It was 4.30am in a cheap and less than cheerful hotel near Gatwick airport, when I put on my one and only set of clothes for the next month, brushed my hair for the last time, and entered ‘feral expedition mode!’ By 8 am I had arrived in the land of Fire and Ice and spent the day buying the last few things I needed like gas, and unnecessarily packing and re-packing my bag. Tomorrow I will make the 6hr journey, via 4 buses, to the most southerly point of Iceland to begin my next adventure… heading north.
I will be traveling through the Odadahraun Desert, Iceland’s most desolate destination and the largest lava field in the world. The chance of seeing anyone else once up on the plateau will be extremely unlikely. This barren unworldly luna landscape will provide views like nothing I have ever seen before… Mordor here I come!
My pack is mostly food, but inanition I have carefully calculated the bare minimum of equipment needed to keep me safe for the next 2 and a bit weeks. I have a full kit list of what I took and why here.
This journey is not about fast times or world firsts, it’s simply an adventure in its purest form. To be comfortable with being uncomfortable. To grow and to feel alive. I will try and share my adventure on here with you as often as I can and you can follow my ‘little me’ on my tracking map made by the fab ZeroSizZero.
By lunchtime, I had arrived as far as public transport could take me towards my start. During the 5 hour bus journey from Reykjavik to Vik, I was able to gaze out the window bewildered by the incredible scenery. Even from the main road, I was treated to stunning waterfalls, geothermal steam spurting from the rocks, and beautiful, oh so beautiful, mountains. As much as I was mesmerised at just how different the scenery was to anything I have seen before, I also became increasingly nervous at just how powerful the rivers looked, how uninhabited this the inhabited bit was, and how vast the landscape looked.
Once the bus had dropped me off as close to the start as it could take me, I headed off down a dirt track on foot, towards Iceland’s most southerly point, Kötutangi, on the black sand beach. After a few kilometres I was met with big barriers saying that access was prohibited for filming. I snuck around the blockade and went another 500m before I could see that there was a massive film operation happening exactly where I wanted to start and that I was probably now in shot! Game of Thrones spin-off perhaps? Who knows. A 4×4 started heading my way, I turned and headed back. Just as I did, the first Great Skua bird went for my head! My friend Sadie had warned me about these birds, but I hadn’t anticipated them being so enormous. They are a strong stocky bird with a wingspan up to 1.50m and they aggressively attack at head height until you flee. After the sixth attack, I legged it. So with both the Skuas and the film crew putting pay to my intended start location, it was time to put Plan B into action with a different stat venue tomorrow…
I hiked the 15km back to Vik, into a monster headwind, strong enough during gusts to prevent me moving forward at all. A taste of what’s to come, and enough to make the nerves really start to take hold. Arghh…why does the unknown always feel so ‘irrationally’ daunting?
I am camped in Vik and the wind is relentless, I have put my little tent up actually in a bush to offer some protection from the storm. Tomorrow I will make my way to my Plan B start line, Cape Dyrhólaey lighthouse, the most southerly building in Iceland, I would like to start somewhere more formal than just where the film crew kicked me out 😆
26th June – 50km
The NEW Day 1 – The wind hadn’t dropped at all, I hiked 19km straight into the wind to get to Cape Dyrhólaey lighthouse. Out on the peninsula of the lighthouse, the wind was catching me side on and with the size of my backpack it was sending me running, as I tried not to fall or twist an ankle. It was dark and moody, with wet low misty cloud. That, combined with the black sand beach, gave me a sense that I was not just at the end of Iceland, but at the end of the world!
After taking a few pics, I turned around to start the trip properly! I then walked a further 31km in the afternoon! 50km was too much for one day really, especially whilst I’m trying to get used to the weight of my pack, and with it being tarmac. But I knew there was going to be no wild camp spots before Skogafoss, as the road was lined with barbed fencing. I just had to get my head down and get it done.
I can’t say I enjoyed it, it rained continually for the last 5 hours, pelting my face due to the headwind. I couldn’t wait to get into my tent!
