Solo adventuring and hiking in Landmannalaugar, Iceland
‘Well eh, I’ll see you in two and a half weeks!’ Those were my last words to Martijn as I was boarding the bus to Landmannalaugar, Iceland. He is moving on to Alaska today for guiding and I’m heading into the Icelandic highlands by myself for a couple of days. It’s only for some 48 hours yet I’m still somewhat excited. Landmannalaugar is not just a place. It’s windy, it’s cold and it’s isolated. You can only get there with a 4WD or in my case, with a bus that is able to cross some large rivers. I’ve been hiking in Landmannalaugar twice before, both times together with Martijn. The last time I was there, we were hiking the Laugavegur, which is until now still the best trek we ever did. This time it’ll be just me. Because I can and because hiking in Landmannalaugar is always a good idea!
I get on the bus in Hella and about one hour after departure from there, the road becomes unpaved. Only all the way in the back of the bus there was a seat next to the window available and the bus driver advises everyone to fasten their seat belts. Which is a good thing because not much later the road gets extremely bumpy and the French in the seats in front of me are almost launched right across the bus as they didn’t fasten theirs.
Along the way I can see Hekla volcano, which is about to blow, if we have to believe the media. Since the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull back in 2010 the hysteria about upcoming eruptions in Iceland is incredible. I notice this especially at work, where we receive a lot of calls from worried customers who are about to head to Iceland. Hekla usually erupts every ten years and its last eruption was in 2000, which means it’s ‘overdue’ by nearly six years now. When we pass it looks pretty peaceful, not much going on there, just like the previous times I passed by with the bus and ‘it was also about to blow.’
A few hours later the bus reaches Landmannalaugar. I had almost forgotten how stunning arrival there is. The drive over is special but the arrival is even better. Blahnukur, the blue mountain, rises up in front of me and further at the back I can see Brennisteinsalda, the red mountain. The bus maneuvers itself through one last river and then I reach my final destination for that day: Landmannalaugar, land of rhyolite mountains. Time for some adventure!
For this trip to Iceland we have borrowed a tent from Nigor Tents, a three person teepee. Last time we went hiking in Landmannalaugar, we took a smaller tent but this one is a bit larger and there for quite a bit more comfortable. Oh and it’s light too, so I can easily carry it around with me. With a teepee you will receive some attention from fellow campers, when I was in it I occasionally heard people say ‘oh look at that one!’. It’s an easy one to pitch, at least, with the two of us it was. One person keeps up the pole in the middle while the other person fixes the pegs. Usually we had it up in three minutes and within another five, we were ready to get to bed. However, with only me there, it just may become a bit more challenging. The night before I pitched it by myself and that went quite well, first two pegs into the ground, then putting up the pole and then securing the other pegs.
In full confidence I step onto the campsite. The crowds from the bus have left for the information center to pay their camping fees, yet I choose to first pitch up my tent because I want to have a quiet spot. Immediately I realize that it’s quite a bit chillier than at the coast here, Landmannalaugar is about 600 meters higher up and I have a gut feeling it’s just about five degrees here. In good spirits I’m starting to pitch up my tent, however I soon notice that the ground is ultra hard. Whenever I manage to put a peg into it, it doesn’t go deep. Within a few minutes I have the first two pegs in but as soon as I put up the pole, they are blown out of the ground by the wind. Shit. Did I already mention it’s windy in Landmannalaugar? I’m trying again but each time the pole is up, the wind blows it down or makes sure the pegs are torn from the ground. I’m trying to get things done for more than an hour because I do have my pride, but eventually ask a neighbor to help me out. I ask him to hold the pole so I can put all the pegs in the ground without them being blown out by the wind again. He advises me to find really big rocks and put those on the pegs because otherwise it’s never going to hold. Which is what I do. Another half hour later my tent is up, the teepee has risen in Landmannalaugar. I’m not exactly proud of it because it’s pretty askew but OK, it’s up and I feel hungry. The fact that I have bloody blisters on my hands doesn’t really matter anymore…
As the place where I wanted to pitch the tent has changed a bit because of the wind, I didn’t really check if there were rocks on the ground. I was just glad I got it up. When I sit down on my knees to pump up my sleeping mat, I hit a large rock. That’s going to be a nice bruise for the next week or so… Not a whole lot later my tent is ready and I head over to the information booth to pay my camping fee. I have to pay a pricey 3.600 Kronur for two nights. The Viking behind the window is looking at me. ‘Are you all by yourself?’ Yes. ‘Really?’ Sigh. He doesn’t seem to believe me… He gives me a wristband I have to wear, which indicates that I have paid to use the facilities.
Although I came here to hike, I don’t really want to force myself to do anything. If I just feel like bathing in the hot stream with my bum all day long, I just might do that instead. It’s my vacation after all. Then I decide that now that the weather is still somewhat OK, I might just get out and hike. It’s light 24 hours a day and there is no rush. Once I packed my bag and leave the tent, dark clouds have gathered over Landmannalaugar. Just two minutes later, it pours down on me like a waterfall. I run to the facilities and hide in the shelter, together with a bunch of other people who have just arrived with the next bus. We’re all close together to fit as much people underneath the roof as possible for about half an hour until it’s somewhat dry again. Every now and then I take a peek at my tent in the distance but to my relief, it stays up. Girlpower!
