The Laugavergurinn Trail, or ‘hot springs trail’, is a 55 kilometer trek through the rough inland of Iceland. Starting in Landmannalaugar and ending in Þórsmörk, the trek takes about four days. You shouldn’t walk more than 17 kilometers a day if you want to enjoy the wonderful scenery and take thousands of pictures. And trust me, you will!
The Laugavegur is the most popular hike in Iceland, so you won’t be there alone. We went late September, at the end of the season so the trail wasn’t crowded, but in the high season, it is. The bus we took to Landmannalaugar was the last one of the season. It drives back to Reykjavik after a few hours, not to return there until June! So for us, there was no way back…
Landmannalaugar -Hrafntinnusker (10,3 km)
We start of with a wild bus-ride through a landscape that looks more like the moon than planet earth. After two hours on bumpy dirt roads you arrive at Landmannalaugar. This place! It is just incredible, jaw-droppingly beautiful. Even if you are not into hiking that much, you just have to go there. The bus leaves back to civilization after a few hours. There are some well-marked short hikes that give you great views over the alien landscape. If even that sounds tiring, you can float around in the natural hot springs and absorb all the beauty.
We arrived at Landmannalaugar at noon, so there was still plenty of time to hike the first stage to Hrafntinnusker mountain hut. If you arrive later than this, it is advisable to spend the first night there, and leave in the morning.
The hike starts out with a climb over an old lava-field, and you immediately get a good view over the multicolored rhyolite mountains. It doesn’t take long before you can see and smell (sulfur = rotten eggs) steam from a hot spring. You can see the boiling water coming up from the earth. You can look but you can’t touch!
Climbing further up it keeps getting colder and before you know it, you have to cross big fields of snow.
Coming over the last hill, you can see the Hrafntinnusker hut in the distance. At 1100 meters altitude (which is high for Iceland) it is surrounded by snowfields. It’s a harsh environment, and the wind was blowing so hard, we thought our tent wouldn’t make it through the night. People starting the hike in the morning, usually go on until Álftavatn to avoid sleeping here. If you do have to sleep here, you can put up your tent between piled up rocks to stop the wind a little bit. This late in the season, there were only a few people like us who were crazy enough to sleep in tents.
The environment may be brutal, but it’s crazy beautiful! Boiling hot springs are only a few meters away from ice caves. Notice: don’t ever enter an ice cave, there’s a chance it might collapse. A hiker died in one of these in 2006!
The sun is slowly setting behind the mountains, and gives everything an orange glow. When it’s gone, the temperature drops unmerciful at Hrafntinnusker. That night, I had a hard time sleeping because of the terrifying wind and cold. What did I get myself into?
Hrafntinnusker – Álftavatn (11,3km)
We wake up after a short, restless night and it’s a beautiful, sunny day. We quickly eat some breakfast and start packing for the second day of hiking. The landscape is amazing during the entire hike.
Be careful when crossing these snow bridges. Always check which is the safest place to cross, even if the footprints of other people go elsewhere.
After a while you get a view over the valley, and if the weather is good, you can see Álftavatn, destination of day two.
When hiking through this valley, you come along the first river you have to cross. Take of your boots, and put on those sandals! Always check for the best place to cross the river. Where the river is at its broadest, the current is at its weakest, so that’s where you cross. Keep in mind that this is melted glacier water, so the cold is almost unbearable. Your muscles stiffen and your skin goes numb. A heavy backpack on your back makes it harder to keep your balance, so hiking poles can be a lifesaver here. Tip: detach your backpack, so when you fall, you can get it off quicker and get out of the water. Keep a towel within reach to dry your feet as quickly as possible to make them warm again. It does give you a big adrenaline-rush, so you do warm up afterwards.
Álftavatn: another breathtaking place, overlooking a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains.
It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to see the northern lights. It is safe to say it’s an obsession. When I see the northern lights on tv, I always have something in my eye. After a lot of research at home, I knew there was a big chance of seeing them in September. All you need is: some solar eruptions, a clear moonless night and a lot of patience. And guess what, it was that kind of night! I set the alarm on my cellphone to go off every half hour. If there were going to be northern lights that night, I was not going to miss it. What I didn’t realize, is that those nights are the coldest! It took a lot of willpower to get out of my cozy warm sleeping bag, put on my cold shoes and get out of the tent to check for northern lights every freaking 30 minutes. After six times I was so tired I was ready to give up. But then, bingo! NORTHERN LIGHTS!! It wasn’t big, but is was there. A line of green light was dancing in the sky. I watched it with goosebumps (this time not from being cold) for several minutes and then it disappeared into the dark night.
Álftavatn – Emstrur (16,2km)
On the third day you go through another valley towards Emstrur hut. You have to cross two more rivers before hiking through a lava field with glacier rivers and waterfalls.
When we arrive at Emstrur hut, we pay the lady who guards the hut and we put up our tent next to a small stream. Since it was quite “hot” that day, we decided to shower. Looking over the glacier in the distance it was the best view I ever had showering.
The lady guarding the hut insisted we put on our hiking shoes once more to check out the canyon 1,5 kilometers away. She sounded so enthusiastic we wouldn’t miss it for the world. Words are not enough to describe the beauty of this canyon. The cliffs have all kinds of red and green, and 180 meters lower you see and hear a thundering glacier river.
Emstrur – Þórsmörk (16,2km)
The fourth and last day of the trek. We get up really early to hike the last stage of 16,2 kilometers to Þórsmörk to be on time to get the bus that leaves at 15.00. We bought tickets before we left so we really needed to get that bus. During the night the weather has changed, and the sun is nowhere to be seen.
After a few hours we take a break to have lunch. Now the fog is so thick that we almost don’t see anything. When we want to leave again we lose the path and panic for a moment. Thank goodness we have the GPS and we find the path again. After three kilometers we meet some familiar people. It was a couple that slept at the same hut as we did that night. Then we realized what a big mistake we made. We were on the right path again, yes! But we were hiking in the wrong direction! D’oh! We had to hike even faster to make it on time for the bus, and luckily, we did.
When the bus arrives an hour late, we almost have to fight to get a seat. Luckily we bought tickets in advance, because many had to stay behind and try again the next day.
This ride was just as adventurous as the other one, with many river crossings. The driver looks almost bored as he has to stop regularly to get out huge rocks, stuck between the wheels and the bus. A little bit down the “road” we see a tourist who got stuck in a river with his 4×4, a risky business. The bus driver pulls over, connects the jeep to the bus and pulls him out. We can not believe our eyes! The viking that is our bus driver looks at us, shrugs, and says: ‘Just another day in Iceland…’