Laugavegur Trail – Iceland

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you can put the girl in Iceland…

Some of the best adventures are never planned, so whilst our trip to Iceland was booked months ago with the intention of doing the 3 day hike from Landmannhellir to Landmannalaugar instead of the iconic Laugavegur trail (Landmannalaugar to Porsmork), it took one quick look at what we were missing from the guidebook to change our minds. 

On the plane between Bristol and Reykavik I finally opened the guidebook to have a better idea of what my friend Fran and I could see in Iceland.  I read the small article on the Laugavegur trail and thought that it seemed crazy to go all the way to Iceland to go hiking and not do that trail, so whilst we had no reservations on what was an overbooked trek we decided to do it anyway!
We changed our bus tickets and tried to find out about the huts (still fully booked), however to cut a long story short we decided to risk it (the tourist information officer in Reykjavik said that Icelanders will always solve a problem) and caught a bus to Landmannalaugar.
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Campsite at Landmannalaugar

Our plan was to start the hike straight from the bus, however we thought we would enquire if there were indeed spaces in the huts along the route.  The young lad in the ranger hut was pretty gobsmacked that we decided to turn up without a reservation and without a tent as an alternative….hmmm started to feel a bit of idiot, gave him my name for him to see if we would go on the waiting list, only to find out that we had spaces in the huts after all, stemming from my initial enquiry 4 months earlier!!  The catch was that it was for a day later, not the end of the world, just a night in Landmannalaugar hut before we could set off. 

The things I wish I knew beforehand – Landmannalaugar
·       Okay, we were lucky that the weather was sunny, but Landmannalaugar is a great place to spend a day or two.  Some fantastic circular walks, great place to camp and whilst the hot spring next to the hut is fairly underrated in guidebooks and internet searches it really is quite gorgeous – watching the sunrise whilst soaking in perfectly warm water was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!
·     If you are told by the hut association that the huts are full when you enquire by email, DON’T give up, call them/email again as none of the huts were full – I can only assume that people book and cancel quite frequently
·      The little mobile store in Landmannalaugar is expensive but well stocked, fresh eggs were an unexpected bonus and a great breakfast motivator the morning of the hike
·      The hut’s kitchen is locked overnight until 7am, not great for an early riser like myself
·      Showers cost 500kr, hot spring is free J
·      The bus journey from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar is really quite spectacular, try and get the front seats for that all-important view.  The scenery and experience really steps up a notch once you are off the tarmac road and onto the lava fields,  I was wishing I had my mountain bike to ride that section!
Day 1 – Landmannalaugar hut to Hrafntinnuske hut

After a later than expected start – kitchen not opening until later than 7 and lots of 32f22-img_0882faffing packing our rucksack – off we went.  The guidebook describes day 1 as a lot of climbing, and whilst there certainly was climbing, the overall gradient and the distraction of an ever-increasing incredible view ensured that it was not too laborious.  The middle section went over bizzare landscape and was generally undulating. About half way along, the route continues along a wide ridge, keeping high above a small valley with hot springs and mud pools.  We actually (by accident) walked down into the small valley, a diversion well worth doing as you can get very very close to the hot springs and mud pools, in fact you are walking through them!  Once you join the path back up on the saddle, the  view of ‘wizards hat’  hill in front makes a great snack stop.

The final part of the walk (not helped by the poor visibility and drizzle) made the route feel very remote and lunar indeed.  The hut at Hrafntinnusk came before we knew it, and took only 4 hours for the 12km, including lots of stops for photos/lunch and adjusting kit!

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The hut at Hrafntinnuske – the outside reflects the inside…

Things I wish I knew beforehand – Day 1

·      The hut at Hrafntinnuske is very ‘rustic’.  If I did this route again I would definitely continue on and miss this hut – weather dependent. Saying that, this opinion is formed by the fact that we had to share it with 30 hyperactive 13 year olds and the clouds came in taking away the view.  Outside of the hut was very windy and cold, so sitting outside was not an option.  Therefore we had to spend the evening stuck in the upstairs sleeping area listening to excitable teenagers!

