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Iceland: climbing in a land of contrasts

In June 2016, seven enthusiastic climbers, including Florence Pinet and Gérôme Pouvreau, traveled to Iceland, the land of fire and ice. Even though this country of many colors is not well known for its climbing, the group found breathtaking locations to practice their art. Raphaël Fourau tells the story of this atypical trip.

March 1 2017

Bouldering

Fourau

 

The protagonists: 

  • Florence Pinet and Gérôme Pouvreau, climbers from Team Petzl,
  • Raphaël Fourau and Thomas Vialletet, photographers,
  • Adrien Boulon, climber as well as coordinator, guide, cook, driver, etc.,
  • And last but not least, Danielle Vialletet and Mathieu Menoud.

 

The Reykjavik region: "waterfalls, geysers, and bars"

Iceland is a well-known playground for hikers, surfers, photographers, and everyone who loves to explore the great outdoors. However, very few climbers seek adventure on this sparsely populated island. Is it due to the unpredictable weather or the absence of prominent climbing areas? The best way to clear our conscience was to travel there to take a look firsthand…

Arriving in Iceland was disorienting to say the least. Having left Paris at a late 22:45 (10:45pm), we caught our first glimpse of the Icelandic coast just three hours later as it basked in the surreal light of the midnight sun. We would not see the dark of night again until back in France. Just after landing we learned that two-thirds of our luggage had been lost in a tear in the space-time continuum typical of low-cost travel.

Housed by 66° Nord at their base in Reykjavik, the days that followed were paced by roundtrips to Keflavik Airport and exploring Reykjavik and the surrounding area: waterfalls, geysers, and… bars. 

VialletetThe amazing Gullfoss Falls appear to dive straight into the island's bowels. 

VialletetThe lupine plant… as abundant as sheep in Iceland and photographed in all its splendor by Thomas Vialletet, who fell for this flower to the dismay of the rest of the team.VialletetJökulsárlón, only in Iceland! The glacier releases its icebergs straight into the ocean. 

 

In Hnappavellir: where the climbing started (finally)

On the verge of falling into a "midnight-sun" induced depression, we decided to hit the road with or without our luggage. Leaving the classic tourist sites behind to focus on climbing, we drove to Hnappavellir, the main climbing area in Iceland.

We enjoyed the three-hour drive, glued to the windows of our 4x4 and blown away by the amazingly beautiful landscapes until our arrival in Hnappavellir. Located along the island's southern coast, near Skaftafell National Park, the cliff extends for several kilometers wedged between the ocean and Vatnajökull Glacier. Locals have built all of the necessary commodities (wood shelters, outhouses, etc.) making the area relatively comfortable. Most routes are short, explosive, and on basalt with incredible friction; an Icelandic version of the Peak District.

We spent several days in this extraordinary setting, talking to locals and attempting to adjust to the physically demanding style of climbing. Active local climbers Valdimar Bornjsson and Eyþór Konráðsson joined us. The emulation could be felt, and Gérôme made a huge impact, sending two projects bolted by Valdimar: "Lundinn" (8b), and "Kamarprobbi" (8b+).

VialletetGimluklettur, one of the top areas in Hnappavellir, is the first area we set our sights on. "Lundinn," the project sent by Gérôme, is located right in the middle of the cliff.

VialletetWe quickly understood why Hnappavellir is the island's main climbing area, yet this is just the tip of the iceberg…

Fourau

FourauAdrien and Gérôme on the respective projects in Hnappavellir. Who says Icelandic rock is of little interest?

 

Vestrahorn: a jumble of boulders in the middle of nowhere

The rest of the trip takes shape during a conversation with Eyþór. He tells us about a bouldering area he developed with Valdimar: more than two hundred established problems and only he has the guidebook… which currently resides in a far corner of his brain. The bouldering area had already made a name for itself: the soon to be legendary Vestrahorn!

We hit the road as soon as possible towards Höfn, a fishing village located on the southeastern tip of Iceland, the last bastion of civilization.

The hour is late, and we are exhausted and all yearn to sleep in a warm comfortable bed. The 4x4s hurry along the dirt road and then veer straight towards the ocean. We cross a never-ending lagoon before heading up an uneven section of road. At the top of a small hill we finally catch a glimpse of the vast boulder field. The area is battered by the wind, stuck between towering fog-covered mountains and the endless ocean; we are truly in the middle of nowhere. The promise of a warm night's sleep quickly evaporates.

We push the fatigue and cold out of our minds, and spend the next day running from one boulder to the next, not really knowing where to start. Florence and Gérôme decide to try a committing slab that local Icelandic climbers decided to leave fallow. The two send "Kosovar Productions" (7A+/B). 


VialletetVestrahorn Bay: surf, boulders, and a magical atmosphere. Legend says that the Vikings first set foot in Iceland at this very spot. We wholeheartedly believe it… 

VialletetClimbing with a view… of the edge of the world. 

FourauA wild line on stellar rock, all in a moon-like landscape. None of us will ever forget this particular boulder, which alone was worth our effort to battle against the elements. 

VialletetFlorence grits her teeth and crimps hard during the high crux of "Kosovar Productions" (7A+/B). With this first ascent we undeniably made our mark in Vestrahorn.

 

Basalt columns

Before catching our plane, we set off in search of the basalt columns we had seen on the Internet before leaving France. The photo was accidently taken by a tourist and the area unknown to local climbers. After asking around, we locate the basalt columns just a few kilometers from Flùdir, a small city known for its hot springs that we enjoyed at the beginning of our trip. Before we could throw our packs on, Florence and Gérôme had already freed a line. In the end, we only had time to establish three obvious routes before our plane took off. We were happy to leave our mark during the trip and break ground for a new climbing area for our Icelandic friends to enjoy!

FourauThe showstopper: Icelandic basalt columns… time to put on your 3D glasses!

VialletetGérôme and Florence respectively onsighted and flashed "Ephémère", a stout 7a trad line. A worthy route to justify the dozen or so kilos of nuts and cams that Gérôme unknowingly hauled around in his bag all throughout the trip…

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