Although Iceland is well known as a whitewater kayaking destination, it’s surprising how few paddlers actually end up in the country. In June, Kokatat team members Evan Moore, Carson Lindsay, Johnny Chase, Dylan Mckinney, and Taylor Cofer arrived in Iceland and spent sixteen days paddling the classics, and some rarely run rivers, as well as competing in the biggest race the country has to offer.
Iceland is a wild place. It is by far the most unique part of the world any of us have ever been to. The dramatic volcanic landscape forms some of the most incredible river formations Earth has to offer. The most recognizable features are the abundant amount of perfect waterfalls, and naturally that is what drew our attention to Iceland.
Fresh off the plane we loaded up in our rental car and started our journey around the country. Within a few short hours we were at our first ‘park and huck’ waterfall called Tjofafoss (the waterfall of thieves). The wide 35 foot drop was set in a beautiful natural amphitheater with tall locked in walls, a snow capped volcano, and a gorgeous plateau mountain. Truly a perfect warm up for what was to come.
Our next stop was the infamous, Fossa River. Documented in many kayaking films over the years we knew the Fossa was a river we needed to see. With minimal beta, we were unsure exactly where the river was located. A few people told us it was in the North, others said it was in the South, so we were really up in the air about where the river was. We started off the trip heading counter-clock wise around the island starting in the southwest. After a big day of driving we found ourselves in the southeast part of the island along a beautiful fjord, and towards the end of the fjord we drove over a small river with a sign labeled “Fossa.” We were stoked out of our minds to stumble upon the river. After a 45 minute drive up the river valley we found ourselves looking at one of the most beautiful rivers any of us had ever seen. Starting with a perfect 30 footer and ending in a twisting 15 footer with great drops in between. This made for one of the coolest places any of us had ever paddled. We were ecstatic driving away from the Fossa.
The main objective of the trip was to do the second decent of the Keldua River, first run by Aniol Serrasolses, Todd Wells, and Eric Parker in the movie “For the Love.” We arrived at the takeout late in the afternoon and set up a base camp where we would be taking out the next day. After a good night’s rest we woke up ready for the 6 mile hike up the river. Going to Iceland meant we missed the late season California runs which is where we do most of our hiking into runs. We were all a little worried about what kind of shape we would be in for the hike. Turns out hiking in Iceland is much easier than California and we crushed the hike in about 4 hours. I think the fact we were able to see the river the whole time made us hike faster because we were so amped to get in the water.
Very quickly we got to the first nice sized slide. After a quick scout we all made our way through and turned the corner to see one of the most steep, beautiful horizons lines we had ever seen. It’s hard to put in to words exactly what this looked like, but imagine standing on the edge of the world and not being able to see anything but the very bottom of a valley probably close to a vertical mile downstream. It was a surreal place.
The start of the epic horizon line was a sweet ramping 12 foot boof that went directly into a perfect 40 foot falls. We scouted, set up a media plan, and fired off the drop one by one. Everyone had great lines and as you could imagine the stoke was off the charts.
We continued the paddle down and came to a quadruple set of drops. The first a sloping 15 footer with a reconnect, next a 10 footer into a 40 footer, and finishing with a must boof 45 footer. This set of drops was the pinnacle of the run and took us a while to scout and dial in all the lines. We ran it in two groups; Johnny and Carson first and then Dylan, Taylor and Evan next. Great lines by all made for an effortless decent of the crux of the run.
Getting late in the evening we were forced to make a decision; continue the rest of the run or leave our boats, hike back to takeout to camp, and come back up the next day to paddle the rest of the river. With empty stomachs we decided to hike out and refuel for the next day. During the night a savage wind system blew in and did not let up by the time we woke up the next morning. Forced to wait another day we hunkered down and waited for the system to pass. The next day we hiked up, put on and finished the rest of the river. Flows had dropped quite a bit and made a few of the bigger drops remaining unrunable, but we still enjoyed the rest of the river. At the takeout the constant conversation was how incredible of a river the Keldua was and how blown away we were that we were only the second crew to paddle this stretch of world class whitewater.
Next up it was time to put the big boy pants on and head to the infamous Aldeyjarfoss. Known as one of the stoutest 65 foot drops in the world, we were anxious to see first hand exactly what this drop looked like. Arriving to the waterfall was an exciting time. We all ran down to the falls to see a high volume, technical entrance drop that had much more flow than most of the previous times paddlers had run it.
After a quick scout it was made clear that Johnny, Taylor and Evan were the only ones interested in running it. Once again it was getting late in the evening and we decided to wait a day.
The next morning arrived quickly and we found ourselves in our gear and scouting the drop again. The water level held steady and the drop looked exactly the same as the night before. On the second look it was decided that only Evan was fired up on the drop. Johnny and Taylor set safety at the bottom while Carson and Dylan were in charge of media. The go sign was given and Evan went bombing off the drop in style. Rolling up at the bottom, pumped on life the boys celebrated and enjoyed the beauty of Aldeyjarfoss.
With only a few day left in the trip we found ourselves at the Fire and Ice Creek race hosted by the fine people at Viking Rafting. The race is the largest kayak event in the country. An epic race course, cash prizes, awesome people and a fun party made our last few days in the country some of the best.
Team Kokatat ended up with a podium sweep with Johnny and Taylor tying for second and Evan taking home the win. We decided to throw in our winnings for a lush Icelandic dinner our last night in the country. This was probably the most stoked we were the entire trip due to the heavy dirt bag lifestyle we had been living the previous two weeks. Iceland was a dream.