It finally gets dry and I can begin my hike. I’ve heard from the Viking that there’s still a lof of snow left and some of the day hikes are still closed. How much snow I could only imagine a bit later when entering the Laugahraun, a large lava field you will have to cross before getting to the famous rhyolite mountains. Within minutes I’m in the snow in the lava field, this is something I’ve never experienced before. The trail in the snow is pitch black and easy to follow. They are only short bits and very easy to cross. In this part of Landmannalaugar you will see a lot of daytrippers who will just go and see Landmannalaugar for the day, but once you are beyond this part, it gets more quiet. After about an hour I leave the lavafield (the actual hike is just about 30 minutes) but I can’t help but be amazed and I can’t stop taking pictures. This landscape just makes me incredibly happy. Today I plan on climbing Brennisteinsalda but somehow I don’t really feel like it. On my map I can see that there’s another trail heading back to the campsite called Grænigil and I decide to take that one. This one will take you back across another part of the Laugahraun and from up at where I am, I can see the trail in the snow. I pass by some boiling pots and eventually a veil of steam coming out of a big hotpot higher up on the mountain. I just love the smell of sulfur in my face…
Eventually I enter the lava field again. I just have to follow the markers which is fairly easy. Sometimes they are covered in snow still but I can easily stick to the trail. After a while I realize that the trail is actually leading me to another valley to my right, though I should be heading left. I eventually reach a river, which is way too high to actually cross by foot. I can’t imagine that the people I saw walking the trail in the opposite direction actually did this so I get confused. I can still see markers here, but my gut feeling says it’s not OK. I don’t feel like heading all the way back but neither do I want to cross the river. It’s getting late, I’m getting tired and I don’t feel like getting lost in the lava field. The field isn’t that large but there are a lot of snowy patches left and underneath some of them, rivers have formed. If I’m breaking through the snow, I can only hope that someone will be around to help me.
Eventually I decide to head back as the trail that I’m on right now takes me towards Skalli, a long and strenuous trail, and I heard from the Viking that it’s still closed for the season. I’m trying to find the same way back which is a bit tricky because of the snow, but eventually I reach the point where I remember being earlier and then I notice a sign indicating I was indeed hiking in the wrong direction. I was indeed heading to Skalli instead of Grænigil and I should have followed the white markers, not the yellow ones. Silly me…
I hike back to the campsite on a track that is mostly covered in snow. I meet the rivier I mentioned earlier and further down the valley where I am right now, it’s still entirely covered in snow, so I’m glad I didn’t cross it because that would have gotten me into some trouble. After another 30 minutes I arrive back at my tent. The sun is shining and I am ready to prepare dinner. At dinner I meet two Canadian girls who share the same passion for the outdoors. We exchange travel stories and one of them tells me that she’s moving to Vancouver soon. I can only be a wee bit jealous, I love Vancouver, in fact it’s my favorite city in the world! While I enjoy my Four Cheeses pasta-from-a-bag we chat about the Laugavegur for a bit. I wish them well and hope they make it, despite the cold and the high snow. They should be fine I think, because it’s always fairly busy on the trail and there will always be someone around to help you out, at least that’s our experience… [And now that I’m re-writing this, I can tell you they loved it, one of the girls contacted me via Instagram earlier this week!]
After dinner I decide to walk over to the hot stream to warm up a bit. The first time I was hiking in Landmannalaugar, I spent quite a bit of time here and I love just soaking up the warmth. The one thing is that there is no changing room or whatsoever so the moment you are undressing yourself in the cold, is not a fun one. Soon I step into the water which is way colder than I remember, however once I make it further down, I reach a hot spot where I spend an hour or so. The one moment I’m not looking forward to is getting back out of the water and I postpone it for as long as I can. Eventually I decide I will have to leave the water at some point so I run towards my clothes but it’s so incredibly cold that I don’t even bother to get properly dressed. I put on my hoodie, shoes, wrap my towel around me and run towards my tent. Here I wrap myself in my sleeping bag and after 30 minutes I’m finally starting to warm up. Once I’m getting a wee bit warm again, I realize that I forgot to brush my teeth. However I don’t feel like getting out into the cold at all, so that will have to wait until tomorrow morning. The wind keeps on blowing over my tent and after a couple of hours I finally fall asleep. It has been a long first day in Landmannalaugar…
How to get to Landmannalaugar as a hiker
There are various bus companies that take you into the highlands for hiking in Landmannalaugar or doing the Laugavegur trek. From Hella to Landmannalaugar I used Trex as they were the first bus to show up that morning. I paid 6.000 Kronur for the one way. On the way back I used Reykjavík Excursions which I also used the last times when I went hiking in Landmannalaugar. They advertised free wifi, however, I couldn’t get the wifi to work. I paid 8.000 Kronur to get back to Reykjavík. When comparing the both of them beforehand, I found out that Trex is a bit cheaper but they have fewer buses than RE.
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Thanks for sharing!