Ten or twelve years ago, we studied photos of a trek in Iceland, colors of the rhyolite lavascape with rising steam and small trekkers moving through this otherworldly land staring back at us. That was the beginning of our growing fascination with Iceland; it just took us awhile getting around to making the journey. After exhaustive planning (all by Marla), an easy seven hour flight to Reykjavik, and half a dozen bus rides, we were dropped off by the bus equivalent of a monster truck at Landmannalugar, the start of the infamous Laugevegur trek; the landscape draped with thick clouds, land dotted with colorful tents at this launching, and finishing point. As we set up our green Nemo tent, others were gathering giant rocks to stabilize their tent setup, standard practice to prep for an Icelandic storm. Later on in the trip, we would see the logic of the gathering of boulders to hold down a 5 pound nylon structure with thin aluminum beams. Soaking in the Landmannalaugar hot springs, a cool stream fed by a scalding geothermal spring, seeking that perfect balance of hot and cold, yin and yang, suddenly immersed in this alien landscape, all the little travel details drifting away, we would be on the Laugevegur trek in the morning.
Moving through the lava field en-route to Hrafntinnusker, a steady wind blowing sideways rain, we followed the well-cairned route non-stop to the hut/camp, draped in pewter clouds.
Camp one at Hrafntinnusker is on a mountaintop, but Laugevegur didn’t reveal her beauty right away.The camp rings of obsidian stone help buffer high winds that are common in the Icelandic Highlands.
Marla crosses a small stream on day two, a trek from Hraftinnuskercamp to Alfvatn. The stubborn cloud ceiling began to lift.
By day three on the Laugevegur Trek, we’d found a rhythm, a pair of trekkers part of the daily pulse on the popular trek. A practiced routine of home-prepared backpacking meals, setting up camp, sleeping off jet lag, and moving nomadically, a dot on the map both daily goal and compass as excitement built for surprises that await. Everything is new. We had read about the canyon near Emstrur camp when a fellow trekker told us how cool it is, worth the walk over there. With camp set up after a 12 mile day, trekkers piling in to the crossroads camp, we took our evening walk over to “M” Canyon, Icelandic names are just too long for more than the first letter. M, and its rich colors blew our minds.
We would finish the Laugevegur trek at Porsmork the next day, lounging on soft grass, gorging on potato chips from the little camp store, the trek a blur. Ahead, two weeks with no set agenda, a few more bus trips, Reykjavik, a rental car, driving the 800 mile highway one that encircles the country, a couple more backpacking trips…
Marla descends Asbyrgi Cliffs on a short via ferrata section with fixed rope, stairs and steps. We had trekked from Dettifoss to Asbyrgi along the River Fjollum, this descent adding spice to the finish.
There comes a point on each journey that gives pause, maybe a moment to better understand how some of the pieces fit together, our place in the world, perhaps epiphanic. Crossing Snaefellsjokull National Park on a rutted, lava rock studded road led to the edge of the namesake icecap, moraine fingers advancing where ice was not long ago. We knew the numbers, the icecap shrunk from 12 square kilometers to 9 in a decade; but seeing is something altogether different, an icecap so significant that the park has jokull (glacier) in the name as Icelanders wonder if they’ll still call it Snaefellsjokull when the ice is gone. We changed our plans when Marla said “we have to go up there”. I agreed and we climbed steadily, seeking the highest patch of lava moraine next to the ice, inspecting a crevasse. Studying the ice in silence while watching a snow machine carrying tourists climb slowly up the glacier, we looked into the face of anthropogenic climate change – not always easy to see because the story is written in vanishing ice.
Clean, green, stunningly beautiful Iceland is at once everything familiar and unknown. Iceland’s not particularly hard to get to, the flavor of the month (for tourism) nowadays as one bus driver described it, yet you can still get off the beaten path. It’s expensive by any measure, but why not? Iceland is a rock between the Greenland and North Atlantic Seas with a very short season for tourism, and growing vegetables for that matter. Soaking in the Blue Lagoon, one of the attendants from the U.S. told us “Iceland never really leaves you. You’ll get home and won’t be able to stop thinking of Iceland. You’ll come back, buy a home, and spend at least part of the year here in Iceland.” We started planning the next trip to Iceland before we left for home.
