July 31, 2016
July 30, 2016
Wait, is it really the last day of our trip?! Oh my, we aren’t ready to say goodbye to this amazing group, and I don’t think anyone wants to leave beautiful Iceland! TJ and I have been so blessed by this sweet, energetic, and fun-loving crew of Moondancers.
We’ve had a really lovely final part of our trip. We’ve gone on a hot spring hunt and sea kayaked to our own private island for last night. We’ve also eaten lots of ice cream, laughed endlessly, shared so many kind words, and proven to be the best of friends.
Rewinding to this past Thursday, we made our way back from the south coast towards Reykjavík. We stopped along the drive for a hot spring hunt outside of Hveragerði. Chuck, Keenan, Emma and Elizabeth led the charge on our quick hour-long hike to the hottest part of the spring-fed river. We all threw on swimsuits and tiptoed into the soothing water. It was like sitting in a natural hot tub that continues to flow downstream. Trevor and Paige led us in a few rounds of the game of “Mafia” before we ate some sandwiches and hurried back to the car. As we loaded back up to finish our drive, TJ and Olivia surprised everyone with an ice cream treat in town. Icelanders love dipped soft serve cones – they not only offer milk and dark chocolate dips, but also flavors like licorice and something called Turkish pepper. They’ll even add toppings on top of the melted chocolate. It was all so tasty!!! We got to Reykjavík and took down time for showers and quick power naps. Then it was all about some souvenir shopping and walking around the city. Some demanded we stop at the fast food chain called Aktu Taktu across from our hostel, so we fueled up on fries and hit the town. We stopped for classic souvenirs at a puffin-themed shop – we got plenty of maps and bumper stickers. Then checked out all the knitted sweater options we could. Leah found a great one at one shop, while Mary Fleming, Paige, Patrick, Trevor, Olivia and TJ got theirs from the Hand-knitting Association store that is sort of run like a co-op. We’re all styling now! Once everyone had their various gifts and trinkets collected, we marched back to KEX to make dinner and hang out. Chicken pesto pasta filled everyone up and we had a great Moonup to cap everything off.
Yesterday, we woke up and had some breakfast classics – scrambled eggs, bagels and cream cheese, and cereal. After lots of oatmeal mornings, these were welcome treats! We had a three hour car ride to the West Fjords, with some stops along the way to get snacks. We luckily had sunshine overhead and a nice breeze as we reached our sea kayaking destination – the seaside town of Stykkisholmer. Elizabeth and Trevor, our LODs, had everyone listening and working to get boats packed appropriately. We learned about paddling technique and safety on the water before suiting up with PFDs, spray skirts, and splash tops. We all carried boats down to the rocky shore then set off for our island! Chuck decided to go for a brief swim before we got far from shore – gotta love a sunny day and salty ocean experience! Matt and Keenan were clearly comfortable on the water and consistently led our floatilla. Laney and Kate Z laughed and laughed as they shared stories and soaked it all in. We took a midway break at this cool old shipwreck. Everyone clambered aboard to check out the wheelhouse and below-deck quarters. I think all the boys would’ve happily played around this ship for the rest of the day, but Emma and Paige distributed some snacks and encouraged us all to keep at it. Before long, our island was close and we could set up camp for the evening. Leah and Kate C, Laney and Kate Z, and Emma and Elizabeth made sure to set up their tents with a view of the mountains from their doors. Patrick, Laney and Kate Z helped prepare dinner in the beach kitchen with our kayak guides. Others explored the island and chowed on some chips and salsa. Dinner filled up our bellies and we took time after to write letters to ourselves afterwards. Moondance sends these out sometime in the school year and they are always a fun surprise to get in the mail! It was great to have some quiet reflection time, too, during our last night of camping. As folks finished writing, we ate lots of cookies and hot chocolate and sat around the kitchen fire. Kate C and Leah took time to soak in the phenomenal sunset we were fortunate to have. Our LODs chose a perfect spot to have Moonup and we would’ve stayed up all night had it not gotten cold once the sun went down. It was a very beautiful day and the group felt so fortunate to have one last quiet night of camping along on our very own private island.
