canyonwren: (coffee)
[personal profile] canyonwren
My summer hiking getaway was to do the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland, which runs from the Landmannalaugar area, up and over volcanic highlands, and down to the wooded gloriousness that is Þórsmörk. I held onto the possibility of continuing on the Fimmvörðuháls route to Skógar, but ended up only hiking to the pass and returning for a second night in Þórsmörk due to threatening weather. (And the presence of a sauna in Þórsmörk.)

Kilometers: ~64, with the jaunt up the pass to stare at Eyjafjallajökull.
Buttkicking factor: Not bad. I thought it was a pretty easy hike overall.

To start, Iceland is the perfect place to play that old game of "The GROUND IS MADE OF LAVA!" Because, you know, it is.

I landed in Reykjavik the day before my hike and spent a polite day wandering around the city. I'm easily bored with wandering around cities, so was happy to set off for the bus station first thing in the morning. All I was hoping for was decent weather. Not even good weather, just decent weather. The increasing rain was disheartening during the four hour drive to the trailhead, but the weather just resolved into an overall gloominess by the time we got to Landmannalaugar. This was a little sad, because the wonderful colors in the hills were not showing at all. Still, I was happy to take it. I signed into the hiker log and hit the trail within ten minutes of arriving.

Landmannalaugar Hut and bus station in the rainy fog. The streams lead to a popular hot springs, which I know from previous experience to avoid like the plague. It's not hot enough and is infested with duck itch. This is only a problem if you're sensitive to it, which I am. FML.


The hike starts off in these absolutely stunning lava fields (called Laugahraun), covered in moss. I can't get enough of looking at them or walking through them. All the Icelandic stories about trolls and elves seem to fit in so well with this landscape. It is eerie and beautiful.


The lava fields don't last terribly long before the trail leads you through endless stark hills with pockets of snow and heat vents. The land of fire and ice, indeed. The trail takes you through the chasm Graenagil and by Mount Bláhnúkur, and up a steep slope towards Brennisteinsalda. After crossing a snowy field, you descend down a bit into the stark, windblown area of Hrafntinnusker Hut for the night.









About a half mile from the hut, the trail crosses a grave marker. Apparently, ten years ago, a young man was caught out in a June blizzard and didn't make it. The plaque reads: In loving memory of Ido Keinan who passed away in a blizzard so close to the safe hut nearby, yet so far at only 25 years old."



The Hrafntinnusker hut, after a 12k hike!


The wind was fierce and freezing. Everyone who was camping put their tents in rock shelters. I spent a fair amount of time bolstering up my walls. It ended up working fairly well, but it was not a particularly warm night. At all. I broke out two of my air-stimulated heating pads and hunkered down in the not-quite-dark until early the next morning.


The next morning I was up before any of the other hikers, hoping to hit nice morning light while out on the trail. The day was definitely less foggy and started off in a gentle downhill beside the local steaming vent and then several ice caves.



Thus began lots of up and down slogging over gentle hills, heading toward the glaciers in the far distance.



The sun actually came out...





Heading out of these highland hills into a green, misty wonderland -



At the bottom of this hill, I had to cross the river and then cross over some meadows to get to the next destination. A hiker coming the other way crossed, then immediately turned the wrong way. I had to chase him down to set him on the correct path. Getting lost in Iceland is no joke.


And, way too quickly, I was at the next hut for the night: Lake Alftavatn. Knowing what I know now, I'd've hiked on another 1.5 miles to the next hut. It's mainly a shepherding hut, but hikers can stay in the area as well. I was worried about the river crossings though, and decided to tackle them when I was fresh and rested.


My tent, before other hikers arrived. Much prettier than the night before.


Where I'd hiked from that day!


The lake.


Getting later in the day:


The small mountain looming over my campsite kept calling people to climb it. Three Danish girl walked up there and made a spectacle of themselves by singing, dancing, screaming, and otherwise having a great time. Everyone in the campground stopped to stare at them. I took it as motivation to climb up there myself. When I met them, halfway up, I smiled and asked if they had been having fun. Turns out, they didn't realize their voices were carrying quite as well as they had been. "We were just playing in the wind! Is everyone mad at us?" Probably yes, but I assured them that they'd been cute and funny.



View from the top, looking at the next day's hiking:



Gee, it's only 10 pm. Can it be getting dark? Better slowly wander down the mountain.


The closest thing to sunset that I saw my entire time in Iceland.




The third day was the hardest day, although it truly wasn't that physically demanding. For fitness, the first day felt like I had legs of lead. The second day, I was still kicking into gear. The third day, I was feeling fine, but the terrain was an endless slog of volcanic debris fields. VERY windy and not as pretty as the previous two days.

This day was freaking me out from the start, because it had at least two river fords. These are not my favorite things, unless they aren't very deep. I didn't know what to expect, but I was all geared up with my water shoes and trekking poles. I was hoping they wouldn't be waist or chest deep (again), but was ready for anything. Off I went...


So, the route this day was to go eastward into the Hvanngil chasm and almost immediately wade through the river Bratthálskvísl. The notes I had said "it shouldn't be a problem." Hokay... and it wasn't a problem. I got to the river, took off my boots, tied them to my pack, put on my water shoes, and marched across, chanting my favorite hiking song. I was over by the time I'd reached the fourth line. ("When I was a young apprentice, and less than compis mentis, I took leave of all my senses..." Oh wait, I'm over.) It only hit my knees and wasn't that strong. Yay!


