity

AA Batteries

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!

GoPro Hero 5 Session

A great little HD cam with advanced features beyond this post. Look into it!

PolarPro Trippler Tri-pod

Works great with both my GoPro and my iPhone!

Travel Neck Pillow

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;

  1. Good coffee is quite expensive in Iceland
  2. 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.

Summary

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!

Skiing in Iceland
The author gets one more run on the way back to Reykjavík- photo by http://mattbaldelli.photoshelter.com/index

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. 

Travel Guide- Ski Touring in Iceland (updated 2018)

Originally posted in April 2017, this post has been updated to reflect more knowledge from 2018 trip!

QUICKLINKS

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!

General Information

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:

http://www.iceland.is/

http://www.visiticeland.com/

http://wikitravel.org/en/Iceland

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/iceland

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.

Emergency Phone Number in Iceland is 112! 

Lonely Planet- Iceland
Lonely Planet- Iceland photo from Amazon.com

 

Flight Info

Flying to Iceland
Flying to Iceland

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.

Screen shot 2017-04-18 at 7.05.11 AM

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.

UPDATE April 2018: 4/6 of our team this year flew WOW Air this last trip and 3/4 did not have their skis arrive with their plane. 2 pairs arrived later in the day and the 3rd pair took 3 days to arrive in country. I would not fly WOW Air with skis. Ever.

I booked this latest trip on Iceland Air through Travelocity at substantial savings, cheaper than I could find on Iceland Air’s own website! I also was not charged for my ski bag on both flights for some reason! My traveling partner was charged on his returnb trip unfortunately so you should budget $80 for round-trip skis if pre-booked.

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!

 

Cell Service

Even the most remote areas on the western side of the country seemed to have pretty good cell service. As a Verizon customer I was able to activate “Travel Pass” at $10/day which allowed me to use my unlimited data plan to access the internet, stream music, video, and GPS directions the entire trip.

Getting to Akureyri

Screen shot 2017-04-18 at 7.32.12 AM

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. It takes about a full tank of gas to get to Akureyri which will cost about $120 USD to fill up. Yes, gas is very expensive, so consider getting 4 people per car to save some $$$!

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

Fagravik Vacation Home
photo by http://www.caitbourgaultphotography.com

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!

On our next trip we will explore some Airbnb options in Dalvik, Ólafsfjörður, and Siglufjörður. These towns are a bit closer to the majority of the skiing and would save some daily driving from the Akureyri area. If you want to be closer to a more happening small city though you can still get to just about all the good tour areas in 45 minutes to an hour!

Eating in Akureyri/Iceland

Eating in Akureyri
“I’ll have one with everything” photo by http://www.caitbourgaultphotography.com

The closest grocery store was a “Bónus Langholt” conveniently on the north side of Akureyri. Expect to pay about 150-200% vs. US prices for anything imported (which is almost everything that isn’t fresh vegetables, dairy, seafood or lamb. For fresh fish go to the Fish Market attached to the Bonus in upper Akureyri (easy to find on Google Maps).

Buying fish in Akureyri
Great fish market attached to the Bonus in “upper” Akureyri

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.

Akureyri Nightlife
Akureyri Nightlife- @photocait

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.

Bacon-Wrapped-Icelandic-Hot-Dog-KaveyEats-cKFavelle-addedtext-8442_thumb

Drinking in Akureyri/Iceland

Alcohol is quite expensive in Iceland. Consider packing up to one liter of your favorite spirit from the States (NH tax-free liquor stores can save you a lot of $$$). Once in country pretty much all beer, wine, and liquor is only sold in government owned alcohol stores called Vínbúðin. The stores around the capitol have these hours:

  • Monday 11-18
  • Tuesday 11-18
  • Wednesday 11-18
  • Thursday 11-18
  • Friday 11-19
  • Saturday 11-18
  • Sunday CLOSED

Outside of the capitol small towns will often have one of these stores but hours may be limited, with some only being open a few hours a day. All of them are closed on Sundays so plan accordingly! Expect to pay about $4-5 for a 12 ounce beer for mid-level craft beers (that’s about $30 a six-pack of 6.5% IPA). The cheapest beers (Thule, Viking line) are around 3.50 USD for 16 ounce cans.

