Liam’s Lowdown: That time I got rescued in Iceland

The Five-Cairn Trail is roughly 25 km long and traverses between two icefields. A friend and I hiked it in 2009. (Liam Harrap)The Five-Cairn Trail is roughly 25 km long and traverses between two icefields. A friend and I hiked it in 2009. (Liam Harrap)
Um. Which way now? (Liam Harrap)Um. Which way now? (Liam Harrap)
Because it gets dark by 2 pm and we didn’t have a GPS, we didn’t find the cabin the first night. But the next morning, we could see it from our tent. Ugh. (Liam Harrap)Because it gets dark by 2 pm and we didn’t have a GPS, we didn’t find the cabin the first night. But the next morning, we could see it from our tent. Ugh. (Liam Harrap)
Cabin life. (Liam Harrap)Cabin life. (Liam Harrap)
The next day we trudged on in the rain. Here, I hug a tree. How I missed thee and the shelter they provide. (Liam Harrap)The next day we trudged on in the rain. Here, I hug a tree. How I missed thee and the shelter they provide. (Liam Harrap)

This was written for our special edition of the Review on June 10 to show appreciation for the Revelstoke Search and Rescue team.

I have spent almost a third of my life in a tent.

Usually I find it more comfortable than my bed at home. However, spend enough time doing something and eventually your luck will fade.

Several years ago, I went to university in Iceland.

One time, myself and my friend Sandra decided to hike from the famous waterfall Skogafoss to the beautiful green valley of Thormork.

The Five-Cairn Trail (I’m using the English name as our out-of-date computer system at the Review cannot support Icelandic letters…Ugh) is roughly 25 kilometres long and traverses between two icefields. For some reason, we thought December would be a good time to try (idiots). We got dropped off at the trailhead and since it was -20 C, we decided to sleep in the heated parking lot bathrooms.

The next day we left when it became light, which for Iceland in December was about noon.

The trail was marked with posts driven into the ground as there are no trees. We were heading for a cabin and planned to stay there the night and get to Thormork the next day.

However, the going was slow. The snow was deep and it was hard to follow the trail with fierce winds.

When it became dark, we lost the trail and had no GPS. Luckily, we had brought a tent and set it up, which took almost an hour in the high winds. It’s very hard to find shelter in Iceland, so now I’m now a big fan of trees.

In the morning, embarrassingly we could see the cabin from the tent. We decided to spend the next day and night at the cabin, letting our friends know via cellphone about the delay.

That night we awoke to snow and ice falling off the shelter. In a matter of hours, it had gone from -20 to above zero. By morning, the weather was similar to Noah’s flood.

We rationalized that it would be fine and left our haven. Within 30 seconds, the rain had gone through my four layers of clothing and my underwear was soaked. The monsoon had melted the snow, leaving the ground covered in slick ice. We’d walk a few steps, fall and have the wind push us forward over the ground like a sail boat on the ocean. At times we would come to these large flat sections with slow moving slush water waist deep and I’d lose the feeling in my feet as we splashed through for kilometres.

I have never been so wet.

No matter the clothing, eventually everything will let water in. Even my soul was drenched.

Somehow we managed to make it to Thormork, where there was another cabin. Friends were coming to pick us up, so we just had to wait. We lit a fire, crawled into our sleeping bags and ate fish cakes. Eventually, we fell asleep.

We awoke at around 2 a.m. to a large group of people in florescent suits and headlamps. Apparently our friends couldn’t reach us as the road had washed out. There was no cell service in Thormork, so they called search and rescue. While Iceland does not have a military, it has a robust search and rescue organization with over 10,000 members across the country, mostly supported through donations.

A convoy of huge trucks managed to fjord the roaring rivers, taking us back home safe and sound.

In retrospect, we should not have gone on the hike.

But like most things, hindsight is always clearer. And I’m thankful there were people that were willing to help.

Search and Rescue