Once we were on an off-road expedition in Iceland that went wrong. So wrong, in fact, that a Four Wheeler staffer became convinced his time on earth was about to end, so he took a self-portrait in case he froze to death so people would know what he looked like.
With winter right around the corner our minds have wandered back to snow-related stories that Four Wheeler has published over the years. We’ve had some great ones, but one of the most extraordinary was titled “Iceland Expedition ’91,” which ran as a two-part series in the October and November ’91 issues. This story told the tale of nature’s fury, stuck and frozen 4x4s, and a timely rescue.
The self-portrait-snapping Four Wheeler staffer we’re referring to is then-Four Wheeler Feature Editor Peter MacGillivray. He and then-Four Wheeler Editor John Stewart were in Iceland with a group to “drive to an enormous glacier, scramble on top of it, and drive to the highest point in Iceland, a volcanic mountain that few have ever visited.” The trip included experienced Icelanders and 10 heavily modified 4x4s packed with cold-weather gear, spare parts, and supplies. They knew that conditions would be challenging, driving would be hard, weather would be cold, and there was some danger and some potential for hardship. As it turned out, things would become much more challenging than they ever imagined.
The four-day trip up to the mountain was almost exactly as anticipated. Along the way it was bitterly cold, snowing, and blowing; 4x4s broke through ice and had to be rescued by heavy equipment from a distant power station; and at times visibility was so poor the group was guided only by Loran navigational instrumentation. Deep cracks around the volcanic peaks were covered in snow, so navigators used aerial photography taken during the summer to avoid driving into them. Eventually a black Jeep Comanche was winched up the snow-covered mountainside to the summit. It took 128 winch pulls over the course of two days to get the rig to the top.
The trip back to civilization started to go wrong almost immediately. Two vehicles went to scout a route never before traveled by truck and the lead vehicle became wedged in a deep crack. The remaining vehicles reversed course and started to claw their way through the snow to retrace their previous route. Food and fuel were running low. Then a monster blizzard hit and the group had to stop. Winds howled at 60 mph or more and visibility dropped to just a few feet. The rig Stewart was in succumbed to a frozen carburetor. Food and liquids inside the truck froze solid. Gloves, boots, and clothing that had been wet also froze. As the storm intensified outside the stranded rigs, people climbed into sleeping bags to survive. The hours loafed along as the storm raged and Stewart passed the time in the wind-rocked rig by alternating between learning Icelandic and sleeping. About this time MacGillivray, who was in another vehicle, took his aforementioned self-portrait. It was a Saturday around noon and help had been summoned by phone. On the way was a “rescue army” consisting of two 4x4s, two snowmobiles, and one large Arctic Cat snow car, but the brutal conditions would ultimately delay their arrival until Tuesday morning. The snowmobiles were actually within 100 yards of the trucks on Monday night, but due to the lack of visibility they couldn’t locate the trucks and the snowmobile operators built a snow house to survive the evening.
In the end, Stewart, MacGillivray, and their Icelandic hosts made it off the mountain thanks to the rescuers. During the ordeal MacGillivray lost 15 pounds and Stewart had thinned down to the point where every rib was visible. Nowadays, both Stewart and MacGillivray work at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) as Editorial Director and Vice President of Communications and Events, respectively. It just goes to show that the two guys in fine suits you see walking the thick carpet at the SEMA Show may have surprising stories to tell.
If you’d like to read the fascinating Iceland story in its entirety, we’ve posted it on our website and it can be found at www.fourwheeler.com/iceland.
Have you had a winter adventure in your 4x4? Have you used your rig to rescue someone in snowy distress? Did nature unleash her icy, frozen fury and cause you to need to be rescued? If you have a story about a snowy 4x4 adventure we’d like to hear it, so send an email to the address above and tell us about it.