Heather Lemieux spent five gruelling days this summer hiking Iceland’s spectacular Laugavegur to raise money for women’s shelters

By Kathryn Stocks

At the end of July, 88 people from across Canada met in Iceland for a difficult five-day trek that would test their strength and endurance, build friendships and raise more than $650,000 for women’s shelters in this country. All participants were Royal LePage agents and they were raising money for the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation. One of those participants was Centennial’s Heather Lemieux.

Heather had been preparing for the challenge for the past year. She knew the Laugavegur Trek was going to be gruelling with at least 11 hours a day of trudging up steep, windswept slopes, down into green river valleys, and then back up again. But it turned out to be “a lot more difficult than any of us imagined, even though we trained for it,” she said.

The 88 participants were broken up into three groups that started the trek one day apart. They had two guides but everyone had to carry a daypack for their layers of clothing and rain gear as well as their lunch and snacks. A truck met up with them at the end of each day bringing the tents, sleeping bags and food. Heather said they put their tents up in the evening and packed them up every morning “and then you walked and walked and walked.”

They began in Landmannalaugar where they did a hike of 15 km to prepare them for what was coming. The next day they packed up the tents and were on the move. This time it was a 24-km hike where they crossed over a number of snow bridges and saw a square lake. They stopped at Alftavatn, which Heather said reminded them of the land before time.

The day after that they experienced desert-like conditions on the 15 km-hike that took them to Emstrur-Botnar. The next day was another 15 km to Thorsmork and the last day was a 25-km trek to Skogar, which Heather found the hardest.

While the days were long and difficult, the scenery was spectacular. Heather said she wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it was. In some spots, however, it was so barren and desolate “it was almost like we were on the moon.” On most days they had to cross a glacial river at some point and it was a relief to remove their hiking boots, put their water shoes on and walk through the icy water. The landscape was totally different every day and ranged from snow up to their knees to ice to sand. They were fortunate with the weather because they had very little rain in a place where it usually rains a lot.

“The last day for me was the hardest,” Heather said. “Most days were 11 hours, the last day was 13½ hours.” They had to cross the difficult Cat’s Spine, which was about 100 feet long and anywhere from eight inches to maybe two feet across and down about half a kilometre or more on both sides. They got to a spot where they had to crawl over a large mound and at another stage it was basically vertical and they had to hold onto ropes to pull themselves across one at a time. Heather said it was really scary crossing that part.

Then they “walked up and up and up and up.” At one point they were in the clouds and couldn’t see 50 feet ahead. So their guides got them to walk in single file and told them to always make sure they could see the person in front of them. They walked like that until they left the mist behind.

That day they trudged across a glacier and in between two other glaciers before arriving at some spectacular waterfalls. But after they saw about 25 of them, Heather said she didn’t care if she saw another one. She just wanted to finish. “It was a long, gruelling day.”

But the journey was a great success because it raised so much for women’s shelters. Each participant had to raise at least $5,000. Heather raised $10,000, of which 80 per cent will go to Juliette’s Place, a women’s shelter in Malvern. The other 20 per cent goes for  education and prevention programs at the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation.