Maddy Cope: Climbing the unknown in Mongolia
Mammut UK athlete and climber, Madeleine Cope, has just returned from a three-week trip to Mongolia – not the first place you think of as a climbing location!
A young team of three British explorers, led by Bridgedale ambassador Alex Hibbert, have completed a near-100-mile, mid-winter crossing of the infamous Icelandic Vatnajökull icecap.
Alex (29), made international news in 2012 when a first attempt at the notorious route was scuppered after winds gusting to double-hurricane force destroyed his tent and forced a rescue.
This success, across 94 miles of lavafields, crevassed-glaciers and windswept icecaps, comes just weeks after Storm Desmond moved from the UK to Iceland and battered the sub-Arctic island with record-breaking wind speeds.
Alex and his team had to endure long days of temperatures down to nearly -30°C, fierce winds and low pressure weather systems that repeatedly roll across Iceland in winter. Much of the skiing and negotiating the barren volcanic terrain had to occur in the dark as the sun only rose for around six hours per day. Bridgedale provided Alex with technical socks, hats and gloves which helped him endure long days of freezing temperature.
The route accessed the icecap from the west and exited to the southern extent of Vatnajökull. It occurred three weeks earlier than the 2012 expedition, adding to the danger and challenge. In Iceland, the conditions improve throughout winter into spring- the earlier, the tougher.
Alex Hibbert commented: ‘I’m absolutely delighted to have returned to this beautiful but merciless icecap. It doesn’t have the grandiose profile of the Antarctic or Greenlandic ice sheets, but it is world-renowned for its unpredictable and uniquely challenging winter conditions - perhaps the ‘grumpiest icecap on Earth’. I liken it to climbing inside a washing machine on the coldest setting, selecting the fastest spin speed and hitting GO!
I worked with a sensible, resilient and professional team and it’s been a pleasure to share the experience with them and successfully put a demon to rest. The experience on the ice and media furore after 2012 was difficult, and so to draw a positive line under the project and see it as a springboard to other upcoming polar journeys is beyond satisfying for me. I can once again consider this particular icecap a friend!’
Alex Hibbert, James Wheeldon and Brad Jarvis set out from the ring road region surrounding Kirkjubæjarklaustur on 5th January 2016 in order to undertake a winter journey on a variety of terrains, including steep hills, frozen rivers, lava fields but mainly a 94 mile route over the largest Icelandic icecap itself. The finish line was as the team re-joined the ring road, not using any vehicular assistance to or from it.