Exploring uncharted couloirs in the land of volcanoes, fjord of ices
A total of 10 days of skiing where we took the most out of Iceland's hidden gems.
For this ski touring adventure, we take full advantage of the breathtaking variety of Icelandic mountain scenery. To find lines that fit our skiing style, we are betting on the Troll peninsula in the North of Iceland. With every peak, the skiing objective gets more challenging and, at the same time, more rewarding.
Finding uncharted lines in between volcanoes and skiing down to the sea.
On March 1st, 2023, our crew leaves for an unforgettable adventure to Northern Iceland in order to discover some wild and beautiful lines.
Just take a look below:
Our published guidebook on FATMAP contains all the ski lines and summits we explored, featuring steep & exciting couloirs, but also beautiful powdery descents. Feel free to get inspired and draw your own lines:
Day 1 : Let The Adventure Begin
Time to kick off the adventure. Andreas, Michiel, John and I meet in Copenhagen airport where we take our final plane to Reykjavik. It's 3pm, I have high hopes that we will get free food on the plane because I'm starving (which is a bad sign, I'm not supposed to starve before day 2 when we'll get in the wild). Ok, food is not free, but I'm still rich enough to buy myself a sandwich. John goes for a second pizza and we catch up on the last months.
I know Andreas and Michiel from EPFL, where we used to spend many, many, many days skipping courses to ski on powder days - John and I know each other from Centrale Paris, but we have reconnected the past years to spend quality time in the Swiss Alps skiing, climbing, etc. So the 4 of us decided to take up a new challenge and go ski some wild stuff in Northern Iceland. Our preparation to the trip consisted in: 2 Zoom calls, 1 Excel file and many, many whatsapp messages. Quite minimalistic. I like it.
My experience from Norway 68°N 10 days expedition in 2022 helps in organizing some food logistics, planning some routes and knowing what gear is useful or not, but that's basically it. We know nothing, except that there is gonna be skiing involved, cold temperatures, an expedition tent and some good mood.
We land in Reykjavik, fill up our Dacia Duster with 4 pair of skis, all our gear, and 2 pulkas and we roll out to the North to check up the conditions!
Bad news: (almost) no snow ahead. After a few hours of driving, we have barely seen a patch or two of old snow lying next to the road....We fuel our stomachs in a gas station, it's time to put up our tent next to some vague small roads lost somewhere in Iceland.
Day 2: Looking For The Snow
I've been dreaming of massive snowfalls and white couloirs. Unfortunately, waking up reminds me that we are facing an unusual dry February, and that no snow is awaiting for us. We continue driving to Akureyri, while John calls all possible mountain companies, local campings and equipment shops to ask the one million dollar question: "where the f*ck is snow?". We are already considering hiking (I didn't take my hiking shoes...), ice-climbing or donuts-eating contest instead of the initial plan (the donuts eating contest still became part of the plan, later).
Finally, some locals advice us to check out the mountains next to Grenivik, which received more snow this year in comparison to the rest.
A nice welcoming sign "ROAD CLOSED" is awaiting us. But the road seems quite ok, and our Dacia Duster has proved to be a beast. After a few turns, the reason for the sign "ROAD CLOSED" becomes quite obvious: we are completely stuck, our beast is trapped in snow and we have to dig it out for 45 minutes... A more reasonable plan (like, not going on a closed road but taking the main road) seems to take place.
Finally, we arrive on what seems to be the beginning of a snow path, where we unpack our pulkas, skis, tent and expedition gear : our idea is to spend 3-4 days in the area before moving the base camp to a different place. We pack enough food for 4 days, and we start pulling our pulkas and gear uphill to find a nice spot from which we could reach surrounding summits.
Sometimes, luck happens in a quite unexpected way. After evaluating dozen of plans and possibilities, checking out boat rental to go to Greenland, considering a hiking trip... we have finally found snow AND what seems to be a very nice snowy mountain region, where mountains meet the ocean. We put up our base camp with a view on the ocean, making sure to dig a big enough hole in the snow to build some snow walls to protect our tent. We have found a water source 25min away from the camp: I go fill the 10L dromadery so that we have enough for the day.
The sunset is quite magical.
Day 3: Time to Summit
The two past days were a mistake. Why? Because we saw sun. We saw light. We felt warmness on our bodies. This is a lie. This never happens in Iceland. We should have known.
Iceland is, as its name indicates it in a very obvious manner, the land of ice. Nothing knew here. Except that this is totally and fundamentaly in contradiction with the weather we got when we landed, and Iceland is ready to prove it to us: we see nothing. Snow is white, sky is white, clouds is white, tent is white, sea is white. Everything is white.
Anyways, we are not here on a white-contemplating trip, so after a few sips of delicous coffee freshly pressed from the jetboil, we pack our bags and hit the road towards some white horizon, which is, according to the GPS, a beautiful summit, Kaldbakur.
