Icelandic trucks on ice
Driving in Iceland can be difficult, especially for those who thirst for highland adventures. Fortunately Arctic Trucks have the answer so when you’ve booked your cheap flights to Iceland with WOW air they can take you wherever you want to go, and we really mean wherever.
A lot has changed since the 80’s when some Icelanders, thirsty for adventures in the highlands, started to modify their own 4wd utility and sport utility vehicles. For a while it was like the Wild Wild West until a number of foresighted 4x4 enthusiasts presented the government with regulations to issue in these matters. From this demand for much more capable vehicles sprung a company that’s now called Arctic Trucks.
Taking over the South Pole
Arctic Trucks’ first goal was to meet Icelanders demand for specially equipped vehicles that made it possible to explore the Icelandic glaciers and venture into the highlands during winter, among other things. The company has since grown into its own multinational company not only modifying vehicles but also offering their vehicles, services and experience to travelers who want to drive in the highlands. And just a few years back they started rewriting the history of polar travels.
In 1997, after years of experience and trials in Iceland they sent their first car to Antarctica to use and test it in collaboration with the Swedish Polar Institute. Crossing the Greenland icecap was next but then for a few years nothing newsworthy happened. In 2007 Arctic Trucks helped British TV show Top Gear reach the Magnetic North Pole and that’s when the wheels started spinning, literally. Arctic Trucks’ name became instantly known in the world of polar travels and people started seeing the opportunities and the usability these highly modified trucks could bring to all polar ventures.
In 2008 Arctic Trucks sent four vehicles to Antarctica and ever since, their rise has been gradual in the cold continent. They offer services that few, if any, can provide for travelers and scientists on this continent, namely being able to move around with speed and ease that was unheard of before. The Arctic Trucks can go 3-6 times faster than any traditional belted vehicle and at the same time they are 5-10 times more fuel efficient.
We sat down with Emil Grimsson, chairman of Arctic Trucks, and Guðmundur Gudjonsson, manager of polar events, who have each spent over four months combined on the Antarctica plateau for Arctic Trucks. Emil had actually just been to the South Pole on an Arctic Trucks expedition with Walking with the Wounded where Prince Harry and actors Alexander Skarsgård and Dominic West walked alongside three teams of wounded soldiers to the South Pole.
“Walking with the Wounded was a very large project,” says Gudmundur. “We used two cars and two drivers serving mainly as support for the soldiers, carrying a doctor and a paramedic plus provisions. We also used another two cars and drivers to support a filming crew that was there to film everything that went on,” he adds. “Another project we had this season was supporting British adventurer Maria Leijerstam, who was cycling to the South Pole from the edge of the Ross Iceshelf,” says Emil. She reached the South Pole in just over 10 days, so not only did she achieve a “world’s first” but also a world record as “fastest to the pole from shore,” says Emil and Gudmundur adds, “We also worked on a few more projects, for example we provided logistical support to a project called the Willis Resilience Expedition where a young man, Parker Liautaud attempted to set a new world record for skiing across Antarctica from Coast-to-Pole and becoming the youngest male to reach the Pole.” Parker set himself the target of 22 days but actually reached the pole in 19 days setting a new world record.
After listening to Emil and Gudmundur’s stories it started to sound like Antarctica was getting kind of crowded; is that the case? “No, not at all,” Gudmundur says. “Fewer people have reached the South Pole than the top of Mount Everest. Antarctica is enormous in size and the solitude of driving over 2,300 km from Novo to the South Pole brings a very special feeling and it’s a great place to lose weight easy. We do have a very exciting time ahead, there are many parts of this continent that few or no people have been to and we can now offer access to some of these.”
From trucks to tourists
You could say that Arctic Trucks has evolved from being simply a car building company into being a very self-sufficient travel agency specializing in fully equipped trucks. “Yes, we’ve been slowly realizing that we are indeed a travel company. Of course, Antarctica is a big part of that but in Iceland we
can offer some great experiences as well for a lot less where we can mix the car experience with the fantastic nature and outdoor life. These experiences are becoming increasingly popular, especially among medium sized groups who rent a number of trucks and one driver guide who mentors them through the journey and makes sure everyone stays safe while giving the group a chance to really test their skills; crossing rivers, driving on the unpaved highland roads and on glaciers.”
Gudmundur emphasizes that Arctic Trucks is an Icelandic company built on Icelandic ingenuity and experience and that the South Pole projects also generate business here in Iceland. “We use Iceland as training grounds for people who are using our services at the South Pole. They come here to train on the Icelandic glaciers before venturing to Antarctica. We are planning to offer more of these tours. It’s unique to be able to offer people the Arctic experience so close to hotels and modern comfort.”
What’s the difference?
Emil and Gudmundur both say that Iceland is in many ways ideal for training before going to the South Pole. “I don’t think many places are as similar to these extreme circumstances as the glaciers here, especially not in Europe,” says Gudmundur.
But how do the Icelandic glaciers compare to Antarctica? “I would actually say that they are more trying. The most difficult thing about them are the temperature changes. You go from +5°C to -5°C in the span of just 10 hours which is very difficult. In Antarctica there’s always frost and the climate is very dry but here it is relatively humid making camp life more uncomfortable. After 4-5 days on the glacier your sleeping bag gets heavy and damp but in Antarctica it stays exactly the same even after 2 months in the tent. There’s no humidity there,” explains Gudmundur.
“The hard part about Antarctica is the cold of course,” Emil adds. “We’ve seen anything down to -56°C and at such low temperature everything becomes very fragile. And then there’s the altitude, up to 3400 m, which equals over 4000 m at the equator so people can get altitude sickness and have trouble breathing”
“When you’re down there you start to understand Amundsen, Scott and the other adventurers that risked their lives venturing into the unknown. You sense that there’s something about this experience, a need to explore that lies deep in every man and it makes you able to keep going and want to return again. Antarctica leaves you with very different kinds of memories and impressions than after any other trip I’ve ever been on,” says Emil and adds: “This is no ordinary summer vacation.”
Photos: Courtesy of Arctic Trucks