Oregon Coast has the most breathtaking trails and scenery. Every year we head down to Yachats to spend Thanksgiving with the in-laws. I never have a hard time finding running trails here as the Oregon Coast trail that goes on for hundreds of miles is literally a step away from our front door. We are so lucky to have been able to spend Thanksgiving at this amazing house on the cliff for the past four years and we really lucked out on weather this year. Even when it’s raining or foggy, it’s still a very magical place to run. I mostly run along the trail that hugs the coast, but when I want to get in a longer run, I’ll continue down the trail until it crosses the road into the mountains where the real climbing begins. This trip is an annual tradition I look forward to all year.
Saints are sinners who kept on going. ~Robert Louis Stevenson
I still think about last year’s race as one of the best running memories of my life. It was that perfect race day you dream of where everything happened at the right moment, miles were executed, splits were on point and I finished that race exceeding my expectations. But what made it such a great day of running was how effortlessly those miles felt and how great I felt afterwards, enough to run a few miles in Vegas the next morning and hit the trails in the afternoon when we got back! Clearly, this year was not a repeat of last year’s as just getting from the hotel room to the car the next day was a painful feat in itself.
I knew I had to run this race again and try for a sub 1:30 finish. Since I can’t predict who will show up on race day, the only thing I can do is train for a goal time, hopefully good enough for a top 3 finish. The Manhattan Beach 10k was a great base to kick off speedwork for this race. Instead of logging the same amount of miles I did last year (70-80 mpw since I was coming off Cuyamaca 100K and training for a 50 mile PR in January) I ran half the amount with more quality tempo runs on the road and trails, continued my interval training and pilates.
The day started off much warmer than last year, I quickly ditched my long sleeve in favor of my InknBurn Bot Wire sports bra. We all walked towards the start line at Bootleg Canyon park and it reminded me of lining up for a trail race with the surroundings and low key vibe.
The first three miles went by pretty fast…
…too fast. Definitely no negative splitting from the get-go. I really hate looking at my watch because it tends to get obsessive and stressful for me when I’m more focused on pace than feel. I knew the pace was fast, I just had no idea it was that fast. My heart was racing and beating out of my chest and I had to keep telling myself to calm down and settle in because there was no way I would be able to keep up this pace for another 10 miles. The pace was uncomfortable in a bad way as I tried to keep Matt in sight before my legs finally gave up.
We descended from Bootleg Canyon Park on paved bike trails for the first 6 miles before hitting the trail portion of the course.
I was also running scared of how many women were right on my tail. Instead of focusing on my breath and strides, I bumped my music louder to drown out all the surrounding sounds of footsteps around me. There was a hill around Mile 3.5 which left me feeling beat and exhausted by the time I crested trying to keep pace. Soon after, a women flew by me. I quickly glanced at my watch and saw that I was holding onto a 6:30 pace and she just breezed right by me. I let her go knowing even holding onto 6:30′s for the rest of the race would be tough, especially on the trail portion.
Even though I was finally settling into my goal pace, I was only 4 miles into the race and I already felt defeated. My quads were tight, my legs felt heavy and my mind was foggy. My mind was occupied by last year’s race as I replayed those exact same miles over and over again and how good I felt cruising behind the lead woman. All these negative thoughts flooded my head, as I cursed myself for not having run enough leading up to this race. My friends Eman and Dave caught up to me and pulled ahead as I fell more and more behind. Another woman passed and as hard as I tried to keep up with her, I felt myself falling behind her strides and watched as she got smaller in the distance.
I couldn’t wait to hit the trail after Mile 6 and pick things up just like last year. We had 4.4 miles of trails following Lake Mead’s Historic Railroad Tunnel on the mountainside above the lake. The trail included a series of five tunnels (a few hundred feet long) which were once part of a railroad used to construct nearby Hoover Dam.