  • ·      There are no showers here and there are only drop toilets
  • ·      The boot room is very well heated, and makes a very effective drying room
  • ·      They charge your phones/electrical items for free (well these wardens did!)
  • ·      There is a path signposted from Hrafntinnuske to Landmannahellir if you fancy doing something different (or if the remaining huts are full)
  • ·      A nice mini hike to do whilst you are whiling away the hours (or trying to avoid schoolchildren) is the short walk to the area of the most concentrated hot springs, we did it but the whole area was covered in thick cloud so I can’t comment on whether it was worth it.
 Day 2 – Hrafntinnusk to Alftvatn

We woke to thick mist, and whilst the wardens assured us that the mist tends to lift at about 11am in the morning, we were keen to head off and escape the claustrophobic feeling of the hut.  So off we went at about 8ish.  As we walking towards the end of the season, the snow was as its lowest which made the seemingly never-ending undulations exposed.  So, in combination with the thick mist, the walking was slow-going as path/pole finding was carefully done!  It was however, lovely to set off as we didn’t see another person for nearly 2 hours so felt very remote indeed.

when the mist lifted!

 I was pretty nervous about getting to the steep descent that people were warning us about (especially with my pre-op rubbish knees) however it was surprisingly okay. There was some very tired people heading up the other way including a guy walking with one boot and one trainer….
A small river crossing (no shoes off as there was some handy planks of wood going across), and a few kilometres on the valley floor and we had arrived at Alftvatn hut.
The hut is positioned at one side of a lake with hills surrounding it.  It makes a beautiful spot to spend the night.  We stayed in the old hut as the all-singing-all-dancing new hut was booked out by the school group, however it was very cosy with a gorgeous view from the bedroom and was close to the toilets.
The total time of the hike was about 4 hours and the distance is around 12 km.  This short length should give you enough time and energy to walk around the lake and up to the ridge for some different views too
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My favourite hut of the trip – Alfavatn

Things I wish I knew beforehand – Day 2
  • ·      There are flush toilets (!) and the showers cost 500kr (for 5 minutes)
  • ·      There is a bus service to and from here – Reykjavik Excursions
  • ·      You can charge your phone here (for approx. €7!)
  • ·      There are several nice short excursions – one being around the lake and the other up to a nearby ridge for gorgeous views
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Day 3 – Alftvatn to Botnar-Emstrur
With clouds fairly low but our path clearly laid out we set off with the anticipation (and apprehension) of two glacial rivers crossings ahead of us.  The first one was within the first 20 minutes.  Luckily as we were undertaking this walk during the last week in August, the rivers are pretty much at their lowest but….brrr cold!  The water was at calf height and the cold soon numbed the feet.  I was grateful for sandals and walking poles to ensure that the crossing was as swift as possible.
We continued past the second Alftvatn hut and campsite useful if the lake side hut is fully booked or if you intend to camp and it’s a very windy day, and onto a fab path cut through a lava field, across a high bridge and then onto the next river crossing.
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Glacial river crossing….brrr! (with the dust storm closing in in the background)

Deeper and wider than the first river, this is where sandals and poles REALLY come into their own.  I honestly think I would have struggled without them. Once crossed there begun a long, long and very windy walk along a flat area through a dust storm, up and

Some river crossings were easier

over a saddle where it was so windy I was genuinely knocked off my feet – heavy rucksack and all! A few more ups and downs and we arrived at Botnar-Emstur,  the least ascent and descent of any of the days but with the river crossings, wind and dust storm it felt the most challenging day yet taking five ho
urs.  Due to the high wind several of the campers decided to stay in the huts, so ours was completely full with several people sleeping on the floor – cosy!