This morning we packed up camp and the weather was so perfect. No wind and sunshine made for calm water and big smiles. After a quick breakfast we suited up and paddled out to sea. This group is filled with very strong paddlers which allowed us to all paddle together in a close pod. Since the weather was so fantastic we were very casual with our paddling on the way back. We would paddle some, then stop and chat, all the while checking out the local scenery. Along the way we were visited by a few seals and countless jellyfish. Trevor does NOT like jellyfish and he actively avoided them throughout the day. Matt also found a starfish and Olivia held a few hermit crabs. All in all we had a ton of aquatic wildlife experiences today. To finish off our paddle, in our final stretch back to shore, one of our guides lined everyone up for a sprint back to the mainland. Very impressive the endurance and competitive spirit of these teens.
In the sunshine we packed up our boats and all of our equipment back into the cars. Then we all exploded our personal bags taking some time to get organized before our travels begin tomorrow morning. Once our bus arrived we were off and headed back to Reykjavik. This evening we will go out to our banquet dinner and soak up our last evening together. We will have one more short update coming your way tomorrow. Then shortly after your wonderful and accomplished children will be back in their own beds with a head filled with experiences and stories of their adventures abroad.
July 27, 2016
July 27, 2016
Greetings from the black sand beach, glaciers and waterfalls of Iceland! We’ve had an epic trip so far and thoroughly enjoyed a day of sunshine, blue skies and relaxing. We’ll backtrack to our days on the Laugavegur and catch y’all up.
We last left off at Hrafftinusker, our first night of the trek up in the mountains. With snowy peaks and lots of low clouds, it felt like we were hiking away from Everest base camp as we began day two. Our hike consisted of rolling hills and some steep downhill into the valley we’d be exploring for the remainder of our trek. We were amazed by the vivid greens of moss juxtaposed with white snow and black rock. Despite another rainy day, smiles were big in our group. We got some cool views of the lake we’d be camping by long before we got there. Several different riddles such as “Who’s hat is it?” occupied us for hours. Alftavatn, or Swan Lake, was a welcome sight as we arrived in the afternoon with lots of time for hanging and checking out the area. We even got some sun to warm our bodies and dry some rain gear! Elizabeth, Trevor and Patrick played soccer; Kate C, Paige and Mary Fleming took the opportunity for a shower; and others raced up a nearby peak for a view over all of camp. On the way down, everyone belted songs from “The Sound of Music.” We also played alongside the cold lake – skipping rocks and learning how to sing part of “Jingle Bells” in Chinese from Emma and Elizabeth. We ate delicious cheeseburgers for dinner to cap off the day – Matt impressed everyone by eating almost four!
We rose the next morning for a full day of flat hiking across the black sand desert highlands. Our guide Aslaug told us that this was one of the biggest areas of black sand in the world. It was our longest day of hiking and our group crushed and cruised. Charles, Leah, and Elizabeth frequently set a fast pace for our group, encouraging us to borderline speed walk from point to point. Along the way we played a lot of our favorite trail games like “got it” and everyone gave the remainder of their best riddles. The conversations today that were floating around the whole group were so great; it’s easy to see how close this group is becoming.
At one of our lunch breaks Trevor graced us with renditions of all his favorite Disney songs. It was hilarious and as the hike continued different Disney classics could be heard floating around up and down the line. Towards the end of our hike today it truly felt like we were walking on Mars. The black rocks and sand stretch on for kilometer after kilometer as far as the eye can see. It makes for a really unique experience looking out over the vast landscapes and then hiking through them.
As we finished our hike this day we crested a hill looking down into the start of this beautiful canyon and then descended down into our campsite named Emstrur. Our driver had prepared some hot soup and snacks for our arrival. We have been very pampered by our guides on this backcountry trip. After our snacks we set up tents and then took off to see the canyon. The canyon itself it breathtaking, one of the most beautiful things that we have seen so far in this country. Massive 300ft steep walks quickly descend down to the raging river below. Matt and Keenan asked for the group to be silent for ten minutes and simply soak in the scenery and reflect on the trip so far. It was a really great moment and that everyone enjoyed having a few peaceful moments to themselves.
As another wave of light rain settled into the area, we returned to camp. There we ran through our nightly routines of dinner, cleaning, Moonup, and bed. This trip has been so great so far; Emma has mentioned multiple times that this is one of those trips that just gets better and better.
