-Tim Emmett

Imagine a place where every climb you try is a first ascent! You set off with uncertainty of what lays ahead, no knowledge of how hard it’s going to be, how much protection or whether it’s even possible!

In Iceland there are so many ice climbs that whole crags are waiting to be discovered. When Dawn Glanc, Keith Ladzinski, Runar Karlson and I arrived at what was soon to be called ‘The Cirque of the Ice Climbables’ we realized this was one of them. A hidden playground for frozen enthusiasts, patterned with a network of ice capillaries waiting to be climbed.

[Photo by Mountain Hardwear athlete Dawn Glanc.]

Welcome to Iceland’s Northern Fjords, a vast expanse of frozen wilderness, ferocious winds and extended darkness. Or perhaps it’s the limitless ice climbing potential, friendly locals and iridescent Aurora Borealis that lures you to this hostile playground.

Lets face it; the idea of going ice climbing in Iceland makes a lot of sense. I had a good feeling we were going to find new routes to climb. What I wasn’t expecting was the strong sense of community and deep integrity between the people we met. Everyone is your friend right from the start, going the extra mile, and then some, to help you out. As we got off the plane in Isafjordur local climbing activist Runar Carlson greeted us with his friend, the pilot! We planned to climb with them over the coming days.

Iceland | Climbing by the Sea from Mountain Hardwear on Vimeo.

Winters in the North West Fjords are bleak. Centuries ago, trees were used to build boats by the Vikings and now gale force winds batter the coast and strip the landscape of any vegetation. What’s left is a desolate wilderness with no trees and few animals. The wind in Iceland is profound; it sculpts the ice like nowhere I have seen before. Huge mushroom and cauliflower like features sometimes so vast they form horizontal roofs over fifteen feet across. Like an ice umbrella with a crust only a few inches thick. The only way past them to carve a hole through or teeter around hoping it doesn’t collapse.

[Photo by Keith Ladzinski.]

By far the biggest surprise of the trip was finding Kangaroo steak in the supermarket! I definitely didn’t see any Kangaroo’s hopping around outside! This place was truly unique.

During the trip temperatures in Iceland became bizarrely high, even the UK was 15C colder, so we decided to leave the Northern Fjords and head South East to the Glaciers. We drove across the south coast past lava fields and looming cliffs, bordered by glaciers on one side and the raw Atlantic Ocean on the other. Venturing into the mist filled darkness I felt like we were driving across the moon.

[Photo by Keith Ladzinski.]

The Sólheimajökull glacier was black, coated in ash fallout from a nearby volcano eruption. Climbing on this transfusion of frozen water with ash was bizarre and like no other ice climbing I had ever done. Walking over the surface left prints where crampons had been. On the way home we stopped off at to see the infamous black sand beaches with roaring Atlantic waves pounding onto them. The aura and beauty of Iceland was more powerful that I had imagined, this was a real life fantasy island.

[Photo by Keith Ladzinski.]

The most memorable story of the trip was when Dawn recounted a tale of one of the local ladies who lives on an isolated sheep farm, cut off for much of the winter. Hoping to celebrate a friend’s birthday party she walked over the mountain to the next valley, several hours through the night in pouring rain and blizzard conditions!

It seems that on this island, it’s more than climbers that must survive the perfect storm. Whether you’re in search of a new route or even off to a party, it’s pretty much the same – a quest for adventure, for fun times!

-Tim Emmett

[Photo by Keith Ladzinski.]

[Photo by Keith Ladzinski.]

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