Unfortunately, once my feet hit the trail, I knew immediately this wasn’t going to be a repeat of last year. My legs felt like bricks and it felt like I was running 10 min/miles. I didn’t dare look at my watch because I knew I was going slow. I said goodbye to a PR and silently waited for the next female to catch up. Last year I had such a blast on the trail portion, taking in the incredible views of Lake Mead while winding in and out of railroad tunnels. Running blind through the darkness to submerge into the light on the other side, cheering on the other runners as they ran back from the turnaround. The rocky terrain on the trails didn’t help, only aggravating my injured foot even more. I slogged my way through those miles, looking forward to the turn around and seeing my friends. I saw Matt before the turn around, holding onto 5th overall and telling him how great he looked. He yelled at me to catch the two women in front of me and I just shook my head and said I couldn’t do it. As I approached the turn-around, I saw that the 2 women were in fact not all that far ahead of me and gave me the tiniest glimmer of hope.
By some turn of luck (maybe the swig of crack Gatorade?) my legs started picking up speed again after the turn-around and I found myself having fun. The soreness in my quads subsided, the cramps went away and I focused on chasing down every runner in front of me. With every runner I passed, I felt my brain clearing up from the fog. I was in a totally different state of mind on the way back, it was so much fun to see all my friends and I couldn’t wait to get back on the pavement where I could finally pound out the last few miles.
Once through the tunnels, we joined the River Mountain Loop Trail and descended down to the beach. At one of the final aid stations, I saw that the 2nd place woman was not that far ahead. It was still far enough where I was content with settling for third if I was able to keep my current pace for the last few miles. I took more Gatorade as that seemed to have a huge affect on my energy at the last aid and turned down my music so I could really focus. I felt each stride get faster and before I knew it, I was closing in behind her. I contemplated whether or not I should pass, afraid I would embarrass myself if I wasn’t able to keep pace and have her pass me again, but I made the call to pass as it might have been my only chance. I ran scared, just like I did for the last 6 miles of the race last year, listening to any footsteps behind me, getting paranoid when I would feel a weird twinge in my legs. I knew the finish line was close when I could see the RVs at Lake Mead Park by the beach.
I really had no idea what my finishing time would be since I hadn’t looked at my watch the entire race, so when I saw 1:29:02 I was shocked. I was 99% sure my time would be over 1:30 just based on how much worse I felt this year. This was such a tough day for me, but proves that all is not lost and you CAN turn a race around if you really wanted to. It did not feel as great as last year and I struggled a lot during those middle miles, but I pulled myself back together to finish. It was a fun day racing and watching all my friends do so well and hit their personal bests.
Thanks Saints and Sinners for another great race! By the way, all the race photos they took are free digital downloads! How awesome is that? Hope to come back again next year.
The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.
After a disappointing summer of getting injured in Iceland and having to drop out of Waldo 100K, I decided to re-evaluate my priorities. High mileage training came to a screeching halt when my foot wouldn’t allow me to run further than 10 miles without limping pain. I pushed through the weekends prior to Waldo, trying to stick to the mountains and trails, but deep down, I knew I wasn’t prepared come race day.
After lusting over this race for the past few years, I finally found a year to run it where I had time to train. Subsequently, all weekend runs prior to the race were planned to help build up confidence to tackle the 62 mile distance (again). Unfortunately, none of those weekends actually happened, runs were cut short, weekly mileage dropped and I started wondering if this ultra thing was really for me. For once, I was looking forward to having nothing on the schedule, no races planned, nothing to train for, nowhere to go. I could run or not run everyday. Run as little as a mile or run a marathon if I felt like it. Do pilates 7 days a week without having to worry about how it would affect my running the next day. Maybe pick up a new sport. It was until then, I realized how restricted my fitness was to running. I was a slave to my training plan and when something like an injury sidelined me, I felt like I lost everything and could do nothing about it.
Waldo came and went, I got to sample 32 miles of the best single track trails around and spend a weekend in Oregon with friends and family. I got to summit one of the three peaks that day and share that experience with Matt, so all was not lost. In fact, the race was so relaxed since we were at the back of the pack, it was FUN just enjoying the moment.
The rest of the summer was spent enjoying other activities, running watch-less with no weekly mileage or splits I had to hit. It felt really good.
Which brings me to today and what I’ve been up to for the past month. After hitting the reset button this summer and realizing that I needed a break from long distance running, I started incorporating a couple days of high intensity workouts into my week while keeping up my pilates, which both in turn have helped my running despite the decrease in miles. I focused on shorter, faster miles rather than trying to log 20+ miles on the weekends, which to this day, I still can’t do without suffering the consequences from my foot.
