Field Notes

Iceland : 1 • June 15-June 28, 2016

Farewell Iceland!

June 28, 2016

We finished up our amazing trek on the Laugavegur and enjoyed a tour of the south coast to celebrate for a day. We had a crazy,  road experience driving out of Thorsmork where we finished hiking. Our driver made navigating through rivers look easy in our lifted minibus. Our first stop once we made it back to the main roads was Seljalandsfoss, a 200+ foot waterfall surrounded by wildflowers. Foss is the Icelandic word for waterfall, by the way. Everyone got to walk behind the falls and around the other side. Sam and Parker were particularly brave and got a bit wet taking some neat photos beneath a smaller side fall. What a way to start our south coast tour! We next drove to Black Sand Beach where puffins nested in the overlooking cliffs and gnarled rocks and basalt columns provided a natural playground. We ventured from end to end, admiring the many black pebbles and stones that made up the ground beneath our feet. Some clambered up cool waterfront boulders while others tried to get close to the nesting birds. Carolyn wanted to stay forever at this other-worldly shore, but we had to move on to our next stop: Skogafoss! While the first falls we stopped at were maybe 20 feet across, this second 200+ foot cascade stretched about 50 feet wide. We all ran up for some great photos before heading to our last stop at the Secret Lagoon! The geothermal-heated waters filled a large rocky pool and offered really hot spots as well as ample relaxation space. We all had a group float on our backs to end our soaking before showering off and heading to our hostel for the night. We stayed in what used to be a school – a lovely green-roofed building with a large dining area and a big dorm-style space for us crazy Moondancers. We had reindeer meatballs and ice cream sundaes to fill our bellies and really help us sleep well in our comfy beds. We all went to bed happy to have one more fun day ahead with the group!
Yesterday was our final activity day and the group was determined to soak up every last little bit of Iceland. We woke up and had a traditional breakfast buffet at our beautiful hostel; our hungry boys Henry and Brooks put down a few hard boiled eggs and some tasty waffles. We then promptly packed up to hit the road. We took a short 45 minute drive to Hverageroi where we would hike up to the Reykjadalur hot spring. The spring makes a stream that runs down through this beautiful little valley. The further up the stream you go, the hotter the water gets so we were able to spread out finding whatever water temperatures suited us best. We all soaked for an hour until a light shower encouraged us to make our way back to the van. We stopped at a small ice cream shop in town and ate chocolate dipped cones – an Icelandic specialty.

Then we were headed back to Reykjavik! We arrived at KEX and all settled in and grabbed a shower before hitting the shops to find some souvenirs. Everyone bought something for themselves and for family members. A handful of the girls bought authentic hand knitted wool sweaters from a small shop in town. Cardy, Frances, Lily, Sarah, and Sarah Cat all took their time to pick out their favorite ones.
 After shopping we went to a local pizza spot for our banquet dinner. We all sat at a huge table and our group downed 9 pizzas while watching the Iceland v. England football match. Soon after we finished our dinner, Iceland won the match! This was a huge upset in the tournament and the town erupted with patriotism. People were literally singing from their rooftops, waving flags, and parading around the main streets. The environment was incredible and we all joined in to yell the different chants. Carter, Jay, Sam, and Thomas all jumped in to dance when a few street performers with drums showed up. It truly made for an incredibly unique experience to finish our trip.
Upon returning to our hostel, we all packed up for the morning, had our final Moonup as a group and went right to sleep. This morning we awoke bright and early to head for the airport. We were sleepily on the bus at 6:30 and to the airport by 7:15. After 2 hours of wrestling with Icelands archaic unaccompanied minors computers we had everyone checked in and ready to board. We all said our goodbyes and just like that our little Icelandic group began to disperse, all heading to New York and then on to their respective cities. We hope that everyone arrives home safely and that everyone can continue to enjoy all of these new memories and friendships that have been forged!
Cheers,

Olivia and TJ

Laugavegur trek!