Finally we reached our last day on the Laugavegur!!! Our group has lots of mixed emotions. We are excited to be done with our hike, but saddened to be leaving this beautiful trail behind. The trail today led us through a few small canyons and over one big river spawning from the glacier Myrdasjokull. We could see the glacier throughout; it is beautiful and is the fourth largest in Iceland! The weather improved with each passing hour as we approached Þorsmork. This was a great change of pace from the periodically foul weather that we had experienced on the trek.
We decided to take a particularly long lunch break today when we climbed down from the mountains and into the forest. We all took our shoes off, soaked in the warm weather and ate tons of snacks. Oskar handed out some Icelandic candies to the group, chocolate covered banana flavored hard candy. Trevor and Patrick loved theirs while Kate C. and Charles quickly found their trash bags. The group always gets a kick out of trying these mystery candies.
The closing kilometers of our trek had us crossing one more river and two more hills. This group is so strong that even at the end of our 55km hike they still looked fresh. As we reached the top of the last hill we could look down at the river and see our final camp at Þórsmörk. As one big group we all marched down to the flag at the end of the trail where high fives and hugs were shared by all. While hiking and finishing the trail were truly special moments to remember, our last camp completely stole the show. We had this beautiful grassy campground with a creek running through the middle, picnic tables, bathrooms, grills, and untimed hot showers all to ourselves. The campsite was so beautiful that we believe the group would have stayed an extra day there doing nothing but hanging out. Elizabeth and Patrick played soccer while others went to check out a little snack shop.
Our real treat came with dinner this evening: grilled lamb legs, fried potatoes and a creamy mushroom sauce. The meal was unbelievable and we all indulged. Then when we were all stuffed, Aslaug brought out three cheesecakes. Full or not, we all had room for dessert. After our dinner Keenan, Leah, Laney, Page, and Kate Z. collected some small wood and we had a fire down by the river. With our fire crackling and a light fog settling into the valley we had our Moonup. It was a perfect ending to this trail; Charles and Mary Flemming shared that the evening felt like one big celebration.
The next morning with everyone freshly showered we took off on our south coast tour. It is supposed to be a very nice and relaxing day to enjoy the scenery and let our bodies recover. We were blessed with beautiful sunny weather as our group visited our first waterfalls. Our first stop was to Seljalandfoss, one of the tallest and most iconic falls in the country. We all walked around it and a few brave souls walked down into the misty pool. Matt, Emma, and Leah came back with soaked rain gear, but quickly dried in the sunshine. After that we visited a much smaller waterfall that had a small cavelike area that you could enter. When you walked down into the slot the room opened up and we were right beside the base of the falls. If we thought we were wet from the first waterfall then this one redefined the term. Patrick, Mary Fleming, and Paige all walked right up to the base.
After lunch we ventured down to the Icelandic famous black sand beach. The beach is so beautiful with big cliff walls at your back, the black sand, and then 100ft spires jutting up out of the water. The group was collectively quite tired and this was the perfect place to relax. We all laid out in the sand for an hour, doing some minor exploring and throwing some rocks into the water. All of the students sat in a tight circle and gave the person in front of them a shoulder massage. They really bought into the whole rest day mindset.
Our campsite this evening was just outside of the busy little down of Vik. We had tons of grilled hot dogs for dinner. Some of the boys are four dogs a piece. The crew found a little playground and we all hung out enjoying the trampoline, pull up bars, and hillsides. Elizabeth and Leah were having contests to see who could do the most inverted crunches off of the pull up bars – the athleticism in this group is very impressive!
Moonup tonight was in a very cool little string of bushes that made a small canopy over our heads. We all sat in the grass and debriefed the day as the seagulls squawked and flew around us. Everyone is very excited for our ice climbing excursion tomorrow.
Today is the day that most of the group has been patiently awaiting since day one – today we go ice climbing on the glacier! Charles and Emma are our LODs today and right off the bat they got to work. We needed to have breakfast done and camp packed quickly so that we could start driving to the glacier. The two of them gracefully dove into getting everyone packed and prepped for the day.