It happens to be indeed a nice easy summit (where some people get dropped by snowcats, lazy little bastards) : the view on the surrounding ocean and land makes it fantastic, and we enjoy some cheese, marzipan, hot tea (50/50 honey/tea ratio made by John to ensure your blood sugar levels are always skyrocketing). Important to mention now that we are here: John is "not really a sugar person". These are his words to describe himself on day 3. Note that this guy is eating more sugar than you will probably be in your entire life. His stomach (it's a separate entity and living being, that deserves to be called by its name, "John's stomach") is capable of some of the biggest atrocities in life: 35 donuts in a row. Yes man, he can do it.
Well, after making sure our calorie intake is at least equal or superior to our calorie expense (I'm already worried we won't have enough food for the next 7 days...), we take a few nice turns in the descent and as visibility seems to be good again, climb the neighbouring mountain with an non-pronouncable name:
Back to the camp, couscous on the menu, life is good, we can't complain. Our feet start smelling. Welcome to the expedition.
Day 4: Wind Blowing Harder Than...
Now that our postal address is officially "Somewhere in the middle of a snow field with a nice view on the ocean", it's time to take advantage of our remoteness and go check out some hardly accessible summits.
ϸerna is one of them. On the way to get there, I can't stop staring at these two couloirs that loom on the horizon. Two aesthetic lines, the left branch a bit more narrow and tortuous, the right one wide and straight...
We might need to change our plans and stay a bit longer in the region. We can't miss those lines.
Bref, after a few hours, we ascent the final meters to the summit, skis on the back, wind in the face: f*cking hell, that wind is strong! The summit offers a beautiful 380° view, I have to admit, but I have other things in mind rather than contemplating the view. The wind is blowing 50km/h in your face, so you'd better hurry up, pack your skins, put your skis and ciao bella!
No way we can have lunch at the summit (by the way, yesterday will be the last day we will ever have lunch on the mountain. The wind is not your best lunch partner in Iceland), so we ride down and stop on the way to have our well-deserved peanut butter sandwich (or peanut butter with bread, more to say).
We traverse flat land, which is basically 5 kilometers of flat valley to get back home. That's killing - Andreas, Michiel and myself take the time to make some drone shots, while John gets back to the camp to welcome us with sausage & hot tea!
Day 5: Line up in that couloir
I have been dreaming of that couloir. Today it's finally snowing - visibility is zero, but the snow is starting to nicely cover the surroundings. Maybe it's a good shot for the couloir, maybe not. At least we should be able to see something in it!...
We head towards the couloir, flat land welcome back again and here we are, looking at the two branches of the couloir. We decide to start with the left branch, the more narrow and tortuous one. It's Michiels' first time using the crampons & ice axe, and John's first time skiing down such a narrow & steep couloir; so we are all quite excited about it.
The ascent goes smoothly. I cannot help but think of the avalanche in January. It hasn't snowed much yet, but definitely the avalanche risk will be increasing in the next days...I hope we're still on time, the snow is icy in the couloir; not ideal for the skiing, but stable & comforting me for the avalanche risk.
I kick out the descent, some beautiful turns in the narrow couloir, and I forget about everything: it's so nice!
Our thighs are burning, but man, how happy we are! Again, making sure to fill up our stomachs with some sugar and fat, digestion kicks in and we head back home - no time for the right branch of the couloir, but I hope someone, who will one day read these lines, will go and get it. You can't miss this line, and believe me, pure joy will be rewarding you...
The Elephant Couloir, a winding and steep line...don't miss it:
Day 6: Balance ascent meters and kcal
We took the best out of this beautiful region. But we are running out of food, out of sugar, out of energy, out of sun, out of good smell and out of temperatures above -10°C. I nearly freeze my hands while removing our basecamp: the cold, the wind, the smell, everything is killing. It's time to leave our base camp n°1, and discover how our pulkas behave in descent. Well, answer is: they don't. They go wild.
Skiing down with a pulka while trying to prevent it from kicking your legs every 2 seconds is a skill.
I was apparently not born with it. By the time I start learning the skill, we are somehow already down, Michiel and John kind of mastering that skill (maybe they were born with it, little lucky bastards), while Andreas and myself kind of painfully trying to figure out how to not get killed by our pulka and still make it to the car...
It's definitely time to burn some fuel to: 1. get warm in the car and make sure the smell of our feet penetrates any available molecule in the car, 2. drive to the nearest bakery and make an overdose of sugar, 3. experience the hot spriiiiiings.
The guys take it seriously. John finds the best bakery in Akureyri, Michiel finds the best hot springs (integrated to a camp site, can you believe it?!) and Andreas...Andreas is getting ready to fuel the stomach, while I'm thinking of the best combo approach to wash myself in the toilets of the bakery. I undress myself completely, and start vigorously rubbing my skin with some soap and toilet paper. God, that feels good !
