Dreams of Lava & Ice in the Icelandic Highlands
13 June, 2016
Iceland is prolific in place-names which are difficult to pronounce, recall and, of course, spell. Landmannalaugar is one of these but, once you have travelled to this oasis nestling in multi-coloured mountains, where spouting thermal springs, sulphurous vapours and fumaroles melt the ice, this musical, fifteen-letter name becomes a simple word you will never forget. On the contrary – each time you utter it, hear it or read it, you will be transported to that natural paradise which has irremediably become part of your very existence.
Landscapes From Another Planet
Here, in this remote spot, which can only be reached in a 4x4 vehicle – in summer, several 4x4 buses ply the route daily from Hella – begins one of the most popular and spectacular hiking trails in the country and, indeed, on the planet.
Officially, it is known as Laugavegur, which translates roughly to “thermal waters route”. It is usually negotiated from north to south for a distance of 56 km as far as Þórsmörk. The hike then continues another 26 km from there to Skógar along a trail known as Fimmvörðuháls. Along this route, which takes from 4 to 6 days, endless scenic surprises await the traveller, from rhyolite mountains with indescribable colours to fields of fumaroles, glaciers and waterfalls, and deserts of lava and active volcanoes.
Laugavegur is the most popular stretch of the trail and is divided into four accessible stages of from 12 to 15 km, with stopovers at Hrafntinnusker, Álftavatn, Emstrur and Þórsmörk. Experienced walkers can complete two stages in one go as there are few slopes and the daylight hours are particularly long in the northern summer. Þórsmörk has a station for 4x4 buses so you can take one back to Hella.
Continuing along the Fimmvörðuháls trail from the Þórsmörk valley, the slope becomes steeper and some areas are more exposed and windswept. This stretch can be divided into two spectacular stages with a stopover at the Fimmvörðuháls shelter. This stage is probably one of the most amazing ones in trekking. It takes you past the Mýrdallsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers, and across a lava field that emerged during the famous 2010 eruption – which grounded so many flights – culminating in a long descent on which you can admire a total of 24 spectacular waterfalls, with the legendary Skógafoss as the final flourish.
Dates: Open from June to September.
Difficulty: In good weather, the route is easy as far as Þórsmörk, and moderate up to Skógar.
Weather: Weather conditions in the Icelandic Highlands can change drastically in a few hours, even in summer. You should keep checking the weather report at shelters and abide by warnings issued by rangers and the shelter managers.
Navigation: The route is signposted in early summer with yellow stakes placed every few metres. In the event of being overtaken by fog or bad weather, it is useful to have GPS with route tracking. However, bear in mind that the route can vary slightly from year to year, particularly at river crossings.
Gear: Essential to have mountain footwear and warm clothing.
Food: There are no restaurants or grocery stores anywhere along the trail, and they do not serve food in the emergency shelters. However, you can pay for camping or an overnight with a credit card. Thus, you have to be self-sufficient and stock up with all the food you are going to need during the hike (reckon on a minimum of 1 kg per person per day).
A Roof Over Your Head: You need to book in advance to sleep at the shelters along the route. For certain summer dates, this requires booking several months ahead and the trekking agencies usually hog most of the available places.
Camping: There are camping areas around the shelters and they are always pay sites. You don’t need to book ahead, however. Some have showers and rubbish collection. Others only have drinking water and toilets. It is advisable to take a light tent that can withstand strong winds.
Rivers: Avoid crossing rivers at their narrowest point, as that is where they are deepest. You should wear tightly-fitting waterproof sandals to prevent them being ripped off by the current.
Guided Treks: If you prefer to travel light – without having to carry food or camping equipment – want to ensure a reservation in the shelters along the way and enjoy the company of a guide, the specialised agency Tierras Polares covers the whole route in July and August in the course of an 8-day trip, of which six days are spent trekking. Prices from €1,595.
Day Tour All Year Around: You can also visit Landmannalaugar on a Super Jeep Tour. The super jeep is a 4x4 vehicle with oversize tyres which can take you into the Highlands any time of the year, and pick-up is at your hotel in Reykjavik. Price per person: ISK 35,000 (€250).
Venture into the wonderland of the Icelandic Highlands – book your Vueling to Reykjavik here.
Text and photos by Sergio Fernández Tolosa & Amelia Herrero Becker (Con un par de ruedas)
13 June, 2016