Hiking Laugavegur: Landmannalaugar – Þórsmörk
A friend came to me and asked what are you doing this summer? Any holiday plans? Want to join me biking in Italy or sail in Croatia? No, I want to hike the route between Landmannalaugar – Þórsmörk. The answer back was, coool, let us do that.
Click on the photos to see it in a bigger version on Flickr.
Er right, yeah, we didn’t do much of that. This talk to place mid June and we did the hike three weeks later. Funny thing was that we managed to get space at the following cabins: Hrafntinnusker, Álftavatn and Emstrur. We heard from the warden from The Iceland Touring Association (Ferðafélag Íslands – FI) on the first hut, that the cabin at Landmannalaugar was already fully booked in March and that there were 70 people on a waiting list. A small thing, we didn’t find information in advance that members of Scandinavian hiking associations get discounts on the cabins. So first lesson don’t rush in to things like we did… Start planning this trip early.
We also booked buses in advance, both to Landmannalaugar and back from Þórsmörk.
We had great weather all four days, but that doesn’t mean that you will have that too! Weather on Iceland can change several times a day!!! Ask the warden before you start hiking each morning.
So this is what we packed (but make sure to check with Touring Association’s own checklist):
- Hiking boots: should be comfortable and well broken in. Raincoat / waterproof jacket, over trousers (wind and water proof) and a woollen had should be taken everywhere in Iceland. Sunglasses are recommended in early summer due to extended snowfields on the track.
- Pack: should be supplied with large waterproof/plastic liner
- Sleeping bag: has to be carried of all guests. Campers need good quality down or hollofil bag as temperatures can drop to 0°C even in midsummer.
- Campers: need to bring all cooking gear as they cannot use the kitchen facilities of the huts.
- Campers: tents should be wind- and weatherproof with attached strings to secure it in case of extreme winds
- Toilet paper is supplied at each of the huts.
- First aid kit: sunscreen, blister kits, pain relief, assorted bandages
- Survival Kit: survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil, high energy snack food
- Drink bottle: 1 – 2 litre capacity (you need to drink regularly during the day). No water filter equipment is needed.
- Optional extras: GPS navigation device/compass and map, camera, lightweight shoes for in hut and river crossings, hiking poles for steep descents and river crossings, ear plugs for communal bunkrooms (you will be sharing huts with up to 70 hikers).
- Swimwear: only necessary for the hot spring in Landmannalaugar. Hot springs will be crossed elsewhere on the Laugavegur but are unfortunately too hot and small to bath in.
- Food: for all the meals we had the four days hiking
A little shop with the most essential food can be found during high season in Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk Langidalur. Apart from that, no food can be purchased along the track.
The Don’t Dos
We didn’t find the trip hard, perhaps cause we are experienced in the mountains. The total hiking distance is only 53 km, and the trail is one of the most popular in the Icelandic wilderness, but each yearquite a few serious accidents involving hikers have occurred. With all the things and food you should bring with you, the backpack will be in between 15 – 20 kg! Have all this in mind when you plan and excute the hike. The unpredictable Icelandic weather often comes as a surprise, but frequently it is the hiker’s overestimation of his or her abilities or, conversely, an underestimation of the conditions, which cause trouble. All kinds of weather conditions can be expected on most highland hiking trails, and sometimes markers are hidden by snow patches. These are the reasons why every hiker is asked to write his/her name into the list in the entrance room on every cabin on the way. This list is mainly thought as a security device in case you should not show up at the next hut. It is also important to check out on last hut when you leave the trail.
The Fantastic British Couple
The Cute French Girls
Oh yes, both were cute, but they had obviously not read any guidelines before the trip, nor had they ever done a hike in the mountains before. Both had a beauty bag of 5-6 kg in their backpacks, a little bit of clothes, a sleeping bag and three packages of buscuits. The people around the breakfast table gave the some food on the first cabin, and we all recommened them to return to Landmannalaugar.