Time for the main challenge of that trip (wait, you thought it was really about skiing??) : how many donuts and sugar treats can we eat before our blood sugar levels skyrocket ? Honestly quite a lot. Really quite a lot. Enough to start shaking (or was it from the cold? don't remember), and remember another important task since we are back to civilization: visit Vinbudin, to get some survival alcohol. Yeah, we just checked the weather in the next upcoming days, and we will definitely need alcohol: -15°C is waiting for us, along with 50kmh wind, classic.
If I started doubting about buying a second liner when I saw the forecast, I quickly became disillusioned when I saw the price. Alcohol is cheaper. I guess we have the solution.
We drop to the sea while chilling in the hot springs, dry our stuff in the changing rooms, stifle all the breathable air and we are ready to fill in (again) our stomachs in a nice restaurant in Akureyri. Bonne nuit!
Day 7: Everything is about White
Mornings in Iceland are really like a boxing match with a ring, two fighters (you and the cold) and a noisy audience (the wind).
You get knocked out as soon as you start trying to get out from the tent - but unfortunately, staying in the tent also doesn't really help staying alive, as everything is at freezing temperature. Michiel turned out into Frozen this morning : a layer of ice just surrounded his sleeping bag. Hey, welcome!
Myriam, a very friendly local, has explained us over the phone that, thanks to the snow from the past few days, mountains around her place (Dalvik) are now completely covered with snow. It's time to try our luck in that new region of Northern Iceland ! Myriam welcomes us on her camp site, where we put up our tent in a strong-as-hell wind. Are we really going skiing today? Well, weather in Iceland eventually becomes part of the landscape. You can't do anything about it, so you just go with it.
We unsuccessfully attempt to climb Gimbrarhnjúkur but the zero visibility of that particular day forces us to turn back.
Day 8: Having Fun in the Backyard
[Writing in progress]
Day 9: Pow, Pow, Pow
[Writing in progress]
Day 10: Let's Freeze for A Moment
Day 11: Time to Say Bye
Nobody would trust us if we say we've been to Iceland without having done: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE.
The Golden Circle is a 300 kilometers route of Iceland's three most popular natural attractions: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall.
So let's be uncool and do the touristic stuff as we still have one day to kill before our planes, and we are all desperetaly searching for excuses to stop at every gas station to eat sweets and drink coffee pressed with one button (drastically changes from the Jetboil AeroPress Coffee-maker, that broke on day 1 and requires 10 minutes of attentive vigilance while pressing it without drowning the system in boiling water).
Here we are, Michiel and I squashed on the benches like sardines, John steering and cruising, Andreas DJ-ing towards Iceland's most popular attractions. They do no deserve that I spend a paragraph, or even a few lines, describing them. Worst case, you can Google them. Best case, you will eventually get trapped there, if you visit Iceland one day.
Instead, I will describe our Airbnb in Reykjavik and the bars/restaurants we went.
Wait, they also don't deserve I spend more than a few lines describing them ?! It feels like in comparison to skiing, wind, cold, nature, wilderness, nothing deserves to be described in Iceland. Let's keep it factual then: I bought a present for my boyfriend, that we all participating in choosing, we ate pizzas, we had real mattresses in the airbnb (which had the most signs "DON'T [do this, or that, or that]" that I ever saw in my life - and I live in Switzerland, so that should say something about it), the guys had a few more donuts, we drunk local beers, we packed our stuff, we took long showers and we slept like babies.
Day 12: Home, Sweet Home
Getting back home means: getting unlimited showers, having free coffee at the office, cooking food on a pan, being able to wear less than 5 layers without freezing, changing clothes more regularly than twice in ten days, and eating something else than couscous, pasta or donuts. From this perspective, I'm really excited about getting back home.
But on the other side, it also means: sitting on a chair while you could be riding some powder, eating balanced foods when you could be overdosing sugar and peanut butter with no guilt at all, having to take showers regularly otherwise your friends and colleagues stop being your friends (but are still obliged to be your colleagues, too bad for them), making decisions about clothes you will put on while you could just stay in a Tshirt and pants your entire life, drinking too many coffees just because you need to press one button to make it so why restrict yourself ?
Am I ready for that?
It's funny how quick we can be back to our normal life. How quick you can get used to normal room temperature, how quick you can get used to checking your phone, how quick you can get used to water from the tap, how quick you can get used to coffee machines...
I'm not sad, but I'm not extremely happy either. It's always a weird feeling to get back. All the route from and to the different airports feels like a buffer timezone and area, in which I can still absorb the shock of being back, and the excitement, and all the tons of emotions I felt during these many days.
There is no doubt every each of us enjoyed our skiing trip to Iceland, as it was an adventure of its own. Obviously, I want to go again next year, to a different place, or the same but mixed climbing this time, or... Sshhh, stop planning again and just enjoy it.
We will have all the pictures, all the routes, all the videos to look back and be like "Hell yeah, we were there!": can't wait to start our aftermovie!
Project in Numbers
eaten donuts to compensate our kcal emission
new ski routes created
meters average ascent