Signing up for the Manhattan Beach 10K was my first race sort of back from injury. I needed a ‘feel good’ race and one that wouldn’t have me sidelined from running. I love supporting local small races and this one was close to home with a great route that toured Manhattan Beach and finished on the beach path down by the pier. Though not a flat course, the race highlights the best of Manhattan Beach and brings out a lot of great local runners.
I had no expectations going into this race besides just to have fun. I was far from what I had been doing last year when I PR’ed at Venice Beach 10K so my race goals were set pretty low. The 10K started on a slight downhill before making a one mile loop back to the start line where I spotted my friend Billy on the sidelines taking pictures.
I kept my pace fairly relaxed, knowing the course had rolling hills and one big hill at Mile 5 on Rosecrans. The miles ticked by quickly as we winded through neighborhoods and ran along the woodchip path on Valley. I had no idea Valley had such a grade since I am so used to running the flat woodchips in the middle of the street. It was fun seeing Matt on the other side of the street hanging with the front of the pack. The rolling terrain kept my legs guessing and gave me a chance to pass a few runners on the way up. When we finally hit “the hill” on Rosecrans, I kept my head down, shortened my stride and made my way quickly up the short but gradual hill where we would then have a steep downhill to the strand. I ended up catching a friend during this downhill and relaxed behind his stride for the last mile.
The strand was bustling with spectators on the sidelines cheering in the runners. You could see the pier up ahead where the finish line would be, yet it still seemed so far away. I always have a hard time finding the right time to really gun it to the finish line, sometimes my finishing kick is the last 100 ft of the race, sometimes it’s the last mile. In this case, I didn’t start sprinting until I saw the finish line. Finished in 43:37, 7:02 pace, which was surprising seeing how I’m usually pretty bad with hills and my lack of speed work, but I’ll take it!
It was a great day hanging out with friends and got me excited to run more 10K’s (never though I would be saying that) so I signed up for the Venice Christmas run again this year, hoping to beat last year’s time. Really glad I got my running mojo back, even for the shorter distance stuff. I’m ready to let go of ultras as it’s not the right time for me right now. Maybe I’ll get back into it one day, maybe not. The 100 mile distance is still a mystery, but it’s not my life goal, like it was last year. I’ll always enjoy traveling to races and spending time on the trails, but it had been taking up a lot of space in my life that I need to set aside for other things.
So for now, I’m going to keep enjoying things that keep me healthy and finding other ways to get that ‘runners high’.
With light streaming in through our studio at 3AM and the nightlife still going strong, I didn’t even need an alarm clock to wake up. The beauty of Iceland in the summer is the 24 hours of day light, the midnight sun, one of the most unique features of Iceland. Though it would be a long day ahead of traveling (and the actual race), the Laugavegur Ultramarathon was also one of the reasons why we were in Iceland in the first place.
I was immediately drawn to this race because of the remote beauty it had to offer. Not many people can say they’ve run in Iceland before and many immediately think of the freezing temps (which it still was for this L.A girl) with nothing but ice and snow. Though there was a lot of snow on the course, the scenery is much more than that. The Laugavegur course is one of the most beautiful in Iceland, stretching from Landmannalaugar in the highlands to Þórsmörk, a natural reservation area. Normally, this 34 mile trek is hiked in four days, but we traversed through sand, gravel, grass, snow, ice, rivers and streams in one.
Having spent the previous 5 days ‘tapering’ and doing other activities, my legs were more than ready to run.
The bus left Reykjavik at 4:30AM for our 3 hour drive to Landmannalaugar with a breakfast stop at Hrauneyjar. I quickly got to know the locals and their running community and how important this race was to them in Iceland. It is the longest trail race they have and one they train and anticipate for all year. For many, this was their first step into ‘ultra territory’. We got to Hrauneyjar where there was a buffet of sweet pastries, sandwiches, juices, oatmeal and cereal waiting for us. After quickly fueling up for the long day ahead, we headed back on the bus and continued our journey to Landmannalaugar.
As we drove closer to the start, it started to rain, making the green moss that grows on all the volcanic rocks glimmer in the light. The R.D. came on our bus and told us to layer on everything we had because it would be a cold and wet day with lots of snow at the top. Luckily, I had brought a few layers, but didn’t think I would need all of it. On top of my base layer of a t-shirt and long tights, I had on a long sleeve pull-over with a waterproof rain jacket on top, a buff for my neck and for my ears, arm warmers and gloves! I basically looked like a blue version of the Michelin man with purple striped gloves.
