The Great Adventures of the Climbing Elvises

Posted on: May 30, 2008

Fridjon Thorleifsson

It was one of those great ideas, "lets climb the highest peak in Iceland in the darkness of winter and lets do it by a long route." And we decided to go for it. This was the 7th of. Two days later we were cruising highway 1. We arrived at the base at about 00:30 on Saturday (10th Jan.) and started right away, just to get to a decent camping ground. The route we had picked was well from the ordinary, long and fairly exposed.

The morning was beautiful, so we didn't hurry. We had all day plus Sunday as well. Progress was quite slow and we camped early on the ridge, around 1500m. The evening was beautiful, one of those that make you understand why it's all worthwhile.

Now, for those who don't know Iceland. In January the days are short. Horribly short! We're talking about 5 hours daylight max. And it's also very cold.

When we woke up on the 11th we didn't know that this would be one of those days that would never leave our memories. The wind had picked up so we decided to go light. That meant we had to dig some of our stuff. We only took essentials like two candy bars per person, a rope, our climbing gear and some water. We took a GPS-mark on our dig to be sure to find it again. And so we went on.

The wind intensified as we climbed. Were turning around? No sir! Tough keep going! Or was it dumb guys don't turn around??? I forget which is right. Anyway, we managed to crawl up to the summit. The weather was so bad by that time that we couldn't even talk to each other; we just nodded at each other and went down.

My goggles blew of my head on the summit so now I was almost blind on the highest point of Iceland in the middle of the winter, with only 2000m to descend. Life is full of obstacles to overcome! We managed to make some progress down the mountain, slowly, and then we ran out of food. No problem! We were getting close to our stash where there was food. So I took out the GPS. It was dead, not working, caput. Now what?

Lets take a moment to look at the situation; it's pretty obvious that we were in trouble. The wind was so strong that I had gone airborne twice. It was the worse weather either of us had seen. At one place were we had to rappel down, it was so windy that when we had thrown the rope out it went straight up into the air, like there was an Indian guy playing a flute in the cartoons, to get the rope up. You know what I mean!

Ok! So now the GPS didn't work. No problem! Lets take out the compass. It had a huge bobble in it so that didn't work either. Visibility was down to zero now, so our chances were slim on finding the catch. And the wind was so strong anyway that we couldn't spend any more time searching. Down we went. But not without more incidents.

We got lost! That's what happens when you're in deep shit. But our theory is; "Your not lost if you know where you're going!" So we kept on going. We didn't say much, just walked. It had been 12 hours since the last candy bar, 18 hours on the move and we were getting ourselves into bad areas. And then we found out that we didn’t know where we were!

After a short reconnaissance we figured out where we were. Got off the glacier and went to the nearest farm where there is also a gas station. It was very nice of the farmers to let us in since it was literally the middle of the night. At the farm we got some food and some more "good" news. The weather was not good. Actually, it was bad on the whole island. The guy on the farm told us that the highway was closed due to sand storms a few kilometres to the west. We decided to go the long way home, around the island. Just before we took off, the farm-guy let us know that that road was also closed, due to snowstorms.

Ok, caught in the storm, tired as hell. What to do??? MAD has a mom that talks on the phone much and she had let him know that his brother was in Hofn (village in Iceland). His brother is a sailor on a freight-ship and said that we could catch up with them in Hofn and tag along. We drove in the storm to the harbour, put the car in a container and sailed to Reykjavik!!! What a way to go home!

Now, the story is not over yet. I still had to get my tent back! So, two weeks latter we went back to our stash and tried to find it but it was under a lot of snow and ice. So we went back down and up again in April. Same story! Another try in June was more successful and we retrieved most of our stuff, except for half of my tent. BUMMER.

That summer I started to work as a guide and what do you think happened! I mentioned this story to one of the head guides and he started to smile. “What are you smile at" I asked him and he replied, “I found your other half of the tent". So what did we learn from the trip? Well, for one, The North Face tents are a piece of work because we used this tent on Denali two years later without any modification.

This is a great mountain, which deserves respect. I have been to the top 30+ times since this trip and I have not grown tired of it yet.