It was still raining heavily as I got to camp! Everything was getting wet as I unpacked it, with puddles forming inside the tent from the wet kit. This was not what I had been daydreaming of a few hours before! I’m now laid on my thermarest tired and a little emotional. After a short cry, (my body’s natural way of releasing tension) I reminded myself ‘it was supposed to be a challenge.’ Yes, my hips are bruised from the pack, and I have pains in my legs…the ones that let you know you might have overdone it today. But that’s why I’m here, to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Tomorrow I head into the wild mountains and into the snow. Tomorrow will be a more interesting day!
27th June – 25km
WOW WOW WOW!! I might have had an upset stomach, nausea, a blown up heal and a very heavy pack, but that couldn’t put even a dent into just how INCREDIBLE today was. It was everything I hoped to see in Iceland…just all in one day, haha!
The day started with a text from my friend Sadie, asking if I was okay as she was panicking that my dot hadn’t moved in hours. I replied with that it was 7.30am and I had been sleeping! She is obviously used to my 4 am starts during ultra bike races, haha, there won’t be any stupid o’clock starts in this trip. I’m racing no one!
It was a misty start to the day as I climbed continually beside the Skogar river. Waterfall after waterfall surrounded by thick green moss. So green at times it looked radioactive. I couldn’t see a lot, but I could see enough to know I was walking somewhere spectacular. After many hours of climbing the scenery started to change and become more barren and luna. A little higher still and I was into the snow. Then, at pretty much my highest point of the day, the cloud lifted and I could start to see my surroundings. Wow, to my left I could see the Eyjafjallajökull Icecap and to my right the Myrdalsjökull Icecap. And my strip of snow went through the gap between the two.
Just after I had taken in those views it changed again. This time although still in the snow, I was in a volcano crater and walking over a lava field from when it erupted in 2010.
Over the final summit of the day, brought me the views I came for. I don’t even know how to describe them, lush green mountains and gorges that looked almost tropical, with big blue glaciers funneling in at their summits. I started to descend, and as I did the flowers became abundant, the air got hot and it was like entering a different ecosystem entirely. I took so many pictures it seemed to take me forever to cover the distance, but it didn’t matter, I was beaming all day.
I finished at Langidular camp ground because now I’m in the national park I am forbidden to wild camp. So for the next couple of days my daily distance will be pre-determined by where the designated camp spots are.
28th June – 32km
Today and tomorrow I will be on the Laugavegur Hiking trail. This is the most popular hike in Iceland and often included in lists of the top hikes in the world. People generally do it in four days but I’m trying to push through and get it done in two. It’s actually this bit of trail that determined why I am walking south to north and not the other way round. With the main hiking season soon to start I wanted to hike the trail whilst it was quiet, in a couple of weeks time it will be heaving. Today I crossed paths with about 40 people over my 32km’s, they were all heading south as per the guide book. I relished the opportunity to say a big ‘Hello”, “enjoy your hike’ to everyone I passed, knowing that in a couple of days I will see no one for quite a long time!
The landscape was much bigger today, still stunning but changed less frequently, and it would take me a good couple of hours to reach what was in sight. This meant I felt my aches and pains a little more as there was less distractions for my mind.
There was one less than favourable distraction that kept cropping up today, and that was rivers!! Gee wiz they were cold, way colder than expected! My feet and legs stinging within a few seconds. They have been only just above the knee so far, so I shouldn’t complain. 🏊♀️😆
It’s due to rain and have strong winds again tomorrow, so I will relish the heat streaming in through the walls of my tent right now. It might be 9 pm but the sun is still high in the sky, with Iceland’s 24 hour daylight at this time of year.
29th June – 31km
At 3 am I was woken abruptly by an almighty gust of wind hammering the tent hard, and from that point on it just did not stop. My poor little tent was actually holding up well, but having previously had a tent be destroyed in a storm before, I couldn’t help but worry about her. What with worrying and just the sheer noise of the wind I couldn’t get back to sleep, so at about 5.30 I just thought ‘sod it’ I might as well start walking.
I was slow this morning, really slow. The first climb of the day was steep, 30-40% in many places and my bag felt heavier than ever. I kept telling myself I have carried double this weight before so HTFU.
Another day of incredible scenery, so different than before once again, how can one country change so much so quickly. Massive lava fields, volcanos, steaming rocks, colourful geology, bubbling boiling rivers and a lot of snow! The last few kilometres down to the Landmannalaugar hut was draw-dropping incredible, but sadly I don’t have pics to do it justice as the low cloud and rain had started to come in by then.
