general hiking travel trip reports

Day Four of the Laugavegur hike (Botnar – Þórsmörk)

An early start today, as we had a bus to catch. Well, not that early. We left the hut by 8.45am at any rate.

It was raining as we left, and so to get to the Bridge of Peril we had to walk ourselves down muddy slopes using fixed ropes and chains (it’s actually wasn’t terribly perilous at all).

There was more canyon to see, and more up and down through green landscape. The rain cleared again, and we started getting warm as we hiked up little hills.

There’s something about hiking with a deadline that makes everything a little less enjoyable. Rather than just enjoying the scenery we were passing through, I wasted far too much time calculating when we might arrive in Þórsmörk (that’s Thorsmork for those of you that don’t do Icelandic letters).

Nearing Þórsmörk we stopped for lunch in a meadow, then crossed over the River of Doom – so high that a lot of people were stripping down to underwear to cross. We just made do with getting wet pants.

I had memories of reading of the verdant alpine oasis in Þórsmörk, with great forests. I’d forgotten that this was describing Iceland, where they don’t have trees. The trees were wee alpine birches, and the vegetation in general reminded me of coastal scrub in Australia. It was definitely a change from the Landmannalaugar end of the hike, but we both preferred the stark and colourful mountains of the start of the hike.

In the end we reached the bus stop at Langidalur hut an hour early, and had plenty of time to sit on the grass and watch the 4WDs fording the glacial rivers that were flowing across the huge plain in front of us. We were wishing we’d planned to hike the extension, continuing on to the south for a few days. And wondering what would happen if one of the volcanoes errupted. In each of the huts there’d been a map of the area, showing the areas which would flood in the case of an erruption (something to think about when you have volcanoes hiding under great glaciers), and what escape routes you should take.

Our trusty 4WD bus arrived on time though, and whisked us away from the volcanoes and glaciers. I lost count of the number of times we forded rivers on the way out, although the stairwell of the bus only filled up with water once. We were headed back to Reykjavik, and to pick up our rental 4WD.

Distance: 15km
Terrain: Overall 300m elevation loss, but lots of uphill nontheless

general hiking travel trip reports

Day Three of the Laugavegur hike (Álftavatn – Botnar)

When the Moosling woke up and started rampaging around at 7am, we decided we may as well bow to the inevitable and get up. On this hike, at least in the huts, sleeping in seemed to be the order of the day, with plenty of people not even bothering to roll over in their sleeping bags until it was at least 9am. With such short hiking days, there’s no real rush about anything though.

We were out on the trail shortly after 9am (I know, I’ve got no idea how we got ready to hike so quickly either, we’re like lightning in the mornings). The sky was clear, but within ten minutes we had our boots off for the first river crossing, Bratthálskvísl. There’s nothing quite like freshly melted glacier to wake your feet up.

We meandered on in our sandals, and it wasn’t long before we arrived at another nearby hut, Hrengvellir. There we donned boots once more, and added on some rain gear – the mizzle had been getting suspiciously close to being drizzle.

For a while afterwards the hiking track followed a jeep track, one of the 4WD “F” roads that criss-cross the interior, and range in quality from “well, I could do that in a 2WD, it’s a bit bumpy though” to “OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING TO DIE!”. More on those later, once we get to the portion of the trip where we’re driving in our rental 4WD.

The jeep track brought us to another river crossing. This one was a doozy; a big wide river with a strong current and water that was creeping well above our knees. All at glacial temperatures. It wasn’t actually difficult so much as extremely cold though, and the Moosling happily slept through the entire thing. We had no plans of hanging around for photos on this crossing, and it was looking ferocious enough that we didn’t want to do it separately. Luckily a German couple were crossing at the same time as us, and the wife bravely returned to the river to pose for some photos (to show their daughters what their crazy parents had gotten up to in Iceland).

After the river crossing the terrain settled into endless flat ash desert, that I’ve heard others describe as boring. Perhaps in comparison to the days before… but there was still an enormous glacier to the left, and madly tortured volcanic mountains sprouting from the plains. With a flat track to travel along though, the view was slow to change.

Until suddenly we rounded a corner, and there were the Emstur-Botnar huts, tucked in not quite at the foot of the glacier, but not far from it.

It was just a short walk away to the canyon of the river Markarfljot, and so with plenty of time up our sleeves, and our things stowed on our bunk, we went for a wander. As an aside – one of the oddest things about the Icelandic huts was turning up and having to find out from the warden which bunk you had been assigned to (I’m used to the free-for-all of Australian or Canadian huts).

The canyon was spectacular, and definitely the highlight of the day scenery-wise. Although I was a bit wary of getting too close to the edge, it looked a bit inclined to collapse at any moment. A busload of people turned up on the far side of the canyon and we sat there for a good 20 minutes waiting for one of them to fall in, as they got closer and closer to the edge. No-one did (although there were 6 free spaces in our hut that night, supposed to belong to people who never showed, so maybe….)

Back to the hut we cooked dinner and chatted with hut companions, then I took the Moosling for a crawl around the boardwalk (there were three huts that each slept 20, plus a toilet block, all joined by boardwalk, just the thing for crawling adventures).

