In July of this year, the CEO and Directors of Hartford Care undertook a mammoth challenge to trek the Remote Highlands of Iceland in aid of The Care Workers Charity.

They have raised over £13,000 so far and we caught up with them shortly after their return to find out how it went!

Expectations

Amazing-mountains

When Sean Gavin (CEO), Jo Gavin (Brand Director), Will Dalton (Finance Director) and Leah-Marie Mills (HR Director) decided to undertake the trek, they had mixed expectations about this challenge before embarking upon it:

Jo: I focussed on packing everything that was required, but I didn’t think about the actual challenge too much!

Sean: I don’t think anyone can understand how tough it was. I expected a long walk with hill climbing and when it comes to the weather, I was expecting an English autumn day of 12 degrees…and the reality was very different.

Leah: I trekked the Sahara with Sean and Jo a few years ago, so from that, I was expecting it to be challenging and was mentally prepared for that…what I didn’t expect was the full scale of extreme weather we experienced!

Will: I prepared myself with lots of long walks, in particular, a 17-mile trek to get to the top of Leith Hill in Surrey, so I felt physically ready to take on the challenge!

So, what is it like to fly to at Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík and trek across vibrant coloured mountains, wade through glacial rivers, camp under the stars and encounter stunning glaciers and raging rivers?

The team of trekkers describe their experience and what motivated them to complete the task in aid of The Care Workers Charity.

Day One: Snowfields and Glacier Waters

Lone-Trekker-in-Snow-Mountains

Sean: The day started nicely with stunning scenery and the first few hours included a lot of climbs around 600 to 1100 metres. We would stop and look back at the amazing views every so often, but we kept a steady pace throughout the first day. This route led us to a snowfield with slow, gradual descents. At one point, we walked through a snowstorm and the visibility was very poor; you couldn’t see where to walk, and it was hard to look around and take it all in. It was very windy; our hands, feet and bodies felt freezing cold and it was hard to focus because you couldn’t see anything in front of you. I really struggled but there was no choice as there was no turning back – you just had to keep going! That first day took us 10 hours.

We had fun during the trip that also helped to motivate us during the difficult parts – and there were quite a few. Towards the end of the first day, we had to cross our first river and when you put your foot into this rocky river of melted glacier water, it was painfully cold, and it certainly woke you up and made you feel alive! We would do it in pairs to ensure the current didn’t overwhelm us, and someone came up with the idea of singing as we crossed to try and keep our minds off the cold. There was certainly a sense of camaraderie amongst the group with everyone looking out for each other that day too.

When we arrived at the campsite for the first night, it took a bit of time to adjust – it was functional, but it was difficult to get a good night’s sleep when you wonder if your tent is secure or not against all the elements, particularly that first night with gale force winds and torrential rain! Each night at the camp we would eat together, wash and dry up and put up and take down our own tents. Putting the tents up became easier each day and by the end of the trip, we were experts in tent making! It was then they told us the weather we had experienced during the day was the second worst weather they had ever experienced on this trek!

Day Two: Rainbows and River Buddies

Camp-Site

Leah: The day started around 8am with cold, drizzly rain and we had a river crossing pretty much straight away and then several more throughout the day – Jo was my ‘river buddy’ and we steadied each other as we gradually walked through the strong currents. The second day was very different to the first in terms of the terrain, but still, absolutely breathtaking and beautiful. It was much flatter, and the temperatures increased as the day went on until it was actually very hot and the sun cream, shorts and sunglasses came out!

The scenery was very stark and contrasting at times, and we walked through volcanic ash and lava fields, black barren desert-type terrain and through some Rocky Mountains – it really reminded me of a moonscape at times. In some ways, the desert-type terrain was hard as it went on for long stretches – at least with the mountains, when you are climbing up and you can see the top! We also walked down into a valley where one of the rangers lives during the summer season and were told of some old ghost stories attached to the area. We later stopped for lunch by a waterfall too and were lucky enough to see and capture another rainbow.

At the end of the first day we went to another campsite and after having put our tents up and sorted our bags out, we had the most amazing BBQ with Icelandic lamb, which was delicious and a great reward after a long day! We were all quite sore and stiff at this point so there were quite a few of us stretching out together at one point.

