Laugavegur : August 2010

The Laugavegur , literally translated as “hot springs way”, is a 55km trail through the remarkable scenery of Iceland’s interior Highlands.
Along the trail , there are evenly spaced huts at Landmannalaugar in the north, followed by Hrafntinnusker, Alftavatn, Emstrur and finally Thorsmork in the south.
Traditionally, it is a 4 day hike , however some hike the trail in a long 2 days and others, in one very exhausting day. There is even a local marathon set on this route.

Getting there during the Icelandic summer is as easy as turning up to the BSI station in Reykjavik and buying a ticket to either Thorsmork or Landmannalaugar. The advantage of starting in Landmannalaugar is the overall net loss of altitude during the duration of the hike. The disadvantage is that most people begin the hike there as well and the hut and camping areas can be overcrowded with dayhikers and those starting on the laugevegur trail proper. Marianne and I decided to spend an extra day at each end of the track making our experience 6 days in total.

Our gear consisted primarily of food and photography equipment! Since the huts were all heated along the way, we figured that excess clothes would not be required as we could often rinse and dry overnight while wearing a spare set of clothes to sleep. All in all though, the food probably weighed in at about 8kg and similarly , the camera gear at least 8kg again as well as 2 tripods. Despite the shoulder pain experienced , looking back with the retrospectoscope, I would not have done it any differently because the scenery is just that worth it for photography. The following is a description of the track as we experienced it.

Day 1:Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar
Awoke at 6am to finish stuffing our excess baggage to be stored before scoffing down the first of our planned nutella breakfast sandwich deals for the next 6 days. A warm up walk to BSI took only 20 minutes before we boarded the bus. To our surprise, a Japanese local was the voice of our bus trip and we were asked where we came from ; of course no one could guess Australia at first call ! The bus trip itself took us past Hekla and the remarkable scenery of F225 as a preview to what we might see later on. We noticed immediately from what people were wearing and carrying as to whether they were on a day tour or planned to do the hike we were embarking on.

Shortly after midday , we arrived to windy weather and greying skies. The entrance to Landmannalaugar is breathtaking with a valley smoking from geothermal heat surrounded on all sides by mountains and lava fields of varying heights and colours. We settled into our bunk in the overcrowded hut, ate our prescribed amount of lunch and set off to hike Blahnukur. Along the way, we fell victim to taking a lot of images on the way up when the best views were naturally at the top! Bumped into a German tourist named Andre who we would walk with from time to time in the next couple of days and also had our first wordless encounter with Brenda and Stefan who were setting up tripod and filming from the top of Blahnukur while we were there taking panoramas. By the time we were descending, the rain came in and forced us quickly back to the hut where everyone was drying off. The groups were varied but filled every inch of hut space. From elderly Italian cyclists to suitcase lugging Chinese, and the more traditional hikers, it showed that access to this location is not limited during the summer but accommodation is. Sleep came relatively easy that night and there was no sunset to speak of.

Landmannalaugar as viewed from Blahnukur

Day 2: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker.
I awoke at dawn to clear skies and magnificently evolving dawn. Having not familiarized myself to the rivers, I ended up getting soggy feet and boots after slipping into a stream. I managed a few shots of cotton before photographing Brennisteinsalda glowing red with the rising sun just after sunrise. It was freezing ! by the time I was done, fingers and feet were cold and it wasn’t the best way to start a long day of uphills. The skies were clear and conditions couldn’t be better. We took many stops along the way to Hrafntinnusker and almost got lost coming up Brennisteinsalda but such is the popularity of the trek that all we had to do was wait for oncoming hikers in either direction to ensure we were on the right path.