Passed by the second hut shortly after, then entered the grim volcanic fields. It started off rocky.


Crossed the next river. It had a street sign, which was amusing.


And more desolate lava fields:


Lava dust.





By the end of the day, I was tired enough that I didn't notice I'd passed by a gorge. After I got to the hut, I dropped my pack and returned to check it out. I shared the hike with an amusing the hyperactive guy from England named Simon. I ended up wanting to go further, so we parted ways after an hour or so, but continued to leapfrog back and forth until the end of the hike.





After some time exploring the gorge in the evening light, I returned to the camping area and settled down for the night.

The walk into Þórsmörk! I'd been looking forward to this for a while. This area is a mountain ridge between the glaciers Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull. It has a warmer climate than most of Iceland and has far more vegetation. Birch trees, some other planted trees, moss, ferns, other shrubs, and so on. When the eruption happened in 2010, some months after I'd been there for the first time, the entire area was apparently covered in ash. There's no sign of devastation now, though. All the ash has cleared away and the area looks just like it did in 2009.

Started off the morning having to hike around the gorge that I explored the night before. I didn't mind, of course. It was really lovely in the morning light.


A sketchy part of the trail, with helpful chains.



Glaciers ahead!


Increase in vegetation









A copse of non-native trees in the middle of the birch.


I decided, based on the weather reports, to stay two nights at Þórsmörk instead of trying for Skogár. With the clarity of hindsight, I know the hike would have been fine. I kind of regret not doing it, but I did get up to the pass the next day. I'll knock off the Skogár side of it on some future trip.

Down at the Þórsmörk main campsite, I splurged on eating at the Volcano Hut, which was awesome. Nothing like real food after a few days of my own cooking! They have a geothermally-heated pool and a sauna as well, but I only politely checked those out and spent a lot of time in the hot shower. Got up early the next morning to go up the pass.

The entire pass hike would have been 27km. I was up for it, but if I'd decided to do it, I would have stayed at this hut instead. It's a bit closer to the trailhead and would have brought the hike down to about 25km. There were also campsites on the other side of the river, which would be even better. This side was prettier, however.




Heading up to the pass:








The Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which is cunningly hiding the volcano Katla. Icelanders talk a lot about Katla and Hekla, which are both expected to erupt, you know, anytime. No one seemed frightened about this. It's more like they want to know when to put the popcorn on. One Icelander I talked to was earnestly suggesting that people pay close attention to the state of the volcanos, so they know when to buy tickets to come to Iceland to "see the show."



I didn't make it all the way to the pass proper, but I wish I had. It apparently was too foggy to see anything, but the ground is hot. One report I read said you could cook hotdogs over heat vents. :D

I made it up to the ridge close to the pass, then turned around since the wind was so bad and the storm was blowing in. I made it down to the river just when the rain hit. It then proceeded to rain for the rest of the time I was in Iceland.


Mýrdalsjökull to the left; Eyjafjallajökull to the right.


After I returned from the trek, I did a "typical tourist" Golden Circle Tour, which was fun. Then a jaunt to the Blue Lagoon to soak it all out before I flew home. I'll post these pics in a different post.

Date: 2013-08-18 06:58 am (UTC)
ivy: (grey hand-drawn crow)
From: [personal profile] ivy
Wow! That's gorgeous countryside -- I can see why you were so enamored of it. (And it sounds like you were in Iceland before at the same time the book by the British woman was written, so y'all might have some memories in common!)

Date: 2013-08-18 01:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It is truly gorgeous, usually in a very stark and unusual way. The lava fields are amazing, although I don't envy the first people who tried to cross them without a trail!

I may have to read that book first! I was starting off with the other one, but it'll take me a while to finish. (By the way, I was amused that the Sagas book had a Custom Declarations form from 2007 tucked in it. Apparently, when you entered Korea, you failed to hand it over. Makes a handy bookmark though.)

Date: 2013-08-18 12:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Are you doing something new with your photo processing here? These images seem to have warmth, depth, and texture beyond what I remember from last trip. I can also very clearly see why you needed to return here. Now I need to go here too.

Date: 2013-08-18 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Only on a few pics, but nothing unusual or heavy-handed. If it came out drab from the fog but was otherwise a good shot, I boosted the contrast (or overall levels) just a touch. I was trying for higher contrast in the camera, since that's my preferred output.

The difference you may be seeing was that I was using a different camera. Lots of the shots from the earlier trip were with a Nikon, which by default shoots in a cooler tone than Canon. That's actually why I decided to go with the Canon line a couple of years ago - warmer tone. I did have a Canon for part of my trip last time, but it was still a different camera.

Date: 2013-08-18 06:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Clearly one or more of those adaptations work well for richer detail and warmer color. As somebody who cannot resist all manner of after-the-fact digital hackery it's awesome to see somebody nailing the image so consistently with such simple post processing.

Date: 2013-08-19 06:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's true, we have *really* different styles. :D My ideal is to create the perfect shot in the camera, but I do love dinking around with Photoshop at times. You've got the craft of creating the weirdly modern landscape down, with a definite twist of the futuristic, or something. It's like looking back at modern ruins from some technicolored future.

Date: 2013-08-19 07:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wow. That may be one of the clearest expressions of the intentions underlying my process I have ever heard anybody come up with. Way better than I ever said it, myself.

It also happens to be very nearly the literal truth if you accept the premise that "modern" ended with the decline of the industrial revolution and further assume that we are already living in a digitally technicolored future.


canyonwren: (Default)
Jen Kleis

November 2014


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