A determined team of fifteen heroes have successfully completed an 80km hike across Iceland with one goal in mind; a Wales without cancer.
On Sunday 1st September, the team met at The Village Hotel ready to take on the Cancer Research Wales Fire & Ice Expedition. Alarm clocks were set for 3:30am, ready to take our first steps of our trek – from the hotel to the terminal. This supposedly ‘ten minute’ walk certainly was intensified by the early wake-up call, and of course the large duffel bags on our backs; a few started to wonder what they had let themselves in for!
A smooth flight and three hours later we arrived safely at Keflavik Airport, greeted by the Expedition leaders, and a bitterly cold Icelandic wind.
DAY 1: REYKJAVIK – LANDMANNALAUGAR
A bumpy, off-road journey to the National Park and it was time to set up the tents (before it got any colder)! After setting up camp, the team took a short hike up the surrounding hills, overlooking historic lava spills and winding rivers.
The campsite at Landmannalaugar offered the perfect setting for a pre-expedition brief: a geothermal pool. The team spent the evening in the naturally heated pool, getting to know each other’s stories and reasons for taking part in the trek. The following day would see the team take on a gruelling 27km hike over volcanoes, snow-capped glaciers and frozen rivers, so an early night was was important. This plan however was interrupted, as the magical Northern Lights decided to reveal themselves around midnight – an opportunity not to miss.
DAY 2: LANDMANNALAUGAR- ALFTAVATN
A cold start to the second morning, where weather expert and Cancer Research Wales ambassador, Ruth Wignall, estimated that the temperature had dropped to around -10C overnight; proven by the frozen swimwear hanging from our tents.
Despite the bitterly cold start (and lack of feeling in our hands after collapsing the tents), the team set off full of energy ready to attack a long day of trekking. Luckily, the hot fumaroles soon warmed us up, as did the fresh brew from Clifton Coffee Roasters.
Beautiful and ever-changing scenery kept the team enthused, as they covered over 14km of sharp ascents, before stopping for a lunch break. Bubbling pools and the strong smell of sulphur followed the team down to their next camp-site at Alftavatn, where they were greeted by Edwin and his delicious soup.
For the second night in a row, the team were able to sleep under the aurora borealis. A local had explained that they believe the lights to be spirits of those who had unfortunately passed away – very fitting when you consider the stories of each of our trekkers.
DAY 3: ALFTAVATN – BOTNAR
Today’s trek was far more undulating, but for some this was a lot tougher on the knees and ankles. Unfortunately, our luck seemed to be running out with the weather too, as clouds and rain began to approach.
However, high levels of determination and team-spirit meant another 15km successfully completed for the team; including large, open glacial outwash, and trekking through deep volcanic ash. Today also included our first crystal clear river crossing, which luckily was only at knee-height.
DAY 4: BOTNAR – PORSMORK – REYKJAVIK
An early start today, to ensure we can reach the finish-point by 3pm, where our bus will take us back to civilisation.
The day included more river crossings, only this time a lot deeper, faster, and colder! A real mental challenge for the team to get across, but yet again an incredible show of focus and determination to complete the task in front of them.
The last few kilometres were a struggle, but all fifteen trekkers made it to the finish line as one incredible team, and limped their way on to the bus for a well-earned rest. They had officially completed one of the top 10 trails in the World, rewarded with a chance to sight-see around Reykjavik, and enter the world-famous Blue Lagoon for some deserved R&R.
The team arrived safely back in Wales early Saturday morning, greeted by their proud families, and taking home memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Each participant had their own story and reason for taking part in this epic challenge and over the last year, they have done an incredible job raising both funds and awareness on behalf of Cancer Research Wales. The self-sufficient expedition was designed to allow each participant to take on a testing, life-changing experience, whilst supporting a charity close to their hearts and homes; something that they all fully committed to.
Each supporter has given up their time and energy to ensure they were able to reach the fundraising target of £2,500 per person – organising bucket collections, cake sales, cabaret evenings, family fun-days and more. Together they have raised an incredible £39,000 (and rising) to support our life-saving research projects happening here in Wales. Cancer Research Wales will be forever grateful of their efforts, as will the people of Wales and beyond.
A special mention must also go to Jake and Joe of JT Expeditions, who kept the team safe (and organised) throughout the five day challenge; alongside local guide Edwin, and videographer Dave MacFarlane.
“An experience of a lifetime, with the best mix of people you could wish for. A truly epic journey.” – James Evans, Cancer Research Wales Supporter.
“Thank you all for an unforgettable experience – we have made memories that I will be talking about forever, and also made friendships that I know will last a lifetime. I can’t wait to see you all soon, hopefully on another Cancer Research Wales challenge.” – Donna West, Cancer Research Wales Supporter.
“The swollen ankles, knees and toes are a sight to behold, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat because you are truly the best bunch of guys I have ever had the privilege to spend time with. Thank you for making this trip so special, and of course for choosing to support Cancer Research Wales.” – Ruth Wignall, Cancer Research Wales Ambassador.
A huge THANK YOU and well done to all involved!
If you’d like to take on a future overseas challenge with Cancer Research Wales, please contact the fundraising team on 02920 316976 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our next challenge will be Mount Kilimanjaro, taking place in February 2021.