Iceland Mountains and Coast – Trip Scout Report

From right outside of the rental van, I could hear Connor excitedly shouting, “Quick, quick Grab your jacket! It’s happening!” Peering out the back window, I could see long-time Apogee leader, Connor Chess flailing his arms and pointing to the sky. Still unsure of what he could be referring to, I climbed into my puffy down jacket and hopped out of the van to investigate. Snuggling down even further into my hood looking for a bit more protection against Iceland’s late fall wind. Open-mouthed and with wide eyes, I watched Connor peer up at the sky and quickly realized the rest of the folks at our campground were doing exactly the same thing as the two of us. Just above us, dancing green stripes rippled through the sky – Iceland’s Northern Lights were giving us the high sign that our Iceland Mountains and Coast trip scout was destined to be a good one. 

Bundled in Iceland's October Northern Lights on Apogee's Iceland Mountains and Coast trip
Bundled while watching Iceland’s October Northern Lights

Here at Apogee headquarters in Brunswick, we’ve chatted for a number of years about adding an Iceland trip to our offerings. Iceland, an island with a population of only 370,000, known for its dramatic views and epic landscapes, often gets identified as an adventurer’s paradise; combined with a recent boom in tourism, we knew that an Apogee trip was sure to land there at some point. We determined that the summer of 2023 would be a great year for the inaugural Iceland Mountains and Coast trip – but, of course, someone had to take a look to make sure it was feasible. Along with Director, Chad Olcott, the three of us made our way to Iceland this past October to work our way through the new Iceland Mountains and Coast itinerary – scoping out each detail with our 2023 students and leaders in mind. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty details of our entire trip, but we wanted to highlight (read: re-live) some of the bigger points as we get excited about our newest trip! 

Our trip followed a vaguely similar layout to what the actual trip will look like (minus the meetings with outfitters, campgrounds, and transportation companies)! Because Connor and my itinerary required driving to our furthest east location, we flew out ahead of Chad in an effort to hit all the spots needed. This way, Chad could tackle scouting the section of the trip north of Reykjavik. After hopping off of our red-eye and going straight into a meeting, Connor and I headed south to the town of Vik to scope out the southern section of the island. Along the way, we of course had to make a stop at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall (just like our IMC trip) where we donned rain jackets and waterproof pants to protected from the chilly spray. There, we were able to hike behind the waterfall in the carved out cave behind the falls! It was great to picture the Apogee faces that will be here in just less than a year standing in the exact spot embracing the powerful mist. 

Claudia looking at Seljalandsfoss and the hike behind it on Apogee's Iceland Mountains and Coast trip.
Claudia looking at Seljalandsfoss and the hike behind it!

Once arriving to Vik, we were greeted with the warnings of a powerful windstorm approaching. Before the high winds rolled in, we wanted to check off a few scouting boxes including checking out local hiking options, the epic campground, and of course, venturing down to the famous black sand beaches. We found high bluffs overlooking the vast expanses of the Atlantic and snacked on an Icelandic lunch classic – smoked salmon and cucumbers! (OK, well maybe that was just our classic Iceland snack, but there was so much cured fish we couldn’t help it!) We quickly returned to the campground in the early afternoon to hunker down for the night and try to doze in between the late autumn 75pmh gusts and imagined the much more tranquil summer weather our groups are bound to experience! 

High winds and still having fun on Apogee's Iceland Mountains and Coast trip
High winds still made for a pretty fun day trip of playing with balance!

Chad arrived in Iceland soon after the windstorm died down and made his way north where he nestled into the quaint northern fishing town of Grunðafjörður. There, he checked out our group’s future campground, grocery stores options, and scoped out some pretty beautiful hiking options. Knowing how exhausting traveling can be for our students and leaders alike, Chad signed off on the idea of this area being a great spot for the first few days of the trip to shake off the jet-lag. At the same time that Chad was standing in Mt. Kirkjufell’s shadow, Connor and I drove even further east onto Skaftafell National Park area – the most remote portion of our IMC trip. The landscape approaching Skaftafell becomes somehow even more dramatic, desolate and moon-like; we zoomed past vast mountain ranges on the left with the expansive Atlantic on the right along with epic waterfalls dotting the cliff sides every other mile. 

All Apogee trips have an achievable challenge level rating of 1-10, a non-scientific scale that we use to rank each of our trips based on intensity. Every hiking trip of ours has a “challenge day” built into the itinerary, designed as a day to push ourselves and see what’s possible. For the entirety of checking out our “challenge day hike”, I was open-mouth and in awe at the alpine trail following along the Skaftafel glacier that loops up and over a peak. With some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen, I couldn’t help but picture Apogee students skipping, singing, munching, chatting, (maybe sometimes groaning), and engaging in meaningful trail chats while on this hike. 

This beautiful 11 mile hike is maybe one of the coolest “Challenge Days” Apogee has to offer….!

After wrapping up in Skaftafell, all three of us were finally able to meet up back in Vik, swap scouting notes, and get ready to head out on our glacier hike with our amazing outfitters, Troll Expeditions! All together, we got to explore the Katla ice cap and we know our students are going to have an amazing time exploring the stunning ice caves while out on their trip. 

(from right to left) Assistant Director, Claudia Bueermann, Director Chad Olcott, and long time Apogee leader, Connor Chess getting ready to go out with Troll Expeditions!
(from right to left) Assistant Director, Claudia Bueermann, Director Chad Olcott, and long time Apogee leader, Connor Chess getting ready to go out with Troll Expeditions!

Moving out of town quickly, we jetted out of Vik to head back towards Reykjavik to wrap up a number of meetings with outfitters, but of course we had to sneak in two different hot springs visits including the beautiful, tranquil Blue Lagoon! Although a very different activity in comparison to other Apogee trips, the Blue Lagoon is a classic spot and we didn’t feel the IMC trip would be complete without it! Blue Lagoon is a massive geothermal fed pool that is known for its both relaxing environment and healing properties of the silica rich waters. We of course are trusting that our Apogee students will know to be respectful of the quieter atmosphere (but, we aren’t too worried since Apogee students tend to be about as respectful as they come!) We wrapped up the whole trip with a lovely evening out exploring Reykjavik – looking for the best spot for our IMC trips to share all of their final Apogees and Perigees (Apogee’s version of highs and lows!). 

Although we were sad to say goodbye to Iceland for now, we know that the next reports we’ll be hearing will be through our leaders’ reports that can be found on our Blog! Thanks for following along with our trip – we hope you follow along for next summer’s IMC trip, too!