There were no river crossings and the flat barren landscapes where punctuated with the occasional fumarole such as Ernir early on and the active Storhiver region just before the hut. We walked a solid 5-6 hours of which 500m altitude was gained and hence we were pretty tired. The only company we kept while walking was a little chit chat with our German companion Andre who would keep walking later in the day. Hrafntinnusker was set in a very barren valley but strikingly so with views of Reykjafoll and its patch of ice still present. We settled in to the top floor bunk which was near empty as the geothermally heated ground floor appeared to be very popular though very stuffy. After an afternoon rest and a quick chat with a volunteer Mexican worker, we set out again. We walked in search of ice caves only to find they had collapsed before walking up to the mountain Sodull where we had panoramic views all round of the striking landscape. Dinner was the usual fare and went down very very well. I was up at sunset and took some images from the hut with a few people looking on wondering what I was doing with filters and the tripod.

Cotton Fields at dawn

The view from Sodull just outside Hrafntinnusker hut

Day 3: Hrafntinnusker to Alftavatn.
Dawn came and went in blazing fashion this day. I set out to the top of Sodull just behind Stefan and when we got to the top he asked me if I had brought him a cup of tea as it was freezing! We had the summit to ourselves in the morning and spent a good 30-40 minutes up there watching dawn evolve. Thereafter, back to bed for an hour (as the sun was rising at 5 at that time) before eating breakfast and setting out. On this day, we kept passing Brenda and Stefan interchangeably as we took breaks at various locations. The going was meant to be easy as the overall altitude loss was 400m. However, much of it was undulating territory on very loose soil meaning lots of slips and slides along the way. Finally, when Alftavatn came into view after one last ridge of ascent, it was just breathtaking like viewing an era from the ice age! Thereafter, it was a hard slippery downhill to our first river crossing! We really didn’t need to get our feet too wet but it would have taken longer to look for a route across instead of just taking the shoes off and walking across so we did the latter. Apparently my conditioning back home in the Australian winter standing in water had helped as I tolerated the water well whereas Marianne found it horribly cold and numbing! After that crossing, a 3 km walk on flat ground to the hut.

The hut itself is set just back from the lakeshore and is new! We shared a bedroom with 2 French honeymooners and the rest of the hut was shared with a group who grew to be our hiking companions over the next few days. Brenda and Stefan ( from Holland), the unfortunate Laura and Sarah (2 Americans who would suffer such bad luck on their hikes), Sidney and Gary (2 French brothers), a Spanish couple, a Dutch woman who had previously led tours in Nepal, and the French honeymooners. I managed a good sleep in the afternoon yet again before settling down to dinner and a game of ludo with the group of people above.

That evening, the sunset shoot with Marianne on the lakeshores was a stunner! Dawn was spectacular but not set against any good scenery so better for looking rather than photographing. According to my geography, we were mainly photographing the mountains on the west shore of the lake called Stora Graenafjall.

Alftavatn from above

Sunset on the shores of Alftavatn

Day 4: Altftavatn to Emstrur

This was a tough day. Mentally and physically. It was a long 15km that took us away from the lush greenery and into the wastelands of the sandur where much of the walking was on a relentless 4WD track across windy, sandy volcanic ash filled territory. There were a few river crossings to manage – the main ford lay across the Blafjallakvisl which was about 20m across but only knee deep or so. The walk to that point was actually reasonably interesting but thereafter and particularly after crossing the Inni Emstrur bridge, the wastelands really played on the mind and we actually ended up pausing for a break only 10 minutes out from the hut! After 6 hours of walking, the hut was a welcome relief which is even more welcome that the sight of Eyjafjallajokull itself which marked the endpoint of the trail. That night, we were sharing a communal bunk dormitory with all of our fellow walkers save for the large German group who had one hut to themselves. We wandered out to visit the roaring Markarfljot area and witnessed volcanic dust being blown off the distant mountains. I would climb up to the same area the following morning and took pictures of what I believe is the mountain Hattafell as well as the volcano in the distance.

