Iceland: Landmannalaugar To Thorsmork

Cairngorms Easter 08-15-small

For this year’s Big Walk, we’ve decided to go to Iceland. We’re going to take a wander along the Landmannalaugar To Thorsmork trail (Thorsmork is actually spelt Þórsmörk – but I’m going with the Anglicised spelling that seems to be quite commonly used). We’re also going to push past Thorsmork to Skógar on the coast to extend the trip by a couple of easy days, camping high, between two huge glaciers. Four others are joining us this time, two of them also joined us on the Haute Route last summer.

It’s reckoned to be one of the best trails in the world for spectacular scenery. I came across a site describing a trip there a couple of years ago (Edit 25/04/2009: The site is gone but the Wayback Machine has it). By the time I’d read it I knew it was on the list of Big Walks.

The route is quite small with little overall height gain. But the constant up and down of the trail apparently means that’s rather deceptive. Besides, we’re in no rush. We want to spend time on the journey itself and enjoying camping out in a wild landscape wherever nature reserve regulations allow (meaning that we’ll be staying in the Landmannalaugar and Hrafntinnusker huts).

We’ve not been able to get very much information on the trail so far. The best we’ve found is the Lonely Planet Iceland guide. In fact when we originally planned it we thought there was only a hut at each end. So we’re taking tents despite the fact that it is possible to stay in huts all along the main route (albeit a couple are rather small). It’s just something we wanted to do, plus there’s no reliable hut between Thorsmork and Skógar. Though pitching on the hard volcanic landscape looks to be a problem that’s going to take a little working out.

You’re advised to book in to the huts well in advance since it’s such a popular route. It’s easy to do via phone and email since the huts are all run by the Icelandic Touring Association.

Last year I was posting about something that I’ve done before; hut to hut in the Alps. And although I’m certainly no Kev Reynolds I’ve done enough to know how to do it very comfortably.

But although I’ve done a reasonable amount of wild camping, I’ve never travelled in Iceland before. There sounds to be a lot of broken ground, traversed by many watercourses, some quite large, and one large enough that we may need to wait for a vehicle to hitch across in.

It’s going to be very interesting getting the weight of the packs down as low as we feel comfortable with. We’ll be splitting the pack weight the usual way; 3:2. Three fifths to me and two fifths to LB, our relative body weights.

Because there’s no food available from most of the huts and also because LB and I have a couple of dietary foibles we’ll be carrying a lot of food (LB is allergic to potatoes and I’ve recently worked out that it’s tomatoes, peppers and chillies that have been affecting my sinuses for the last few years. I’m at once very happy, and very, very sad about that). We also need to look into what we can and can’t bring into the country.

We’re initially going to be doing a side trip to Geysir, the place that all geysers are named after. There’s a camp site there that’s quite reasonably priced. Especially when you realise the price even includes use of the hot-tubs and natural geothermal pools!

As usual, we already have next year’s Big Walk destination picked out. For 2009 we are hoping to find enough time to do the GR5 from Lake Geneva to Nice. It’s all Paddy Dillon and Bob Cartwright’s fault. Around five weeks of walking sounds like our kind of honeymoon. The kind where you don’t really spend any of the money on a wedding.

Why I’m So Obsessed With The Kit

Cairngorms Easter-08-4

I found myself wondering why I’m so obsessed with the weight of my kit.

Which brought me on to wondering why I’m so obsessed with the kit itself.

And I think I know why.

What I’m trying to do is to have the most fun I can, not minimise weight; the weight is a red herring.

The reason that I’m so obsessed with the weight of the kit is that carrying lots of weight is simply what causes the most discomfort.

So obviously by concentrating on the weight, you make the most impact on the whole “how do I have the most fun that I can” puzzle.

Of course, once you’ve cut the weight down it’s natural to start thinking of other things that could make life more comfy. But if those other things are extra things you’d therefore be carrying more.

