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Ice & Fire

Ice & Fire

Alex Jeffers
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Back in December we reported our involvement with the forthcoming expedition to Iceland involving Adam Crook, Simon Frost, Neil Griffiths and Dave Garry.  Having noted the massive and untapped potential of Iceland's ice climbing whilst on an earlier visit, Adam returned to the UK and assembled the team of four who ventured out with sharpened front points intent on opening up as many unclimbed routes as they could.  

They returned to the UK a couple of weeks ago with a swathe of first ascents, some stunning photographs and tales of adventure.

Dave tells the story here: 

In February Adam Crook, Simon Frost, Neil Griffiths and myself (Dave Garry) decided to step off the beaten Euro ice road for something a little different.  Iceland: the land of fire and ice, Vikings, Bjork and dried Herring.  With few beer shops and high tax on alcohol it may not be everyone’s dream holiday but to a few intent on adventure it’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

With the flights booked it was time to turn casual interest into serious research.  Rather surprisingly ice climbing in Iceland, it turns out, is quite the minority sport and with a little over 40 real activists information is not easily come across.  Yes there have been a few visits from strong teams in the past but these visits have still only scratched the surface, and the vast majority of documented climbing is concentrated within an hour or two of Reykjavik.

As we were looking for new areas to discover we needed to know what was out there so emails were sent out to everyone who had even thought about heading out there, and after several weeks we had sorted out the wheat from the chaff, piece-mealing our snippets of information and eventually putting together a plan.

The Western Fjords looked great but too well documented by the local activists.  Kaldakin in the north again looked great (who doesn’t want to climb off the beach) but had been done to death by several teams from overseas.  We scoured the maps identifying possible areas, did virtual recons on Google Earth and eventually settled on a town called Egilsstaðir.  This we hoped would be our base for the duration of the trip.  It was close enough to some existing venues a little further east with routes yet to see repeats and sat nicely, nestled in a valley littered with water courses and one very big waterfall “Hengifos” (Climbed by Albert Leichtfried, Markus Bendler in 2007 (yet to have a repeat)).

The weeks prior to our arrival had been warm.  With temperatures averaging 2c in Reykjavik, not much climbing had been taken place.  As we left the arrivals lounge to look for our car, –6c flashed in front of our eyes.  We all smiled and being Brits hunched up and pulled down hard on our hats.  That evening in Reykjavik we met up with an old friend I hadn't seen in 16 years, who politely introduced us to several bars in the town's main high street.  The consensus was that Reykjavik on a Saturday night was not unlike Liverpool but with a slightly better dressed and less violent drunk.

The following day we drove the 8 hours east to Egilsstaðir taking in some of the sights as we went.  The further east we got the colder it grew and the more ice formed on the crags above every road.  Potential lay everywhere although sadly it just wasn’t quite thick enough yet.

Our first goal was to repeat an established line, get a feel for the place and get our heads around the grading, so the following morning we drove out for an hour to the nearest established area in the eastern fjords.  As we arrived our hearts sank as we saw the potential lines everywhere, but none had formed fully. Down-hearted and frustrated we headed back and decided to look further inland.   

Luck it seems was on our side and not 40 minutes from our dig (in the other direction, mind) we came across a crag littered with ice, line after line after line.  It was a little late in the day and regrettably now we decided not to carry the gear up when we went to inspect the crag as we could have possibly got a route done, but you live and learn.

The following morning we were back and we ticked off four new lines.

Happy we returned although, sadly, when I told our man at the Icelandic Alpine club our news he returned with the news that just a month earlier a team had flown out from Reykjavik and opened up the crag.  Vivallagerishamrar was born in Jan 2013.  Gutted!  Well at least three of the four routes we had done were new lines.  This crag has the potential to be a world class venue with all grades present and we could have climbed a new route here everyday for a fortnight.  However, we had a goal: new crags and new routes - so back to square one.

With a brief look at the map again we realised that there was a similar looking valley just next door (yes its that easy in Iceland) and a few messages later and we were sure this had not been touched.

But it is now!