The Spanish Girl
Don’t carry your hiking boots in your hands when crossing rivers and streams. The Spanish girl did. Fell and her boots fast went down a nearby waterfall. And so did her trip end! Luckily this happened next to one of the mountain roads and I am sure somebody picked her up and drove her down from the mountain. Make sure to have space for your boots in the backpack, so that you can have both your hands free!
The Slovakian Way
We dropped some of the food, so that we all could carry with us some bottles of boose. Not a good idea, on top of that, the food they brought was low on energy. But I was impressed with the speed they completed the hike.
The Norwegian Trekking Association, Ringerike, was also doing a “hike”. About 20 people were taking part and they got their backpacks driven around in the mountains. No complaints there. But they also got driven out lot os cans of beer, bottles of wine and boose for each night at the cabins. This honestly didn’t look good and I was a bit ashamed!
An American couple brought a bottle of wine for the last evening, just to be able to celebrate that they had completed the hike. Perhaps not a bad idea, as there is no alcohol being sold on the cabins. And finishing the trip was something to celebrate and after all we were all on holidays. But hey, most of us can stay without alcohol for 3-4 days?
The Dutch Man
As you might know, there are no mountains in the Netherlands. So this is fairly impressive. Not only did he bring his wife with him on the hike, but also their six kids. Yes, you read correctly, six kids. All of the kids carrying their own backpack, packed for their age. The father had a backpack with the impressive weight of 33 kg, including a big lavo tent. Hats off, they all completed the hike!
The Icelandic Way
4h 19min 55sec. Yes, you read correctly. On the second day of our hike, Laugavegur Ultra Marathon took place. Winner this year, as last year, was Icelandic Björn Margeirsson and this year he improved the record from 2009. The first woman to reach the finish line in the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon 2012 was the Scottish Angela Mudge. She ran on a new record, 5:00:55. A record improvement of amazing 20 minutes.
Normally four days is used to hike the same distance with backpack. 301 runners started and only 27 did not complete!
The hike can best be described as an escape from hell (Landmannalaugar) with its boiling mud pots, through the dessert, where you end up in paradise (Þórsmörk). I’m pretty sure most Icelanders will not agree with me, but that was what I felt there and then.
Landmannalaugar – Hrafntinnusker
Distance 12 km, estimated walking time 4 – 5 hours. Elevation increase: 470m. We did the trip in 3,5 hours and could have done it to the next cabin. Some did, but I’m glad we didn’t. Elevation increase 470 meters and the first 10 km feels like going up – up – up.
From the hut in Landmannalaugar the trail goes through a rough lavafield “Laugahraun”. From there on up the slopes of “Brennisteinsalda” and to the plateau. The stunning view offers an incredible spectrum of colours. After 3 – 4 hours you arrive at “Stórihver”, a hot spring and almost the only green spot the first day. In most years the rest of the trail from “Stórihver” to Hrafntinnusker hut is covered with snow. Chances of fog are very high so even though the trail is clearly marked you should be careful. Just before you reach Hrafntinnusker hut you pass a memorial of an Israeli who died of hypothermia close to the track!
A walk to the remainings of an icecave (approx. 1.5km from the hut) is a must. The icecave collapsed in 2008, but is still a beautiful view. I can also recommend the mountain top (Mt. Söðull) next to the hut. You can reach it in 20 minutes. It has a beautiful view back on Landmannalaugar.
“Hrafntin” means obsidian, and just about all rocks in the area are made of this black volcanic glass.
Hrafntinnusker – Álftavatn
Woke up from a fantastic sleep and started the day with a quick breakfast. Already at the breakfast table we were talking about how to make today’s walk longer. We decided to hike up a glacier.
12km (with detour: 18km) We took the extended hike in 5,5 hours. If the first day was all about walking up – up – up, the second day was all about walking down. Elevation decrease: 490m.
