About halfway through their recent trip to Iceland, members of Boy Scout Troop 320 took a ferry to Grímsey Island, which straddles the Arctic Circle.
After camping there overnight, they got a tour from the caretaker of the island, whose family has been running the island for generations.
The tour included a look at the island’s lighthouse, church and information about its history.
It culminated when the caretaker invited these strangers from America to her house for coffee and chocolates.
“We did some really exciting stuff, but that to me really made the trip,” Troop 320 scoutmaster Chris Neumann said. “That somebody on an island with 43 families took the time to show us around, to invite us in and to serve us coffee. It was just the most charming aspect of everything.”
The scouts traveled to Iceland, known as the land of fire and ice, for its high adventure trip. The troop goes on such a trip every two years.
While deciding on a destination for this year, the troop considered various locations including Glacier National Park and Hawaii.
The scouts then voted on possible destinations and Iceland won.
To raise funds for the trip, the troop used a recycling initiative. Troop members said they could not have gone on the high adventure without community members donating to their fundraiser.
“They get to pick where they want to go, but they have to earn it,” Neumann said of the scouts. “They went big and they worked hard for it.”
Going to an exciting place like Iceland was not new for the troop, which in recent years has also gone to Alaska, Yosemite National Park and three western states in one trip.
This venture marked the first time the group has traveled internationally.
The troop left on June 7 and returned June 18. A total of 25 troop members went on the high adventure. There were 16 scouts and nine adults.
After flying to Iceland, the first day the troop hiked through a lava tube, a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow.
“It was pretty cool, honestly,” Eagle Scout Jacob Weidenbenner said.
The next day, the group went deep sea fishing. Then they camped at a Boy Scout camp in Iceland and visited a waterfall and geyser.
Next, they hiked around the circumference of Hverfjall, an active volcano.
After that, the troop went whitewater rafting.
Then came the trip to Grímsey Island and the Arctic Circle.
In addition to the tour, some members of the troop sampled puffin and one scout, Donny Muertz, flew a kite at the Arctic Circle because he had the foresight to bring one.
“That was freaking awesome,” Neumann said. “How many people are you going to meet who have flown a kite at the Arctic Circle?”
After visiting the Arctic Circle, the troop went to Ice Lagoon. While there, they saw black sand and diamond beaches.
The next day, the group went glacier climbing at the Svínafellsjökull glacier.
To climb the glacier, the scouts and adults had to wear shoes with spikes on them and use ice picks. The glacier measured as tall as 150 feet in spots.
“By the time you got to the top it was tough,” said committee chair Edgar Weidenbenner, Jacob’s father. “But that was cool. I love glacier climbing.”
On the penultimate day of the trip, some of the troop members then went on the Fimmvörđuháls trail, a 15-mile trek that takes hikers over rock, sand, green grass and snowy mountains. National Geographic has ranked it as one of the best hikes in the world.
The troop only did about seven miles of the trail, but that was enough for them to see dozens of waterfalls and feel how difficult the hike is.
“It’s intense,” Jacob said. “I’ve done The Narrows (a notoriously difficult hike in Utah) before, but this was way worse.”
“That one hike at the end of this beat everything else out,” Life Scout Caleb Lung added. “That was one of the hardest things I’ve done in all of scouting.”
After the intensity of that experience, the group finished the trip with a relaxing visit to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa.
While Neumann said the visit to Grímsey Island was his favorite part of the trip, there was no consensus pick for the best activity.
“My favorite part was definitely the last hike and climbing up the mountain,” Lung said. “There’s something humbling about being that high and seeing nature after you broke yourself to get there.”
Committee member Cathie Krueger said her favorite part was experiencing other cultures.
“We talked to so many people from all over the world while we were there,” she said.
“That was pretty surprising.”
Other favorites included glacier climbing and whitewater rafting.
The next high adventure trip the troop goes on will most likely not be to Iceland. That 2020 excursion is not yet in the works, but Neumann said some possible destinations include Hawaii and New Zealand.
Regardless of location, Neumann said the next trip will follow the same philosophy that has governed all previous ones.
“The big basis on these trips is there has to be something that most people will never get to do in their lives. If Jake (Weidenbenner) went to Busch Stadium and the announcer said ‘everyone please stand. Now anybody who did backcountry hiking in Denali National Park (in Alaska), please continue to stand.’ Thousands of people are going to sit down. Then, ‘anyone who has been to the Arctic Circle, please continue to stand.’ More people are going to sit down. And then they keep going and by the end of it only a few people are going to be standing and at 18, he’s going to be one of them.”
If interested in joining Troop 320 before their next high adventure, call Neumann at 314-591-7598.