Together with two friends we did a four-day trek through the interior of Iceland, with packrafts and afterwards I stayed a week longer to co-guide a group of bikers in the volcanic ranges of south Iceland.
Our packraft trip started to the northwest of the Hofsjökull, the round gletsjer in the centre of Iceland. The idea was to bike around it starting out east and passing above the gletsjer along an old, seldom traveled track. Sometimes it was pretty clear, sometimes we had to go cross country, keeping the glacier on our right.
The terrain there would have been a nightmare on normal bikes, but with our Sandman fatbikes (two Gobi's and an Atacama) we made light work of it. Smiles from beginning to the end. The terrain was a mixture of volcanic rock, volcanic ash, snowfields and dozens of rivers to cross. Those rivers consisted the main difficulty of the first few days.
This was my setup: packraft, drysuit and misc rafting stuff up front, all spare parts and tools in the frame triangle, clothing and 1st aid on the rear rack, sleeping bag, mat, freezedried "food" and stove in a backpack. Snacks and camera in a feedbag on the handlebars.
I kept down the weight of my backpack so it was pretty light and the whole combination was a joy to ride, very "secure" and stable, comfortable and efficient. - the ideal expeditionbike over rough terrain. I kept the dropper seatpost and serious brakes because of the week of biking after this.
The only real concession for touring were On One Mary sweep bars and a rear rack. The frame "bag" was an old Ortlieb camera bag I had lying around and just strapped in the main triangle. It just left room for a water bottle and a tool bottle.
The rear rack was a simple clamp-on affair from Topeak, which I reinforced with two struts going down to the frame. That created a stiff triangle in which to stuff more gear, but I had already a place for everything I wanted to take...
When going through the taxfree in Reykjavik airport I noticed a stand with little 3-liter wine cartons. I rarely had such an "aha" moment : the bags inside those cartons are so incredibly tough we used to inflate them to stabilize loose rubble roofs in cave passages (in my days exploring caves). So I just taped a wine bag in there: if you rough it, you can at least do it in style .
At each bivouac, we were able to savour a few cups of chilled red wine - never tasted so good !
With the late summer we had anticipated using the packrafts a lot, but most of the river crossings were just done on foot. Icy water, coming from straight under the glacier a few kms away.
But we didn't carry the rafts for nothing, this river was just too deep to cross on foot. But it was narrow enough to shutlle everything over using one raft and an end of rope we were carrying,
The vastness of the Icelandic highlands...
Iceland has both very cold and very warm water, soaking in one of the hotpools was a real treat after wading through countless icy rivers. The first two days of our trek we didn't see a soul, afterwards we hit a dirtroad that had some traffic, about a jeep every hour.
Like these guys from a "search & rescue" team, some 6)7 of these volunteer teams cross continuously the interior highlands in tourist season to see if they can help anyone, stuck or broken down. Nice guys with an impressive rig...
Ok ok, yours are fatter !
Then I went back to Reykjavik, to welcome a group of 9 bikers which whom I was going to bike right through the pretty active volcanic southern region. The first short day took us by on of Icelands taller waterfalls, lots of nice singletrack - the luggage went in a 4x4 but I kept some tools, spare parts and 1st aid on my bike because I was going "last man" the whole week. No backpack, that slowed me down a bit in the real technical stuff but the fat tires were very forgiving.
The next day took us north over the Hekla volcano and into the Landmannalaugar region. Starting out from there proved to be one of the toughest day so far: strong gale, icy rain, a pass to cross, a lot of pushing... pushing my bike, it often fishtailed almost 90°, just pushed sideways from the wind.
Here one of my biking buddies is studying a field of obsidian rock, volcanic glass, which we biked through for miles.
Pretty spectacular landscape, from a lunar landscape to lush green down below. An almost 100% singletrack day - tough. Tough, but nice !
Good fun each evening, the rotten weather proved the perfect bonding tool.
The next day was an "all downhill" day, the downhill part being somewhat open to interpretation... very nice day, almost all singletrack again.
Some pretty "interesting" stretches along the trails...
This day was to be "it", the big one. I've done quite some weird trails in my life and this one ranks right up there !
We went from 200 m altitude, all the way up to 1100m, with hardly a few meters of biking: all pushing, shoving, hauling and willing the bike up. But what a day... wow... We took a trail to the pass between the MyrdalsJökull and the Eyjafjallajökull glaciers and volcanos, the last one the culprit of disrupted air travel last year.