June 26, 2016

We have all been completely captivated by the magic of the Laugavegur Trail here in Iceland! Words and photos won’t be able to fully describe this wild and mystical place, but we’ll do our best! Every day brought new scenes – the most green, blue, orange, red and gray mountains imaginable; expansive fields of black lava rocks; deep canyons, icy rivers, and massive glaciers.

Day 1 of our trek started at Landmannalaugur, with blue skies and a beautiful trail into the mountains. Though some were nervous about the uphill hike, we all proved to be rather speedy hikers! We passed numerous geothermal springs that bubble and release eggy smelling fumes all day – Brooks was especially a fan on this. A good bit of snow still lingers in the mountains and provided amazing contrast to the colorful mountains in the area. We passed tangles of old lava rocks – said to be home to the elves and trolls of Iceland. We took a brief detour to the top of a peak overlooking both where we had hiked from and where we’d continue to trek – the view did not disappoint! We tromped through snow fields up, up, and up until it seemed like we could go no higher…and all of a sudden we had found our home for the evening! Hraftinnusker sits right amidst the mountains in a field still full of snow. Geothermal springs bubbled nearby and we happily snuggled into our warm bunk room. This was the one hut we got to sleep inside of the four nights on our trek. We all enjoyed hanging out together before dinner; Parker and Carolyn tackled a puzzle together; Sam, Lily and Sarah Cat adventured to take some photos; and others just relaxed. Dinner was wonderful – “fish balls” aka hush puppies with fish inside (Henry got hot dogs all to himself), potatoes that everyone wanted more of, salad and rice. We have been so spoiled every night with amazing dinners!! With the nights never getting dark here, bedtime has consistently come late, but we have tried to sleep in a bit each day before the next hike.

Day 2 greeted us with more blue skies and warm sunshine! We packed our things at the hut and hit the snowy mountain trail. This day offered some of our favorite views; we traveled amidst numerous mountains towards a huge valley surrounded by glaciers. The hiking was quite laid back and we took several stops when the vistas got especially stunning. I think we might have taken a cover shot for next year’s catalogue! As our guides had told us before, the scenery from one day to the next is entirely different on the Laugavegur. Within a few miles, we might as well have been in entirely different countries! As we descended down some steep hills to the valley floor, we could spy our camp for the night next to Swan Lake. Though we still had a few miles to go, everyone kept their eyes on the prize and we made it by mid-afternoon. The lake and surrounding mountains made for the most beautiful camp – it felt like we had landed in Switzerland for the evening. We had ample time to explore before dinner, so we took a short day hike to a ridge overlooking camp. Everyone enjoyed the view, of course, but sledding down some snow fields on our rain coats was the best. Carolyn, Parker, and Henry made a few laps up and down in the snow. Everyone gobbled down cheeseburgers for dinner and cheesecake for dessert. Our Moonup led by Frances and Carter was especially good this night as folks shared personal stories and really felt united. We all happily crawled into tents for some much-needed rest afterwards.

Day 3 was full of black lava rock fields surrounded by green, mossy mountains. We had quite flat terrain but a few more miles to go than our first two days. We also had to cross two bigger rivers; both required changing into water shoes and shorts so we didn’t get our boots or pants wet. Lily and Sarah Cat had the funniest faces as they danced across the chilly rivers. Teamwork helped everyone get across safely! We made sure to have lots of chocolate and cookies to fuel us through the miles; Frances and Sarah were always happy to see the cookie sleeves appear. The ladies of our crew kept big smiles on their faces all day and could be heard singing songs and laughing til the last few steps to camp. Sam continued to get as many photos and videos as possible, getting ever closer to his goal of 1000+ GoPro photos. Everyone was worn out from this long day but still excited for one more on the trail. Its crazy how quickly the trip has passed! As leaders, TJ and Olivia have loved seeing the group really come together over the hiking days.

