I remember vividly the Greyhound-size bus navigating hair-pin turns, passing other vehicles, and being relentlessly bounced around on the bumpiest and narrowest of roads in the Highlands of Iceland. I was definitely beginning to wonder what the rest of our four day trek would hold for us. We were on our way to hike the beautiful Highlands trail known as the Laugavegur Trail; famous for kaleidoscope-colored mountains, black arctic deserts, geothermal activity, proximity to glaciers, and much more. This area has been recognized by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful treks in the world. The minute I read about the hike and, saw the photos in the Nat Geo article, I had this trek on my radar screen. No we were actually on our way, we were going to go from hut to hut over the course of four days, I couldn’t wait. The week or so we had already spent in Iceland had left me enthralled with this island and I was so excited to be getting deep into the Highlands backcountry to be fully immersed in the wild beauty Iceland offers.
As it would turn out, Iceland is a place, much like Alaska, that really teaches you to just suit up and head out regardless of what the weather is doing. The first two days of our trek we definitely encountered what might be called, really sh*#tty weather. I won’t lie that I was digging a bit deep the first day wondering what the point of this exercise was if we weren’t going to be able to see anything. Sleet was pelting us at what felt like 40 mph, fog was so thick sometimes I could barely see our guide a few steps ahead of me, and a definite wet-cold in the air. I was wondering about asking for our money back if we were just going to be hiking in sleet, snow, fog, etc. Turns out our guide group did not have a policy of reimbursement. This was the best thing that could’ve happened to us as we went on to complete our four days thankful for the breaks in the weather that allowed us to experience this beautiful, remote area.
After the “exciting” bus ride, we headed out towards our first hut, the Hrafntinnusker mountain hut. The terrain in this area is made up of lots of short, steep ups and downs, slick mud, snow fields, and lots of geothermal activity. The geothermal activity here made for really interesting hiking; we would descend to the bottom of a slope and all of sudden there would be boiling water shooting out of holes or bubbling up out of the ground within feet of the trail. This geothermal activity was so interesting to experience but definitely something to respect and to be situationally aware. The trekking was great on this section, the hut was another thing altogether. It was truly akin to a refugee camp. There were people sleeping on the floor in the communal kitchen, people sleeping basically anywhere there was a spot not otherwise occupied by another person or gear. I’m quite sure the coziness of this venue was enhanced due to the fact that the weather was so inclement that even the hardiest of the hikers tent camping outside chose to squeeze inside somewhere. Looking back on it, it’s one of those things that just makes the experience that much richer, funnier. In the moment, the smell of stinky socks, strangers literally inches from your face while you’re in your sleeping bag, etc. tested even my extroverted personality. After the Hrafntinnusker, our expectations for the quality of huts was very low. Thankfully the next 3 huts wildly exceeded our expectations.
The remaining part of the trek included several river crossings that should be taken somewhat seriously, especially if the water level is high. The currents could be quite strong and the rivers are quite wide.
Arriving at the end, I was sad that it was over. I didn’t even really notice inclement weather any more in Iceland. It is just part of what you deal with and so many times, because of it, you get some surprises. For example, on the day we trekked to the campsite with all of the tents (photo immediately above), it was so stormy initially. All of a sudden, at the best vantage point of the whole trek that day, the clouds opened up and we had an expansive vista of rolling green peaks, dramatic clouds, and a rainbow. I almost thought we would see leprechauns and unicorns as well, the moment was so perfect.
Things to Consider if Hiking this Trail:
1.) You don’t need a guide but the terrain is very featureless as far as trees, etc. If you were to get turned around in dense fog, you probably wouldn’t know you’d taken a wrong turn for quite a while. There are no defining features where you would say, oh yeah, I remember that tree, that rock, etc. A guide is also helpful in securing the logistics of the huts. Personally, at this point in life, although I know I could do all of that, I have no interest in spending my time on logistics.
2.) Bring river shoes to change into for the river crossings. Will you get very wet, at least from your thighs down.
3.) Definitely bring good quality waterproof gear, including Gortex shoes, Gortex raincoat and pants, etc.
4.) If you use a guide research them thoroughly. Although our guide got us from point A to B, he was completely under-whelming and less than helpful.
5.) This is a really great experience to see some truly beautiful, remote landscape. If you are in Iceland and enjoy trekking, it is a must.
Happy trekking fellow Life Busers 🙂