Trip planning is what I am good at. Details, logistics, planning, preparing and executing, getting to the destination. But what I need to keep reminding myself about is being there. Being in the moment, loosing track of time, and treating each step of the trail as an important element of the journey. Doing Laugavegur solo allowed me to feel this truly for the first time.
As an outdoor guide, I often feel slightly in guide mode even when hiking with friends. Having a chance to be selfish and just lookout for me was so refreshing; hiking at my own pace, taking as many pictures as I wanted, resting when I wanted or going for the push to see another sight, it was my decision.
To be honest, I could have spend a month on the Laugavegur, it was incredible. To date, its the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The colours create a rainbow in the landscape, the area is alive with steam vents and the amazing Icelandic moss. There is a contrast of elements everywhere, all intertwined in this vibrant landscape which I was honoured to hike through, even just for 3 days.
Driving along the backroads of Iceland is truly epic. The buses take you over lava fields, through rivers, and into this oasis of vibrant colours and hot water. Landmannalaugar was my first glimpse into what all the hype is about - the rhyolite mountains. Breathtaking.
Off the bus, I set up my campsite and had a quick bite to eat. I spent the evening with my camera, walking the rivers edge, taking it all in. You can feel the energy here, a vibration I have never felt before. I found a perch to hang out on and do some yoga while the sun set. Preparation for the next day’s hike of 24 kilometres. Laugavegur awaits!
Day 1: Landmannalaugar to Alftavatn (24 km/ 10 Hours)
Man was it a cold first night! I snuck out of my tent at 5:30am to dip in the hot river before the early morning traffic jam of hikers all starting the Laugavegur.
By 7:30 I was on the trail, climbing through a lava field alive with morning light. Climbing away from Landmannalaugar, it felt like I was hiking into a magic land, a bizarre landscape of lava formations, steam vents, rainbow coloured hills and mossy valleys.
As the day unfolded, the landscape got more and more vibrant. I encountered obsidian (volcanic glass) for the first time just before reaching Hrafntinnusker Hut. There was a large piece on a cairn and I placed my hand on it to feel its cool smoothness. Another contrast as this rock forms inside the volcano! It was so much blacker and glassier than I had expected. Simply amazing!
I relaxed and had a panic lunch at Hrafntinnusker Hut, taking the views of Reykjafjöll. The second half of the day was equally amazing. More stunning rhyolite hills, snowpacks, steam vents, and then suddenly a lush green valley, with Alftavatn in the distance. What a huge contrast! Rainbow hills drop into black sand mountains topped with moss for miles, with Alftavatn, a clam oasis in the centre. I arrived at Alftavatn Hut around 5pm and signed into the hut. By 7:30pm, I was fed, clean and fast asleep. Great first day on the Laugavegur!
Day 2: Alftavatn to Botnar (15 km/6 hours)
Lazy start to the day. Had breakfast with new friends, enjoying last nights meat soup and strong coffee. Off on the trail at 11am. Along the black hills I wandered, seeing the landscape under a threatening sky, the weather certainly preparing to turn any minute. I passed Hvanngil Hut, crossed the bridge and arrived at Katla Geopark. Just when I thought the area couldn’t get any cooler, this route took me straight into a geopark! I was so excited because the Cabox Geopark is currently being developed in Western Newfoundland and this is the potential, the excitement people can feel when they experience the landscape. I decided to stop here, on the Geopark boundary to have lunch on a black sand beach beside a pristine river. A subtle temperature drop indicated heavy rain was eminent. Time for the rain gear as the clouds were looming dark and heavy.
Now it’s off to cross the river Blafjallakvisl. Freezing, like ice on the feet. Wet boots feel amazingly warm after the river. Through the black sand desert as the rain poured and the hail fell. No shelter here, you have to keep moving, stay warm. It feels extreme, being so exposed but when you live in Newfoundland, this is kind of normal! As the clouds pass, the sun begins to peak through again, immediately warming the air. I met Amanda and Greg at Alfatvatn and we spent the afternoon hiking together, making our way to Botnar.
Reaching a ridge, overlooking Botnar Hut, there were more vivid contrasts - black and white, flat and deep. The black sand desert meets the glacier, Myrdalsjokull, under which lies the mighty Katla volcano. The trail today was mellow, elevation wise, and from this vantage point we can also see this huge, deep canyon. We walk to the edge of the canyon, the layers alluding to the history of the land. Its story showcased for a keen eye to decode: ash layers, lava flows, conglomerate masses, moss and of course sheep, all tangled together in the landscape that is Laugavegur.
Tonights camp was on a little rise, overlooking the glacier and valley below. The sunset pink on the glacier and we got to watch the stars peak out over the tents.
Day 3 - Botnar to Thorsmork (15km/ 6 hours)
The hiking rhythm has set in. I am feeling the routine and relaxation of trekking. The repetitions of breakfast, teardown camp, hike, breath, hike, lunch, breath, hike, set up camp, all help unwind the body and the mind.
We hike along the canyon today, down into wide valleys which give way into forest. Being surrounded by trees feels odd after the vast expanse of open visibility along the rest of the trial. There are mushrooms and the first falls colours sprinkled through the Icelandic forest. Coming into Thorsmork was a bit anti-climatic after the stunning, epicness of Landmannalaugar. Hindsight, I would hike this trail Thorsmork to Landmannalaugar, to savour the last days hike into the rhyolite valley with the hot river instead of feeling like I had already seen it all.
We arrive at Volcano Huts, where we savour a hot shower and a meal with fellow hikers before we prepare to part ways in the morning.
Solo hiking is good for me. It’s refreshing, revitalizing and really fun!
Laugavegur is special, magical, vibrant and alive. I will be back here again, to soak in more of that unnamed energy and savour the landscape. Until next time Iceland!
- stop and smell the roses (or the sulphur as the case may be)
- do a yoga pose for another perspective
- enjoy the scenery with your eyes, not through a lens