Day 4 was our last day on the Laugavegur. We had consistent pack leaders all day – Parker, Sarah Cat, Lily, Brooks and Carter – with Jay and Henry chatting it up in the middle and a solid back crew – Sam, Frances, Carolyn, Sarah, Thomas and Cardy. There was lots of laughter all around and many funny stories shared. Overall, the attitudes have been wonderful amongst this group on the trail. Lily and Brooks did a particularly great job as our last LODs on the trail, keeping the group moving and checking in with everyone often. We crossed through a mystical canyon on a small foot bridge and got some cool photos over the rushing river. We saw rocky river banks and green hills all around. We began seeing small trees and bushes, what they consider the Icelandic forest. We had a nice long lunch break during which time nearly everyone took a power nap – except for Henry and Jay, who went exploring nearby instead. We then had just one more river crossing and about an hour of hiking until the end. We all skipped and smiled through the trees and flowers all the way to our final destination at Thorsmorck. The sun and blue skies came out for us just as we crossed the finish line; it was a perfect way to finish our trek! And of course we ate some more chocolate to celebrate – Thomas, Sarah and Cardy were pumped. We were treated to a five-star dinner of grilled lamb and potatoes that left everyone wildly full and happy. Though the group probably wanted to stay up all night, getting to bed felt pretty good after all we had accomplished.

Today we’re off to see two giant waterfalls and some black sand beaches on the south coast, then relax in some magical hot springs at the Secret Lagoon. We’ll have another update after these great final days!
Cheers,

Olivia

 

 

SHOUT OUT HOME

Brooks hi mom sup what is going on in Bham will you have Davenports cheese pizza ready for me when I get home thank you I miss u guys see u in 2 days !!

Lily- Hey mom and dad!!! How’s Mtn Brook? Iceland is so fun and everyone is really nice! Miss you guys!! Can’t wait for NYC!!! It’s going to be so lit!!! Love and miss you guys!!!!!!!!! See you soon!!

SC- hey mom and dad! Iceland is soo much fun. I can’t wait for NYC!! Love and miss y’all so much xoxo!!!

J- Iceland is fun. Can I have a burger and a baked potato when I get home?

Sarah- hey mom and dad! Iceland is amazing and I can’t wait to see y’all and Munson!

Carolyn-hi fam. Iceland is so fantastic. I miss u so much. I have done a lot of cool activities. Love y’all soooo much

Henry: Hey mom dad and Joe! Iceland is awesome! We just finished the Laugavegur and are heading home in a few days. Can’t wait to see you guys and tell you about it.

Samuel: hey mom and dad!! Iceland is incredible! These two weeks have been nothing like I thought it would be! Miss you so much, I have so much to tell you about!

Thomas: Hey mom and dad (and roux). Iceland’s been amazing! I’ve taken tons of pictures and I’ll tell y’all all about it when I get back. See you soon, miss you, and love you!!

Parker: Hey mom and dad. How are you doing. I am having a great time in Iceland. We have gone sea kayaking, ice climbing on Solheimjurkin glacier, hiking up Hekla volcano, and just finished the Lauvegur trail. Miss you all! Love you!

Cardy: Hey everyone!! Iceland is incredible! Miss y’all and can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Frances: mom and juevo!!! Iceland is absolutely beautiful even better than the pictures!!! We just finished our backpacking trek and it was amazing.  Miss y’all bunches but I’m having a blast.

Carter – It’s great down here. Thanks for sending me to Iceland!


