Kathy K – A Hike in Iceland

May 19, 2020 | Lois Farley

Often listed as a “Top Ten Hike in the World”, I was interested in hiking the Laugavegur Trail.  At 55 km, (if you don’t do the additional 23 km day down to the sea) this is a hike done in either three or four days, though the uber fit run it in a day (yeah, that is not me – I did it in three days). 

Ease of access was critical for me as a single hiker, with no car, and limited time.  A bus left Reykjavik and dropped me off at the start of the trail in Landmannalaugar.  I spent the late afternoon hiking around and enjoyed the hut facilities for the night.  The huts are large, clean, provide communal sleeping accommodations, showers, full kitchens to cook in, and camaraderie amongst hikers from around the world.  The hut in Landmannalaugar even had hot running water, courtesy of geothermal springs, and its own hot spring for soaking weary muscles in at the end of hiking day!

My next destination was 12 km, from 600 metres to 1100 metres elevation gain.  Spectacular scenery past the painted mountains, geothermal hot springs, vents in the earth spewing out hot gases, white icefields transitioning into black obsidian fields, verdant green moss covered hills, and volcanoes everywhere.  I made it to my next destination before noon, so the hut custodian radioed ahead and transferred my reservation to the next hut, a further 12 km downhill.  There were glaciers galore, blue skies, and black volcanic rock mounds to hike over.  After a first day of 24 km, I was happy to see the next hut nestled beside a lake and surrounded by volcanoes.  Iceland is one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones, and I expected to see the characters approaching at any time!

A couple of river crossings necessitated removing my boots and wading through knee deep water.  Quickly I figured out this water was ice-cold glacial run-off unfortunately, and not warm geothermal river water!  Then I traversed a lengthy flat area of grey/black volcanic sand and rocks, which seemed to me like the moon.  Actually, the first NASA astronauts trained for their lunar walk on a nearby field since it was the one spot on earth that most approximated the moon!  From that desolation, I hiked into a beautiful valley with green and a fantastic canyon with raging river and waterfalls.  At that hut, we were treated to a late night show of Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis!

The final day to Thorsmork was a mix of lush green moss covered hills, black rocks, basalt hexagonal rock formations/cliffs, and an increase in vegetation.  Finally, at the end of the hike, I saw brilliant fall colours on the first Icelandic bushes I saw on the hike.  At the final hut, there was a sauna to enjoy and reflect on the amazing three-day 55 km hike I had enjoyed.  Luckily for me – not a drop of rain, an Icelandic first according to the guides and hut custodians along the way!  With an extra day to explore nearby trails, I was able to not only explore the base of Eyjafjallajokull, but even learn to pronounce it!  This is the infamous volcano covered by a glacier that erupted in 2010, spewed a monster cloud of ash, and disrupted air travel between Europe and North America for a week.  Then, on day four, I caught the bus directly from the hut back to Reykjavik.  Easy!

The hike is very well marked, and with the huts nicely spaced, the back pack was not too heavy since it only contained clothing, food (freeze dried from Canada supplemented by delicious Icelandic bread and cheese), and a sleeping bag.  In other words, the trek is completely do-able by anyone with overnight hiking experience.  You can also go on the trek with a guide – and I can tell you I was certainly envious of the fresh food they had!

After my trek I was able to take a couple of day trips from my base in Reykjavik – to the Golden Circle to see the site of the first Parliament in 930AD, Thingvellir – where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet and are pulling apart, and checked out geyers, glaciers, and Icelandic horses.  I also went into a volcano – headed down in a mine shaft elevator 400 feet into a perfectly preserved magma chamber (apparently they always collapse – who knew?  Other than geologists).  Pretty cool and the several geologists on the trip were rock-geeking out. These day trips were organized small tours, that picked me up from the hotel, and after the route-finding and do it myself on the trek, it was wonderful to have everything organized perfectly for me by The Great Canadian Travel Company.

I would also recommend a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon upon your morning arrival in Iceland after the overnight flight – it is located conveniently between the airport and Reykjavik.  You likely won’t be able to check into your hotel anyways, so this was my perfect introduction to relaxing, drink in hand, in amazing Icelandic hot springs!