The first part of the trail takes us through a valley with some small ravines. Luckily, most of the snow had melted so we didn’t have to be careful. A short and steep incline leads to the highpoint of today’s walk. From there we took a side trip to the summit of mountain Háskerðingur (1281 m) to enjoy a breathtaking view. This is best done from its western slope, but care must be taken as a glacier is crossed. Ask the hut warden if it is safe to cross the glacier and also tell the warden that you are doing the detour! We were capable of “skiing down” on our hiking boots. It was fantastic fun!
Once back on the main track, you’ll soon leave the colourful rhyolite mountains and enter an area with dark palagonite mountains and glaciers. You will also notice a considerable increase in vegetation. The trail down the Jökultungur is quite steep and care must be taken during the descent. Especially with a heavy backpack! The last few kilometers to the huts by the lake Álftavatn is on flat land.
At Álftavatn we did a walk up to Mt. Brattháls (takes 1-2 hours return), a black ridge offering breathtaking views. Another hike could be up Mt. Torfatindur (818m), it is also an estimated walk of 1-2 hours.
Álftavatn – Emstrur
Yet another great day. Hike was about 15km, and we did it in 5,5 hours. All in all, the third day of the hike is totally flat. Elevation decrease: 40 m.
The trail starts with taking us behind the ridge Brattháls into Hvanngil ravine, and basically starts the day with crossing the small river Bratthálskvísl. Soon after, we are passing Hvanngil with its two huts, one built for sheepherds in 1963 and one for tourists, built in 1995. As Álftavatn and Hvanngil are only 5 km apart, Hvanngil can be used as an alternate accommodation.
After Hvanngil a bridge crosses the river Kaldaklofskvísl. On the eastern bank of Kaldaklofskvísl the trail splits, one branch leading eastwards to Mælifellssandur (Road F 210) but the other one southwards to Emstrur, and we choose the latter. We are now entering a grey-brown gravel desert!
Soon, another river has to be waded. For a few kilometers, Laugavegurinn joins a road until it separates again, leading further south than the track. The powerfull glacial river Nyrðri Emstruá can be crossed on a bridge. Another few kilometers on flat land and we will suddenly be overlooking the huts in Emstrur.
Evening walk: small poles lead onto a panoramic walking trail to Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon, a narrow 180 metre deep gorge. It’s an easy walk of 1 ½ hours if doing the circle or 40 minutes if going the same way back.
Emstrur – Þórsmörk
Sadly, we have already come to the hike’s last day. The last 15km was done in 5 hours. The elevation decrease was 300 m. It was partly another day in the desert before entering the oasis of Þórsmörk.
45 minutes on the track, a steep path leads towards the canyon of Syðri-Emstruá which must be crossed on a spectacular bridge. A rope helps to overcome the last meters of the steep descent. The next two hours of the trip was through a hilly area known as Almenningar. At the very end, the river Þröngá had to be waded which was the deepest river on the track. I even took off my trouses. It had a bit of stream, so good practice is to go hand in hand and head downstream or to use hiking poles to keep balance. Don’t attempt crossing it if it’s more than thight deep. After crossing Þröngá, landscape and vegetation change dramatically. You enter birch and juniper woodland marking Þórsmörk’s boundary at Hamraskógar: shady, carpeted in thick grass, and with colorful flowers everywhere. The walk through this small forest to an intersection on a hillside, here signs will show directions to different huts in Þórsmörk. From there, Langidalur hut was only a few minutes away.
Þórsmörk is a mountain ridge named after the Norse god Thor (Þór). It is situated between the glaciers Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull.
From Þórsmörk we took the bus back to Reykjakvik via the 30km long F249 four-wheel-drive-only route. The ride was an adventure in itself, crossing a few broad glacial rivers. On our way home the bus also made a 10 minutes stop at the beautiful waterfall Seljalandsfoss. This is a narrow but powerful waterfall that drops straight of the fellside into a shallow pool; and paths can be said to run behind the curtain – you’ll get soaked but the noise of the falls is impressively magnified.
I would love to recommend this trip to every one. It was a fun and challenging trip. If you are fit and used to hike in the mountains this trip shouldn’t be much of a problem.