The first section is a 6 mile uphill climb from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker. We immediately started up a steep switchback right out of the get-go, power-hiking up rocky terrain before it leveled out a bit. The scenery was breathtaking and everything I had imagined it to be. It truly felt like I was in a postcard with the multiplicity of colors and shapes of the snow on the mountains.
Credit: Laugavegur Marathon
Only 3 miles in, we hit our first patch of snow that continued until mile 9. I’ve run on snow before, but never this continuous for so long. The locals were flying by me and I tried to mimic what they were doing. Instead of hiking on the snow and slipping back with each step, I ended up jogging on the side of the trail because the snow was a little harder.
We climbed slowly to the top of Háskerdingur where it continued to rain and snow. The wind was blowing the snow sideways and all I could do was to look down and try to keep moving to stay warm. We crossed a few big streams and the shock of how cold the water kept my legs numb the rest of the way. I couldn’t feel any part of my body anymore (which might have been a good thing) as all my clothes were drenched and I was slogging around in my shoes which luckily drains really well. On top of all the rain and snow, we were running through sand, which felt like quicksand because of the amount of snow.
The first aid station was at the top and all the volunteers were out greeting each runner with powerade and frozen bananas. I was so impressed by the race volunteers who came out to brave the conditions just to support the runners. Everyone was so friendly and encouraging throughout the race.
Credit: Laugavegur Marathon
The terrain soon became muddy and slippery as we crossed a small sloping geothermal area. Trying to run the downs on a muddy trail only resulted in me slipping and pretty much sliding on my butt all the way down. Luckily there were so many stream crossings on the course so I could easily wash off! We had a spectacular view over the lake at Álftavatn as we made our way down a steep technical wet trail. Grashagakvísl is the first river on the course, which we crossed but wasn’t too bad because of the stepping stones.
Upon arriving at the Álftavatn aid station, we had to check in mid-point before continuing. I caught up to a few friends I had met earlier on in the day as we made our way to Emstrur. Long parts of this section are actually very flat and runnable which gave me a chance to pick up my speed and make up some time from all the miles on the snow. We came across the largest river, Bláfjallakvísl where we were given the option to put on pant legs to help keep our legs and shoes somewhat dry. I was just about to put them on when I saw a runner fall face first into the river from tripping on the oversized pant legs. They had a rope and lots of volunteers helping you across, so I decided to ditch the legs and try to make it across as fast as possible.
Stepping into the river is like taking a plunge in an ice bath. The immediate shock of how cold the water is never really wears off and you never dry off either. They had drop bags at this point where you could change into a dry shoes and clothes, which was pretty pointless since it rained the entire way with more river crossings later in the race.
The last 10 miles of the course was from Emstrur to Húsadalur in Þórsmörk, with a nice slow descent to the end. Having started out so slow because of the snow, my legs were feeling pretty good and I was just happy to be close to the end where I could finally get warm. As we descended down a steep path to the bridge over the Fremri river, a rope was laid out for us to guide ourselves down the slippery rocks.
There were a few short climbs here and there to the end, and from the top of the final hill, Kápan, the Þórsmörk valley can be seen. The final river that had to be crossed, Þröngá, was up to a meter deep where there was a rope stretched over the river with lots of volunteers to help you across.
With three miles to go and all runnable terrain, I decided to pick up my pace and surprisingly was able to catch a lot of runners these last few miles. It’s been a long time where my legs have felt this good at the end of a race where I’m able to give it my all a couple miles out. Usually it’s like the last 100 meters when I see the finish line. It was so exciting the closer you got to the finish because there were also hikers who had been out for days on this trail and were also about to complete their long journey. Everyone was so encouraging and to see these hikers with 20+ pound packs on their backs make their way from Landmannalaugar where I was just at a few hours ago to the finish was just as much of a celebration for me as it was for them.