When we got to the glacier we were all fitted to our boots, helmets, crampons, and ice axes, all the gear that we would need for safe travel. Oskar led us in a very thorough how to course on appropriately using all of our new gear. Everyone was very patient, but it was clear that they were all ready to put their new toys to the test on the ice. The glacier trek started with us slowly climbing up to the top, stopping along the way to check out the cones of ice that are covered with ash, and the different holes that are melted into the glacier from running water. Oskar and Aslaug have so much information about the glacier and the group was so eager to ask questions about everything they could see. We also stopped to get a drink of the purest glacial water that we might ever drink. There is something very special about drinking freshly melted ice that has been there for hundreds of years straight from the source.
At the top of the glacier is a very simple but effective piece of scientific equipment. At the end of each winter the scientists climb the glacier and drill a hole down through the ice. Then they dropped a weighted wire down into the hole which freezes into place. They connect the wire to a metal pole that sits on the surface of the ice. As the summer passes and the ice melts more and more of the wire is uncovered. Then at the end of the summer, the scientists measure how much of the wire is exposed to determine how much ice has melted off the surface.
After our tour of the glacier it was time to climb! The group ate our sandwiches right before we reached the “Grand Canyon” of the glacier – a small canyon-like area where we hiked down to the middle and climbed a few routes along the edges. Everyone got to try both climbs and some even did more! It was great to see everyone cheering each other to the top. There was also lots of singing and dancing and fun! We stayed on the glacier almost 5 1/2 hours today – pretty awesome! Everyone is beat but we’ve got a great spot at a country hotel tonight. Dinner made us all stuffed to the brim and we’re excited for a night in a bed – the first night in a week!!
We can’t believe there are just a few days left with this awesome group. We’re having lots of fun and are sending best wishes to you all!
Olivia & TJ
July 23, 2016
Hey Moonparents!! We are checking in from Landmannalaugar after one amazing and adventurous travel day. We woke up a few mornings ago after a very much need night of sleep in our hostel in Reykjavik. We all enjoyed a big pancake breakfast with an assortment of fruits and yogurts. People in Iceland are very proud of their yogurt which they call skyrr, Elizabeth was a big fan. Shortly after our breakfast we loaded the bus and we introduced the group to our in-country guides Oskar and Aslaug. They are a really incredible and patient team; they have been leading here in Iceland for many years and we are so fortunate to be able to follow them and soak up their love for Iceland. It was really nice having a long bus ride after our first day, the group had a ton of time to get to know one another and share stories from home. Along the way we stopped for a random break. We were surrounded by these big fields of old lava flow and the group really seized the opportunity to be adventurous. Paige, Mary Fleming, Kate C and Leah all took off up the hillside and the rest of the group followed. From the top we had a really great view of Hekla, a nearby volcano, and the surrounding countryside.
We continued on our drive and after another two hours arrived at Landmannalaugar, our home for the next two nights. This is a really unique camp; it is typically quite busy because it is the trailhead of such a popular hike, so there are tons of people speaking different languages. We set up our personal tents and the group kitchen tent and huddled inside. After waiting out a bit of heavier rain our group decided to go for a little jaunt around the area. It didn’t take long for our group to find a nearby snowfield. Matt and Charles led us straight up the hill determined to sled from the top. The hill didn’t make for the best skiing terrain, but our group made the best of it all. After we had all pushed the limits of our rain gear we went back to camp seeking the warmth and dryness of our kitchen tent. Aslaug cooked us an incredible dinner tonight of smoked salmon in a cheesy cream sauce over pasta. It was a huge hit and it was delicious. Our LODs (leaders of the day) Charles and Kate Z. led us in a great Moonup, and as the rain picked up, we settled in for bed.
The next morning met us with some much needed sunshine. The group took advantage of it and dried out all of our belongings. After a laid back breakfast we were off on a day hike from Landmannalaugar. We began to climb out of the valley and almost immediately the beautiful landscape started to unfold before us. This is a wonderful time of year where the moss turns a vibrant green, snow still accents the mountainsides, and countless streams are flowing from the hillsides. Paige and Kate C. were snapping pictures left and right determined to bring home good shots. We had a few stops along the way for lunch and to look at the views. From the top of one hill we were able to look down across a large lake where an old lava flow came down into it. At the top of this hill Keenan, Leah, and Paige organized everyone in their new Moondance shirts to take some catalog worthy photos.