Barren land around Emstrur

Day 5: To Thorsmork!
Breakfast time came after my morning walk and I was so hungry that I ate 2 packets of some plain instant noodles lying in the communal food pile as well as the usual! That extra energy would prove to be vital to outlast this 16km day. (I might add, the hiking wasn’t tough but the weight of the pack with camera gear was not getting lighter)
Most of the hiking this day was down and there was only one river to ford. The initial descent was easy going into the Markafljot canyon before an ascent out of the valley proved taxing on energy. After 4 days of dehydrated food, every inch of ascent was a little painful and exponentially more draining. The path continued through increasingly vegetated areas until we reached the river Ljosa crossing ( a very high and narrow gorge) and then, our last ascent over a high ridge. The weather was bleak and some rain finally did catch up with us but thankfully did not persist or affect our crossing of the river Thronga which flowed 30 minutes out from Thorsmork itself. Marianne was really struggling with spirits and started swearing at the slightest spit of rain. The crossing was also not difficult but in our flagging condition and my shoulders screaming for a break because of the front pack, we were very glad to be over that last obstacle. There was one last mind game to be played. The sign for Husadalur stated 15 minutes but was really 30 minutes away – to the point where we were getting annoyed that it was a true indication of the distance!

Finally when we arrived, we had expected an area that was well catered for tourists, hikers and with staff knowing the routes and able to give us a good indication of what could be done with a given time frame. We expected there to be a shop to restock on food and showers, and the usual friendly staff like the wardens we had encountered. Wrong on all counts. Husadalur was a huge letdown mainly because of the excellent standards of other HI hostels we had been staying at.
– We were ripped off for bread (we paid double the price of our Dutch friends Brenda and Stefan simply because we couldn’t speak German)
– Showers that cost 300kr for 4 minutes of which 3 minutes was spent figuring out hot and cold only to find that temperature changes were random
– No shop for hiking supplies and just bad food available from the cafeteria
– Staff who had no knowledge of the tours (one woman even told me “you will have to ask a hiker about these things …..”)
– No good information or maps??? Just a bunch of postcards and generic books about Iceland in the cafeteria.

All in all a strange location to be staffed in that manner and looking as though it catered for bus tours only. We would find more information in 5 minutes at the FI (Ferdflag Islands) Langidalur hut the next day than all of our hair pulling experiences on this day. We shared dinner and discussions with Brenda and Stefan once again as well as a Danish biker , and 2 Americans from Alaska who were here on business but taking a break prior. No sunset to speak of, no sunrise to wake for, just a bit of sleep! At least the rooms were comfortable 🙂

Day 6 : Thorsmork Mountain Reserve
Breakfast saw more bread being eaten – our badly bartered for supplies. Then, a climb to Valahnukur which gave supreme views toward the east of the krossa delta and a rainbow to the west against the rising sun. The 30 minute walk took us 45 in our condition and we ventured down to Langidalur where the warden was able to inform us that Stakkholtsgja was not going to be accessable by foot. We then hiked back to Husadalur (interrupted by a forgotten drink bottle and a short run to retrieve it) and waited it out for the 1pm bus. Icelandic generosity proved itself here as the Husadalaur to Basar driver offered us a free lift to the canyon at 1pm and pick up 330pm. We used every bit of the time to explore this slot canyon with its mysterious waterfall at its end before heading back to rest. By this time, the weather also did close in and it was murky for sunset. We talked more with Brenda and Stefan about all things travel and Iceland, joined by Ellen and Peter (the 2 americans) who had hiked up to Fimmvorduhals in the day. Laura and Sarah had been scarred by a near drowning in the river Krossa and so were resting in their rooms! We were sooo ready for the bus the next morning and bid farewell to Brenda and Stefan who would be hiking to Skogar in the next couple of days.

The View from Valahnukur looking east into Thorsmorok

Stakkholtsgja Canyon and its mysterious waterfall

And so ended our time on this magnificent part of Iceland.
We would recover in Reykjavik the next day by eating plenty of hot dogs and hot fries.
As we catch up on more photograph editing, we’ll continue to update our journey!

‘Til later

D & M


Posted on September 4, 2010, in Iceland, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Absolutely breathtaking. We so wanna go there!! Amazing photos!

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