As I left Landmannalaugar, the hut/ camping ground at the end of the tourist hiking trail, I was feeling hellishly nervous! That was the last civilisation for at least 9 days, and I couldn’t help myself from worrying about all the unknowns that lay ahead. I made my way down the dirt road fighting back the pointless but inevitable tears that were welling up (I really must be the wimpiest adventurer there is) when within 500m I saw a bikepacker heading towards me. I just knew instantly from his bike and kit that he had just done a traverse, so I excitedly stopped him to chat. He was thrilled to speak to someone, as he had seen no one for 7 days, and I was so thrilled to get some knowledge of what was out there waiting for me. We talked about the rivers I had to cross, how many crazy sandstorms he had endured, and that tent pegs don’t hold in the ground etc etc. I felt instantly more reassured knowing someone had just crossed. After a little more chatting it turned out that he had actually used my Silk Road Kit List blog to work out what kit he needed for Iceland, and he thanked me for writing it. I thanked him for sharing his knowledge of the route as it had settled my nerves a lot, and then we headed off in our different directions.
I’m now in my tent held up with rocks, as like the American guy said, the soil is sand! It’s raining, I’m on a tilt and with my head lower than my feet!! (you would think I had never wild camped before if you saw it 🤣🤣 I was obviously desperate to stop walking!) However, I am currently thankful that the wind isn’t too strong, YET, as not sure how well my rocks will hold in another gale.
30th June – 42km
Type 2 fun has begun!
Day 2, 3 and 4 were utterly amazing, such incredible sights, definitely type 1 fun. But now out on the ‘road to nowhere,’ it’s type 2 (the kind that isn’t so much fun at the time, but once you have finished it miraculously turns into a brilliant experience).
It had rained all night and the wind woke me every hour or so as it shook the tent, although not in a concerning way like the night before. I was struggling with my sleep anyway, as I am now at the stage where my legs hurt all through the night. It feels like growing pains, right up through my glutes. It’s something I have had on many expeditions and I think stems from the pack weight rather than the distance. It was also the first night I was cold, but that could just be tiredness.
For the next 3 days, I am heading North on a dirt road, before I turn off to cross the desert. The landscape has suddenly just got massive. So massive that I can see my dirt track snaking off into the distance as far as the eye can see, knowing that what I can see of it is a couple of days walk!! It’s a bit depressing if I’m honest, hiking on your own is much easier when you have lots to look at, but now I have one view for the whole day!
Two 4×4 trucks passed me, giving me an eager thumbs-up. I frantically waved back thrilled for a moment’s interaction. The animals have disappeared now, I haven’t even seen a bird, and the plants are becoming less frequent.
All-day I battled against a very strong northerly cold wind. Although a headwind it’s quite energy-zapping, I still prefer it to side wind. At times today, it was battering me side on, making me very unbalanced and making my ankles work incredibly hard. The strength of the wind didn’t let up, and in such open barren landscape finding shelter is hard. I walked a further 7 km beyond my planned 35km to find somewhere that was even remotely suitable for me to put up my tent. I’m hidden by a kind of lava sand dune and have piled up rocks to weigh down the tent as the sand pegs are struggling again, I’m hoping it will hold well.
Fun fun fun.
1st July – 47km
It was sunny!! Yippee! I got to use my solar panel and charge everything at last. Although blessed with blue skies, the arctic northerly headwind was cutting and I wore all my layers to keep warm.
The scenery had not changed at all from the day before, still a dirt road to nowhere, so nothing to report on that front. Apart from a better view of the perfect domed Hofsjökull Icecap to my left.
As for general life on the road stuff… well everything is covered in a black sandy grit. Even if I grind my teeth I can hear and feel the grit in my mouth. I wear goggles most of the time to save me scratching my eyes continually. Inside the tent is like a sandpit! It’s everywhere!
It’s been a week, so by now my hair has become a sandy matted ball, I stink, my one pair of socks would make you wretch if you got them too near your nose, and they are stiff like cardboard and can almost stand up on their own 😆.
My feet are an absolute mess and are worrying me a little. Despite hiking 14 days in Snowdonia before I got here without a single issue, they now seem to be kicking up a fuss, covered in lots of little cuts.