The finish line was lined with all the race officials and more volunteers and even though it was still raining and cold as hell, there was a warmth that came from the people that were out there that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else. I ended up finishing in 7:20:56, but time was never a concern for me in this race. We ended the race in Þórsmörk, one of Icelands brightest pearls, surrounded by rugged and beautiful mountains and glaciers and also right in front of Eyjafjallajökull, where the big eruption happened in 2010.
The volunteers immediately wrapped me in a blanket when I finished and rushed me inside the food tent where they had a nice spread of food and hot coco to warm you up. They had changing tents for guys and girls with all our drop bags neatly organized by our bib color and number so it was super easy to find. I spent some time in the tent getting warm and it felt so good to put on a dry pair of socks and shoes!
It was such a treat to come out to this special place and run through different terrain while enjoying the ever-changing views of Iceland. I am so grateful to the race for giving me the opportunity to come out to their country and experience a run of a lifetime with the local community. It was a privilege to run in such a unique race and make friends with runners from all over the world who share the same dedication to the trails as we do back home. The Laugavegur ultramarathon is a destination race that all adventurous runners should have on their bucket list. No matter what the weather is like, the scenery will continue to blow you away mile by mile.
The raging waters of the East Glacial River gorge (Austari-Jökulsá) are the stage for our most challenging and action-packed day trip, appropriately named the “Beast of the East”! A spectacular combination of deep canyon scenery and relentless heart-pumping whitewater, the East Glacial River has consistently been rated one of Europe’s best rafting rivers and topped popular guide books’ lists of Iceland’s “must-do” highlights. Arguably the most remote single-day rafting trip on the planet, this whitewater adventure delivers an unforgettable journey into the raw beauty of Iceland’s river wilderness and a dose of adrenaline strong enough to satisfy the most powerful of cravings!
Sold. We love whitewater rafting and the more extreme the rapids are, the more we gravitate towards. We knew this trip was for us and it didn’t disappoint. There were other options of rafting trips closer to Reykjavik that wouldn’t have us driving to North Iceland, but it wouldn’t have been the same kind of rapids and scenery. Even if class 4 rapids aren’t your thing, there are many other rafting trips you can go on. The great thing about Iceland is that there is an adventure for everyone.
The day started with a 3AM wake-up which isn’t so bad when the sun never really goes down. That was one of the best things about going to Iceland in the summer, we had constant light so it didn’t matter that we were still sight-seeing at 10 at night or waking up in the early hours. It made the drive a lot easier and since there is only one main highway (Ring Road 1) that circumvents Iceland, it was pretty easy to find. It was a 3 hours drive to Hafgrímsstaðir rafting base where we got briefed, suited up in these amazing dry suits and met our tour guides before boarding a bus for another hour drive to the East Glacial River gorge. The weather was similar to the day before, sprinkling and misty, but we didn’t mind since we would be wet the entire day anyways. Once the guides unloaded the rafts, we all stood around going over all the possible scenarios that could happen out there on the river and all the safety precautions. They even had two safety kayakers who would kayak close to the rafts in case anything happened. We split off into two rafts and made our way down the rocky and slippery slope to the river itself.
I was a little tentative with the wetsuit and how cold the water would be once the water got in, but to my surprise, the wet suits literally stuck to your skin so no water could get in at all. We were well insulated except for the option of wearing gloves, which I ended up taking off after a while to paddle better. We spent the first hour on the river getting used to the smaller rapids and working as a team. It’s a lot harder when you’re out on the river battling the river than on land, obviously and it took a few tries before we all finally got in sync. The scenery was amazing all around us, from the high cliffs to rock formations that looked like trolls perched on top of the hill, it was hard to keep my eyes focused on the river ahead.
The next 20-25km of the East Glacial is a constant barrage of long technical read and run class 3-4 rapids. We cautiously ran the first few rapids until we started to relax and tune into the river. I had heard about the “big” one from a local the day before, dubbed ‘Green Room’, the biggest rapid on the river. The guides weren’t sure if we would be able to hit it or not for safety reasons so we pulled off to the side and climbed our way up the cliffs to view the rapid from above. Once the guides deemed the rapid runnable, we let the other raft go first as our group watched from above.
