Iceland, Skaftafell: Lucky as fuck in orange waterproofs

Monday. 6th. June. 2011

“It was windy and then it died.” – Dave. (The white member of the Jackson 5)

I was out of the tent at 7am. The camp site was quiet and still. The air chilly but refreshing on my face and neck. The mountains looked as though they could be kings, and I realised how fucking lucky I was to be standing there, looking at a country that was still brand new to me. A country that I would get to know so well over the coming months.    

We were given a brief on how to use the tools, which, among spades, rakes and buckets included a few things I’d never seen before, such as a Rock Bar, a 20 kg pole made out of steel and used to get rocks out of the ground and shift them to where they’re needed. A Rock Carrier, which is pretty self-explanatory, and made out of half a plastic drum container and a thick wooden frame. Oh, and a Mattock which is used for digging and chopping. They’ve been around for a while, already established in the Bronze Age.


I immediately took a dislike to the cumbersome Rock Carrier and tried to make myself as small as possible when it was time to swap tools for a while. (A shitty thing to do, I KNOW!)  I didn’t get very far carrying the Rock Bar, which was somewhat embarrassing. I’ve never had strong arms though, but I was hoping that would change.We had an hour and a half hike up onto the heath where we were working, and we had to carry all the tools up there, which was backbreaking work. The stops to catch breath were regular along the way and my water bottle was almost empty by the time we arrived at the spectacular work site.  The views of Skaftafell made all of the the aches worth it.

I forgot to mention that we were given carrot orange waterproofs.




What was uber cool about them though was, not the smell, which was, I have to admit, rather ‘exotic,’ nor was it the ‘fashionable’ rips at the knees, but the fact they were 66% North waterproofs, a make which, if you’re an Icelander, you’ll know about and nod and smile and point to a piece of your clothing which will happen to be 66% North. (66% North also do the best ads you’ve ever seen).



The waterproofs were heavy but hell, they kept you warm and (mostly) protected from the vast quantities of mud we played in and (if you didn’t have too many rips) they kept you very, very dry. It didn’t matter that it made everyone look like they were pregnant convicts. Karmel and Roger (our team leaders) said that they told hikers the volunteers were criminals and had to be dressed in orange so they’d be easy to catch. Nice gag, huh! After a while, I forgot I was wearing mine, and before long they became like a second skin. Its a tad gay to admit, but I was extremely protective about mine. Where I went, they came with me. Anyway, enough about the love affair with the orange waterproofs.

The days work up on the heath was to build a drain to prevent further erosion to a hilllside. It had to look as natural as possible, so it would fit in with the landscape. It was tough work, but great and fulfilling, when I got it right. Although, Roger had a nasty habbit of coming and standing over you while you worked, watching with those steely blue eyes of his. Naturally, this caused outright panic, in me anyway, and I was unable to dig or even move my spade for that matter. The wind was unreal in the evening. None of us wanted to leave the warm safety of the little hut, with its supply of tea and biscuits, eventhough it was still light outdoors and the birds were still at it. How our tent managed to stay put I’ll never know, but we slept well in our scarves and hats.