“There can be no more compelling way to connect with a foreign land than to walk on the soil, sand and rock that comprises it’s landscape. Nor can there be any better way to meet the local people than to walk in their footsteps and among them, on their own terms, instead of being tied to roads, train-tracks and cityscapes.” – Andrew Mazibrada
With these thoughts echoing in my mind I boarded the plane for Iceland. At 46 years old incredibly I was flying solo for the first time even though I had travelled to many far-flung lands before I had always somehow managed to have a companion by my side! This adventure was going to be different, it was truly going to be a trip of firsts in many different ways and forms.
For years I had longed to visit the land of the midnight sun, to marvel at the wonders of nature in the raw and experience the ferocity and force of mother nature. I yearned to see new mountain ranges in their infancy (at least in geological terms) and to gasp at the struggling earths growing pains as a new country formed right in front of my eyes. That’s a tall bench-mark by anyone’s standards and I really hoped not to be too disappointed when I would finally get my chance to rub noses with this fabled land.
Right now though I was far more concerned with the much more mundane task of navigating my way successfully through customs when I landed in Reykjavík International airport.
Fast forward several hours from my arrival and later that same evening I found myself in the recently refurbished Hotel Klettur on the outskirts of Reykjavík’s city centre. The decor of its rooms and reception areas looking ominously like they were fresh out of the latest reincarnation of the IKEA catalogue (all very Scandinavian) although I understand to be classed as such is a bit of a slight to an Icelander!
I began to feel for the first time on the trip that I was a long way away from home. To calm any nerves I went for a quick and bracing walk around the old harbour front in Reykjavík and then along the main high street which is rather aptly named Laugavegur to try to orientate myself. In the morning however I would be setting off for base camp way up in the Icelandic Highlands.
The Laugavegur Trail is in the South-West of Iceland and starts from the hot springs area of Landmannalaugar from where it zigzags across the Icelandic Highlands all the way down to the glacial valley of Þórsmörk in the south, named after the Norse god Thor (Þór). It’s noted for the wide variety of landscapes that are experienced in just 55 km (34 mi) of hiking.
Now regular followers of my blog will know that by choice I usually like to hike alone, it’s a personal choice as I enjoy and savour the quietness and solitude of solo walking. It’s not for everyone though and each to his own and all that but in this particular instance I’d been unable to coerce or successfully bribe any of the usual suspect to accompany me on the trip – understandable as Iceland is a pricey destination – so here I was about to become part of a team (as yet all unknown to me) for the first time and for the next four days we would all be hiking together in an unknown land!
I’d opted to use adventure travel company Arctic Adventures as outfitters for the trek and with quick introductions over in the impressive Super Jeep that picked me up outside my hotel we set off into the wild Highlands of Iceland in search of some adventure.
The route to base camp at Landmannalaugar is a spectacular introduction into what was to come as we careered over rock strewn ash fields, forded swollen glacial rivers and stopped beside magnificent waterfalls for a spot of lunch along the way.
After several hours of bumpy off-roading we finally arrived late in the day at the Landmannalaugar campsite, a weird mix of surreal landscape, Glastonbury Music Festival and refugee camp all thrown together creating the most bizarre of places to start a trek from.
But the vibe around camp was almost tangible as hikers from all over the world gathered as one to embark on their own personal quest to conquer and experience the trail.
I was instantly caught up in the mood as I pitched my tent for the first (but not last) time on this trip. Inside I was both excited and apprehensive for tomorrow just like the hundreds of other hikers all around me I would start my own personal attempt at completing the famous Laugavegur Trail!
Next up: The Laugavegur Icelandic Trek 2013 – Day 2…..the trek starts in earnest as 25km have to be completed to reach the next camp!
Pics from Iceland here: http://www.fluidr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets/72157634601200683