Matteo's 100 Challenge

A man wearing a yellow helmet climbing an ice wall using rops and an iceax
Icelandic Mountain Guide handling an iceax

One man turns 40 and sets himself an epic task: 100 ice, mixed and alpine climbing routes. One 100 KM race. One year. This is Matteo's 100 challenge. We caught up with Matteo and picked his brain about the project and some of the inspiration behind it. 

How did you come up with the 100 Challenge?

I came up with the challenge in May, and the idea was to celebrate my birthday my way, doing activities that I love to do in my life. I’ve met most of my best friends through climbing and running. This is my way of having a party for my birthday.

Why 40?

It is a mark in life for getting older. In Italian, when you turn 40, quaranta, it ends in ‘-anta’. While 20 is venti, and 30 is trenta, they have different endings. We say you are going into the ‘-anta’ when you turn 40.

It is going to be a challenge. It will take a big part of my life, and it will be hard to find the time. That is the challenge. I will enjoy spending time with my friends, teaching a lot of them and just enjoying climbing.

How did you get into climbing?

I started rock climbing at 16. My older sister went with some friends rock climbing. The week after she asked if I wanted to go. Eventually she gave up, but I carried on. I also involved my brother, and for many years we rock climbed together: It was an interesting time. The first rock climbing place was 15 km from my home. We were cycling with all of our gear on our backs, sometimes after school. At some point he gave up, but I kept on going.

I first ice climbed in 1999 and it was love at first sight. Definitely. It’s the ice itself and the way the ice forms: it is different each season, year after year. Even if you are going to do the same route, it is still different every time.

I don't think it is as extreme as rock climbing, but it is mentally challenging. The ice screw is pretty safe, but the ice you will screw into is not always safe. It is more mental and I am getting better, and calmer, with age. I feel like I know better what I am doing as I get older.

I really enjoyed going on the mountain. After hiking for many years, I thought, “Yea, I want to go this way.” It was better than when I first rock climbed.  In a few years, I got pretty experienced and I started to teach rock- and ice climbing.

Icelandic Mountain Guide climbing a rock in Iceland

The idea was to celebrate my birthday my way, doing activities that I love to do.


Mixed Climbing: Where Snow Meets Rock

I discovered mixed climbing some years ago. It was a different kind of mixed. When I first started ice climbing I had to focus on ice fall and I had to travel to the alps to find ice fall. It was taking from 4 – 7 hours. After a couple of years, I could climb in the mountain range near me, but it was more mixed. You can climb on ice but it is not that thick. It is much better to have rock protection. It is really close to the classic scottish mix. In Iceland, I started to do more mix climbing.

One Route Amongst Millions

It is going to be challenging. It will also depend on the conditions. There are some routes I haven’t done yet since I moved to Iceland. Believe me, there are a lot. I am really keen to do something new. That is really exciting. It is more fun if no one has done it.

You are the first and you don’t know how it will go. It is interesting. It is a little bit spicy. It is adding something more interesting to the climbing. You don’t know what is next. There is a special feeling when you are the first.

A man wearing a red jacket and an orange hat marked Icelandic Mountain Guides

You don’t know how it will go. It is interesting. It is a little bit spicy.


I climb because, for me it is a strange activity. When I am climbing I erase everything that is on my mind: I am just focusing on climbing. After one or two times, I can remember all of the moves for the route.

Climbing is like going into a mind bubble for me. I just focus on the climbing. Sometimes, it can just be a different way to go on the mountain. It doesn’t have to be hard or extreme. Most of the time doing something easy, it is much better than doing something hard. I feel much better being on the mountain.

The Long Distance Runner

A man running in the highlands of Iceland

It comes from going, and being, on the mountain. At some point, me and my best friend started to dream a little bit harder and bigger. We could be active for 24-25 hour climbs.  At the beginning we didn’t think it would be 25 hours: we knew it would be a long day but we started in the middle of the night, then it was the middle of the day and we are still active. We reached the hut in the middle of the night the day after. You can discover some energy in you that you didn’t know you had, and you can keep on going for a really long time.

I was used to running for getting in shape for mountaineering. Then, at some point I started to run and it was natural for me to keep running for as long as I could. We had long days: for me, it was an interesting way for me to go on the mountain as fast as I can, and see many mountains and landscapes. Every time I run, I discover something different in me, something I didn’t know I had.

I once did a an extreme challenge with three of my friends. We cycled for 100 km and we climbed 700 m and then cycled the 100 Km back in 22 hours. We were training to get in shape for mountaineering, so we figured “Why not?” It was a pretty interesting experience.

I cross all the emotions you can experience when running, like the thrill of the beginning and after a bit, you start to feel a little bit tired and you start to think: why I am here. At the end, it is beautiful when you are close to the finish. It is different than climbing and reaching the top of a mountain. It is a type of feeling that I can’t explain. When I am close to the end, I think it is one of the few moments I can cry, 

Why Iceland?

I moved here because my wife got a job in Iceland.  I was pretty happy to move and to see how I could work it out in Iceland. We didn’t think about moving to Iceland before she got the job. We were doing well in Italy. Because she got this job, we thought it would be pretty interesting for both of us.

A man climbing ice wall in Iceland with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Glaciers, glaciers, glaciers! I think nature is the thing that keeps me in Iceland. I have a Masters Degree in Glaciology, so I really enjoy staying outside and knowing everything about routes and nature. Here, it is beautiful.

What do you want people to know or feel as they follow along on this journey with you?

I want to boost ice climbing in Iceland. That is one objective of the challenge. I know there are people climbing here but I would like to have a much bigger group going. Sometimes there are small groups going but I would like to do something with larger amounts of people. I would like to have more Icelanders and foreigners climbing.

Is it for first timers? Yeah, it is for first timers, because it’s about starting something, just like I did. I have taught ice climbing since 2002, so I am really willing to teach everyone ice climbing and everyone can enjoy it. It is really tough.

I first ice climbed in 99 and it was love at first sight.


Feel like moving your feet

If Matteo's challenge is making you feel like moving your feet, check out arctic running for a volcanic trail day running tour or try the longer hot spring valley tour.

About the Author

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Hailing from London and born into a British/Brazilian/Italian household, Joseph came to Iceland originally to complete a master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Iceland: the rest is history.

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