"Do you ever go to cold places?"
A question I'm occasionally asked, especially as my twelve 1000+ mile journeys so far have mostly involved fairly warm climes. So my answer, until now, has been:
"Well, now and then, but not often because I'm sensible."
Iceland was always a destination so seemingly far away. A severe change in climate or landscape will give that impression, so it was with only mild surprise that I found my jaw wide open and nose pinned to the window just two or so hours after leaving London Gatwick.
This. Place. Is. Gorgeous.
Each year I run a series of growth mindset retreats, adventures, and programmes, with nature and an escape from the internet a central theme.
Alongside Andres Roberts, who runs Way of Nature UK and specialises in preparing people for wild solos, we decided that Iceland would be the perfect place for our first Winter Quest.
A remote nature reserve alongside a fjord on the east of the island would be our base for the week, and from there we would take long walks, explore the countryside and also send our team off for a 24 hour solo, in a raw and wild spot.
Dressing the part
In the past I've crossed autumnal Scandinavia in a pedal kayak, rounded Japan on a kick scooter in December and enjoyed a little dogsledding time in Finland, but February temperatures in Iceland threatened to go much lower than freezing so I reached out for some extra layers to my friends at the leading outdoor retailer, Blacks.
Climate change hadn't forgotten about Iceland in early 2017 and the January snow was thinning by the time we arrived in Seyðisfjörður, our last stop before an hour-long off-road drive out to our basecamp.
The temperature settled in at around 5 degrees during the day but light was short, with sunrise around 10.30am and sunset shortly after 4pm, and the darkest hours brought temperatures down to -5 degrees.
It's always essential to have one layer that you know will keep you warm whatever the conditions. This is the number one in the bag for anything around and below freezing. I ummed and ahh'ed over a long parka vs a versatile down jacket and my minimalist OCD opted for down.
The Berghaus Extrem Ramche 2.0 Down Jacket is hard to beat for conditions where temperatures might drop ten below freezing at night, but rise above zero during the day. It's incredibly light (452g) for a jacket that will keep you happy at -10C, packs down into a gorgeously small can-sized shape and acts like a sleeping bag, reflecting body heat back towards your core.
As a perfect bonus for potentially damp climates, the Ramche 2.0's new Hydrodown Insulation provides water repellence for up to 16 hours, meaning you don't need to worry about carrying an extra waterproof layer (which is the case for most down jackets). I was caught in a couple of heavy downpours and couldn't believe how dry the jacket kept me. It dries off fast once inside, too. Magic.
The only downside to the Extrem Ranche 2.0 is that even over 1 or 2 degrees, in direct sunlight it is too warm! There are worse negatives, of course, and its small pack size and light weight means it's the perfect cold-weather top layer, because you can whip it off, pack it up in the included pocket bag then tie it to your rucksack until it's time to warm up again.
Underneath, I topped out my base layers with a Berghaus Fortrose Pro Fleece Vest, a snug, comfortable base layer gilet which kept my core cosy when it was too warm for down, and with two spacious pockets was the perfect cut-and-run upper layer for short photography missions during the day.
As a sufferer of that non-threatening but blue-finger-making disease which is Raynaud's, I'm always very conscious of good gloves. I had a heavy pair of mits for nighttime, but North Face Pamir Windstopper Etip gloves were my day options. They feel incredibly thin but don't let a breath of wind in, and they're functional enough not only to operate a camera with, but come with touchscreen-capable fingers. You know, if you're not on a digital detox in nature.
Post-Iceland I've used these gloves on bike, trike and scooter rides and they're extremely versatile and hard-wearing. Highly recommended.
Finally, our long walks and talks in Iceland were peppered with rain, wind and cold, and we quite often sought resting spots on damp rocks, grass or vegatation. Warm, wind and waterproof trousers were a must, and I didn't wear anything but North Face Gatekeeper ski pants all weekend. Vented legs kept them breathable when the sun was doing its work, and the camera-geek in me cherished the multiple pockets for batteries, mini tripod and phone.
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