Our guides told us that our destination was a lake inside of a volcanic crater, but I don’t think any of us were ready for what they had in store. When we crested the mountainside and viewed the lake we were all blown away. The lake is a beautiful blue with steep rock sides all around in shades of black and red. Charles, Patrick, Leah, Trevor and Matt all immediately raced down the hillside for the water. While others were hesitant, thinking about the steep hike back out, most of our crew followed suit. The rest gladly kicked their feet up and soaked in the sun. After exploring around the lake, we all climbed back up to the top and took a stroll around the rim. From there we were on the way back, taking a slightly shorter and faster route back to camp. When it was all said and done we had covered 18 kilometers to the most incredible views. On top of all that, when we got back to camp we jumped in the natural hot spring to take a soak. This hot spring is unique in that one stream flows in with cool water and the other stream is scalding hot. The key is to find the perfect area where the waters mix. Laney and Patrick blew everyone away their ability to withstand the super hot water. All in all it was a really great day, thanks to the beautiful landscapes, our driven LODs Emma and Keenan, and the overall positive attitude that encompasses this group.
When we woke up it was cloudy but dry and warm. Soon after it began to rain and we all promptly packed up and stored our belongings, taking periodic breaks in the kitchen tent to warm up and dry off. We are all extremely grateful to have a warm kitchen tent to escape the elements. Today was the day that so many members of our group have been looking forward to because, rain or shine, we start the Laugavegur trail. The trail is a 36 mile path that we will tackle over the next four days. As we set off through the morning with our full rain gear on, we started to see the scenery that makes this hike world famous. The first half of our day is spent hiking through and around massive lava flow and then up the side of the small volcano that the lava had originally poured out of. Emma and Matt took the opportunity during a break to hike over to the side of the hill to look down over the whole lavafield. The weather took it easy on us through the early afternoon, giving us periodic breaks in between the slow steady rainfall. It rained all the way to lunch and at that point the rain finally ceased. We had such a blast during our lunch break checking out some of the geothermal steam spouts and playing in the snow. Everyone was sledding down and trying to ski on their boots. Kate Z., Laney, Leah and Mary Flemming made a ski train that ended up in a pile of bodies and laugher at the bottom. Keenan and Kate C. were our most successful skiers. All the activity warmed us up and helped to dry out our clothes.
Tonight’s camp is named Hrafftinusker, which translates to obsidian ledge. As we got closer and closer to the campsite we could slowly begin to see why. Boulders and boulders of obsidian sprinkled the hillsides at we stomped through the snow. When we made it to camp, we were met by our driver who greeted us with a creamy mushroom soup and hot chocolate to warm up. With perfect timing the rains started as soon as we finished setting up our last tents. In the kitchen tent TJ led the group in a game called “contact” before dinner that was a big hit. Then we settled back into our usual routine of Moonup and bedtime. We have to give a shout out to today’s LODs Elizabeth and Matt. It is so difficult to keep spirits high when it’s raining and you have eight miles of trail to cover. The two of them absolutely nailed it though; they stayed so positive, kept the group hydrated, checked in with people, and even got everyone dancing when we were wet at lunch. We just can’t give the two of them enough praise for today.
We were lucky to catch a little wifi at the hut this evening to get an update out to you guys. Know that your kids are in good hands and that they are capable of amazing things, even in the rain! Wishing you all a great weekend at home!
TJ and Olivia
July 20, 2016
Opening day! Around 1 pm the first of our group began to arrive with Caitlyn being the first! We played lots of games and got to know everyone as they trickled in. Alice gave us a quick glimpse of what it is like to be a competitive Irish dancer! Once a few had arrived we headed up to camp and took in the breathtaking views of our campsite for the next week. We learned the ins and outs of setting up the tents that would become our homes for the next two weeks. After some yummy pizza the first group hit the hay early feeling the jet lag set in. Meanwhile the next group flew in with Meg and hopped straight in the van and headed up to camp. Once finishing up the last of the pizza we all headed to bed after a long, exhausting travel day.
