Landmannalaugar – Álftavatn
Distance: 26.7 km | Estimated traveling time: 8-10 hours | Max Altitude: 1,063 m
Elevation change: 900 m
Today was the day that the trek would begin for real. As we slowly to the awoke morning we were greeted with a damp and cloudy start to the day.
Breakfast was gulped back, tents taken down and after a quick pre-trek briefing from our Arctic Adventures guide we broke camp, tentatively we took our first steps along the 55km trail. Within a few metres of starting out along the trail we passed by the steamy-hot natural thermal springs which make Landamangalur famous the world over amongst the hiking community and where the night before we had all bathed in the warm waters under a rainbow adorned blackened sky. The thought that maybe I should have walked the route in reverse from south to north passed through my mind as a dip in the pools would be a mighty reward for three or four days of hard hiking. As it was Þórsmörk, at our journeys end, offered nothing of equal measure, only a promise of pleasure in the thought that the torture of a previous three days trekking might finally be over.
We slipped out of Landamangalur to join the snake like procession of hikers leaving camp to walk the three days it would take them and us to reach our journey’s end.
After some quick elevation that rather rudely broke the legs and lungs in we crested a ridge, and there for the first time we saw what all the fuss was about. Spread out before us was one of the most amazing landscapes that I have ever been witness to! There were snow capped mountains, hills, gorges, petrified rock and extinct volcano cones with steam literally rising out of the earth around them, what a sight!
Wow the Laugavegur Trail hits you straight between the eyes, and within minutes of leaving base camp, if this was a foretaste of what we were going to see after only a few hundred metres then God only knew what the next three days might hold in store for us!
We trekked past bubbling blow-holes and steaming sulphurous puddles as we passed through the Laugahraun lava field before beginning to gain some more rapid height. Upon reaching the ridge we could see below us spread out almost as far as the eye could see a spectacular lunar landscape created many centuries ago when what must have been intensely hot lava must have flowed that way.
Beyond that we entered the colourful rhyolite-containing mountains of Brennisteinsalda, then passed yet more hot springs and thermal vents around an area known as Stórihver marvelling at the neon green mosses and grass before climbing steadily again to meet the first of several ice caps.
There was much more snow than had been anticipated for this time of year and we trekked for what seemed like endless hours over the never-ending snow fields.
The first mountain hut along the trail Hrafntinnusker was still consumed by snow and camping there overnight would have been near impossible although a few brave souls were attempting it. Above 1000m the landscape is dominated by bare rocks and wasteland making up the southern edge of the immense Icelandic highland desert, but this year most of this area was still covered by the persistent and now tiresome snow.
Luckily (I say luckily with a wry grin) we were all headed for the next hut, a further back-breaking 12km on along the trail, but it’s setting so I’d been told was worth the extra distance, although at that particular time I would have been thankful for stopping where I was, snow or no snow!
Leaving the welcoming confines of the hut behind we trekked across yet more snow until eventually we entered an area with dark palagonite mountains and glaciers, replacing the deep and constant snow we had now grown so accustomed to.
From here on in there was a considerable increase in vegetation all round us and even some small pockets of tentative greenery had started to appear, then over the horizon we could see it, Álftavatn the fabled campsite, our destination and journeys end for the day.
Álftavatn sits on a flat plain by the edges of Swan Lake with a series of perfect pyramidal and cone-shaped volcanoes as a sublime backdrop. To reach the campsite though we would first have to descend down the Jökultungur, a notoriously steep descent that leads down to the glacial river Grashagakvísl.
With knees burning and backs aching we eventually descended to the river and took a welcome break by it’s banks. From here on in it was a fairly easy slap to the camp site nestling by the lakeshore. Had the extra distance been worth it? Absolutely, Álftavatn must be one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure to camp at.
Having pegged out an area for the tent to be pitched and having erected it in an almost efficient manner I settled in for the evening, happy to sit in my tent’s porch and stare at the beautiful surroundings. A great but testing day had now run it’s course and we had all made it safely to camp number two along the trail.
Tomorrow promised a further 15km of trekking across a landscape I’m sure that none of us could ever have imagined even in our wildest dreams!
Next up: The Laugavegur Icelandic Trek 2013 – Day 3…..15km across a landscape that is hard to describe in words, but boy what pictures!
Pics from Iceland here: http://www.fluidr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets/72157634601200683
Additional photography by Ka Fei Wong. Check his stuff out over at: https://picasaweb.google.com/112137180377365679482/Iceland02?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCMqW2qHF9puWuwE&feat=directlink