The Green Room is especially tough because of the mess of churning confused water that waits at the bottom of the drop. The first drop leaves you right in line for the second drop which is guarded by a midstream rock. If you don’t hit it right, you could flip into the churning water which will leave you underwater for some time, like a whirpool. The first raft hit it perfectly and before I knew it, we were making our way down the Green Room. It was clear what we had to do, and it helped to watch the other raft go first to fully survey the magnitude of this rapid and how to approach it. It was the biggest rapid I’ve ever been on and definitely lived up to the description.
We stopped off to the side of the river for a surprise treat before finishing off our adventure. A local farm from above the canyon had zip lined (!) down a crate of homemade waffles with fresh whipped cream and pure hot cocoa for us! It was possibly the best thing we ate in Iceland, everything tasted so fresh and the hot cocoa was the perfect refreshment from the frigid waters. We all happily chowed down before our tour guide told us the next rapid would be called “Vomit your lunch”. Fitting to it’s name, we ended up flipping at the end of the rapid, only the side I was on of course. Luckily, the safety kayaks were right there for us to hold onto as they kayaked their way to the other raft which was waiting for us. I realized later it was totally planned, but fun nevertheless to get in the waters of Iceland. If we hadn’t flipped, I never would have cliff dived later on in the day since the dry suit kept me warm and buoyant.
I’ve been wanting to cliff dive ever since our last trip to Jamaica so I knew I had to do it. There were only about 4 of us that wanted to jump and I watched everyone else go before making my way up the side of the cliff. The cliff was rocky and slippery and I was literally grabbing onto the rocks on top of me to keep me from falling. The guide was waiting at the top and told me to put one hand on his helmet if I needed the support. It looked way higher from above and I haven’t felt my heart pounding that fast in a really long time. He pointed in the direction of where I should jump and I almost wanted to back out, but he said there was no where to go but to jump since it would be too dangerous to have me climb back down. In a flash, I was in the water paddling my way back to shore. Such an adrenaline rush and so worth it.
The last part of the trip was easy cruising down the river where we got to take in the majestic scenery. Some people jumped off the raft and swam down, letting the currents float them downstream. We finished our trip with the bus waiting for us and it was only a 20 minute ride back to the base where local beers were poured and stories were told of an adventure we will never forget.
On the drive back to the city, we had all these landmarks mapped out along the highway that wouldn’t have taken us too out of the way, but the only landmark we ended up seeing was a dirt lot at a trail head which we used to pull off and sleep for the next few hours!
*Arctic Adventures/Viking Rafting was kind enough to cover our costs for this tour in exchange for writing about this tour. As always, all opinions are my own.
As an ambassador for INKnBURN, I’ve been given the opportunity to help share this great company with all my readers. I was first introduced to INKnBURN when a bunch of running friends started wearing their clothes. It’s hard to miss their bold images and colorful designs on the trails. These aren’t your average running clothes with a simple INKnBURN logo, each item has its own unique design, from colorful pictures of dragons to peacock features to denim workout clothes (pictured above), no item is the same!
From the website:
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What I love most about their clothing is how functional they are. Not only are they super comfortable, each item is designed with the athlete in mind. For example, the shorts have two little front pocket holes perfect for a GU or your keys. The shorts don’t ride up and are the perfect length without feeling bulky. They are lightweight and moisture wicking, I’ve run in them for 8+ hours without any chaffing or problems at San Diego 50. Same goes for the tank tops, each top has a small pocket built in front of the shirt, making it easy to grab a GU without having to unzip a back pocket or take it out of your hydration pack.
One of my favorite shorts (as in, if I could wear it everyday I would) is the denims. I’ve worn it to practically every race and I swear they make you run faster. There hasn’t been a single instance where I’ve worn them and haven’t gotten a compliment or comment about them. Not only are they eye-catching, they are so comfortable just like their other shorts and matches with practically every top I own, even the red denim tank InknBurn tank top.
Winthrop Marathon-3:21, 2nd female
San Diego 50 miles- 8:12, 3rd female
Western States Training Camp
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Here’s a look at our first two days in Iceland:
When planning our trip, we knew we wanted to get up close and personal to the glaciers. It wasn’t until we started looking at some of the tour options that we realized not only could we hike on the glaciers itself, but we could climb an ice wall! Through Arctic Adventures, we were able to experience one of the most amazing activities you could do in Iceland.
