Distance covered: 19 miles
The day starts dark and moody. Rain spares my packing up but that’s all the respite I get as it soon starts coming down. I’m in high ground so I can see far to south and west and all I see is dark cloud. I get mentally ready for a wet march to Landmannalaugar.
Landmannalaugar is well known for many with an interest in Iceland hiking. It’s a summer outpost at the northern end of the now famous Laugavegur trail. To me it marks the end of what I consider the highland section of my trip. From Landmannalaugar I still need to climb high but it’ll be about crossing mountains, not flat deserts.
The environment will be different in several aspects: mountainous terrain, hiking-specific trails and plenty of people. I foresee it as a grand finale for the trip. I hiked the Laugavegur trail 16 years back during my first visit to Iceland, I know what to expect and I know how scenic it is.
First I need to get there. It should be easy even in rainy weather as I’ll be following some main tracks. Shortly after leaving camp, I get to a junction with a tarmac road where I get official confirmation that I’m on the right one:
I happily leave the hydro schemes behind as the weather takes an unexpected turn for the better. Half an hour earlier it’d look like those clouds would hold there forever, now I’m in a strange lull where I can see patches of blue sky and even get some sunshine while the west and north views end on a dark grey wall.
Back to plant life
I climb a hill and get an open view south. I see mountains. It’ll be great to be crossing mountains for a change. In between mountains and me, a remarkable change of scenery: moss covered hills, the moss shining brilliant green in the impending sunshine. The vegetation is a clear sign that I have lost altitude and I’m leaving the deserts behind.
I had started very early in the morning and I had been on my own. Now I start to get motor traffic heading south, first a few 4WDs, then a van, then an outdoors related business van, then a bus, then a few more. It looks like what probably is the daily pilgrimage to Landmannalaugar and area. The traffic amounts to a vehicle every 5 or 10 minutes and it’s a bit of a shock. The road is dirt but pretty good quality. The scenery is magnificent in that spectacular mix of green and dark in odd shapes.
The track skirts the Tungnaa. This is one of those icelandic mega-rivers that are shown as area covering in the maps, not a single line. The Tungnaa is among the main glacial rivers in Iceland so I’m eager to see it first hand. It comes out of the Vatnajokull and the flow is impressive for such a short-lived one. It’s actually a major barrier for any N to S route that means to keep to the side of the Vatnajokull, fording the Tungnaa must be difficult even right at the headwaters. At our meeting point, you’d need a raft.
The road gets into the hills in truly icelandic fashion: a flat bottomed valley that feels more like a plain with mountain-sized outcrops. It’s a weird feeling. The scenery is fantastic, particularly when the sun enhances the contrast between moss and rock.
Back to where it all began
There’s some climb eventually that leads to one of these huge basins of braiding rivers. I can already see mounts Blahnukur and Brennisteinsalda that I remember from my previous visit and I need no road signs to know I’m getting close to Landmannalaugar. As the clouds get dark again, I get to the familiar sight:
It’s only mid afternoon and I could keep hiking but I’ve come to this point in the trip where I can start managing my pace different from the criteria I’ve used so far about hiking till day’s end no matter what. At my regular pace, it’d be just 2 full days from Landmannalaugar to trip’s end in Skogar. I could just as well stay here for the rest of the day. Thereafter, I introduce new criteria into the planning: weather forecast and personal preference.
Checking the weather forecast in Iceland is easy: it’s a common interest matter so it seems to always be easily available. It announces rain for this evening, then a dry weather window of one and a half days. It indeed looks very dark looking south and I don’t feel like going up there into those clouds so I easily decide to take a break and stay here tonight.
Landmannalaugar is at the end of a dirt road spur good for pretty much all vehicles, it’s very accessible. It’s got a public hut, a couple of service huts, a toilet/shower building, parking areas and a campground area. I can recognize the place but I find it way busier than it was in my previous visit in Y2K. Back then, only a handful of tents were up. Today, it looks like a music festival in backpacking tent fashion. Add mine to the lineup.
The place itself is awfully scenic, a flat basin flanked by colourful hills and a huge lava flow like I had never seen before, it’s like 40 meter high (thick).
The break from the non-stop hiking is incredibly healing, both physically and mentally. I have time to relax and rest, the highlight of it all being the warm springs pool. Warm springs themselves are usually too warm to bathe but there’s this pool where the boiling water mixes with a cold stream. You can choose water temp by moving up and down the pool. There’s something very special about bathing in warm water among such glorious scenery while thick, dark clouds cover the area and it starts to drizzle.
I spent one and a half hours in the water.
The one thing that I need that Landmannalaugar provides in very limited amounts is food. The only source is a parked bus that works as food stall with extremely limited supplies for either eat in or take out. It’d be fine for supplementing your own food with some goodies but that’s not what I need. My own supplies are nearly gone, I need to stock up for the final, 2 day push and to pig out while I’m here. It barely works for both goals, the highlight being the cup of hot soup and the coffee which I enjoy immensely.
I arrived in Landmannalaugar rather worn out. By the time I got there I wasn’t really aware how much. I could have kept on hiking and I’d have been fine but by the moment I decided to take this mini-break I knew it was the best idea I’d had for a long time. It was healing beyond belief. Now it was only 2 more days to reach the Atlantic.