The search on Iceland

The name of the land itself – “Iceland” – sounded very suspicious to us ice climbers. Anyway suspicious enough to carry out an investigation and get some information about the ice potential of this land. Equipped with countless emails of the very friendly local climbers we - Markus Bendler, Hermann Erber and I – landed in Reykjavik, on February 20th 2007.

Our plan - Once all around the island

While Hermann’s head was full of different motives for taking good pictures and Markus was exhausting the 183 horse power of our 4WD Jeep, my only concern was the weather. Being a meteorologist I knew exactly about the uncertain temper of the Icelandic low pressure area, as well as about the permanent returning and more day lasting thaw periods. Compared to our winter in the Alps the Icelandic winter seemed to be a very strong and cold one. Thanks to God! When we arrived at out first meeting with the locals in the house of the Icelandic Alpine club it was minus 2°C. Our plan was more or less fixed – we wanted to travel around the whole island and make a stop at the ice climbing festival in Kaldakinn, which was especially postponed for one week so that we could also take part and give a slideshow there. Our main focus though was settled in the yet unexplored Eastfjords. The weather forecast was at our side to start of with – the weather maps promised cold, really cold temperatures the following days.
To get used to the different situation we started on the west side of Island with the routes „Alien Muffin“ WI 4 and „Dordingull“ WI 5-, which were first ascended by nobody less than Guy Lacelle. The most we had to get used to the Icelandic weather – fast changing from sun and snowstorm with wind blasts of a 120 km/h.

Kaldakinn - 3 pitches for “Captain Hook”

When we arrived at Kaldakinn our attention was captured by the numerous kilometers long face with over 30 routes in all grades, which seemed to be in perfect conditions. First we made our way up the classic “Stekkjastaur” WI 5/6. The unbelievable and very special thing about Kaldakinn is the possibility to climb directly at the shore – a fantastic feeling and an unforgettable adventure. To reduce the deficit on mixed routes in Iceland we decided to start our work and bolted a 3 pitch route. We named it “Captain Hook”, after a special friend’s nickname - Hari Berger - who we lost last December. “Captain Hook” is a dignifying remembrance of Hari with a big amount of ice, delicate sequences on fragile ice glosses and drytooling moves on cracks in between – a worthwhile line with difficulties up to M9+.
After a relaxing bath in the 44°C hot lagoon at the lake Myvatn our real adventure started. We tried to find new possibilities at the Eastfjords. On the first three days of our seek we found a short but spectacular waterfall – partly ice and with water flowing down beside the ice. We named the route “Zoe Harisdottir” – it reminded us of Hari and Kirsten’s tiny and cute daughter Zoe.

Marry me? - An extraordinary day

Because of the snow storming weather outside we were sitting inside a bar and ordered a bunch of coffees. Accidentally we saw a postcard showing the 118m free falling waterfall “Hengifoss”. At that point I was almost sure, that this huge fall would not be formed enough to climb. But we did not have anything planned and so we decided to at least take a glance. After 1,5 hours of walking in the dodgy weather we found a totally strange ice formation. And the climbing was as crazy as it looked. It was definitely the maddest waterfall I have ever climbed. I baptized the route “Marry me?” - graded solid WI 6+. I did not name the route like this for nothing – when I returned to the car I sent a SMS to my girlfriend Vroni. In the end we have a marriage to celebrate after ten years of close partnership.

Eastside paradise – The discovery of a new area

One day after “Marry me?” we drove to the next Fjord and hit the bull’s eye. We could not believe our eyes when we discovered the 20km long face with one ice-line beside the other. I studied the weather forecast again and found out that a strong thaw period was heading towards us. So we had to exploit the following day. Of course, we chose the three most impressive and beautiful lines and climbed the whole day in temperatures slightly above the freezing point. The result were the enjoyable routes Sundlaug“ WI 4/5, „Albatros“ WI 5 (with 180m the second highest waterfall of Iceland) and „Superbelly“ WI 5.

“Normal” tourists

The next day the thaw period got stronger, we put our ice climbing gear to the side and meddled with the usual tourist of Iceland. We took a look at „Vatnajökull“ – the biggest European glacier, the impressive waterfall „Skogarfoss“ and enjoyed ourselves climbing on different buildings of Reykjavik. Fact is – to answer the most popular question of an Icelander - „How do you like Iceland?“ - we can only say - „We loved it!“

© 2020 Mag. Albert Leichtfried - Meteorologe - Bergführer - Extremkletterer
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