What I thought’d happen
A nice, sunny hike through some dramatic scenery
What actually happened
The coldest summer in 20 years. That’s what fucking happened.
The real Iceland
Today we began the Laugarvegur trail in Iceland. Holy shit. Mother nature.
This hike takes you through scenery that is truly unbelievable. The photos I take and the words I write can’t convey what it feels like to actually be there. What it’s like to feel so small, an insignificant pinprick in this expansive, swirling universe. What it’s like to realise that actually life doesn’t revolve around you.
The easiest way is to buy a return hikers bus pass from Reykjavik Campsite and stay there, or close by, the night before. The bus conveniently leaves at 7am everyday out the front of the campsite and costs $120 return. You can also purchase tickets online at trex.is.
It’s a four hour drive from Reykjavic to Landmannalaugar, with at least three hours spent off-roading across rocky lava fields and untamed rapids. Even if you aren’t planning to hike, I’d encourage you to take the bus just for the epic scenery.
The lava fields
In summer are beautifully barren. Plains of dark bubbled charcoal speckled with bright lime moss and sprinkled with tiny purple flowers spread for as far as the eye can see. Save for these primitive signs of life, the landscape is completely dead. No sounds. No smells. Nothing.
This landscape continues uninterrupted in every direction until the horizon meets the towering black mountains, with snowy crevices so deep that even at the height of summer they remain frozen, a perfectly crisp white. As though somebody took an eraser to the landscape and rubbed out snowy blotches of negative space.
Then the lava fields pool into a valley, gradually giving way to more and more mountains until you’re steadily winding your way through wide mountain valleys. Tiny awkward waterfalls tumble over mountain cliffs fed by unseen glaciers. These in turn feed crystalline lakes, which in turn feed long rivers that snake their way across the rocky terrain.
Landmannalaugar is the most northerly point of the Laugarvegur/ Landmannalaugar hiking trail. It’s nestled between the edge of Laugahraun lava field and the extraordinary rhyolite mountain range. It contains a small sleeping hut, campsite and an incredible (and FREE) hot spring. Unlike that fucking tourist trap, the Blue Lagoon.
If you don’t have time to hike the whole trail then head here and just do a day hike, it’s well worth the drive, and the dip.
Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker – 12km
We started off way later than everybody else, around 2pm. The good thing is, it doesn’t matter. Iceland never gets dark in summer. Besides, less people walk later on in the day, so you pretty much get the trail to yourself.
Before we left we passed by the warden’s hut. She insisted that we buy an overpriced book containing a map (which we scoffed at, and didn’t) because parts of the trail and the markers were still covered in snow. She said it was the worst summer in over 70 years. We should have known.
The first leg
If like us, you hike during summer but it’s oddly still snowing, from here expect to hike up, down and around a lot of snowy hills. Every now and then you’ll come across a small haven of soft, spongey earth, the snow melted away by the hot earth below. These are a blessing if traipsing through snow in sneakers isn’t your thing.
After a while you’ll reach Stórihver, a hot spring. Actually so hot that if you fall in you’ll die. It looks like a small river winding itself through the blanket of snow, bubbling and spitting away. Don’t be fooled by this thing. It’s interesting but it smells like ass.
Trudging through thick fog and heavy snow. In a t-shirt and Nikes *facepalm
Not too shortly thereafter we reached camp. We borrowed some shovels and dug a shelter to protect our flimsy summer tent from the bitterly cold winds. I didn’t find it so bad, prancing round pretending to shovel and gently patting down heaves of freshly lifted snow into a contemporary architectural masterpiece. It was a real novelty.
I was not however fond of the cold which seeped through my clothes and burned my feet all night. Nor did I enjoy sleeping on a semi-insulated matt on freezing hard-packed snow with a summer sleeping bag between us. And to think, this was the peak of Icelandic summer. Oh, Iceland.
What I learned today:
Don’t leave the weather to your intuition
Summer in Iceland is a cruel joke