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February 2003
Stepping onto the ice
Iceland landscape
The frozen landscape of Iceland - view looking west over Vatna
Staffordshire student Hugh Deeming is preparing to embark upon an expedition across Europe's largest ice cap to commemorate the death of his sister and raise money for a cancer charity.
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Stepping onto the ice
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Hugh Deeming's journals:

For the latest, April diary, click 10/04/03

February Diary, 16/02/03

What I Intend To Do - and Why!

Vatnajökull is, at an estimated 8100km²,the largest ice cap in Europe. It lies in the south-eastern corner of Iceland and contains more ice than all of the other glaciers in Iceland, Scandinavia and the Alps put together.

It is my intention, along with two colleagues - Dr Matthew Roberts, a Glaciologist employed by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, and Jonathan Carrivick a PhD student at Keele University - to traverse it.

The crossing will involve pulling sleds (pulks) of supplies over a distance of about 120kms.

The route will be littered with crevasse fields (some many 10s of metres deep), as well as hydrothermal vents emitting volcanic fumes, and melt-water sink holes (moulins).

Due to the extreme weather variations experienced on the ice cap - anything from hurricane force winds and blizzards to beautiful sunshine - the time this venture will take is uncertain.

Previous crossings have taken anything from 4 to 20 days and many have been abandoned. We imagine that we will be on the ice for about 8-10 days but will carry sufficient food for 20.

Having started in the south, at Skalafellsjökull, near Hofn, we will ski-haul first to Grimsvötn in the western region of the ice cap, and then northward finishing at a place called Kverkfjöll.

Ascent up Kverkfjoll
Kverkfjöll is 120 miles from the nearest proper shop and 60 miles from the nearest permanent human settlement. Therefore the timing of our trek is vital.

If we leave too early, though snow conditions would be good, vehicle access to Kverkfjöll, for our recovery team, would be impossible, necessitating a return trek across the ice. If we leave too late, the snow on the ice cap will be melting and we would have to haul our heavy pulks through deep slush…. an exhausting prospect.

On a personal note, in undertaking this project very strong feelings are being invoked in me.

Twenty one years ago last October my sister Joanna died in The Royal Marsden Hospital, London. She had suffered, for a relatively short time, from malignant melanoma, a type of cancer. She died 16 days after her 21st birthday and 4 days after my 18th.

As I look around myself now at University, I see young people of these ages. Some have had troubles of their own but most I imagine have yet to experience the shock that death can bring to a family. The loss of a sibling causes the most incredible grief, and guilt. "Why them?" "Why not me?" "But they were more deserving of life than I!" "It’s not fair!"

For 21 years I have harboured such thoughts and questions, but it was the changes I have undergone in the last couple of years that have crystallised a desire to move forward.

Hugh Deeming beside Jokullsarlon (the Bond Ice Palace lake in the south)
The expedition, with its fundamental raison d’etre of charitable intent, is my way of leaving behind the foundations of my current life and moving forward into the next chapter…a coincidence being that I shall complete the trek as a ‘thirty something’ but will complete my undergraduate studies next year, and thus step forward again into the world of work as a forty year old… and we all know where life begins don’t we?

Enough emotion I hear you cry! Tell us more about the trek! Okay, it’s simple really. Last year I did seven weeks voluntary work, based in Iceland, as campsite logistics manager for an ‘Earthwatch’ funded Keele and Staffordshire University research project. We were based at sites both to the south and north of ‘Vatna’ and in total I drove in excess of 3000 miles around and about the island.

I was totally enthralled - around every corner there was a new wonder of nature. Whether it was a glacier, a volcano, a hot geothermal stream or a thundering waterfall, it had them all. I vowed to return.

One idea led to another and before long the expedition was taking shape. I have never ski-hauled before so I started writing to people who might be able to give advice. The Internet and Email have been invaluable in this generation of contacts.

Very quickly I heard from Rob Edmonds, who had just opened his own ski and outdoor equipment shop in Aviemore called ‘Mountain Spirit’. He confounded me by immediately offering to supply the expensive ski kit that the three of us will need.

I am deeply indebted to Rob and his wife Angela, as their enthusiasm really triggered a build-up of momentum and made the trip ‘executable’ rather than just a pipe dream. I have searched the Internet and have found details of various other expeditions.

I have also directly contacted people with relevant experience and have been immensely impressed by their generosity in giving advice. Repeatedly I have heard that people are always willing to put themselves out if the cause is good.

To ensure our safety on the ice we have decided to use petrol stoves. The two I have were sent to Coleman UK for a pre-trip service. On being checked the oldest stove, a veteran of many a hill walking exploit, was found to be suffering from fatigue…tell me about it!…Coleman replaced it for me and wished us well! My thanks to them!

The crevasse field
Last week Matt was across from Iceland visiting family. We were able to have a team get together and really sort out what we’ll need. As we all spend time outdoors we already have a good deal of the equipment we’LL require, but it’s amazing how the number of small ‘vital’ items builds up. A safe route across the ice is of crucial importance and Matt is hoping to obtain the most detailed maps possible for the crossing.

My father is currently working on a chest mounting for the ‘ship’s’ compass that the navigator will wear around his neck. Those who have walked in the British hills will know how difficult it is to remain on a bearing when a mist develops, this device will make it much easier to maintain a course without constant reference to a hand-held compass.

We may have to ski for hours at a time with no visible reference points; here contour lines on the map, combined with the use of the compass and the GPS (Global Positioning System) units we’LL have should minimise error.

We are hoping to find someone willing to loan us a digital video camera for the trip, although I can understand people’s reticence at the thought of this. Apparently ice and electrical components don’t mix well…or so I keep being told. All I know is that such equipment has been used in similar circumstances before and the resultant footage can give vivid insight to others of the conditions.

It is my intention to give presentations to interested groups on our return, in return for charity donations, and film of us could really bring these to life. If you know anyone who may be interested tell me!

The most significant thing that has occurred this week was totally unexpected. I received a letter from my ex-stepfather who now lives in Canada. It was through his connections that Jo had been transferred to The Marsden during her illness. In the envelope was a lock of my sister’s hair that he had kept, privately, for these 21 years. I now have the most powerful lucky charm that I could have hoped for to speed our safe journey. Thank you Warren!

I shall endeavour to update the journal as often as I can, probably once a week, and I hope you’LL enjoy reading about our preparations. It is looking like I’LL be booking flights for Jon and I around 8th June, that gives us a little under 4 months of preparation.

If you see us dragging our tyres around Berry Hill please say ‘hello’ and if you have any questions about the trip please drop me an email and I’LL be happy to reply.

Regards, Hugh
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