GROTON -- "It was a fantastic trip and I had a great time. It definitely brings out the men from the boys."
This was the sentiment from Ben Marson, Star Scout in Troop 1 West Groton, on his return from a recent high-adventure trip with the Troop 1 Boy Scouts to Iceland. It was a 10-day trip overall, seven days out in the highlands and lowlands of south central Iceland (four of them backpacking) and two more days in the capital of Reykjavik.
How did this trip come about? Why Iceland?
In the spring of 2013, the Scouts in the troop got together to decide what they wanted to do for a high-adventure trip during the summer of 2014. After a number of options were discussed, including hiking in the Grand Tetons and rafting down the Colorado River, the group decided on the trip to Iceland. It was a place nobody knew about, which raised the level of interest and excitement. What would they do? What would they see? Would they see a Viking?
Over the course of the next year, the crew began working toward preparing for the trip. Since they were going to be backpacking for several days, they would need to obtain the proper gear and learn how to pack and use that gear.
They did several training hikes in the area, each with increasingly heavier backpacks to prepare for carrying the gear necessary to survive in the backcountry. They also did several fundraising activities to help offset the cost of the trip including a clothing drive and a car-smash at Groton's 4th of July fireworks.
On July 9, the crew, made up of five Scouts, two boys that had recently aged out of the troop by turning 18, and three adults, climbed aboard an Icelandair flight bound for Reykjavik, Iceland.
Once there, they checked into the hostel where they were to stay for one night before heading out on the trail. Since the flight arrived early in the morning, they had the opportunity to go into Reykjavik for the day to explore. Getting to experience not only the high adventure of backpacking, but also the culture of the city and the people really helped make this trip all it could be.
The next day, they met up with their guide, Selma, and headed out. After a several-hour bus ride to their drop-off point, they began their journey. It started to rain. And it continued to rain throughout their trek. They later found out that this July was one of the wettest on record for Iceland -- go figure.
But they continued on and over the next four days on the trail, saw some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. Waterfalls almost everywhere, green moss contrasting against black lava, miles of flat volcanic sand shot through with rivers and streams, and rough crevasses next to towering peaks no matter where one turned.
"Views over-ruled the wet," said Peter Marson, Life Scout in Troop 1. "There was so much to see that you might not see anywhere else in the world. Even the rain couldn't ruin it."
During the first four days on the trail, the group made eight river crossings -- several up to their waist -- crossed uncounted streams, climbed hill after hill, crossed through many valleys, and got to soak in two different natural hot springs to sooth their aching muscles.
The ground changed constantly, from jumbled lava rock to thick, water-saturated moss; to flat volcanic sand for as far as one could see; to areas like a roller coaster -- up and down, up and down over hill after hill. Overall, they hiked over 33 miles in four days over some of the toughest terrain imaginable.
Unfortunately, due to the rain and weather in general, their hike had to be cut short from six days on the trail to four. The last two days were a bus ride to their destinations.
"I feel we were properly prepared for what we expected and what we were told to expect, just not for what we got," said Dean Marsh, Scoutmaster for Troop 1. "There is only so much one can do to stay dry and by the time we got to our camp on day four, everybody and everything was soaked. Even our guide told us that she had never seen so much rain nor had she seen the rivers running so high or the waterfalls so strong."
On day seven, their "take-out" day, they took a side trip to go hike an outlet glacier called Sólheimajökull. There, they got to experience what it was like to hike on a mountain of ice, to see the layers of volcanic ash and learn a bit about how glaciers work and how the warming climate is affecting them, melting them at an alarming rate.
They finished the last two days of their trip with a day excursion out to explore a lava tube created nearly 1,000 years ago as well as explore an entire area of geothermic hot spring activity.
The last day was departure day, so some more time in Reykjavik to explore, then pack up and head for the airport.
"Memories that will last forever" is a thought attributable to all members of the crew. Yes, it rained -- a lot. But that won't dampen the experience they had. They got to do something that many youth (and adults) will never get to do. They went to the land of the Vikings and made memories to last a lifetime.
Troop 1 is a very active troop. In the past, they have gone whitewater rafting, indoor rock climbing, camping in Boston Harbor, and many other exciting activities. In addition, the troop is very active around the community helping each year at Grotonfest and other numerous community service projects.
If you are interested in joining our troop or learning more about Scouting in general, please contact Scoutmaster Dean Marsh at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-448-3061.
Troop 1 West Groton Scouts and adults lined up and ready to begin their hike through the lowlands and highlands of Iceland from right to left, Halsey Platt, Ben Marson, Natalie Marsh, Christopher Marsh, Dean Marsh, Nicholas Marsh, Aaron Hendershot, Alex Platt, Will Premru, Peter Marson.