Standing on the Western edge of the Greenland Ice sheet I watched as the first rays of morning sunlight turned the ice fall from the cold blue of the polar night to a soft warm pink.

Far below us I could hear the rumblings of a glacial river, it's origins deep in the belly of the ice sheet, thundering it's way towards the coastal mountains and the sea. It was here that the idea for our Iceland expedition was born.

We were searching for an expedition that we could do together. Three good mates, mountaineers and adventurers that had climbed, paddled, skied all over the world, always with others, never all together.

The discussion turned to Iceland with it's mist shrouded peaks, vast glaciers, black desolate interior and mighty rivers. As with all good expeditions, it started with a couple of pints of beer and a map - soon we had the makings of an original expedition that would include everything from mountaineering to packrafting with the potential to test each of us to our absolute limit.


OBJECTIVES

  • To complete a traverse of Iceland from South to North via the Vatnajokull Glacier, unsupported.

  • To be the first team to packraft the Skjalfandafljot river from the source to the sea, unsupported.


THE ROUTE

START - Jokulsarlon Ice Beach, South Coast of Iceland

FINISH - Skjalfandi Bay, North Coast of Iceland

 
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The Vatnajokull Glacier

The Vatnajokull glacier is the largest glacier mass in Europe. It covers an area of roughly 8,000km2 and is 1000m thick at its deepest point, with an average thickness of 500m and a total ice volume of 3300 cubic kilometers. The landscape under the glacier is an undulating plateau generally reaching 600-800 m above sea level with numerous valleys and canyons.

There are also a number of large active volcanoes under the ice cap including 6rcefaj6kull (2110 m), Baroarbunga (2020 m) and Grfmsvotn which has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland.

Climate

  • Average Daytime Temperature (July) - 0°C

  • Annual Precipitation - 4000mm

  • Weather - Can vary dramatically even in July. Arctic conditions, storms, high winds and subzero conditions are to be expected.


The Skjalfandafljot river (The river of the Trembling Spirit)

The Skjalfandafljot river is 178km long and is Iceland's fourth largest river. It's source is the Northwestern edge of the Vatnajokull glacier and from here it carves a path northward through the vast black plains of the central highlands to Skalfandi Bay and the North Atlantic Ocean.

The river is characterised by it's many waterfalls, with the Godafoss and Aldeyjarfoss among it's most famous.

The first documented descent of the river was by a kayaking team from the University of Sheffield in 1989.


To our knowledge the river has never been descended by packraft from the source to the sea.