4 day trek through Iceland

8:01 p.m. on July 31, 2017 (EDT)
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It's been a long time since my last post here.  I suppose graduate school and having 2 kids over a relatively brief period of time will put quite a hamper on one's internet usage (even more so on backpacking trips planned and executed).  This past June, I was able to take a 1 week excursion to Iceland with a couple buddies.  4 days were spent hiking from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk via the Laugavegur trial (the additional days were spent driving around and wasting time in Reykjavik).  This was a 55 km hike, and one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

After arriving in Reykjavik, it quickly became apparent that our gear had not arrived.  The marginal customer service at the baggage claim made us skeptical that this hike would happen at all.  Anyway, we were given a slip of paper and the promise that we would be notified as soon as our luggage showed up.  

Long story short, our packs were delivered to our Airbnb at 12:15 P.M. the following day.  We hailed a cab as quickly as we could and hauled off to the bus terminal, as the last departure was scheduled for 1 PM.  We made it with 6 minutes to spare (additionally, we rented out the last two lockers in the bus station to store our day bags with passports, etc.).  The bus ride is 4 hours long, with stops at various sites along the way before arriving at the base camp at Landmannalaugar.

Day 1:

iceland1.jpg^The roads become dicier the closer you get to the trailhead.  Essentially no trees in Iceland = maximum exposure to the elements.  This would end up being a bit of a revelation at some points.

^Scenery gets better the closer we get.  The flags at the gas stations along the route all betrayed some rather intense wind speeds.

iceland3.jpg^Basecamp at Landmannalaugar.  Weather was rather pleasant at this point.  Due to our luggage not arriving, we were starting this hike at around 5 PM local time.  Not to worry, we thought, as we have near 24 hour sunlight being as it was late June.

iceland4.jpg^ one of our first stops along the route.  We filtered water down in the valley prior to climbing a little bit.

^ The trail as it ascends out of the valley, shrouded ahead in fog.  The wind was picking up a bit in this photo. 

iceland6.jpg^bad photo, but it looks down the valley back towards the base camp in the distance.

This would end up being my last photo of the day.  Shortly hereafter, we ended up shrouded in thick fog, pelted by rain and hail, and assaulted by the most unbelievable, unrelenting wind I had ever been caught outside in.  I truly wish I had captured some of the wind / conditions on video, but it was all we could do to try and keep on pumping to the top.  Temps were in the mid-40's, but the intense wind and rain quickly made the going miserable.  By this time we were post-holing each step through the remaining snow.

Having reached the summit of Hrafntinnusker through some of the most miserable conditions any of us had experienced, we gladly plopped down the money for space at the summit cabin.

^Snow still quite deep up top.

iceland8.jpg^camping allowed around the hut, but we did this trek about as early in the season as is permitted; getting a tent set up and guyed out would have been quite miserable.

Day 2 to follow...

8:39 p.m. on July 31, 2017 (EDT)
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Day 2:

Having enjoyed a solid night of sleep away from the elements, it was time to dive back in again.  We packed up and headed out.  Today would take us from the glaciers and thick snow pack down to the beautiful lakeside camp site of Alftavatn.

iceland9.jpg^Looking ahead.  The going was quite slow as you can imagine.

iceland10.jpg^lots of sulfur belching out of the springs in the ground.  The snow gradually becomes more punctuated with solid ground, much to our relief

iceland11.jpg^again, the sulfur just pouring out in a thick mist at various points

iceland12.jpg^Snow pack was quite thick.  I'm not sure, but I doubt all of this melts

iceland13.jpg^Blue skies and intense hunger after post-holing all that distance called for a quick break to soak in the surroundings.

iceland14.jpg^less and less snow, hurrah!

iceland15.jpg^the trail markers had seen better days, clearly

iceland16.jpg^our first view of the valley below.

iceland17.jpg^me, not particularly warm, but soaking up the views

iceland18.jpg^descending into the valley.  The lake in the distance is where our campsite night #2 is located

iceland19.jpg^the only river crossing of the day, the first of several on the trip.  This one was the easiest of them, but the water was never anything besides frigid

iceland20.jpg^the cold water did have it's purpose, however

iceland21.jpg^approaching camp

iceland22.jpg^our camp near the lake

iceland23.jpg^view across the lake.  Gin and rest.  

iceland24.jpg^another view of camp.  Overall, this was our best day of the trip in terms of weather.  Mostly sunny, barely any precip, and the valley kept us generally out of the wind.  