Mulihamar is where we spent the remainder of our trip, again lying just 40mins away from our base.  The crag was perfect and housed bigger routes again with an excellent mix of grades:

WI5 Ice n Happy Simon Frost & Dave Garry 19.2.2014

Climb the steep face of the buttress on delicate and featured ice, belaying in the cave below the next steep step. Again climb the steepest section of this wall and belay at the base of the next steep wall. You guessed it.. climb the thin runnel of ice up the next steep wall.

VI 7 Halda til blandaður - Simon Frost & Dave Garry 20.2.2014

We gave this a Scottish grade as the route and day had a very Scottish feel.  Trad pro with tied off ice screws. Good mixed section right at the top.

Directly above the farmstead is a small bay with three obvious lines of three tier ice falls:

WI5 Lidless - Adam Crook & Neil Griffiths 19.2.2014

Climbs the left hand fall with 3 pitches ranging from WI4 to WI5 the second being the crux.  Done in three separate pitches but could be strung together.  Belay well back on blocks if you can find them or abolakov on the summit ice.

WI4 Muppet - Neil Griffiths and Adam Crook 19.2.2014

Climbs the middle fall. 3 - 2 piches depending on conditions of WI4 the top pitch was a small pillar through a constriction short but hard. Belay as for Lidless

WI3+ Collie's Step - Adam Crook & Neil Griffiths 20.2.2014

The easier right hand line the top pitch being the crux.  Originally done in 2 pitches.  Belay as for Lidless.  Some 200m right of the small bay is a steep wall with several ice falls and pillars some hanging.  There is potential here for at least 4 more routes from WI5 to maybe WI6.

WI4+ Shep - Neil Griffiths and Adam Crook 20.2.2014

The far right of the wall is a wide ice fall some 10m wide.  Climb the centre of the wall in one pitch.  Belay on ice bulges before the summit plateau.

On our last day a collie dog followed us up the hill.  The weather was dreadful, with high winds and driving snow.  He was unperturbed and made the walk in a pleasure, watching him in his element sliding and rolling in the snow having great fun.  He obviously liked the new strange red men in his patch and stayed with us. If it was not his 'leader' barking I am sure he would have stayed all day.

He was reluctant to leave but after a few minutes and a few glances or two back at us he 'skied' down the hill on his feet and belly and was off.  It seemed apt that the Scottish-style name, Collie's Step, was required for the following route and Shep being the next.  A great day and wild weather.

The snow and wind that had been pounding us for most of the night had us concerned that we might not make it out over the mountain road needed to get back to Reykjavik. Our plan had been to have an alpine start the day of our return flight and make most of the 8hr return journey under the star light.  With visibility down to about 5ft, driving through drifting snow was no easy task, and then the inevitable happened -  we were grounded. An hour of digging saw us move about 3ft and even that was in the wrong direction.  The weather was wild and as we dug, the snow seamed intent on replacing itself, our efforts futile.

Just as we thought we might have a long cold walk back to civilisation ahead of us a local pulled up in his mini monster truck.  We rigged a tow but no matter what he did nothing would get us free.  Another local came up the impassable road (they know how to handle snow these Icelandics) and he tied on as well.  We now had a two-car tow...but nothing!   All three vehicles were now stuck in the growing drift.  Then the ice road trucker appeared and shadowed over us like some sort of Norse god and in one swift tug he pulled all three free and we were on our way…although a little tentatively.  Next time we go I know what hire car I want – an HGV!

As we arrived back in Reykjavik we seized the opportunity to meet up with a couple of the Icelandic Alp club members that had been so helpful in our research and buy them a pint or three.

All in all we achieved what we set out to do and with so much potential out there I am sure that this will be the first of many visits.  Big thanks to Sigurður Þórisson from ISALP, Jöttnar for the great kit and Dave would like to also thank DMM for his Switch Axes.

Useful Bits:  - great source of information and very helpful people.

Lyngás guesthouse -  very local to the crags we visited and very friendly.

OsmAnd – Android Map App – great for finding your way around.  Bit fiddly at first as you need to get lots of add ons but once up and running its excellent.

Big thanks to Dave for the words and to Adam for the great pictures.  Congratulations to all on such a successful trip.

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