Things I wish I knew beforehand – day 3

  • ·     There are flush toilets and the showers cost 500kr (for 5 minutes)

    The side excursion to the gorge

    ·     There is a bus service to and from here – Reykjavik Excursions

  • ·     There is a truly spectacular view of the gorge only 20 minutes away.   Well worth the walk out, although slightly unnerving peering over the edge with gusty winds behind you!
  • ·     The campsite is small and exposed to the wind
  • ·     Poles and sandals (plus a towel handily available) makes the river crossings more bearable
Day 4 – Botnar-Emstrur to Porsmork
The final day is described in the guidebook as the least interesting day of the trek.  However I beg to differ.  The landscape constantly changed getting greener and lusher with every turn, our lunch stop on top of a small ridge was truly spectacular with an uninterrupted view of the local glacier. 
Shortly afterwards came the final but most challenging river crossing of the trek, this river was wider, rockier, deeper and faster flowing than either of the other two and could easily be un-crossable in other less forgiving times of the hiking season.  After recovering on the other side with some chocolate, it was the final trek through a beautiful woods of juniper and birch to the Volcano huts.  The longest day and hardest on the feet taking 5 ½ hours, with the hut (and several glasses of chilled wine) being a very welcome site.

towards the woods

Things I wish I knew beforehand – day 4
·      There are two huts/campsites to choose from:-
1 – Volcano huts – they sell beer and wine for 1000kr each, and serve all you can eat dinner (4500), breakfast (2000) and lunch (2500). Nice social sofa area.  Showers free.  You can charge your phone for free, plus free wi-fi.  Dorms are actually twin beds.  Hot spring pool very disappointing – shallow and at best, lukewarm.
2 – Porsmork hut – very scenically placed, rustic and cosy hut.  Campsite picturesque.
·      Reykjavik Excursions buses leaves from Volcano hut, Trex buses leave from Porsmork hut
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We really should’ve text each other our clothing list…

Thing I wish I knew beforehand – overall trek
  • ·     Lighting is not good in huts, so a head torch to read/get to toilets in night is a must
  • ·     If you do this hike in four days then the hiking lengths are fairly short, so it’s good to have entertainment – my walking companion had podcasts on her ipod, I was very jealous
  • ·      Map – 1:100000 Landmannalaugar and Porsmork not very useful for navigation but interesting to look at and to identify mountains/rivers
  • ·      For the fords – bring sandals and poles – otherwise it takes ages and gets really painful!
  • ·      Sunglasses very handy for the dust storms
  • ·      Huts have everything you need – no need for bowls/cutlery etc. they even have free food cupboards and flasks for day walks!
  • ·      Avoid the crowds and cook tea early in the huts
  • ·      If it’s windy then it’s really windy so girls (and guys) with long hair, take a buff to save your sanity!
  • ·      Keep a towel handy to wipe your feet on day 3 and 4 for the river crossings
  • ·      Would recommend going north to south
  • ·      Planning your food  carefully is key to enjoyment
  • ·      I really wish we carried on to Skogar – looked incredible and different type of walking again
  • ·      The campsite at reykjavik is very good value, it has loads of free gas canisters and food.  Free showers. Inside kitchen/chill out area.  It’s next door to the amazing swimming pool and hot pods.  All excursion/airport buses stop here, and you it has luggage storage – just feels like you in the middle of a drop out band camp 🙂

Porsmork hut

What did I take?
  • 55 litre rucksack
  • waterproof jacket and trousers
  • gaitors
  • walking trousers/trousers for wearing in the hut
  • 1 hiking top/1 top for wearing in the hut/1 top for last day
  • underwear and socks
  • down jacket
  • gloves and buff
  • toiletries
  • 1 book
  • 1:100 000 map and compass
  • sleeping bag
  • walking poles
  • head torch
  • ear plugs
  • sunglasses
  • blister pads/ibuprofen
  • several dry bags to keep thing in
  • camera
What I wish I took!
  • Hot chocolate sachets
  • Small bottle of antiseptic hand wash
  • Small pack of wet wipes
  • Ipod with audio book and pod casts
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