By Mark Chase
I have to admit that when it was announced that I was heading back to the United Kingdom for my first trip as Director of Toughness, I honestly was shocked. Although, I should probably know better by now than to try and second guess what Columbia has in store for me and my fellow Director of Toughness, Faith Briggs.
Old Trafford. Home of Manchester United football club. Not the most likely start to our first Testing mission with Columbia Sportswear. Greeted at the stadium by sporting legend Denis Irwin. A man who played an instrumental part in the success of one of the world’s most decorated football teams. Twenty-four hours ago I’d have laughed in your face if you’d told me that Denis Irwin held the answers to what was waiting ahead.
We were told that we were heading to Iceland for the first of many challenges.
A cold game of football on the streets on Reykjavik with the locals. This was not a friendly 7 a-side kick around though. What sounded like a bit of fun initially, would soon pack more of a punch.
The loser…takes a dip in the Joksulasn Glacier Lagoon.
Anyone know where I can buy swimwear in Reykjavic?
If you’ve not heard about the Joksulasn Glacier here’s a brief summary: Twenty-five square kilometers of one thousand year old icecap (the largest anywhere in Europe) separated from the North Atlantic Ocean by what is essentially a lake.
A cold lake, with lots of building sized icebergs in it.
I haven’t played football in 15 years, so I’m not particularly hopeful and it wasn’t long before my worst fears were realized. Despite the help of super-sub Denis Irwin, the legend, my team couldn’t defeat my opponent of clearly professional football players that Faith had somehow managed to recruit.
Anyone know where I can buy swimwear in Reykjavic?
The next morning, a rather smug looking Faith took her position to watch me face the music. The Glacier is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
It was simply mesmerizing in fact.
Beautiful clear water broken up by huge blue icebergs and surrounded by snowcapped mountains. This area is many things but one thing it’s definitely not…warm.
I was starring in my role as the Director of Toughness and it was everything I had dreamed it would be.
I readied myself to take the plunge. Standing (on a block of ice) at the edge of the lagoon I couldn’t help but feel happiness.
Not what you were hoping for? I’m sorry to disappoint.
I was happy because this was it. I was starring in my role as the Director of Toughness and it was everything I had dreamed it would be. Cold, wet, painful, daunting, scary and fun!
And yes, it was fun!
I waded out and dove right in. It was cold, really cold! But it was actually kind of nice. There was something refreshing about taking a dip in the ice cold water surrounded by such amazing scenery that made me feel…free. If my hands and feet hadn’t turned blue and started to resemble claws, I might have even splashed around a little longer.
Feeling fresh after my dip in the ice-cold lagoon, it was soon time for the part of the day I had actually been looking forward to. We were finally given the opportunity to explore the Glacier itself as well as the Caves hidden beneath.
The caves within the Glacier melt during the summer months and re-form at the beginning of the winter. Guides head out to determine which are safe enough to explore before a bus load of tourists flock to the area to get a glimpse. With areas of the Glacier around 1000 feet thick there is plenty of opportunity.
Some are small and narrow. Others deep and seemingly endless. Nicknamed the crystal caves because of the clarity of the ice due to the low oxygen content of the glacier water.
In Iceland, there were only 4 hours of daylight at this time-of-the-year. Although, I use the term daylight loosely. Dawn is immediately followed by dusk each day. The sun never really rises but simply moves along the horizon. Whilst this limits time to explore this wonderful country it does opens up other opportunities to the seekers.
Not quite the iconic Northern lights that I had intended to capture when I touched down in Iceland, although, it is said that October through to February is the best time of year for visible solar activity. Unfortunately, it is also the best time of year for bad weather to prevent you from actually seeing anything.
A brief break in the clouds, I saw my opportunity, and captured the Northern Lights.
Photographing the lights can be a very frustrating and a time consuming activity (unless you’ve done it before or are lucky) but it’s well worth the effort. I spent hours outside just hoping for a peek at the Northern Lights, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Although the clouds made photographing the spectacle quite difficult, the show was incredible. Not even the bright lights of Reykjavik could dilute the dancing green and purple lights in the sky.
Black sand beaches, natural and not so natural hot springs, hidden lakes and waterfalls make Iceland the type of place I could easily explore forever and still not be content with seeing all there was to see.
A short drive from the capitol city, Reykjavik, you’ll find the jaw-dropping lava fields. Brittle volcanic rock covered in spongy moss makes this area appear to be from another planet. Most of the fields were inaccessible without damaging the landscape, but there are a few areas where gravel roads will take you right into the middle of the fields allowing you an amazing opportunity to explore.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Iceland when you arrive is the distinct lack of trees, even grass. Flying in from Oregon, this couldn’t have been more obvious.
It is said that the Vikings cut down the trees for fuel among other things and the harsh volcanic landscape prevented them from growing back.
Today, there are billboards drawing everyone’s attention to the lack of trees in Iceland and many non-profit organizations are dedicating their work to restoring some of the life back to these areas.
We were lucky enough to join Bjorg and his team of volunteers, who explained that by spreading manure and planting seeds in concentrated areas of the wilderness, they have had some success in restoring some of the islands ecosystems.
Bjorg, supported by the ‘Seeds’ organization have encouraged volunteers from all over Europe as well as local school children to get involved in the project and are regularly out planting new saplings and measuring their progress. We spent the day lending a hand before we had to call time on our Icelandic adventure.
Reflecting on our first trip as Columbia Sportswear’s Directors of Toughness is surreal. Iceland is somewhere I have always wanted to visit and I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity, especially so early on. I am looking forward to our next test, whatever that may be.
Follow Columbia Sportswear’s Directors of Toughness, Mark Chase and Faith Briggs, as they journey around the world and put our latest gear through the harshest conditions on Instagram, Snapchat (columbia1938), Twitter, Facebook, and Periscope.
Mark Chase is the first international Director of Toughness and joins the company from Gloucester, England. Raised on a diet of climbing, skiing, camping, hiking and rugby, it was obvious that a warm office and a cozy bed was never going to cut it. An ex Semi-professional Rugby player, Mark is used to pushing himself both mentally and physically and is always up for a challenge. You can follow Mark’s journey as Director of Toughness here and social channels including: Twitter | Instagram