Unlike the sunny day before, we were hit with a misty, lightly raining day, but that actually fit the mood of the activity we were about to partake on. The small and intimate van picked us up bright and early from our studio before stopping to pick up the rest of the group. Besides the three tour guides that were on board, there were only about 10 of us total on this trip which made it easier to follow along and get to know the others on the tour. It was a 3 hour drive to Sólheimajökull parking lot which flew by as we took in the vast landscape around us and the tour guides kept us entertained with stories about Iceland. There was never a dull moment in the van.
The tour took us to Sólheimajökull, a frozen glacial tongue which is a rugged, raw and ever changing hub of ancient frozen water. Approximately 11% of Iceland’s total area is covered by glaciers. Once we arrived at the parking lot, we got suited up with all our equipment. We only had to dress warm with waterproof clothes so we both wore our ski clothes, wool socks, beanie, gloves and thermal under layers. Sadly, this is what we wore most of the trip even when not on a glacier! (yes we are total LA people) They provided us with crampons, an ice axe and a harness for climbing later. (Note to self: don’t swing the axe around, I ended up slicing off a part of my pants and didn’t even realize it until later!) We got an intro into how to hike properly on the glacier with the crampons on and did a few test runs where we had to walk up and down a glacier so everyone felt comfortable enough before heading off.
Hiking with the crampons was actually easier than it looked, the crampons stayed really snug on my shoes and I felt comfortable with them, never afraid my feet would slide out from underneath me even though we were walking on pure ice. We hiked single file through the glaciers, exploring all the amazing ice formations, sink holes and jagged ridges while getting briefed from the guides. The mounds of black on the ice is actually volcanic ash that has formed on top of the ice. A subglacial volcano is formed by a eruption beneath the surface of the glacier and then melted into a lake by the rising lava. During the eruption, the heat of the lava from the subglacial volcano melts the overlying ice. The water quickly cools the lava, resulting in those of underwater volcanoes.
Along the way, we stopped at a sink hole where the water is so clear and pure we all took turns drinking from it. I really liked how careful the guides were with the group. Safety was their number one priority and when we were able to look down a deep hole, they would make us go one by one while holding onto us so no one would slip in.
After about an hour or so of hiking and exploring we made our way to the bottom of the ice wall where everyone was able to try their hand at ice climbing. We got briefed on how to climb the wall with the special axes and took turns practicing getting the ax securely into the ice, which doesn’t have anything to do with how forceful you are, but a quick flick of your wrist. There were two sections of the wall we could choose to climb on. One was just a face of an ice wall and the other was a little trickier because it had a hole opening that you had to find a way to go around.
The two guides made their way to the top to secure the rope down. I got strapped in as the guide held down the other end of the rope. Surprisingly it was easier holding myself up as long as I leaned in and had a good grip on the axe. The crampons didn’t do much as it was really hard to jam the crampons into the ice wall, but once you got the axe in, you could literally free hang from the handles. It was that sturdy. I made my way to the top and rappelled down before letting someone else on the ropes. I would highly recommend wearing gloves while you’re doing this because the ice is a lot sharper than you think and it’s easy to cut your bare skin on it.
After everyone had their turn, we packed up and made the hour trek back to the parking lot, stopping every so often to learn more about the glaciers we were walking on.
Back at the van, the guides had a packed lunch of sandwiches ready for us which tasted so good after a day’s worth of activity. As we made the drive back to Reykjavik we stopped at the beautiful Skógafoss waterfall. The Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 82 feet and a drop of 200 ft. I was surprised by how you could walk right up to the base of the fall and feel the power of the water cascading down to the river below. We got completely soaked from the water, but it was worth getting an up close look at the waterfall. There is a little hiking trail to the right which takes you to the top of the fall as well.
We had a great time with Arctic Adventures who not only taught us how to ice climb, but so much about the history of glaciers and where it’s currently headed due to global warming. It was a long adventurous day and a must-do whenever in Iceland. Arctic Adventures also does a bunch of other adventure tours or multi-day tours, such as rafting, mountain biking, caving, snorkeling and even hiking the famous five day Laugavegur trek from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk! We loved this trip so much, we decided to book our rafting trip in North Iceland with them as well for the next day. Stay tuned!
*Arctic Adventures was kind enough to cover our costs for this tour in exchange for writing about this tour. As always, all opinions are my own.