Icelandic Beer
Icelandic Beer

A number of restaurants in Akureyri have decent beer selections but the must visit place for the beer connoisseur is the R5 Beer Lounge. I’ve hit this place two years in a row and the selection is great along with Hjörvar Óli Sigurðsson (call him Oli), a most friendly and knowledgable bartender! Tell him I sent you!

The New England Style IPA, “Borealis Baby”, a collaborative brew between Borg Brewery in Reykjavík and Lamplighter Brewing Co. from Cambridge, MA was definitely one of the best beers I had in country! You can also check out this hot beer spot on Facebook here!

Beer Drinking in Iceland
R5 Beer Lounge, Akureyri Iceland

 

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. It should go without saying that there is a ton of highly consequential avalanche terrain in Iceland! Bring your beacon, probe, and shovel and have the education to plan and execute safe tours!

Avalanche Danger in Iceland

Ski Tours

Iceland Ski Tour Map
Iceland Ski Tour Map

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. Gaia GPS works quite well too as long as you download the more detailed maps!

UPDATE 2018: I’ve added 4 ski tours from our 2018 trip HERE

Equipment

Here is my updated gear list after two trips. I will add some brief comments and links to each item:

Double Wheeled Ski Bag

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).

Ortovox Haute Route 35 Backpack

The perfect size for day touring and ski mountaineering this pack is well designed through-out and will be my only carry-on luggage. Detailed review posting soon and will be linked here!

DPS Wailer 99 Skis

I’m rocking the ultralight Tour 1 model of these award winning skis but some may like the stiffer Pure 3 construction or super affordable Foundation model!

Dynafit Speed Radical 2.0 Bindings

A great match for my ski/boot combo these keep the uphill effort to a minimum while still providing excellent downhill control!

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Ski Mountaineering Boots

This boot is insanely comfortable on the up-track and performs quite well on the down. Not only that I can ice climb Grade 4 in them in with no issues making it an excellent ski mountaineering boot!

Contour Hybrid Mix Climbing Skins

Lightest full coverage climbing skin I have ever tried! Another natural fit for this lightweight Spring touring setup!

Dynafit Speed Crampons

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. UPDATE: April 2018 trip these came in clutch as we had generally switched to Spring conditions and ski crampons were the way to go on a few of our ascents! 

Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poles

Simple proven design, I’ve had mine for 6+ years. Will look to upgrade down the road.

Ortovox S1+ Avalance Beacon

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!

Ortovox Badger Avalanche Shovel

A great choice for a compact avalanche shovel that won’t break the bank.

Ortovox 240 PFA Probe

A great choice for ski mountaineering and Spring conditions. Super light and quick to deploy.

Backcountry Access Snow Saw

No nonsense straight forward effective snow saw at a good price!

Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe

The lightest ski mountaineering ice you can find that still has a full steel head! Perfect for when you need a bit more security than an improvised axe like the Pocket Spike or Whippet.

Petzl Leopard LLF Leverlock Crampons

So light I don’t fret over whether or not I should pack boot crampons. I just always pack them now!

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

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.

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

I customize mine a little but this is a great base kit at the price!

Leatherman Skeletool Multi-Tool

A great lightweight multi-tool? No question it has come in clutch quite often!

Suunto MC-2 Compass

My favorite and trusted compass/clinometer for the last two decades!

Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle

A staple of every outdoor adventure

Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

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.

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

Super affordable and weighs less than 4 ounces means there is never a reason not to bring this!

Revo Summit Snow Goggles

Pretty much the nicest goggles I have ever owned (and I’ve owned a lot!)

Revo Cusp S Sunglasses

I have the Solar Orange lens on this pair for lower light conditions

Revo Harness Sunglasses

I rock the Green Water lens on these for bright snow conditions

Petzl Actik Headlamp

My headlamp of preference for winter adventure for almost a decade!

Quality Survival Lighter

Fire-starter is on every gear list, and this one is a good value

Chemical Hand Warmers

I carry 2-3 pairs on every winter trip

Snow Thermometer

Hands down the best price on a quality thermometer for avalanche work

Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch

My current favorite GPS navigation capable smartwatch with optical heart-rate!

Europe plug adapter

Because you need one to charge your phone/electronics in Iceland and Europe and this one is the best price yet high rated one I could find!

Brunton AR Pocket Scope

Super light/compact affordable option to binoculars for scouting avalanche terrain/activity

AA Batteries

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!

GoPro Hero 5 Session

A great little HD cam with advanced features beyond this post. Also a great price for this unit! Look into it!

