Hiking Trip in Iceland Gives Trinity College Students Hands-On Research Experience

Students and Professors Explore the Country’s Impressive Natural and Cultural Landmarks

​Hartford, Connecticut, July 18, 2017 – Thirteen students from Trinity College traveled to Reykjavík, Iceland, on June 18 for a 12-day expedition to explore several of the country’s impressive natural and cultural landmarks. Iceland boasts stunning geophysical and environmental processes in action, which provided students a unique experiential learning opportunity.

Professor of Physics and Environmental Science Christoph Geiss, Senior Lecturer and Laboratory Coordinator in the Environmental Science Program Jon Gourley, and Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Biology Amber Pitt led students through these landmarks, as Geiss and Gourley are seasoned Icelandic travelers.

Cassia Armstrong ’18 said, “We hiked 80 kilometers through southwestern Iceland, completing two full trails, scaling volcanoes, trudging through glaciers and snow, braving biting winds, and marching through hydrogen sulfide plumes, all while carrying large, heavy packs on our backs.” The trip caught Armstrong’s attention when she was a senior in high school looking into Trinity’s Environmental Science Program.

During the semester leading up to the trip, participating students met for weekly lunches and wrote research papers regarding Iceland-themed topics to earn a half credit for the educational summer excursion. While traveling, students kept detailed notebooks documenting their day-to-day activities and geological sites visited, drawing maps of their route, and keeping track of their thoughts and facts such as how to pronounce the names of places such as Laugavegur, Landmannalaugar, and Hrafntinnusker.

Now back in the United States, the students and professors have a greater knowledge of various natural and cultural aspects of the country, as well as experience in environmental science field research. Many of the students in this group are involved in research on campus or plan to be during their time at Trinity.

Professor Pitt provided a detailed day-by-day outline of the trip:

June 19: Students arrive in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, early in the day following a red-eye flight. This first full day is spent exploring the unique city, which features many shops, restaurants, historical and cultural sites, and even whale and puffin watches. Students jump right in to the Icelandic experience, exploring several of these activities before camping in Reykjavík for the night.

June 20-22: Full days of exploration at the Golden Circle and Westman Islands. The group visits various attractions, both cultural and natural, at Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the hot springs at Geysir. These impressive landmarks are followed by a ferry ride to Heimaey in the Westman Islands, where the group hikes along the ridges and craters of volcanoes and sees the effects of the 1973 eruption of Eldfell.

June 22: After the ferry returns the students to the mainland, they venture to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, which they are able to walk behind. Next, the group embarks on an 80-kilometer backcountry trek in Skógar, beginning along the Fimmvörðuháls hiking trail. The hike originates beside Skógafoss Waterfall, then students climb 562 steps to the top of the waterfall and continue through a lush green landscape riddled with stunning waterfalls. The views regularly take the students’ breath away. The hike concludes at the Baldvinnskali Hut located in a pass between two glacially topped volcanoes.

June 23-24: The group embarks on a frigid hike through snow drifts and bitter winds heading toward Thórsmörk, a mountain ridge situated between two glaciers that is named for the god Thor. They eventually descend into the Krossá River valley, where the students camp for two nights. Between nights of camping, the group ventures out on a day hike on Valahnúkur Mountain, where they are welcomed with sweeping views of the valley and ridge.

June 25-29: The final push of the trip involves hiking the Laugavegur Hiking Trail, where they camp along the way in Botnar, Álftavatn, and Landmannalaugar (a two-night stay). The group explores glaciers and lava fields, glacial streams, and steep ridges. Finally, at Landmannalaugar, the group enjoys well-earned relaxation in natural hot springs on a two-night stay there. On June 29, the group makes its way back to Reykjavík, where all enjoy a long-awaited meal that includes many fresh vegetables at Glo Restaurant. The previous days of backpacking had entailed its classic fare: oatmeal, nutrition bars, and instant pasta or rice.

June 30: The last morning of the trip is spent in Reykjavík picking up a few souvenirs for family and friends. The group breaks down camp and boards the flight home.


To learn more about environmental science at Trinity College, click here.

Written by Abby Hart ’19

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
Photos by Professor of Physics and Environmental Science Christoph Geiss and Cassia Armstrong ’18.
To view the full Flickr album of photos from which this slide show was generated, please click here.