No 519 – Ben James – Iceland Winter Crossing

I’ve spoken with Dermot Cosgrove and Katie Jane Endurance in previous Podcasts about crossing Iceland in the better weather. However Ben James along with Neil Cox having completed a summer crossing in 2017 unsupported, set themselves the ultimate goal to complete this in winter unsupported. 

Many attempted crossings in Winter have failed due to the extreme conditions, the -20 temperatures mixed with 100 mph winds and driving rain have beaten most peoples kit and resolve! 

Add to that only around 4 hours day light, it’s certainly going to be a test of will power and motivation. As you’ll hear it wasn’t easy going with numerous challenges they had to overcome during the month they set themselves. Sickness, weather and a little memory loss all made this an epic adventure.

They were raising money for Cornwall Air Ambulance and the Just Giving donation page is still open if you feel able to offer a little help.

Route taken

Click the above to follow Ben on his Social media or to view the route in detail please click here to visit the Garmen site.

“Our first day started in Akureryi, pulks fully loaded totalling 75kg of kit and food.

We set off from the coast and the weight of the pulks seemed manageable until I had an issue with my pulk wheels and tires which made it even more of a drag and wore me down on the first day. We were lucky with the conditions when we started with clear roads, later in the day it got worse and the snow came in!”

“Day 2/3/4. After making a good start we carried on into the last populated areas of the valley. Over the next couple of days we would have to haul our kit up over 900 metres of elevation on some steep terrain with heavy snow up onto the Highlands Plateau. We both struggled to manage the weight of the pulks whilst using the wheels, so had to stash them earlier than planned and then shuttle the kit in stages up some big hills.

Unfortunately by day 3 I was tent bound, having been ill all night and filled a good portion of a carrier bag with sick. We ended up tent bound for the day whilst I recovered before waiting until day 4 to push on. This also marked the end of any groomed roads, and the start of river crossings and trail breaking with heavy pulks. Finally on day 4 we pushed to the top of the mountains and onto the exposed Plateau.”

After sitting out the storm we made our way on a more direct route to the South West. Of course we were due another storm which again resulted in us sitting it out in the tent for most of the day. Around mid day there was break in the weather and after digging ourselves out again, I ventured out into relative calm (hence the photo opportunity!) Unfortunately it didn’t last, and about 20 minutes later we were huddled back in the tent waiting for another break!

Inevitably you can’t avoid the bad weather. Most days were spent in white outs and blizzard’s with some particularly rough days battering us as the wind blew spindrift and snow around us.

Obviously navigation was difficult, exposing our compasses for too long meant they froze, and we tired to keep our GPS devices buried in our clothing to save battery. Also stopping to navigate was cold!

For the first time on an Expedition we preloaded our route onto our watches. I was lucky enough to be supported by @suunto before we left so used my Baro 9 on the exped, Neil went a bit more old school with a Suunto Ambit 3 Peak (still an amazing piece of kit and I still own one!).

Plodding (skiing) through white outs was made so much easier with a quick glance at the watch without having to stop and faff in -20. Both worked amazingly well, even in the cold on the outside of our clothing, and most of the time we stayed on track (except for a few incidents of human error!)”

“After 10 days of slogging through all the conditions Iceland has thrown at us, our kit and ourselves are pretty battered. We have sheltered in a mountain hut tonight to enable us to sort, dry and fix kit to enable us to continue. It wasn’t our plan, but we’ve had to adapt!

Thank you for all the support, Jo has been passing it on to us, and thank you to Jo for keeping you updated (she’s better so I’ll let her continue!) Thank you also to everyone for sharing our journey and donating to the fundraising. We’ve a long way to go but we’re slogging it out!

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