Solo Hiking in Iceland - Jen Higgins Grant Report

 

Editor's note: This report from Kara Folkerts details her experience on a solo hike across the entire distance of the country of Iceland, a trip which was supported by the ACC's Jen Higgins Grant. In reviewing her application, the ACC Grants Committee was drawn to the creative and exploratory nature of the expedition, and the fact that Kara was planning and carrying out the trip as a one-person team. The ACC's Jen Higgins Grant was awarded to four parties in 2016 so look for more trip reports in the coming months.

The annual deadline for applications to the Higgins Grant is January 31.


 Looking over at Skógafoss. Photo by Kara Folkerts

Looking over at Skógafoss. Photo by Kara Folkerts

Breaking out of a rut

Back in the fall of 2015 an idea popped into my head - I was going to travel to Iceland. Not only that, I wanted to hike across the entire country, coast to coast, by myself. The past year I felt stuck. I was burning out from school, struggling with insecurities and wanting to live fully but I didn’t know how to get out of my own rut. I would doubt my own efforts and had little confidence in myself. I knew where I wanted to go in life, yet I was not making an effort to get there. It was around autumn that I realized the only way to overcome any challenges in one’s life was to face them head on. I began to look deeper into myself and understood that I was the only one in charge of making any positive changes. I wanted to travel, push myself beyond all limits, go on expeditions in incredible natural places and continually grow as an individual. It was at that point that I began to plan my ‘Solo Saga of Iceland’.

The start of my trek

Fast forward to June 16, 2016. Starting on the south coast of Iceland I stood full of emotions. As I took my first few steps moving forward, away from the ocean, I began to cry. All the months of research, organization, endless emails, a full university course load, long hours of work, plane tickets, meal preparations and so forth had finally brought me to this moment. I cried out of pure joy and anticipation for what was to come. I was nervous, but undeniably determined and feeling full of strength.

 Heading north towards the Laugavegur Trail. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Heading north towards the Laugavegur Trail. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

After 41km, I ended day one in Skógafoss. From there I linked onto the Laugavegur Trail, Iceland’s most famous multiday trek. Because I started in the early season, there was heavier snowfall in the mountain passes and an overall lower volume of hikers. The landscapes in this portion of my trek were magnificent and drastically changing moment by moment. Coming up over the mountains and through the valleys I experienced heavy rain falls, wicked winds, endless fog, sand storms and river crossings. I found myself being completely immersed in nature along with all the weather systems as I completed my first seven days of the trek.

 Lots of geothermal hot springs in the mountains near Landmannalaugar. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Lots of geothermal hot springs in the mountains near Landmannalaugar. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Moving into the Highlands

After finishing the Laugavegur Trail, I continued north towards the central highlands of Iceland, one of Europe’s largest deserts and the most desolated untouched part of the country. I followed the Sprengisandur, an old mountain road that was closed to vehicles at the time. This mountain road served as my passage way through the highlands for the upcoming days. Entering into this stage of my thru hike I knew there was a good chance of heavy winds to cause potential sand storms.

 Open skies and stunning views in the highlands. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Open skies and stunning views in the highlands. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Thankfully I had clear sunny skies with barely any rain or wind. Little did I know these ‘ideal’ conditions called for relentless sandflies! I quickly became very thankful for any rain that would come my way. With a bug net synched tightly around my neck I continued through the highlands overlooking volcanoes, glaciers, open skies and lava fields.

 Sandflies, sandflies, sandflies. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Sandflies, sandflies, sandflies. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

 Happy to escape the flies with some rain! Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Happy to escape the flies with some rain! Photo by Kara Folkerts.

 dsc01305Finding beautiful places to camp in the highlands. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

dsc01305Finding beautiful places to camp in the highlands. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

North to Ásbyrgi Canyon

As I continued moving north out of the highlands and through Mývatn, I entered into an entirely different landscape with beautiful lakes, amazing bird life, hot springs and endless waterfalls. As I followed along the river valley from Dettifoss I reached the top of Ásbyrgi Canyon. Overlooking the entire canyon was one of the most breathtaking and phenomenal experiences of my entire trek.

 Following along the valley past Dettifoss. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Following along the valley past Dettifoss. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

 Enjoying a quiet evening after a long day. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Enjoying a quiet evening after a long day. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

 Standing on top of Ásbyrgi Canyon. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Standing on top of Ásbyrgi Canyon. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Final Days

After passing the canyon I knew I was on the homestretch and after a few more days I would reach the Hraunhafnartangi lighthouse. The days that followed were increasingly rainy and colder than anything I had experienced previously. Every morning from day fourteen to nineteen I put on soaking wet rain gear. However, waking up on my final day I had a pleasant surprise. I woke up earlier than normal from overheating in my tent. As I unzipped the fly and looked up, I didn’t see a single cloud in the sky. It was the first time I had seen the sun in over five days. With a shorter distance of seventeen kilometers left I began to walk. All morning I was anxious, exhausted and full of excitement. The morning rolled on and around 11:30 the lighthouse was in view. An hour later, as I approached Hraunhafnartangi and the Greenland Sea, I was overcome with sheer gratitude. Each step I took brought waves of excitement and bliss. Passing the lighthouse and jumping into the sea I cried tears of overwhelming joy. I had completed my trek across Iceland, entirely on foot and all by myself.

 The end of my journey. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

The end of my journey. Photo by Kara Folkerts.

 The sea! Photo by Kara Folkerts.

The sea! Photo by Kara Folkerts.

Covering 586 kilometres in twenty days I had experienced every type of weather imaginable, moved through the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes, dealt with incredible highs and lows, and done it all alone. I saw that through all of my struggles and adversities I was able to find my inner strength. No matter what had come my way those past twenty days, I had the power to overcome it. The trip had shown me how resilient and self-reliant I could be, but also how we can all handle so much more than we think. We all have fears and self-set limits of how far we believe we can push ourselves, but when we make a conscious effort to face our fears we realize that they are nothing more than a misconception. Instead of making excuses, looking to others, or letting fear and doubt creep in, I was able to experience this incredible adventure to the fullest. Crossing Iceland allowed me to find pure joy, face all fears head on, break self-perceived barriers and create meaningful memories.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to The Alpine Club of Canada and the Jen Higgins Grant alongside the wonderful people in my life who supported and encouraged me on this journey.


Jen Higgins Grant for Young Women

Promoting alpine-related outdoor pursuits for young women

 Jen Higgins.

Jen Higgins.

The ACC is dedicated to helping young women pursue their adventure dreams with annual cash grants from the Jen Higgins Fund. Teams must include a young woman who is central to conceiving, developing and leading the trip.

The Jen Higgins Fund was established by friends and family to honour Jen Higgins after her death in 1997. Jen's enthusiasm and generous spirit continue to live on by supporting young women in creative, self-propelled, mountain adventures with this grant.

The Alpine Club of Canada is honoured to be able to continue Jen’s legacy of sharing knowledge and enthusiasm with others - the legacy of a truly adventurous and generous spirit.

Information Package (pdf)

Annual deadline for applications is January 31.


Donate to the Jen Higgins Fund

The ACC is dedicated to helping young women pursue their adventure dreams and your donation to the Jen Higgins Fund helps us support them.