Monday, May 2, 2016

Iceland Adventures – Hiking the Laugavegurinn: Emstrur to Þorsmörk

Iceland Adventures – Laugavegurinn Day 4 – Emstrur to Þorsmörk  – 9/1/15 – 17 km

The Lion King Rock gazing regally over the landscape as our final day on the Laugavegurinn dawned chilly and clear.

In one of the huts Cathy and I perused an extraordinary book of photographs by Björk Guðbrandsdóttir entitled Laugavegurinn and we’d hatched a plan to purchase a copy at the huts in Þórsmörk.  We weren’t sure which hut would have it, so the hunt might add a few kilometers to the day.  We started out  from Emstrur with Mike and stayed together until we crossed the Syðri-Emstruá. 

Ready for the last kilometers
Mike reading an information sign about Katla-Mýrdalsjökull and evacuation protocol in case of an eruption.  Hmmm.
Cathy and Mýrdalsjökull Glacier
Cathy from a slightly different perspective.  On today’s section we again encountered moderately steep downhill slides that seemed more dangerous because of the soft ash. 
First appearance of Einhyrningur, “the Unicorn”.  Many photos of this iconic landmark as we walked beside it all day long.  Climbing the Unicorn is on my “things to do when I return to Iceland” list. 
Einhyrningur and the canyon created by the Syðri-Emstruá  River

Bridges crossing Syðri-Emstruá 
Looking downriver Syðri-Emstruá
Looking upriver Syðri-Emstruá, we caught a glimpse of Entujökull, “Enduring Glacier” in the top center, a portion of the enormous Mýrdalsjökull glacier. 
Once I crossed the bridges, I turned back to take photos of Mike’s crossing.  Note the chains bolted to the rock face on the left.  The thundering of the water, the steepness of the cliffs, the colors of the rocks, the narrow path:  sensory nirvana. 
Beyond the crossing we  climbed quickly to a sand flat and for a little while the trail followed Syðri-Emstruá as it flows to join Markarfljót
Radial columnar basalt formed by lava flow as it cooled.  I saw similar formations in Yellowstone.
Back on the flats
But look to the right… Einhyrningur is here to stay
Can you see the trail on the middle left?  Winding along beside Markarfljót (mostly out of sight) with the ever-present Mýrdalsjökull Glacier

A few of Mike’s photos from this section of the trail:
There are those lava cow pies again.
Is that glacier getting any closer?
The large expanse between Syðri-Emstruá and Þrönga River is called Almenningar, once a summer pasture area. 
Þrönga and Mýrdalsjökull

Þrönga, our last braided river crossing.  By now we are all experienced waders, but the cold rush is still a shock to the system. 
The trail climbs up from the river and enters Þorsmörk, “Thor’s Woods.”  Birch and aspen trees taller than us!  Lovely, familiar, and signaling the end of the journey. 
Except they placed one more little mountain called Valahnjúkur between the two locations Cathy and I were checking in our quest for the photography book.  At this sign we turned left toward Langidalur Hut. At the end of the day, climbing mountains is more mental than physical.  Valahnjúkur Mountain is not the toughest by any standard, but I certainly felt challenged at the unexpected extra steps up.The now-familiar green structure with its red roof was a welcome sight.
At Langidalur, alas, they have sold out of the book!  Well, we tried. 

We took a different trail around Valahnjúkur Mountain to Húsidalur Hut to catch the big ol’ bus back to Reykjavik.  The restaurant (yes, a real restaurant!) was serving delicious real hot soup, fresh salads and dessert, but the rest of our crew had not yet arrived.  What’s that sign I see??  Showers??  Don’t mind if I do.  I had no soap or shampoo, but I found a nearly empty bottle from which I coaxed a couple of squirts.  One of life’s simplest and most complete pleasures is a hot shower.  

By the time Cathy and I were dried off and dressed, Kim and Paul had arrived and were enjoying a well-earned beer (or two?)  Mike rolled in with enough time to enjoy a meal before boarding the magic bus bound for Reykjavik.

Our Laugavegurinn trek was done.  Our bus ride from Þorsmörk back to Reykjavik passed through moonscape and waterfalls and a few more rivers.  In the city we retrieved our stowed luggage, dragged them to another rental apartment and repacked for the flight home.  Mike departed in the early morning; the rest of us left on a flight in the afternoon.  We squeezed in one last adventure high on the list of most Iceland tourists: stopping at the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport.  If you haven’t been there, you should try it.  If you have – well, you know you don’t need to do it twice. 

What would I do twice in Iceland?

Hike the Laugavegurinn, this time including the extension south from Þorsmörk to Skógar
Visit Hornstrandir and spend a night at the doctor’s house
Explore Þingvellir National Park more thoroughly

The list of first-time adventures still waiting for me in Iceland is long.  Have you started your list?

"If you get lost in an Icelandic forest, simply stand up and you will find your way."  ~Icelandic proverb

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