Jo: the variety of conditions was amazing - we saw lava fields, snow and mountains, the luminous green of the lichens (a type of moss) and I was struck with the beauty and rawness of the country - it was stunning. At some points, we could look down and see lava fields and when you look at the landscapes you can see how the lava has flowed through the land and left its mark.

At the end of day two, we had an option to do a slight detour and this involved an extra 2 km of walking to see an amazing canyon with a river through it, and whilst we were all very tired, the four of us and some others did it. The last river crossing took place on day two and we had to take some layers of clothing off because the water came to knee level. Once you cross the river we would dry off and get dressed again.

When we reached the campsite in the evening, we would sit and be surrounded by magnificent scenery. We learnt about the fables and myths of the Iceland highlands including ghost stories and it was fascinating to hear these tales as you’re surrounded by isolated, barren mountains. You couldn’t even see or hear birds which is quite unusual!

Day Three: Staying Ahead of the Storm and the Finish Line

Trekking-and-mountains-behind

Leah: We got up early because the weather forecast predicted very heavy rain and strong winds in the afternoon, so we needed to travel as far and as quick as possible to avoid the storm. So, it was an early rise at 6am to leave at 7am and we walked for around 8 hours at quite a fast pace to keep ahead of the storm you could see coming in. The terrain on the third day was harder than the second day with quite a lot more ascents and descents, but we also walked through beautiful greenery, across gorges, through canyons and had our final river crossing. We walked across a wooden bridge at one point that went across one of the canyons with the river below, before winding along the cliff edge and up the mountain. That wasn’t for the faint hearted!

I found day 3 the hardest for me as I lacked energy from the moment I woke up and then had a small (but graceful) tumble when going down a gravel descent. However, the people on the trek helped to bring the whole experience alive and the guides, Chris, Jim and Emily were really knowledgeable, friendly and really helped motivate people when the tiredness was setting in! Sugary snacks kept us going too; we were giving out Haribo and Kendal mint cake to each other to keep our energy levels up which was very needed at times!

To get to the final camp we trekked along a dirt road that had a steep ascent, and it kept going up and up with a lot of steps. As we edged closer and closer to the finish it was emotional to look back to see how far you’ve walked. Everyone clapped each other as we went across the finish line – it was a triumphant moment to know we had made it. Everyone who started the trek completed it, and there was a big wave of relief that swept across the group.

We then walked to the bus (it looked like a monster truck with large wheels for crossing the rivers) which drove for 4 hours to a hotel in Reykjavík, It was a treat to sleep in an actual bed and enjoy a nice hot shower. We all enjoyed a group celebratory meal at a traditional Icelandic restaurant which was delicious. The next day we visited the blue lagoon and hot springs which were a nice treat and soothing after an exhausting few days!

Advice

Green-Mountains

For anyone wanting to do a trek like this the advice is simple from Will:

Will: Don’t forget to stop and look back to realise how far you’ve come because the views are incredible - also do some stretching after each day to make sure your muscles stay strong and supple. Make sure you train, prepare and take the right kit. Thermal clothing helps you to keep warm and Gortex waterproof trousers and a windbreaker fleece helps to shelter you from the wind and rain. I had a self-inflating mattress that took a while to inflate and deflate but it was really comfortable to sleep on and very worth taking. A real positive think about the trek was that we were able to tell people about the charity we were doing this for because they had no idea about it and it was great to explain more about the positive work they do. We felt we were spreading the word!

Motivation

Despite the tough weather conditions and physically exhausting days, the motivation to complete the task was clear:

Jo: To complete the final day I had to say to myself ‘remember why we’re doing this. This is really difficult for a reason for people who work really hard and sometimes don’t have a lot, so we have to keep going!'

Will: Focusing on the charity gave us a real purpose and focus. We knew people were supporting us with sponsorship and wanted to do everyone proud. We recognise the value, dedication, commitment and love shown by our staff and others in the care sector. We believe that in undertaking this challenge, we will be able to shine a light on the valuable work of those working in care, as well as raise funds to support anyone who works in the care sector who may run into hardship.

An enormous thank you to Hartford Care for their unbelievable effort to raise money for The Care Workers Charity!

You too can help care workers change lives by becoming a supporter of The Care Workers Charity today. If you’re a caregiver, check if you qualify for support here.