The Toughness of the Ice Climb Makes the View Even Better

June 22, 2016

Today is the day that so many people in our group have been anxiously awaiting. Today we climb, and not just any climbing, ice climbing. We woke up in Reykjavik in the hostel and hurriedly prepared for the day. In fact we got ready so quickly that we beat our guides to the meeting location. Not a feat that Moondance groups often pull off. We also had the pleasure of having Hayes Hitchens, the founder of Moondance, fly up to visit us on our trip. At 9 am the whole group assembled and began our drive to the glacier. On the way we got our first views of Iceland’s famous waterfalls along the south shore. Even from a distance they are spectacular; the group can’t wait till we get a chance to stop at each in a few days. Carter and Jay were playing a game shouting out each interesting thing they saw and announcing it to everyone. After a two hour drive we arrived to the glacier where our glacier guide awaited us. Arctic Adventures essentially has a gear shop on wheels – in their van they had everything that our group needed, head to toe, so that we could safely navigate the glacier. With our helmets, harnesses, ice axes, and crampons in tow we started the short trek up to the glacier. Once there, we circled up and Oskar led us in a game he called “don’t touch the crampons” which is exactly how it sounds – Please don’t play with the crampons until after I teach you how to put them on. The kids all got a kick out of that one. We geared up and had a short lesson on how to walk in our crampons and how to use the ice axes for support. Then we were off, heading up the glacier and passing through a layer of ash and dirt that had been deposited many years ago and frozen into the glacier. The first half of our trip was spent hiking around the glacier. We passed over crevasses, looked down into mulans, and got used to moving with our new gear. On the way we passed across a small stream of freshly melted water that had been frozen for thousands of years. Sarah & Carolyn were the first to kneel and take a drink of some of the freshest water that we might ever have. After filling our bottles we continued on to a station where the scientists keep track of glacial melt. They drill a hole down into the ice and drop a weight on a wire down to the bottom. The as the surface of the ice melts, the wire on top becomes more and more exposed allowing them to measure the difference. Last year the glacier melted 30 feet. Every time we stopped Parker, Jay and Brooks, would go to town chopping away at the ice with their new toys. When we got to the climb site we had a quick lunch while the guides hung our ropes. In all my time guiding different groups I have never seen a whole group be so eager to climb. As soon as the climbs were set our first two climbers were racing up the ice – Brooks and Parker. The guides picked an incredible spot with soft ice that kept things at a great difficulty level for our group. Cardy, Frances, Henry and Sam all cruised up the climbs comfortably. Others like Parker chose to up the difficulty level and climb with just one axe. Unfortunately for us, strong winds and potential for a rain storm led us to cut our climb short and head back for the cars. By the time we got back to the hiking trail, we were all ready to be off of our crampons. They are a ton of fun, but after walking in a unique way for three hours your feet start to get pretty sore. Back at the cars we said goodbye to Hayes and made our way to our hut for the night.

Tomorrow we will wake up to tackle one of the biggest challenges of our trip. Looking back on today we would all say that Hekla made us earn our bid for the summit. Hekla is a volcano that stands at roughly 1450 meters tall, mostly covered in snow, and is quite the formidable opponent. Standing at the bottom, I think that we all internally wondered whether we would make it to the top. We started climbing, taking frequent breaks chipping away at the mountain chunk by chunk. We switched back and forth between snow and the loose volcanic rock that covers the mountain. Our lead guide Oskar kicked steps in as we went, but members frequently would slide down the snow a bit every few steps, making progress tiring. Roughly two-thirds of the way up our 7km climb we crested onto a ridge line. This was both good and bad news- good news because we had passed the steepest part of the climb and bad news because we had made our way up onto an exposed ridge where the strong winds and light rain quickly dropped the temps. We pushed up the volcano and the conditions continued to decline. In a small crater we stopped to put on more layers before making our final push. The crater to the summit was one long snowfield that would truly try the willpower of our group. We took off together and it didn’t take long for a small group led by Henry, Sam, Parker, and Thomas to race to the top. Cardy, Sarah, Frances, and Sarah Cat later reflected on seeing the first crew cheering at the summit and using their encouragement to push through the last few meters. The top of Heckla provided us with some intense weather conditions. With a light rain, near freezing temperatures, and 50-60mph gusts we huddled together to cheer, congratulate, and grab a quick picture before promptly heading down for shelter. Sam surprised us by hiking with his American flag to the top, so the pictures turned our extra great. Even under these grueling conditions Carolyn, Lily and Brooks spoke of how happy they were and how they were in the middle of one of the most rewarding things they had ever done. Then the race was on to the bottom! We were all cold and wanting to move fast to warm up so we hustled back down the hill. We kept our pace up all the way back to our crater where we could warm up, get out of the wind, and get some snacks in. Jay took the opportunity to climb up the side of the little crater with Parker and sled down on their bottoms. From there it was our hike up in reverse, except this time we were able to slide down the snow fields instead of climb up them. This made our progress abundantly faster and a lot more fun for all the avid skiers in our group. Hekla truly tested us today. I would be surprised if anything else that we do this trip pushes us as hard as we were pushed today. The group feels much closer after accomplishing a task like this and I am excited for our trekking to begin together. Not having much to report on today was exactly what the group hoped for.