PolarPro Trippler Tri-pod

Works great with both my GoPro and my iPhone!

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;

  1. Good coffee is quite expensive in Iceland
  2. 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.

Summary

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!

Skiing in Iceland
The author gets one more run on the way back to Reykjavík- photo by Matt Baldelli

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. 

Gear Review: Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody

A couple months ago I got my hands on the iconic Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody and I’ve come to discover why I often see climbers milling about both at the cliffs and at the local coffee shop in this well designed piece. The non-hooded version of this jacket won the Editors Choice Classic Award from Climbing Magazine. I prefer hoods on almost all my outdoor clothing so I was happy to review the hooded version. This jacket falls into the “light puffy” category. If you are looking for a full on winter belay jacket you can check out some “full puffy” models I am reviewing here.


DEAL ALERT: 30% off on Backcountry


Patagonia Men's Nano Puff® Hoody
Patagonia Men’s Nano Puff® Hoody- photo from Patagonia.com

So let’s break down what makes this piece an excellent addition to your outdoor wardrobe!

Insulation

The Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody uses super light and compressible 60-g PrimaLoft® Gold ECO Insulation. “Gold” Primaloft is the highest level of synthetic insulation and of course being the environmentally conscious company Patagonia is known for they went with the ECO version of Gold which is 55% post-consumer recycled content. So you can feel warm and fuzzy while feeling warm and… ok that’s a bit too cheesy.

Patagonia Men's Nano Puff® Hoody

The “brick quilting” pattern is superior to other less expensive baffling methods and keeps the insulation in place preventing cold spots.

Shell/Lining

The Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody uses 1.4-oz 22-denier 100% recycled polyester with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. Well what does that mean? 1.4-oz 22-denier feels like silk!

Patagonia Men's Nano Puff® Hoody
Brick Quilting Pattern = no cold spots

This isn’t a cheap nylon taffeta but a very abrasion resistant and pack-able material. It is quite comfortable over bare skin which is good since I broke this out repeated this Fall to wear directly over a t-shirt.

Weight/Compress-ability

12.8 oz. / 362 grams. Ultralight weight and super compressible, this is undoubtedly where the jacket go its namesake. Nano in this sense means extremely small. The Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody easily stuffs into its own internal chest pocket which measures about 8 x 7 x 4 inches.

Patagonia Men's Nano Puff® Hoody
A lot of warmth in a small little package

A carabiner sewn loop allows you to clip this off to the back of your harness if you are leaving your pack on the ground and the top of the pitch looks a little bit more breezy than the base of the route.

Sizing/Fit

I found the sizing to be spot on. I went with a large which fits my 42 inch chest with a little extra space for a soft-shell and base-layers but not too baggy to throw on over a t-shirt. The hood is sized to fit under your helmet but I found it would fit over as well, but a bit snug.

fullsizerender-2

Patagonia Men's Nano Puff® Hoody
A blustery day rock climbing this Fall near Gorham, NH

Probably more comfortable, and warmer, to wear this hood under your helmet unlike traditional belay jackets with over-sized hoods.

Features

Rounding out some of the features I haven’t mentioned yet:

  • Center-front zipper has wicking interior storm flap and zipper garage at chin for next-to-skin comfort
  • Two zippered handwarmer pockets have cleanly finished zipper garages
  • Under-the-helmet hood construction is light and simple
  • Drawcord-adjustable drop-tail hem seals in warmth

Summary

This is a super versatile layer that can serve many purposes.

It’s the perfect balance of warmth, weight, and pack-ability for climbing on the edge seasons.

Fall rock climbing is the best rock climbing in the Northeast and this jacket is ideal as your insulating layer all on its own. The DWR finish and warm-when-wet insulation adds protection should you leave the rain shell at home and get surprised by a later afternoon shower. After the leaves have fallen and the ice is starting to grow this becomes an excellent mid-layer, taking the place of heavier and less compress-able 200 weight fleece jackets. With quality long underwear, a soft shell, Patagonia Nano Puff® Hoody, and a hard-shell you have an adjustable system that can handle almost any winter conditions. I’ll still carry a heavier full on belay jacket when swapping leads ice climbing but for fast solo missions this is a perfect companion!

If you think you’d like this jacket you can find it at 30% off on Backcountry. If you liked this review please leave a comment below and subscribe above!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Patagonia provided this item for purposes of review. The opinions expressed above are my own. Affiliate links above help support this blog.

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