Today was the first day that my 2000 calorie ration felt not enough.
I can also report that the barren Luna landscape looks a lot less daunting when the sun is shining.
Oh, and the most ridiculous thing happened today… I had been hiking for 5 hours, not seen anyone or anything, and then just as I’m going to the toilet a truck comes by!!! So embarrassed!
2nd & 3rd July – 44km & 30km
Well, I have finally turned off the ‘road to nowhere’, and am now heading towards the Odadahraun desert. Which means I have passed the last of the big Arctic 4×4’s trucks for a while. They were massive things that looked like a cross between a motor home, a monster truck and an army tank! I had never seen such a thing before but it seems they are the vehicle of choice in the central parts of Iceland. Most of the vehicles that passed took a photo of me as they went past like I’m a weird animal specimen, but at the same time, they would always wave cheerily or give me a thumbs up. However, since turning off the road I have seen no one, and have settled into enjoying the solitude.
On day 7 I had a really bad day with my feet! I’m really not sure why, as I’m not asking anything out of the ordinary out of them, but by the afternoon the pain had become ridiculously intense. I tried to distract myself by listening to music or a pre-downloaded podcast but failed miserably. I just over and over again despaired at myself that I was on foot rather than two wheels! I longed for my beloved bicycle.
It’s odd, I never once considered bike packing this route during the planning, and it’s a perfect bike route! I wonder why I didn’t, maybe it was a subconscious thing? If I had been bringing a bike then my partner Lee would have wanted to come. And as much as I long for him to be here with me every minute, sharing the adventure and taking in all the crazy sites with me, I REALLY wanted this trip to be solo.
Traveling solo to makes you tougher!
Solo I have no one to help me in difficult times. I need to be resourceful, fix problems, make decisions and get things done. Continually adapting and changing. I need to care for myself on a primal level…food, water, shelter and regulate clothing correctly for the weather.
To be kind to my feet, yesterday (day 8), I cut my distance down a bit and had a great day. I spent most the day singing at the top of my lungs, hellishly out of tune, but not a soul in the world was ever going to hear me. I had 7 rivers to cross which were flipping FREEZING, but none of them more than knee height and not fast-flowing enough to be a concern at all. (I wonder if there had been some ‘poetic license’ on the blogs I had read in my research about Iceland Traverses, or whether the rivers are just low at the moment? Either way, I’m happy with how they are now)
It’s funny, a few days ago when leaving behind the tourist trail, I was really nervous about what lay ahead. Silly really, considering some of the craziest places on the planet I have been to previously on expedition. Comparably Iceland is turning out to be a wonderful holiday. I feel very at home in this big barren Luna wilderness.
”Never stop because you are afraid – you are never so likely to be wrong”
4th & 5th July – 35km & 34km
For the last two days I have been crossing the Odadahraun desert, Europe’s biggest desert, and the worlds biggest lava field. As expected, it’s like nothing I have ever seen before and I completely understand why they chose here to prepare for the Apollo Space Mission! The Moon meets Lord of the Rings. It is a very grey and moody place, and I can’t seem to take any pictures to do its size justice, but the lava and rock formations vary greatly from one section to the next and gives me lots to look at. It’s one of the strangest places I could have ever come to be all alone, it doesn’t exactly have a welcoming feeling, but I’m finding it surprisingly fun. Odadahraun desert translates to ‘the desert of bad intentions’, but apart from last nights storm, it has been relatively kind to me…so far!!
Last night I struggled to find a good spot to camp, as cooled lava is very sharp and would easily rip my tent if I was on it, and there wasn’t anything with much height to offer protection from the wind. I set up somewhere that was okay, but a bit more exposed than I would like. At 10 pm I woke by the arrival of the storm. The wind had shifted 90 degrees, and was now hitting the tent side on (the worst scenario). It was unrelenting, all night lashing down with rain and very strong winds hitting me from the side. The outer layer was being forced onto the inner tent layer, which in turn was forced onto my bivvy. Once these layers were touching each other the water started to seep through. The noise put pay to any sleeping, for 10 hours I just lay there a little damp and chilly, longing for the storm to ease a bit so I could sleep.