Today was our rest and prep day before starting the Laugavegur Trail tomorrow. We all slept in nice and late, then sat down to a huge brunch were we all ate and ate attempting to replenish our bodies of all of our spent calories from yesterday. The group spent the whole day exploring the area, sitting in the hot spring, and packing for the upcoming trip. It was truly a restful day filled with good meals, and great conversation. The group has so quickly turned into a family with everyone bringing in their own unique touches. Putting the group to bed is always a challenge gratefully accepted by the guides. It’s much better to put a group to bed that so desperately wants to stay up and milk out the last minutes of a day together, than a group that races to their quarters. Tomorrow we start our four day trek, wish us good luck and dry weather. We will check back in as soon as we can!

Best,

Tj & Olivia


Sheep, Shipwrecks and S'mores!

June 19, 2016

Hello, friends and family!!

The first Moondance crew to Iceland is having a blast here so far. This place is absolutely incredible – seriously, Iceland has been showing off for us these first few days.

Day two began with a quick breakfast at our hostel before we hit the road to the West Fjords. Frances and Thomas helped guide everyone along as our first “leaders of the day.” Our guides pointed out lots of neat sights along the drive from Reykjavik. We passed old volcanoes, drove in a huge underground tunnel that crossed beneath a large inlet of water, and saw dozens of Icelandic sheep and horses. We stopped at a little market along the way, where Lily and Brooks seriously contemplated buying some fried fish jerky as a snack. (They decided to save that for later in the trip.) We arrived at the town of Stykkishólmur to meet our sea kayaking guides. They briefed us on the ways of kayaking preparations and got everyone fitted to their own boat. The Moondance team impressed our guides with our packing efficiency – especially Parker, who had a clear knack for packing his and everyone’s boats really well. We ate Icelandic sandwiches and donuts before the kayaking adventure truly began. Henry helped lead the group as we paddled around island after little island. A welcome surprise greeted us along the way – a shipwreck to explore! Our kayak guides helped everyone land their boats before we poked around an old ship that had crashed onto the shore. Carter seemed ready to become a ship captain as he climbed into the wheelhouse. Once we had seen enough, the kayaking continued until we turned a corner and found our island oasis for the night. Our only neighbors were a few sheep left to graze and a friendly seal swimming around us. Cardy, Frances and Sarah had their tent set up before anyone else – girl power! Once all was together for the evening, island exploration began. Dinner came as a welcome, warm treat – beef stew with pasta followed by s’mores for dessert. Our Moonup was held on the highest point of our little island and the views of the mountains couldn’t have been better with clear skies.

Day three greeted us with sunshine and breezy conditions for our paddle back to the mainland. Luckily, the wind worked in our favor. Parker and Carolyn really stepped us as our LODs and got the group packed up almost entirely before breakfast. What teamwork! Everyone seemed refreshed from our first night of camping and ready for more paddling. We took to the water like seasoned pros. Jay had everyone singing some goofy songs as the paddling began and kept a constant smile through much of the day. Though the waters were a bit rough from the wind, Sarah Cat kept giving it her best efforts and really cruised by the end of our time in the kayaks. Before we knew it, our final destination came into view and everyone raced to the finish. Though folks wanted to just sit and have a break at the beach, the Moondance team really worked to get boats unpacked and moved to the trailer. Sam won most helpful today, always jumping to help move boats or give some encouragement. We had some lunch and gave big thanks to our kayak guides before the drive back to Reykjavic. Showers and an all-American dinner of cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese and French fries were a great end to the day.

