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Iceland Mag

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An analysis: “The Coldest Crossing” adventure — false claims about the trip and questionable planning

By Magnús Sveinn Helgason

  • Not the first Several groups have made unsupported treks across Iceland before The Coldest Crossing, which came to an end when the young adventurers were airlifted to safety. Photo/The Coldest Crossing-Facebook

An experienced Icelandic mountaineer and member of ICE-SAR Mountain Rescue, Sveinn Fr. Sveinsson, offers his thoughts on the “Coldest Crossing” the trek by young British adventurers across Iceland. Sveinn criticizes the group for making false claims about their adventure and for questionable planning and offers words of advice to other adventurers planning a similar trip.

Read more: Young Britons attempting to cross Iceland on skis rescued for the third time

The adventure came to an end yesterday when the remaining three hikers were airlifted to safety along with two filmmakers who were documenting the adventure. Sveinn writes a long detailed piece on the website of the Icelandic Alpine Club called “The Coldest Crossing – a few thoughts” where he analyzes the adventure.

False claims: Not the first unsupported crossing
Sveinn begins by pointing out that the claims the group made on their website, about this being “The first, unsupported crossing” of this kind across Iceland, were simply not true:

Me and a few other guys in the climbing scene in Iceland immediately became interested in knowing more because the first thing we saw at their website was a claim that was simply not true. Not first. Not by a long shot. Iceland has been criss-crossed many times, mostly by Icelanders but also others, for many years.

Sveinn then proceeds to point out several unsupported treks across Iceland which were as difficult and long as “The Coldest Crossing”, completed by both Icelanders and foreign mountaineers. He argues that the team seemed to have realized after they arrived in Iceland that they were not really the first to do what they had planned to do, and therefore made changes to their plan to make it more of a “first”: Sveinn is highly critical of this kind of adventure:

The thing is that in Iceland we are kind of old school in mountaineering and climbing ethics. We just do firsts, if you need parameter two or three attached to it, it’s not a first. And preferably you go out, do your thing and then maybe talk about it.

Icelandic mountaineers were surprised when they saw the plan
He also argues that the Icelandic mountaineering community had been very “surprised by a few unusual things” with the trek the British adventurers had planned:

1) People wondered why the guys were using what appeared to be semi stiff carbon boots and randonee skis. This is very unconventional for horizontal skiing for long distances.  …
2) The time of year. Most ski crossings are done around April-May in Iceland. For a good reason. Long days, good snow base, more stable weather, easier terrain, closed rivers, closed crevasses, firm snow. The list goes on.

Sveinn is also highly critical of the British adventurers having attempted to jump the learning curve, setting themselves a goal which they were not really trained to achieve. The group should have had more experience with cross country skiing before embarking upon the adventure.

It’s absolutely great that these guys went out and had an adventure. They all lived. That’s rule number one.

A list of what the British adventurers could have done better
Sveinn’s list of items the group should have done better begins with a comment on making false or dubious claims. He also argues that the group had to seek the assistance of SAR teams on four different occasions, which he argues is a clear indication the group was "way out of [it's] depth":

They should not claim things that aren’t true
– It’s not like information isn’t available. A single e-mail to the Icelandic Alpine club or a forum post would have cleared that up.
They might want to think about just having fun adventures for themselves, not somebody else.
– Among the achievements on their about page it seems to be a lot of “raised this amount for this and that” instead of “just went there and did this. Had fun.”
– Go on trips. Have fun. Really, it’s OK.
Learning curve. Do not take up ice climbing or alpine climbing with this attitude.
– Start with achievable goals. Learn from your mistakes.
– Being assisted four times on the same trip is a pretty blunt indication that you were way out of your depth.

And what they did right
But, as Sveinn points out, the British adventurers did many things correctly, perhaps most importantly: They had an adventure, and came back alive, safe and sound.

It’s absolutely great that these guys went out and had an adventure. They all lived. That’s rule number one.
They obviously prepared and trained.
They took time off for a month long adventure, that’s really great. More people should really do that
The consulted ICE-SAR / Safetravel.is, had SPOT, had a satellite phone and were to a certain extent well equipped
The seem to have listened to advice mostly

The bottom line
The bottom line, Sveinn argues is that the young Britons went out, had an adventure and came back to tell the story. “Could be a lot worse.” He hopes they learn from the experience and looks forward to reading about “a more realistic adventure in the future. Hopefully after they do it, not before.”

We at Iceland Magazine would like to second this analysis. It is great that people have adventures and find ways to enjoy the natural beauty and wonders of Iceland, and live to tell the story. We would also like to second Sveinn’s postscript for the article, and urge anyone planning a trip to Iceland to realize that even if you don’t need to pay for rescue in Iceland (unless you are breaking the law, for example by driving on a closed road), it is not free:

ICE-SAR, Icelandic Search and Rescue, is a self-funded volunteer organisation in Iceland that handles rescue work in Iceland on land, sea and internationally. Only minimal funds come from the state. …

Just to be absolutely clear, the people coming to rescue you have regular jobs and families they must leave to go on a mission. The equipment for winter travel is many times more expensive to drive and maintain than regular 4x4s. The team members pay for their personal equipment, food etc. If you decide to do something silly don’t think that they are in it for this, or that it is fun for them to get out and rescue you. They have plenty to do other than that. It’s a very arrogant and silly self-justification.

So if you intend to go on and expedition in Iceland, say crossing a glacier or the highlands on skis in the middle of winter, you really should buy insurance. Not because there is any obligation to do so but because it’s the prudent thing to do.

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