Which is contrary to the main, weight-reducing point. Making it something of a never ending puzzle. By thinking about the kit, it gives me an excuse to think about being outdoors, hiking. And as a bonus I can even feel like I’m doing something “practical” that actually makes a difference to my life (and LB’s life) rather than just aimlessly day-dreaming. Meaning I can justify it to myself all the more easily.

We often say how surprised we are at being in relatively hostile surroundings and yet still warm, comfortable and full of energy. There is a definite pay-off.

But I think the real answer to why I’m obsessed with the kit is that, although I can’t actually wander around in mountains all the time, by thinking about the kit I get to think about being in the mountains, even when I can’t be.

Anyway, enough philosophy. Where are we going for this year’s Big Walk?

Cioch Glamaig In Use

Loz Walk - April 08-19 small

These things work, really, really well.

They are waterproof. They are comfortable across an astonishing temperature range, meaning you don’t carry them in your pack very often so the fact they are heavier than eVent doesn’t matter. We’ve been wearing them the whole winter, since just after I first mentioned them.

To give you some idea, LB and I started a day just after dawn, clear and bright and -2.5C/27.5F with wind chill taking it to -12C/10.5F (according to the Kestrel). It rained, it snowed. We sat and had lunch for half an hour, we sat for ten minutes and grinned as we disappeared under a blanket of wet snow.

So? Well, all through that, neither of us changed clothing. At all. We didn’t take an item off or put one on.

All the rest of what I’ll say is detail that might answer some questions. The main questions; Does it work? Is it comfortable? Is it worth the money? Does it, in short, perform better than eVent/Gore in the Winter? have been answered to my satisfaction. This is very impressive kit.

The hoods are excellent. The brim-stiffeners might look a bit large but they’ve kept a great deal of high-speed snow away from our faces in the last season. Our hoods are actually from the Harta which is the winter-cut and winter-weight equivalent of the Glamaig. We had ours made larger to take a boarding/skiing helmet which worked well. There’s a small flap of material to allow the hood to be rolled up. It’s not very large, and with hoods this big, I think it’s worth having it to stop them flopping about when we aren’t wearing them.

The weights look heavy at first but when you realise that you never really expect to carry them it makes much more sense. They form part of your insulation rather than just being a waterproof shell. We didn’t have to carry them (as opposed to wearing them) from December up until mid May. The temperature comfort range is just so broad.

Mine weighs in at 696gms (slim waist but fairly broad shouldered and about 6’2″/186cm) and LB’s is 594gms (slim, long back for her height and 5’6″/167cms tall). Bear in mind that, leaving aside the fact we had them made large to accommodate winter layers, there is no excess material here. They’re made to measure after all.

Some of that could be saved by not fully lining the sleeves (I hear it works fine), using normal hoods and not having the map pocket. I might go for unlined forearms if I were to buy them again but the hoods and map pocket would stay.

Ulrika - Cairngorms - Easter 2008-32-small So what’s wrong with them?

Well, not a great deal.

The cords that adjust the opening on the hood can flick at your face in a very high wind (40+mph / 65+kph) but I reckon the ends of them could be sewn on to the hood to prevent that (I must mention that to Neil at Cioch).

The map pocket that I was originally unsure of is something that I have found myself using again and again for maps. It’s handy for putting a RFID ski pass in allowing you to glide through the barriers. Would I have one again? Yes.

The hand pockets are the one thing I don’t like. They’re too low and are restricted by the rucksack waist belt. But that’s not at all uncommon in a jacket.

One thing to note when ordering – the arm length on the site says “B: Measure from top of collar bone to…”. That’s effectively wrong – it needs to be from the base of the neck. See B in the diagram (which is accurate) and tell Neil that’s where you’ve taken the measurement. All the other measurement instructions seem spot on.

Overall, I expect to be wearing Parameta based waterproofs in the winter from now on. I would look at Paramo since some of their new range looks good, but more than likely return to Cioch for the excellent custom fit and option to specify exactly what you want.