Everyone seems really excited for our glacier explorations tomorrow. We’ll be off camping and hiking from there so it may be a bit before another update – but we promise it will be action-packed!

Cheers,

Olivia & TJ


Velkomin til Íslands! (Welcome to Iceland!)

June 16, 2016

The first ever Moondance boots to step foot on Iceland are on the ground!!! After a very long day and night of travel we have 13 groggy kids here at the lively KEX hostel in Reykjavik. Our trip from Keflavik to Reykjavik was met with a lot of questions from Henry and Sam. Tj, one of the Moondance leaders, arrived in Iceland the day before and was eager to share everything that he had learned and discovered.
We arrived at the hostel quite early; however, we could not check into our rooms and get some rest until 2pm. The group was very visibly exhausted, but we did not want to pass up on the opportunity to explore downtown Reykjavik. After a small and simple breakfast (no one had much of an appetite after all of our travels) we took off on foot through the thin and unique streets. We had to stop and take mental notes of landmarks because the street names were so difficult to remember and pronounce. Parker was convinced that some of them weren’t even real words, simply lots of letters strung together to mess with tourists. Jay and Thomas said that we were in full on tourist mode today walking around the gift shops with our day packs and cameras.
Our first stop was the Hallgrímskirkja cathedral, which is a huge church up on top of one of the higher hills in town. The church is stunning, made almost entirely out of concrete pillars that swoop up into massive spires. Across from the church is a statue of Leif Erickson and the group all huddled in front of the statue to get our first group picture.

 

We set off after that to check out some of the shops on Vangugata road. We were quickly reminded, after Carolyn pulled out US currency to pay for her item, that we forgot to find a bank and exchange our money into the Krona. Luckily for us the bank was close by and a lot of our students were able to exchange their currency. Then we returned to roaming around Reykjavik until it was time for lunch. We went to the small grocery in town and picked up sandwich supplies and other items to snack on.

 

Our hostel is close to a very large inlet with a walkway around the water so we chose to go down there to eat. Some members of our group like Cardy and Frances were quick to jump in and help set up our sandwich station. Meanwhile Jay, Parker, Brooks, and Sarah used the opportunity to go down to the water to feel how cold it was. The official report was that it was indeed very cold.

 

At 2pm we were able to get into our rooms. Sarah Cat and Lily were so tired they were basically holding one another up. We also learned today they’re great at helping each other tie their shoes. We were fortunate this afternoon to get a good nap in and have some time to hangout as a group and adjust to being in a new country. During the break some slept and others played Uno with Thomas and Sam. The hostel is nice in that we have six girls who can all be in the same room with Olivia and all the boys are spread between two smaller rooms with TJ on another floor. We fill all three of our rooms so we don’t have any other travelers staying with us.

 

In the evening we met our two in-country guides for the trip. They introduced themselves, gave us a run-down of our upcoming days, and opened up the floor for questions. Oskar and Aushler (guessing on the spelling) are both native Icelanders who have been guiding trips like these for the last six years.

 

Keeping with our Moondance tradition for getting pizza on the first night, our group devoured four large pies and two orders of breadsticks. It was nice to see most of them getting their appetite back. After dinner our exhausted group sat down for Moonup. Moonup is our opportunity to sit down and debrief the day. It is a judgement free area where we can be silly or serious when the leaders of the day (LODs) present a question to the group. We also use Moonup to talk about upcoming plans, give each other shout outs, and to bring us all together to close the day.
After Moonup we gave out gifts to our alumni Moondancers Brooks, Jay, Sam, Frances, Thomas, Carter, Lily, and Sarah Cat. Then we gave out sweet Moondance t-shirts to all of the students so we can look good all trip.

 

Today was a tough but fun day. We were all running on little to no sleep, trying our best to keep our energy up and enjoy being with one another. We were fortunate to get to bed early tonight and we will hopefully be able to get a full night’s sleep before we leave for the West Fjords to go sea kayaking in the morning. I hope that all is well state side!! Wish us luck and we will check back in a few short days.

Cheers,
TJ and Olivia