A year to the day I was back on the bus to Thorsmork, again as part of the trailteam, but this time to lead a team through their six weeks.
The knowledge you’re going back, and sitting on a bus heading into the park, are very different things. As Cal and I watched the passing landscape, we had our final reminisce about last years antics, ahead of embracing a whole new team.
Once again, I would be living out my childhood dreams of den life, living outdoors and building in the dirt. Our camps were simple, toilet and shower facilities, a large tent for eating and cooking and each of us sleeping in our own tents. By week we would work on the trails like a super team, tackling erosion and heavy foot traffic in this well loved area of Iceland. While Suzanne, Sarah and Katja were two week volunteers, Brad, Cal, Pip and I spent the first week at school, led by Tony, learning how to be effective team leaders ahead of our weekends influx of enthusiasm. We drew cartoons, solved riddles, and built drains, all in preparation for our following weeks.
On Saturday night, one week later, the camp split ready to receive 11 new volunteers. Brad and I were leading the camp at B’asar, a more basic camp across the river from Pip and Cal at Langidalur. It was a solemn split, but when Sunday lunchtime came and we collected our new recruits, there was only excitement for what lay ahead.
Camp had a buzz about it. It was full of life with seven new volunteers. We began work on the Fimmvorduhals trail, working in teams to improve sections of the trail, resetting the drains, altering the gradient of the path and seeding against erosion.
All the time, the weather was being typically Icelandic. Glorious sun felt scorching on the exposed trails, whereas heavy deluges of rain drove us into our orange waterproofs. On Tuesday a storm warning drew our work site down off the Fimmvorduhals pass, to shifting soil and dirt lower on the trail. By lunchtime, strong winds drew us back to camp, just in time to rescue our big communal tent from blowing away. We spent the afternoon camped out in the hut playing games and eating, whilst the rain was blown sideways past.
By Wednesday the hardy group was back on the hills, with drains and steps to put in. Wherever the tools were, laughter was never far away, usually at one of Rob’s wacky ideas, which he usually preceded with ‘your not going to like this… but…’
Life at camp was full, from morning till night. The birds enjoying the 24 hours of light swooped close throughout the night. Work was full on and physical, running the camp ticked on, and the promise of late night hot chocolates and games is what made it all feel like a privilege.
Come Friday, the two teams across the river were reunited for a hike to the top of Rjupnafell. As we climbed through the shady paths and up onto the open rocky plateau, the teams compared notes on their weeks. The path continued around the edge of the mountain, through crevices and past the Troll church where we stopped for a stretch circle with a view. The path continued down into the long range camp, a sheltered lunch spot, then climbed up and up until the start of the mountain where zig zag switchbacks gave a challenging climb to the peak.
The top brought the promise of Bourbon biscuits and replays of ‘We are the Champions.’ Clouds set in, covering the view, then opening up to reveal the spectacular panoramas which stretched out in every direction. Frequent rumbles came from the glaciers as they shifted in the sunlight. The climb down was equally challenging, a reminder on the knees of how steep it was.
Friday evening we celebrated the week with local cheeses, a big feast and beer around the campfire. A challenging week in many ways, with optimism for what was to come.