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Traversing Europe's Largest Glacier - How I Fell In Love With Snow Camping And Pulling A Sled.

Before embarking on the wild adventure that is the Vatnajokull Ski Traverse, it is a given that any first-timer is going to feel nervousness, uncertainty, and anticipation. This was no different for me. I made sure to absorb any tips and tricks offered, whether from our guide, Annie, or past participants and hoped that my packing was sufficient and my fitness was on such a level that I’d be able to keep up. Not only was this my first time traversing a glacier on skis, but it was also my first time in Iceland. When we first arrived, we traveled to our hotel which was located in the heart of Reykjavik. The city of Reykjavik did not disappoint and had a lot to offer. The streets were lined with quaint espresso bars and trendy restaurants, and on the outskirts of the city, a beautiful lagoon that offered luxury and relaxation. We made sure to take advantage of all that Reykjavik had to offer on both ends of the trip.

After settling in, we took the first few days to organize ourselves, do gear checks and ensure we were fully prepared for the following 8 days out on the ice. As someone who has never been ice camping, let alone skiing across a glacier, I am grateful for the unsparing care that was put into making sure all participants were comfortable and excited for the journey ahead.

This is the gear we hauled with us in our sleds

Day 1: We were picked up early and drove 9 hours off-road towards the Vatnajokull glacier. The sun managed to creep out and our spirits were high. We skied about 5 miles and set up camp around 7:30pm. It was a great start to a great trip and we were all excited about what lay ahead.

Day 2: We set our sights on a 12-mile day but we’re stopped short due to a teammate feeling ill. We took off our skis around 2pm and set up camp with high winds and the sun shining.

Day 3: On day 3, we set our destination on the Grimsvaten Hut. We endured winds, sleet, snow, and low visibility. Safe to say we were psyched to arrive at the hut around 6pm and discover a five-star sauna and a shower. We had a lavish night filled with cheese and pasta and washed it down with some cab sav.

Arriving at Grimsfjall Hut where we spent two nights

Day 4: This was our rest day, which was spent indulging in foods we brought for the occasion, testing our card game skills, and frequenting the sauna.

Day 5: On day 5, we packed up and moved downhill. We spent the day in and out of clouds with a good mix of snow and sun. Managed roughly 14 miles.

Day 6: White-out conditions and rain throughout the day. Days like this were the perfect opportunity to turn your thoughts into your own escape so that you weren’t focused on the gloomy weather. We spent the evening drying out our things and went to sleep hoping for sunnier days ahead.

Whiteouts are a good time to escape into your own thoughts

Day 7: We started the day in rain but to our joy, around midday, we arrived to our exit glacier and the sky opened up to stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Now being in crevasse territory, we roped up and continued downhill. We camped in a stunning location that boasted warmer temperatures. An outdoor kitchen was built and the group ate dinner outside, everyone feeling encouraged by the glorious day that we all had.

Day 8: Our eighth day had a slower morning as we began our journey to exit the glacier. We started on skis, moving across crevasses and at one point you could say we were downhill skiing. The views were spectacular. Once we were off the glacier, we packed into our pick-up car and headed to a local campsite. Our expedition ended with burgers and Coca-Cola from the local gas station along with lifelong memories and new friends!

This trip was one for the books. Even with its challenges, it offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that taught new skills and expanded what I deemed possible for myself. Whether an experienced adventurer or a novice, this trip will surprise you with its beauty and the thrill it provides when you are pushed out of your comfort zone.

Great views and great company make for an awesome adventure

Here are 5 tips for anyone that is thinking of joining this wild adventure in the future:

  1. Don’t leave the extra hot cocoa at home. It is quite the indulgent treat after a day on skis.

  2. Make sure to bring at least 2 decks of cards for some friendly competition during downtime.

  3. Ensure that your waterproof layer is going to keep you dry throughout the trip. Expect some wet weather, you are in Iceland!

  4. When filling up water bottles with boiled water at the end of the day, sneak one of them into your sleeping bag. It will keep you warm and cozy throughout the night.

  5. Some days will feel more challenging than others. Keeping a positive mindset will not only help you but everyone else in the group as well.

Happy trails!

Anna Sweitzer works in marketing and challenged herself by skiing across Vatnajokull Glacier for her first ski & pulk expedition


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