Halfway through the night I needed a wee, as you would when you listen to rain for hours on end. I desperately tried to come up with a solution that didn’t involve getting out of the tent. The best idea was to wee in my empty dehydrated meal bag. This would have worked if the tent was higher, when you can’t sit up in the tent, I can vouch to you that it also means squat position is also not possible 😆! Waterproofs had to go on and out I went. Once back in the tent with wet boots and clothes, the inside of the tent was in a right state. When morning came I wasn’t sure what to do, as the storm hadn’t eased at all. I waited but for a few extra hours but then decided I just had to go for it. Storms always sound worse when you’re IN the tent I reminded myself. Plus I could make it to a mountain hut by the end of the day if I got a move on, and there I would be able to dry everything out and get warm. So off I went. The weather did gradually improve throughout the day, but it stayed bitterly cold, not helped by being at 1000m in altitude combined with the arctic wind. 8 hours later the little Dyngjufjoll Hut finally came into view, I couldn’t have been happier!
I am writing this post snug as a bug in a dry sleeping bag, in a little hut that is as cute as a button, it has truly melted my heart. And unsurprisingly I have it all to myself. (good job really as my stuff is everywhere drying).
Tonight I am going to sleep very well.
6th July – 36km
What a wonderful nights sleep I had in the Dyngjufjoll Hut, and as an added treat I woke to blue skies. So not only did I have all dry kit, I would also be able to charge everything with the solar panel as I walked. I headed off with a huge spring in my step.
It would be my final day in the desert, and I was now feeling ready for a change of scene! All morning I was descending slowly from the highlands, weaving my way around cooled lava, when suddenly mid-afternoon I heard a couple of birds. It was the first noise I had heard in 4 days, other than wind. And then just like that, the lava just stopped, and pink, purple and red flowers appeared! I had walked across an invisible line and into a whole new landscape, one that I was ready for, one that contained colour! A track became more prominent and walking became a whole lot easier.
There may be blue skies, but the wind of course is blowing hard like usual, so scouting out somewhere even vaguely sheltered takes up the last 30mins or so of my daily hike. I’m in a hollow which is providing some protection…at the moment.
By the end of tomorrow, I will reach a village, I won’t have seen a soul for nearly 5 days by then, so it will be nice to have a pointless yabba with at least one person.
7th July – 33km
After a good nights sleep, I woke to an eerie feeling. It took me a couple of seconds to work out what was wrong…and then I got it, it was silent, like completely silent! So silent that my ears were ringing a little. 12 days of constant wind had left me with the same feeling I used to get all those years ago when you get home in the early hours of the morning to your silent bedroom after a night clubbing. With not a breath of wind, I decided to get changed and eat my breakfast outside of the tent, rather than battling to do everything in a horizontal position. What a treat.
Within a few hours of walking, I came across two male hikers walking towards me. ”Hello hello” I yelled cheerily, some people at last, “they are going to talk to me whether they want to or not” I laughed to myself. When they stopped I could see instantly in their eyes they were a mix of excitement and NERVES, just as had been when I stopped the American bikepacker 8 days ago. They asked,”how bad are the rivers, how horrific the weather, water re-supplies?” They mentioned that they had read on the internet how hard it was. I said I had also read this but it in fact was no problem at all. They headed off smiling, the nerves instantly dissipated to see someone had crossed with no problems. An hour later I met a solo hiker, the same look in his eye, same questions. He too headed off much happier to have seen I had crossed unscathed with no horrific river stories.
By mid-morning the weather changed massively, the wind was back, the rain started and the temperature plummeted to the coldest it had been on this trip by a long way. I could see my breath! So once camp was set up, knowing I have plenty of gas, I boiled enough water to make two Nalgene hot water bottles (the reason I always take nalgenes!) I’m now in my sleeping bag snuggled with my hot water bottles and am thawing out slowly.
I have settled into my hiking groove now, my pack feels much lighter, my daily tent life feels the norm and my feet are healing up. Oh, I forgot to say what was causing my foot issues…well eventually I found lots of tiny sores and paper cuts on the pads and in between my toes as well as the balls of my feet. It was actually tiny grains of sand/grit that would get in my socks when walking or from a river crossing. They were barely visible but were in fact tiny sharp pieces of volcanic rock. Sharpe like little knives, and would cut or rub away the skin in no time at all. I’m now super methodical to keep everything as grit free as possible.