After a wonderful evening of presenting Sage Spirit to an enthusiastic Braided River – Mountaineers audience, we set out for the North Cascades, winding up our trip on Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands off Washington’s northwest coast. More than half of the glaciers in the Lower 48 are in the North Cascades and North Cascades glaciers are retreating subjects of intense study. The Cascades aren’t as tall as the Rockies, but the vertical uplift from the Pacific Ocean is dizzying – Mount Baker rises over 10,000 feet and accumulates a deep snowpack from Pacific flows in winter (except last winter, when it barely snowed at all). And you feel all of that vertical in your legs. The trek to Sahale Glacier camp was a 4,000 foot ascent from deep Douglas fir/western cedar forest to the land of rock and ice. Unfortunately, we saw little of the Sahale area, as a pretty rough storm pinned us in our tent for 18 hours or so. Happy to see the earth quenched for the first time this parched summer, we descended and sought solitude in the Mount Baker Wilderness, then the San Juan Islands just off the coast. There’s so much here! Want to read a great book about the North Cascades? Check out The North Cascades – Finding Beauty and Renewal In The Wild Nearby by Braided River. The images that follow are but a quick glimpse, just enough to whet our appetite for a more in depth study. Continue reading “North Cascades – Turf and Surf”→
Mont Blanc in full moonlight as clouds rise from the Chamonix Valley, France.
Marla peeked outside at midnight and said “the moon is up and the sky is clear!” I layed in the Lac Blanc Rifugio bed for an hour thinking about the scene outside before finally getting dressed. The storm had cleared and Mont Blanc was illuminated by a full moon, the scent of rain held by calm mountain air, cool, but not cold. I made my way to an overlook and watched in amazement as clouds streamed across the the Chamonix valley thousands of feet below, then danced around pinnacles of the massif, covering and revealing Mont Blanc. I photographed for over an hour, knowing that I’d awake and do it all over again in just a few hours. Sleep will come another day.
We’re shaking off the jet lag after a great European adventure – Marla planned the whole Tour Du Mont Blanc – all I had to do was show up with my boots and camera. And yes, I know how lucky I am 🙂 From the Chamonix Valley in France, the “tour” circumnavigates the Mont Blanc Massif, typically an 8-12 day adventure using the excellent local hut, or refuge system. There are wild folks who run the whole thing in one gulp; the adventure race winner finished in around 20 hours. We saw a few of the competitors still on the course when we began our trek, hardy souls. The loop trek travels through France, Italy, and Switzerland, returning to the Chamonix Valley. Each day of trekking brings a new pass or “col” to climb and magical views. Our trek lasted eleven days with some downtime in Chamonix at the end. These mountains will have you shaking your head from start to finish. There are no foothills, just jagged vertical granite faces with glaciers plastered on them, flowing into the valleys below. Many more photos: Continue reading “Tour Du Mont Blanc”→
Most of the Absaroka-Beartooth Front is now protected!
GYC’s vision and advocacy brought folks together and informed the twenty-year plans for Shoshone NF and BLM lands on the Absaroka Front that now protect most of these ecologically and culturally sensitive habitats. It’s an honor to have worked on this project with GYC and iLCP and to know that my images, GYC’s vision, and GYC/iLCP’s collective outreach efforts made a difference. Thanks to GYC for making iLCP (and me) central to your A-B Front campaign!
Where to go on the next big trip? We saved up and visited our mythical adventure places list many times over, mostly agreeing on the top five, and it came down to the Cordillera Huayhuash (whywash) in Peru, one of the top treks in the world. The Huayhuash is remote and high, and despite being only 30 km long, the range boasts six peaks over 6,000 meters and more than 600 glaciers. The infamous Huayhuash Trek circumnavigates the range clockwise, and generally takes 10-12 days to complete. It was an easy decision to contact Victor Sanchez, owner of Peru Mountain Explorers to arrange a custom trip. We had trekked with Victor in the Cordillera Blanca back in 2007 and told him that we’d come back to trek the Huayhuash. We set up the all-inclusive 17-day trip with Victor, with plans to add a climb of (17,555′) Diablo Mudo near the end of the trek. As we trained to be physically ready, we received the shocking news that Victor had been killed by an avalanche on Alpamayo while putting up a route for clients. Office Manager Edith assured us that Victor’s wife, Alicia is dedicated to running Peru Mountain Explorers in Victor’s honor and that our trip would be all set, Mrs. Haydee would meet us in Lima, everything is fine. We went to Peru. Continue reading “Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru!”→