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For the latest, April diary, click
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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.