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Trees are virtually non-existent in Iceland. In most of the country, it’s too windy and too cold for most of the year; the soil is too erosion-prone and doesn’t hold moisture; and centuries of over-extraction and under-replenishment have resulted in a diminished tree population. (The trees were used to build Iceland’s large fishing fleet, and then the saplings were eaten by the abundant sheep.)

Most of Iceland is covered in grass, moss, gravel, sand, or ice—or some combination thereof. There is significant variation within each covering. For example, fields at sea level produce grass that is thick and long; moorlands are distinguished by grass-covered pillars of soil; and just below alpine the grass is similar to that on a golf course—thick and short.

Exposure to the elements is constant and relentless—there is little natural protection from wind, rain, blowing sand, sun and bugs. I was very pleased that I was mostly prepared for this: I had a windshirt, good raingear, and a long-sleeve shirt; I brought polarized and clear lenses so that I could wear my sunglasses in low-light; my shelter was 4-season worthy; and I had a headnet to keep the gnats away.

5 Comments

  1. Peter on July 14, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Hi Andrew,
    interesting site about your Icelandic hikes. Having hiked various Icelandic routes on our own already, we have now picked a route which requires crossing Tungnaá close to the Tungnaájökull (in the vicintiy of Jökulheimar). have you ever done that?
    Best regards,
    Peter

    • Andrew Skurka on July 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      No, I have not, but there is probably info available elsewhere online.

  2. Alec on December 21, 2017 at 4:51 am

    Hi Andrew

    I’ve read all your posts about your trip. It sounds like quite an experience. I’ve done several multi-day hikes in Norway & Sweden but not Iceland. The toughest part was often fjording rivers. Most would have some sort of a bridge or stepping stones. But some did not. It sounds like you had a much tougher time in Iceland. I’m thinking of doing a hike there myself. How dangerous did it get and were there any rivers you could not cross? If so, what did you do then?

    Thank you

  3. Alec on December 21, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Hi Andrew

    Thanks for the quick reply. I’ve read those sections now. Some of them sound very tricky (up to mid-thigh or hip). Also the parts to avoid quicksand and the glacier also make the terrain sound like a real challenge. Really need to examine the options and pick the best solution in those situations. You really had some tricky rivers to cross. It’s its almost to the hip and you slip in freezing water it’s not pleasant. A personal locater beacon sounds like a good idea.

    You have given me an accurate description. I’ll know what to expect – and prepare for it.

    If you ever need tips on Norway or Swedish hiking let me know, they have some great long distance trails as well.

    Cheers!

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