Distance: 15km
Terrain: Overall it’s flat, but I seem to recall there being annoying bits of up and down anyway

general hiking travel trip reports

Day Two of the Laugavegur hike (Hrafntinnusker – Álftavatn)

The morning brought a little mizzle, so we pessimistically donned all our rain gear. The rain gods thanked us for our humility, and declared an end to the rain for the duration of our hiking that day.

The ground steamed at us, the mountains were dark, the mountains were colourful, the snow patches had ashy residue, and ridiculously bright green moss highlighted quirks of the landscape.

We spent the first half of the hike climbing down into and then out of the creases in the landscape. Lots of little gullies were still filled with snow, and some obvious snow bridges had streams flowing under them. Nothing collapsed beneath our feet.

And then suddenly the scenery changed, and instead of colourful rhyolite mountains and ashfields and moss, we were faced with a prehistoric landscape that seemed like it should have dinosaurs casually meandering through it. Bright green, with traditional volcano cone-shaped mountain-lets, and an enormous glacier lurking to the left, just below the clouds.

We descended into the green, but no dinosaurs appeared. Perhaps they’d eaten all the trees and then moved on. That’s definitely a feature of hiking in Iceland, not the dinosaurs, but the fact that there’s nary a tree or animal to be seen. We did see several birds over the course of the hike, and a few bugs hovered nervously nearby, but seemed too shy to come up and have a bite of us. Oh, there were some sheep though, hanging around occasionally, and wandering past when we least expected it.

The hut that night was by Lake Álftavatn. We’d seen it as soon as we were in view of the prehistoric valley we were about to descend into, but it was still kilometres away, and kept tantalising us with glimpses as we gradually hiked closer. It couldn’t keep that game up forever though, and eventually we reached it.

There were actually twin huts linked by boardwalk that would also take you to the toilet block, which included a couple of showers (they would even be warm showers if you paid 500ISK). We glared at the showers and maintained our eau de hiking aroma.

A quick deal with the hut warden had us moved from one of the big sleeping rooms into one of the small private rooms – just two beds, and just the thing for the Moosling and his Papa to fall asleep on while I went out for a walk … until it started to rain on me. Everyone arriving later that day started turning up absolutely saturated.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent chatting with people in the roomy living/cooking area of the hut. Or for those in the party under the age of one, it was instead spent chasing around cups on the floor of the hut, and grinning at everyone who glanced at you, and possibly offering them your socks. The friendly driver/cook from one of the guided groups offered us some of their leftover lamb soup (absolutely delicious – I could definitely handle hiking with a cook).

Distance: 12km
Terrain: A bit hilly, with an overall altitude loss of 490m

general hiking travel trip reports

Day One of the Laugavegur hike (Landmannalaugar – Hrafntinnusker)

The Laugavegur is a 55km hike in south-west Iceland, usually completed over four days. It’s one of those classic hikes – the sort that are so classic that you should book months in advance if you want to be sure of a spot in the huts. Of course, if you don’t mind camping in the rain, then you’re probably ok. But given the weather in the area, chances are you would be spending at least one night sitting outside cooking in the rain, then huddling in the damp of your tent. We booked space in the huts.

After a four hour bus ride from Reykjavik, we were grateful to be out of the bus and able to stretch our legs (and set the Moosling loose) once we arrived in Landmannalaugar. And then it started to rain. Finishing lunch and then getting sorted to hike in the mizzly rain, we set forth through the twisty-tortured moss-covered lava fields of Laugahraun. Distant sheep wandered about wetly and the picturesque mountains were shrouded in clouds.

Hiking further along, the ground was steaming too. Between that, the clouds, and the mizzling rain, it was a very damp hike, with just a hint of sulphur.

But then, slowly, the rain stopped falling on us. And even if the clouds didn’t really lift, it was a definite improvement. And those ridiculously colourful rhyolite mountains were peeking out at us everywhere, with their artistic daubs of moss and ash-saturated snow, looking like a painted backdrop rather than genuine scenery.

Hiking on through the alien scenery, the crowds thinned out, until we were mostly walking on our own, occasionally running into another couple hiking along, or stopping for a snack. Although numbers on the trail are high, and the distances to cover each day are low, everyone seems to thin out over the whole trail, with late starters, and early starters, and “lets sit in this meadow for a few hours”ers.

Although there was a lot of geothermal activity to be seen, the only bathable hot springs for the day were behind us, in Landmannalaugar. We’d decided not to partake, feeling that everything was damp enough already, and really wanting to do something other than sitting after the bus ride.

Before too long we were hiking across rocky plains, following yellow painted poles and walking past a memorial to an Israeli who had died of exposure up here in recent years. Then around a corner, and the hut appeared – the Hrafntinnusker, our home for the night. Sleeps 52 (plus a Moosling who kept trying to crawl into the kitchen). Below it were nestled a colony of colourful tents, each ineffectually huddling by an optimistic wall of balanced rocks.

Distance: 12km
Terrain: A bit hilly, with an overall altitude gain of 470m