One of the most popular hikes in Iceland, the trail from Landmannalaugar to ?orsmork is best done over four days. I had heard that it was incredibly beautiful and diverse, so when I started planning my next big vacation, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I convinced one of my friends to join in the adventure, and we headed out to the southern tip of Iceland.
The first day follows the trail 12 km from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker. This is, by far, the most populous day of the trail. The rhyolite peaks in the distance are exquisitely colored, and powerful geothermal steam vents emit plumes of sulfurous steam all along the route. The path seems utterly alien, and it's made more so by the diversity of the people on the path. About half of the hikers carry full backpacks, prepped to do the entire route, while the other half are dressed more for an afternoon picnic. The hot springs in Landmannalaugar are a popular afternoon destination, and many of the visitors decide to stroll up into the highlands until the path begins to get strenuous. Our first day we had amazing weather, and we were unbelievably lucky: it lasted all four days. Based on reports from other hikers and all Icelanders, this was miraculous. While it never got much warmer than 60 degrees fahrenheit, it was clear and gorgeous every day. While the first day of hiking isn't difficult, there is a lot of up and down to account for with a full pack.
There are designated campsites along the trail, but hikers willing to spend a little additional money can sleep in communal huts. Since we were traveling internationally and didn't want to worry about bringing a cook stove or tent, we splurged, and we were glad we did. The first hut at Hrafntinnusker was the most rustic, but also the most fun. The huts were consistently full, and this one held 52 people. We arrived in the early evening, and promptly made dinner in the group kitchen. I made a bunch of dehydrated backpacking meals from scratch (even dehydrating my own fresh vegetables!!) and was rewarded for the effort. If anyone has any great vegetarian backpacking recipes, send them my way -- I want to keep experimenting with this! First night we had shepherds pie (with TVP instead of lamb, but still) and my hiking partner decided to go straight to bed. I was too excited, and after talking to the most excellent hut warden, he decided he'd show me some of the surrounding area off trail. We did a roughly 12 kilometer jaunt (not included in overall mileage) out to some collapsed ice caves, which were still spectacular -- you could see ash layers from various volcanic eruptions. After, he led me to the 2nd most powerful steam vent in Iceland, which is documented to have been gushing at this level of strength since 1750. Because of the season, the sun only sets for a few hours each evening, and we were exploring until fairly late. Upon returning to the hut, I passed around a flask of whiskey and set about making friends with my fellow trekkers.
The next day, the trail ran another 12 km from Hrafntinnusker to Alftavatn. The trail rises and falls a great deal, heading out over ravines which appear to be full of snow. These are treacherous, as the snow often melts from beneath because of the warm ground, and the snow crust can collapse. We had to leave the trail a few times to find to the safest route. Eventually, you have to descend down Jokultungur, an extremely steep and long decline. It was the first time in my life I wished I was carrying hiking poles, and it wasn't the last on this trek. Phew! I never thought I'd be so sick of downhill. But the views were spectacular, and when we arrived at Lake Alftavatn it was all worthwhile. The hut here was borderline luxurious -- it was quite new, and because my hiking partner and I were the first to arrive, we were rewarded with a private room (ooh la la). We were able to escape the snoring chorus of 50 other trekkers! After dropping off some gear, we grabbed a few friends and headed out to hike around the lake. About 2 km away from the hut you find a series of rock formations full of old caves with ancient graffiti -- according to the hut warden they've been used as storm shelter by local shepherds since the 1700s. The rock climbers among us tried to get some elevation on the formations, but use caution -- the rock is extremely fragile and will break off in your hands. The lake was cold but not freezing, and some members of our party even went for a chilly shower. That being said, they regretted it after.
The next day is slightly longer -- 15 km from Alftavatn to Emstrur -- but substantially easier. There is one river crossing which is more exhilarating than difficult, and most of the trail is surrounded by lava and ash fields. This area is largely shadeless and the ash provides a gluteal workout -- this area saw action in the Eyjafjallajokull eruption last year. The huts here are less plush than the previous ones, and all beds are shared. However, the evening hikes available in the area might be the most spectacular. After dropping our gear we headed over to Markarfljotsgljufur canyon, which was extremely dramatic in the evening light. The views here were my favorite of the whole trip, and we could hardly bring ourselves to leave even as the sun finally started to go down. We were also granted some amazing views of the moon -- a rare site throughout this trip -- which I'll include in my photo set.
The final day takes you 15 km from Emstrur to ?orsmork. This day shows you a lot of action -- you must cross two glacial rivers, both of which have fairly strong currents. I'm short, only 5'2", and the water in the final river came to my waist and did knock me over. I was grateful I had secured my gear in a dry sack, and again wished I'd had hiking poles. There's also a very steep decline which requires the assistance of a rope -- gladly provided by the park's curators -- which I found to be a great deal of fun. Not so if you are afraid of heights, so beware. After the final river crossing at ?ronga, the park changes dramatically, and suddenly exhibits lush vegetation against a glacial backdrop. The huts for this evening are much more civilized, and you can dump your garbage, and buy some barely alcoholic beer at a small shop. This is the only place along the trail to procure food, and some underprepared hikers were EXTREMELY relieved.
This was an amazing backpack, and I can't imagine a more wonderful way to see the Icelandic countryside. If anyone is considering a trip in the near future, don't miss this trail!
||Wildflowers Observation Moderate