Iceland Roadtrip

Adventure of a Lifetime, and nearly the end of mine entirely.

It all started with me hopping on a plane to Iceland. Saying that, it was a stop over on the way back from Seattle USA (where I used to live) to Manchester UK.  It was just supposed to be 5 days of adventure. Embarrassingly at the time, all I knew about Iceland I had learned from Top Gear episodes, some brief and frantic wikipedia reading, and the odd factoid picked up throughout my life. So, armed with that substantial knowledge(!) I hopped on the plane, with a guide book I bought that morning, and started reading. Eight hours later I arrived with a rough ‘plan’ of action. This involved driving the ‘golden circle’, pushing up northward to visit the northern fjords via some dodgy (and beautiful) mountain roads, then back south via ferry for a quick last blast trip to a glaciers and waterfalls on the southern coast towards Vik. I read that many of the roads are not much more than roughly minted gravel pits, and the rest were constructed by Trolls to trap the unprepared.

I knew then for this trip I was going to need a car that was reliable, comfortable, no slouch on performance, and rugged as a Challenger 2 Tank. Sadly they were all out of modified Toyota Hilux’s, but they did have a brand new Subaru Legacy which ticked many of the boxes. Speaking of ticking boxes; many were ticked that were situated next to the words ‘damage’ and ‘waiver’ on the form the nice Icelandic man handed me at the car rental office  with my keys.

This would prove to be well done.

So off I went! (see video below)

p.s. please excuse hair. This was a couple years ago – and there are no proper showers deep into Iceland. I also quite smoking, hurrah!

The Video shares only some of the crazy, wonderful, and awesome stuff I saw and did. It doesn’t go into how I blew a tire half way through a five hour plus drive over rocky mountainous roads only to find there was no full size spare on in the boot. It does show some of 90mph gravel road ‘rally driving’ I did. It does show sections of the amazing curvy roads built around Elf Houses (I’m not kidding) that line the gorgeous and exciting landscape all around Iceland.

It ends on the ferry ride back. The trip did not.

The reason for that is as follows. Ever gone for a swim in freezing glacier water? no?

I don’t recommend it.

There I am – one minute happily hopping around a glacier I drove out to (in retrospect glacier hopping is a hobby to avoided), snapping pictures, the next minute I’m OMGWTF shoulder deep in ice-cold water with no bottom in reach or sight. In fact there was nothing in sight as the water was thick with sediment. Shock had began to set in and I could feel my legs beginning to numb as I gasped for breath, clinching repetitively at a slippery iceberg/rocky outcrop that was my only lifeline….


It wasn’t until this morning that I decided to go to Vik. Both the lady at the front desk and the kind bloke who helped me book a cheap-ish room at the hotel I’m staying at suggested it. I wanted to go north, to geothermal springs and waterfalls. ‘The drive is great!’. ‘There’s so much to see!’ they said. Indeed it was an utterly staggering drive. I took the best pictures of the trip, perhaps the best I’ve ever taken. There were crashing waterfalls, black sand beaches, caves, ancient stone buildings built around caves, all on a backdrop of misty mountains of magnificent majesty. Very ‘double rainbow all the way’ indeed.

It was near the end of this trip that I came to Sólheimajökull near Skogar. As I came off the dirt (pot hole laden) road smiling at the thought of ‘Conan the Barbarian’ battling with ‘Skogar the Nasty’, I saw the glacier. I have to say it was pretty damn cool and was excited. I may have even “woo-hoo’d”. So off I went to get some great pictures. And great pictures I did. Helicopters, me on rocks, ice fissures, rocks of many types and colours. I must have hiked up about 30 minutes before deciding that was far enough and turning back.

On the way down I picked up a few interesting rocks I found. Playing with some glacial till/clay/ooze stuff that probably gets sold in health spa’s for ridiculous prices as an exfoliant. Then I noticed a large, story tall, ice stack with water running around it. “I have to take pictures of that!” I thought to myself. I found a safe way and it was staggering. Azure blue ice dripping into narrow channels of milky olive-green waters, banked by more ice carpeted with black volcanic gravel and the odd colourful rock. Truly awesome! All I had to do was get passed the water and make my way back, about 5 minutes, across the black moraine….

Then it happened. A large piece of ice I had stepped on to (about the size of a double bed) gave way and fell in the murky water. In an instant it was gone, swallowed up by the murky depths I assumed were just a few feet deep at most. They weren’t and now I was up to my shoulders in ice-cold sediment laden water. The shock and cold hit you like a semi-truck. You gasp for air and grasp for anything. My first thought honestly was my camera, which I slung instantly (more like slammed) on to said gravely ice crop. Then I realised the true peril I was in.

My legs kicked numbly in vain looking for a bottom. My hands scratching and grasping at a rocky outcrop of ice and gravel which had been my next destination. I had smashed against it, lunging from the falling ice, my legs too numb to feel the pain later to follow. Within seconds my clothes, now saturated with water and sediment, were getting heavier and heavier all the while I was getting weaker and weaker.

Its odd what pops into your mind when your in the ‘If I don’t do something I’m going to die’ mind set.  I was panicked, embarrassed, but most of all bloody determined I’d get out.

I had seconds before the cold and wet took me. Grasping at the first outcrop wasn’t working as soppy-clay and gravel poured into the water. Then I managed to get a hand on another nearby rocky/ice thing. I was now between the two and first pulled-up then pushed down between them with everything I had. It felt like I weighed 400 pounds. I got about as far as my arms would take me and just before they gave up their last ounce of strength I succeed in digging a knee into one of the out crops. I lifted my other leg and managed to kick away from the other and crawl out.

I stood up quickly. Breathing deep and hard. Colder than I knew cold could feel. My attire didn’t help matters. Heavy black-leather boots., Jeans, Cotton T-shirt, Wool jumper, and even more woollen coat/hoody thing with fake fur on the inside. (You know the one if you know me). All of it now laden with ice water and clay sediment. I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I knew hypothermia was imminent if I didn’t do something. Then I remembered the episode of Man vs Wild where Bear Grylls jumped into freezing ice-water. He got naked and warmed up by doing push ups. It seemed silly but it made sense. I stripped down to my t-shirt and undies (modesty never forgives an Englishman, even in life threatening situations). I jumped around a bit and felt some of the warmth return to my limbs. I knew if I could just get back to the car I’d be ok. I had my suitcases and therefore dry clothes, but didn’t know which way to go. Thankfully, after doubling back for a minute I saw a clear route and got back after a very chilly soggy sorry walk.

A tour group showed up moments after I had gotten into dry clothes. They didn’t seem to notice the wet hair or the dirt all over my face, or the pile of sopping wet clothes on top of my car. I didn’t care really. I was just starting to realise how lucky I was to be alive…

SIDE NOTE: My Canon 7D DSLR did not make it.  I flung it on the ice as soon as I fell and somewhere in my panic must have dragged it back in. The water was thick, freezing cold, and unknowingly deep. It is my hope that one day the compact-flash card will be found and future generations may benefit from my work. However, it is more likely that it will be utterly decimated beneath the ice and rock. Rest in Piece (or pieces?) Seven. I will miss you.

Bear Grylls and the scene that saved me. Yup.

So, Top Gear may have Changed my life. But Bear Grylls probably saved it.

On to more adventures!

Please feel free to enjoy a few choice photographs below. Full screen viewing is recommended.


All images Copyright © Time For The Photography ™