The East Glacial guidebook can be found here. Below is a note from Steve Merrow, the author of the guidebook.
Europe’s best whitewater rafting is located in Northern Iceland and likely isn’t on your radar. It certainly wasn’t on mine prior to 2016, but the allure of Iceland’s landscape in movies and shows got me interested in the potential for whitewater. It wasn’t long before Jokulsá Austari, the East Glacial River, dominated my thoughts and I was on a plane to guide for Viking Rafting for the next six months.
Regardless of where you’re traveling from, the Icelandic landscape is likely to be a unique experience. My previous seven years were spent in Alaska, guiding in a lush temperate rain forest carved out by massive glaciers. Iceland’s cold, wet, glacial environment felt normal, but the vast moonscape filled with fresh and ancient volcanic scars was something entirely new. The most common tourist path from the capital city Reykjavik is to head southwest towards the “Golden Circle”. A worthwhile- if somewhat over crowded- path laid out for people to experience a condensed version of Iceland. The heavy marketing, and resulting gravitational pull of the Golden Circle, draws people away from the more remarkable northern portion of Iceland where the East Glacial River lays.
Within my first few weeks at Viking Rafting, it was clear that owners Anup Gurung and Chris Doyle-Kelly had captured lighting in a bottle. Recruiting 12 guides from five continents to live on a refurbished sheep farm in a sparsely populated valley in hopes of meshing cultures, languages, and skill sets to create an elite team capable of running trips on an extremely challenging river seemed like an impossible task. By the end of each season it felt necessary. Chris and Anup’s vision for Viking is accurately summed up by the motto they chose for the company: Take Your Fun Seriously.
Nearly every trip I guide, anywhere in the world, someone will ask for my favorite river. With so many different types of river trips around the world it’s challenging to name just one. But whenever I speak about the most exciting rafting trip in the world, it is always the East Glacial River. After an easy warm up, the East transitions into a relentless freight train of cold, fast, continuous Class IV+ whitewater. Anywhere in the U.S. this section would be labeled solid class V, but the East is remarkably clean. Without sieves, undercuts, trees, and pernicious holes, the primary hazard is a long swim which can be mitigated by high level guiding, rigorous safety kayaking, and drysuits for guests. The goal on every trip is to keep the boats upright through the big stuff and play down below. Never an easy task. Commitment and Green Room are demanding rapids that still get my heart racing after 300+ trips, sitting in my living room, 6,000 kilometers away. Commitment and I had an especially tumultuous relationship my first season – dishing me out a company record ten flips. Below Green Room, the river becomes a playground for guides and guests: a perfect surf hole with eddy service, two more flip friendly rapids below, and one of the best wave hits on any river. With groups that are keen, you can flip and swim 2-3 times within a kilometer. Take Your Fun Seriously! The chaotic feeling swimmers have during a flip is actually quite controlled, as other rafts and safety kayakers keep people calm and direct them back to the rafts. This aspect of the trip was my most challenging adaptation. It was a style of river running I had yet to experience. Putting people in the water was intimidating. More reps on the water established trust with the team and allowed me to go from nervous, to comfortable, to confident, to addicted to the action. Finishing the day feeling like you accomplished something important with a group of people you trust is as good as it gets. I got into the flow of the East and didn’t want a day off the water.
I nicknamed our abandoned sheep farm home the Whitewater Monastery. With very little to do directly outside the rafting base, we spend a lot of time talking about, watching, and seeking out whitewater. Whatever I learned in those years on the water, which was considerable, I learned more from living at the base. Like many of the other guides I was the only person from my home country at Viking. Learning about the unique experiences, families, goals, and views on life was extraordinary and left me with an enlightened perspective of the world and my humble place in it. As I said before, by the end of the season bringing together 12 guides from five countries didn’t seem impossible, it felt necessary. My draw to this place was such that the first six month season extended into three more, and when I reflect on my time there I am most grateful for that experience and the lifelong friendships that were born in this place.
Anup and Chris have done something truly special. Through extraordinary skill and leadership, they have built an elite guide team that provides the best trip in Iceland and one of the best rafting experiences on the planet. It is my deepest hope that I get to return to Viking and the East many more times to live in this world that holds some of my fondest memories. Hopefully, the East Glacial River is now on your radar and the cornerstone of your trip to the land of fire and ice.