Day 3 next...

8:57 p.m. on July 31, 2017 (EDT)
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Day 3:

iceland25.jpg^Back to cold, wet, and windy.  

iceland26.jpg^Here was an optional campsite at Hvanngil a few km further down the trail; these rock formations were built for campers to get some reprieve from the wind.

iceland27.jpg^raging rivers punctuate otherwise arid land with very little plant life

iceland28.jpg^looking less and less like planet earth 

iceland29.jpg^another river along the route

iceland30.jpg^some strange country we are in, no doubt

iceland31.jpg^whatever plant life had survived before could no longer exist here, this section was completely barren

iceland32.jpg^saturated the photo a little to not make it look quite so drab, lol

iceland33.jpg^almost to camp at Emstrur!

iceland34.jpg^heading down towards our camp

iceland35.jpg^After reaching camp, we dropped our stuff and did a quick side trip to this massive canyon

iceland36.jpg^the panoramas from this point were pretty amazing

iceland37.jpg^view from camp

This day was again exhausting mostly on account of the weather; the elevation gain / loss was really nothing compared to hikes in the Western US, and the mileage was relatively low overall...but the relentlessness of the wind and the complete exposure rendered one fairly spent by the end of the day.

Day 4 next...

9:10 p.m. on July 31, 2017 (EDT)
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Day 4:

iceland38.jpg^the day began with very slight breeze and fairly sunny skies, we left in high spirits

iceland39.jpg^river valleys were not in short supply during the hike, some of the only time you were somewhat shielded from the wind.  We took our time getting out of them for good reason.

iceland40.jpg^I mean, come on

iceland41.jpg^looking back at what we had hiked out of...

iceland42.jpg^...and looking ahead.  we skirted this river for quite some distance

iceland43.jpg^the land begins to look less severe, and the terrain more familiar

iceland44.jpg^after our last river crossing, and climbing out of our last river valley.  Actual vegetation!

iceland45.jpg^the end of our journey.  We had to wait several hours for the bus to show up to take us back to Reykjavik.  

iceland46.jpg^so beer me!

Many of my previous hikes / backpacking trips have taught me a lot about my physical capabilities and limitations; this trip did more to strengthen my mental resolve.  Also: layering.  I depended on every shred of wool and nylon in my pack at one point or another; any illusions I had that I was over prepared were quickly relieved by the Icelandic wind.

Cheers to being back, can't wait to plan the next one!

6:28 a.m. on August 1, 2017 (EDT)
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That was a fun read .ghost! I caught the first post before bed last night and finished up the rest just now. A very different sort of trip through a very different sort of place. I noted the wise decision to bring chairs along because it didn't look like there was a fallen log to be found anywhere :)

6:47 a.m. on August 1, 2017 (EDT)
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Great report and photos. Iceland is already on my list but you just helped move it up closer to the top!

10:54 a.m. on August 2, 2017 (EDT)
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Awesome! That looks like a fantastic trip! Thanks for sharing your pictures.

2:53 p.m. on August 2, 2017 (EDT)
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Sounds like a must-do trip. 

Is their beer any good?

1:49 p.m. on August 3, 2017 (EDT)
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On the whole I would say that their beer sucks, but YMMV based on what you like.  They did have a nascent craft beer scene that would remind you a lot of the sorts of beers you would find state-side; regardless of what you you order, beers are 15-18 bucks a pop during non-happy hour hours.

7:20 a.m. on August 10, 2017 (EDT)
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Great to see your posts Ghosts...Nice you still have your tent..Thanks for sharing your trip

April 4, 2020
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