Monday, March 21, 2016

Iceland Adventures - Hiking the Laugavegurinn: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker

Iceland Adventures – Laugavegurinn Day 1 – 8/29/15 – Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker – 12k

Thought for the day every day on the Laugavegurinn:  “We’re going to need a thesaurus to describe this to the folks back home.” 

The Laugavegurinn is Iceland’s most famous hiking trail, 55 kilometers of walking through an OMG landscape from one unpronounceable point to another.  Hikers do not go to Iceland in the short summer season to get a tan, but for glimpses of a moonscape that is often shrouded in fog.  After seven days of soldiering through drizzly rain and gray skies in the Westfjords, our merry band was rewarded with four spectacular clear days of an unforgettable adventure of lava fields with big boulders, small rocks, coal ash, thermal features, hot spots, steam vents, snow fields, gentle slopes, steep climbs, scary descents, multi-colored mountains and brilliant green moss.

Combine Death Valley’s rhyolite rocks at Zabriskie Point, North Carolina’s Roan Highlands long views, Virginia’s green Shenandoah Valley, Yellowstone’s thermal features, New Hampshire’s White Mountains huts, and delete all the trees.  Oh, and throw in massive waterfalls tumbling through the colorful rock.  Enjoy.  Click on photos to view full screen.

Sources:  Lonely Planet’s Iceland guidebook has a nice description of the Laugavegurinn and the accommodations available.  We stayed at Hrafntinnusker, Álftavatn,  Emstrur and ended at Þórsmörk. I also carried The Laugavegur Trail by Brian W. Zimmer, a useful geology guide to what we were seeing. The trail’s official website is here.

Cathy made hut reservations several months in advance.  Camping is also available at each hut without reservations, but we chose the cushier option because of the trail’s reputation for bad weather.  Much nicer to sit in a warm, dry hut than stake out a tent in high winds and cold temperatures.   Mike reserved seats on a Flybus for the four-hour ride to Landmannalaugar, the trail’s starting point.  Our adventure really started with the bus ride.

Our comfy motor coach tour bus left from Reykjavik’s main bus terminal headed toward the southern highlands.  After two hours the bus left pavement and teeth-rattling gravel tracks took us through the flat valley of volcanic ash edged with looming rhyolite mountains.  As we approached the first braided river, I was dumbfounded to see there was no bridge and the big bus drove through the water, rocking gently from side to side on the uneven bottom.  We did this again and again.  Watch it on Youtube.

Landmannalaugar (which Icelanders pronounce in a slur of “Lam-a-logger” like you would say “Worchestershire”) is in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve.  It’s a popular daytripper destination for geothermal springs and short hikes and a base camp for the majority of Laugavegurinn trekkers who traditionally hike north to south.  Open from mid-June to mid-September, the hut facilities sleep 75 people and the grounds spill over with tents pitched helter-skelter. 

From the bus we unloaded our backpacks, used the facilities, and sat down at a picnic table to eat a quick bite and inhale deeply and a tad nervously about what we were about to do.  My main worry was finding my way if fog rolled in.  Before the trip Mike had helped me upload a GPS track of the hike onto my phone, and now I checked to make sure it was still there.  Now I could worry about my battery lasting for four days.

Today’s destination is Hrafntinnusker, 12 kilometers away, a hut that sleeps 52 with an outhouse (no showers) and kitchen facilities that include propane stovetops, running cold water, pots, pans, crockery and cutlery.  Bring all your food and carry out all your trash.

And here we go!  Mike had been to the trailhead a couple of weeks ahead of us and he confidently set off on a white blaze trail beside a glacial river… but we didn’t see the Laugavegurinn red blazes.  No worries, there’s more than one way to start, and we soon intersected with our trail. 

Now here we go – really!  

Go ahead, look through the photos again.  I couldn’t believe it either. 

First look at Hrafntinnusker
 Tents and outhouses
The entryway to the hut is a mud room where all boots come off, only hut shoes allowed inside, which meant that going to the outhouse took some planning.  The staff consists of a hut warden and a couple of other folks who check hikers in, answer questions and try to keep the place clean.

Inside Hrafntinnusker.  Bunk beds lined both sides of the room, double on the bottom, single on top, and it was a full house (with more bunks upstairs).  Picnic style tables down the middle.  Not much room to store gear.  Cathy, Mike and I grabbed top bunks while Paul and Kim shared a bottom bunk.  Modest?  Forget it.  We’re not in Kansas anymore and people were very open about stripping down.  If all that sounds like a deal-breaker to you, don’t let it be.  You can change clothes inside your sleeping bag or in the outhouse, but you quickly learn that nobody cares what your underwear looks like.

Many nationalities were represented:  US, UK, Iceland, Canada, France, Czech Republic, Germany, some solo males and females, some couples, some groups like ours.  Everyone was interested in talking about the trail and various hiking locations around the world.  And since most of us were heading in the same direction, we would see each other again at the next hut and compare notes about the day.  [The exception was two German couples with sour faces who did not seem inclined to friendly conversation.  They spoke only to each other and started up a card game at 9:00 p.m. when everyone else was settling down to snooze. At least they kept their voices low.]

Cathy in the kitchen. A huge caldron of hot water was waiting and hikers politely maneuvered in the tight space, cooking and washing up.  Cathy ventured out for a walk and climbed one of the nearby peaks.  I was content to sit with a cup of tea to help wind down from the sensory overload. 

How could tomorrow possibly be any more awesome?  Well….

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  ~Mary Oliver


Nancy said...

This absolutely incredible!! I'm pretty sure I've found my family's vacation destination for summer of 2017! Couple of questions: Did you use microspikes or anything similar in the snowy areas or were hiking shoes sufficient? Any kids on the trail and do you think it would be possible for 10-13 year old kids to do (who, as you probably know from my own blog, are seasoned hikers in exposed places like the Tetons, Grand Canyon, etc.). wow, I just can't stop looking at your photos and eagerly await the next post! :-)

smoky scout said...

I don't remember any children, but for your kids' ages and experience I don't see why not. I found the trail to be difficult in a few places but mostly moderate and we finished in 4 days (3 nights). We skipped one hut (between Álftavatn and Emstrur). You can certainly stretch the trip out. An extra day at Emstrur just hiking in the area would be well worth it. Didn't need microspikes, but we were at nearly the end of the season. There were several knee-deep frigid river crossings that might be formidable for kids, but doable. The biggest issue is navigation if the weather/visibility is poor.

Nancy said...

Thanks so much for the input--it is high on my list now!