The two chores I have to do each day that is time-consuming and not the most fun are; Standing in the wind holding my tent up like a kite until it drys out (no one wants to get into a damp tent at the end of a long day.) And then collecting and filtering water. Water from big glacial rivers is just full of silt and always need to go through a filter. I do 3 litres at a time, and it is a fairly slow and arduous task with my little micro pump.
Right, sleep time.
8th July – 38km
Another day and another dramatic scenery change. I spent the day weaving my way around volcanoes, including the Krafla Viti Crater (pictured) which is one of Iceland’s most active, having erupted 29 times so far.
It was slow going today hiking across Kraflas most recent lava field, there were no paths so I just walked on a bearing, concentrating hard to not twist an ankle on the never-ending mounds of uneven lava. Despite slow going, my body felt really good and could have gone on a lot further, but there’s no point or need, I’m not in a race. Besides, as much as I love seeing all these amazing vistas, I love equally as much getting in my wonderful little @nordisk Lofoten tent, snuggled in my @mountain_equipment Helium 400 sleeping bag devouring my @firepot dinner.
I just simply adore wild camping!
9th July – 33km
Today was a good one! I spent the whole day walking through the stunning Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. I started at Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, with 500cubic/m of water/sec heading over the falls. Despite the falls being a well-known tourist attraction, I was the only one out and about at 7 am, so got the place all to myself. What a treat.
As I headed north through the park the landscape and vegetation changed a lot, from large rocky canyons to the most incredible rock structure and formations. I was wishing I could remember my physical geography lessons from school better, as some of these formations were the size of 5 story buildings.
Next came a gorgeous lush path lined thick in flowers that smelt heavenly. Before finally arriving at Ásbyrgi, a horseshoe-shaped depression that is a glacial canyon and measures approximately 3.5 km in length and over 1 km wide. The best bit is I couldn’t see it coming and then suddenly there it is in all its splendour as I looked down into it. I have videos in my Instagram Stories that show it much better than a pic can.
I expected the trail to be busy, but I actually only met one person all day, an Icelandic man who I met at a river crossing. He didn’t want to cross and had decided to turn back. He communicated this to me by writing in his notebook, as he was having a ‘silent day’, where he wouldn’t speak so he could enjoy the scenery better.
As my day neared its end, I got the first glimpse of the sea! It’s still a two hour or so walk away, but still, that means I have nearly crossed this country 😁 (however, the sea wasn’t where I decided to finish my trip, oh no, I still and I still have a further 90km to go!)
10th & 11th June – 35km & 49km
Well, that was jolly good fun!
15.5 days later, and a big 49km final day, I have arrived! Just 3km further north out to sea is the Arctic Circle.
As I had to change my original start point from Kötlutangi to Cape Dyrhólaey Lighthouse, I also decided to change my finish point. It made more sense to me to go from lighthouse to lighthouse, it felt more definitive. So I finished at Hraunhafnartangi rather than Rifstangi, and there are only a few metres in it anyway. The final day was made a little more challenging thanks to the Turns! I walked the final 10km with my arms in the air and my hiking poles above my head to prevent the thousands of this quick and aggressive birds from dive-bombing and cutting my head!
Iceland you have been weird and wonderful. As expected, every day I have met landscapes like nothing I have ever seen before anywhere in the world, you are unique!
The traverse itself wasn’t as tough as I had expected. Whether that’s because the blogs of others, I had read before I came, had added a little ’poetic license’ to their story. Or perhaps in comparison to sandstorms in the Gobbi Desert or snowstorms on the Patagonian Icecap I’ve experienced on previous trips, an Icelandic summer is positively pleasant. Or most likely, Iceland has just been ’kind’ to me while I’m here.
Whatever the reason it doesn’t matter, I got everything I came here looking for on my little pilgrimage into the wild.
After a disastrous adventure back in January, I wanted to be sure that it is in the wild that I feel most alive. I can confirm… it is! Sleeping in it, awaking in it, immersing myself in it, being challenged by it. Nature sets my wires straight. I now feel joyful, revitalised and stronger, ready to take on the challenges of starting a new business when I return home.
Can I recommend you buy a tent and go adventuring. It’s good for your soul!