After struggling up the mountain for hours on end we finally arrived on top and biked through and over Iceland's newest lava field, between brand new volcano cones and still warm and smoking lava flows.
Here no rivers to cross but many snow and icefields, but our Sandman bikes made short work of those.
Once over the last pass, it went all the way down to sea level along a river which formed canyons and waterfalls along its course - very, very nice.
The last waterfall was pretty impressive, we could bike right up to it.
On our very last day we went back closer to Reykjavik to go biking in a valley with plenty of hotwater springs and pools.
But something was wrong... there was this weird phenomenon in the sky... some said it was a sun... . After 10 days of almost constant bad weather a welcome sight.
You have to imagine the sound of a small jet engine with the picture of this blowhole, together with a rotten-eggs sulphur stench .
Great piece on Iceland! What kind of handlebars are you riding with?
Ok i know youre all fatbike freaks but honest question: could you do that, or would you enjoy that with a regular 26 ht? as i dont own a fatbike as much as id like to..
You can do part of it on a normal bike. The first 4 days of the trip where we went around the glacier in "small expedition mode" would be sheer hell on a normal mtb with luggage. As it were now, we only had to push the bikes through a number of (too deep or swift flowing) streams - all the rest was incredible bikeable fun. With normal bikes would have pushed 3/4's of that and the remainder would have been deinitely NO fun.
The last 30 to 40l we ended up on one of the mayor dirtroads traversing the interior highlands and I know people sometimes do that with normal bikes. But believe me: no fun. It wasn't even much fun on fatbikes. There are a lot of jeeps and 4x4 buses on those roads and they're rocky "wasboard" from start to finish.
The last 6 days where we biked without luggage ((80% on singletrack) are ok with a normal bike. You'd have to push a bit more but nothing to be afraid of.
With luggage it would be a struggle on both, there are a lot of steep to extremely steep slopes in & out of little rivers you have to cross. Shouldering your bike is the best, sometimes only option there. With a bike full of luggage... The long and steep climbs after Landmannalaugar and especially out of Thorsmork I wouldn't even dream of doing with a bike full of luggage. That last climb is around 3-4 hours of pushing & carrying your bike along an at times extremely steep path, with cables at the most exposed stretches.
Where it's not steep uphill, it's sometimes like this: One drop too many... - YouTube
I had a framebag, water bottles and a small rear pannier with some tools & first aid kit on my own bike. I meant to put everything in a backpack because I kind of knew what was coming thatr day, but I just forgot to switch to a daypack. So I couldn't shoulder it at some stretches, which I seriously regretted...
There are dirtroad options around, but where's the fun in that :-).
Drop me a pm if you're interested in joining a little group or if you want more info, we're going back to Iceland in september 2014.
1: we didn't bother changing shoes for the crossings, we used "poor men's neoprene": just synthetic or thin wool socks (no cotton !!) with a plastic bag over them and that combination in the (wet) shoes. You get cold feet once in the water - it all comes from underneath glaciers - but they warm up pretty fast once you're walking or pedalling again because the water inside the bags heats up and stays in.
You can ofcourse always use thin neoprene socks, 2mm thick and they should fit in your shoes without sizing up.
I used the plastic-bag solution with gaiters (to prevent from gravel entering) and my friends the neoprene socks - both worked well. The neoprene socks are more comfortable when gravel (inevitably) gets washed into your shoes.
Do remember to take along spare plastic bags (the larger ones for packing food into a freezer are perfect - without the ziplock ;-)) or turn the neoprene socks inside out at night so you can pull the dry side on the next morning.
Or you can take along sandals or crocs to cross the rivers, something that fits tight. Advantage: if it doesn't rain, your shoes and socks will stay dry and you can always use them in the evening in the huts. Disadvantages: time loss, it's ok to do that once or twice a day, but if you're looking at 10-15 rivers to cross... Your unprotected feet will get cold instantly when entering the water and your toes might get banged up on rocks.
2: that trail sure has steep sides, but the fisheye lens of the gopro camera exagerates it a bit - it was filmed by someone in the group, not me (I was wresting with my laden-down bike further back along steeper cables :-()
Hi there I know there´s been two years since the original post but I still wanted to answer your thoughts on the hexagonal patterns. It is believed that it is formed during fall and early winter when the earth has frozen solid few meters down but the upper most layer is still going through freezing and thawing and because ice has about 10% more volume than water this expands to all sides and forms these patterns. The formation is well known in nature and are likely due to the least resistance. In fact if it is on a slope they form lines in the slope.