This morning we woke up early due to the expected jet lag. We all wandered out of our tents and spent the early morning getting to know one another. Camryn had the great idea of playing two truths and a lie to break the ice. We continued to enjoy the company of one another then headed to the kitchen to start cooking breakfast. This morning’s breakfast was a delicious batch of chocolate chip pancakes and bananas! We all sat in a circle and talked about what we are most excited about for our time here in Maui. Connor answered for everyone being excited for everything we were going to do! Once breakfast was devoured, Griff Dempsey, Moondance employee and local business owner came to camp to give us a history lesson of Maui. We learned everything from when the island was formed to the culture of the local Hawaiians. He then got us excited for Sea Kayaking and Stand up Paddle boarding as we will be embarking on those adventures with Aloha Kayaks Maui, his company!
Next up, zip lining!! We grabbed sandwiches for lunch then left camp to head to our first activity of zip lining! The tour included five different lines, the last one being a half mile long! Tommy was known for his very unique screams that he let out while flying down all the lines! Grace trusted Sam with her go pro and ended up with some very entertaining videos! The tour took us over the gulches in Maui, which left us with a spectacular bird’s eye view of the island. Ann Catherine and Lawton made their presence known to the wildlife from their shrieking down each line! We saw many animals and made sure to throw up some shaka’s while passing by! It is interesting to see Maui from a different perspective while being high in the sky on the zip line! Once we completed the tour, we headed to Nonohe beach for our first dip in the ocean! Chandler spotted the first of two different sea turtles within our first five minutes of being there! They were there to welcome the group Maui!
We headed back to camp because everyone was getting hungry for some dinner! Grace, Carter, and Tommy were the first cook crew and did an amazing job making some delicious chicken and cheese quesadillas! Once everyone’s stomachs were full we had our first moonup! We were very impressed with how thoughtful everyone’s answers were to the question during moonup tonight and we were amazed at how close the group had already gotten to each other in just one day. Once we completed moonup and chose Grace and Thomas to be our Leaders of the Day for tomorrow, we got some well deserved sleep and excitement for our next few days of surfing! Shaka!
Harrison, Sam, Meg
July 19, 2016
Greetings from Iceland!! Uppfæra means update and this is the very first one for trip three! We are so happy to have this group safely here to Iceland. Everyone may be a little weary from lots of traveling…but it’s been a fun first day and we’re all excited to get to the mountains tomorrow. One of our students Leah just came off of a two week canoeing trip and jumped right on the plane to Iceland. We are all so impressed that she is up and on her feet.
This morning began early for everyone, or maybe felt totally out of place for our travelers. Matt and Elizabeth came in with giant smiles leading the group out of security. We all gathered in the Keflavik airport, did some name games and hit the road for our first stop: the Blue Lagoon! What a great introduction to Iceland – relaxing in a giant geothermal hot spring with the whole group. We all explored the big spa-like facilities in search of the best hot spots. Keenan and Trevor led the brave group into the toasty steam room that looked a bit like a hobbit hole from the outside. Patrick and Kate C. enjoyed sitting beneath the waterfall feature too. Just as we all felt a bit pruned from the waters, it was time to pack up and get to Reykjavík.
We arrived just in time to eat some lunch on the patio of our hostel, KEX. We downed sandwiches and continued to get to know one another. We then walked into the heart of the city to explore! We stopped by the bank to exchange our US dollars for Icelandic Krona. We also popped in a few shops to check out knitted wool sweaters and buy some Icelandic candy. Paige and Mary Fleming especially liked the Sour Patch Kids-like candies. We got back to KEX to shower, nap and just have some down time. Everyone was a little tired at this point, but we still ventured out again to see the iconic Hallgrímskirkja – the large concrete church that overlooks all of the city. We tried some fresh waffles before walking back to the oceanfront near KEX – Laney was kind enough to share hers with the hungry boys. Domino’s pizza was a welcome first night’s dinner for all, and a fun Moondance tradition even here out of the states. We finished the night with our first Moonup. Emma helped describe Moonup to everyone and highlighted just how close everyone can feel through talking each night. We shared what we’re all most looking forward to on the trip and got some sweet Moondance apparel to wear throughout the trip. TJ and Olivia announced our first “Leaders of the Day,” or LODs, who are Kate Z. and Charles!
We’ll be heading into the mountains tomorrow to enjoy the scenery and get ready for our trekking section. We’re hiking Friday to Monday, so expect an update after the weekend when we get back to some wifi. Thanks for sharing these great kids with us – so pumped for the trip!!