Laugavegur is a four day hike in the Sothern region of Iceland. It is world renowned for the variety of spectacular scenery in a relatively compact area, showing off landscapes Iceland is famous for: fire and ice.
The trail is designed as a representation of the Icelandic flag: A red fiery cross surrounded in snow white, amongst a blue sky. The Icelandic Tourist Association recommends the trail is walked north to south, which means over the 55km you pass though geothermal springs, which are indicated by red waymarkers, a short section indicated by white waymarkers as you come down from the highlands and make several snow crossings, and towards the lowland region, blue markers indicate the way through geoparks, lava fields and deep-cut river valleys.
I chose to do this walk over four days and five nights in a completely self supported style. I carried my own food and shelter, and camped in the designated camp grounds. There are many other options including hut accommodation, restaurant meals and porterage services between huts. It is also possible to walk the trail with an all included tour operator. Another reason the Laugavegur Trail is so popular is because the terrain is easy. The path is suitable for nearly anyone who can walk in the wilderness an average of four hours a day, four days in a row.
Even though I’ve had this hike at the top of my list since before covid, my circumstances meant that it turned out to be a last minute affair. All within the month, I had my airfare, accommodation and trailhead transfers booked and all I had left to do was pack, get fit and go!
I spent my first night at the trailhead because here is where my chance to bathe in a geothermal spring lays. The Landmannalaugar campsite is the busiest of all the camps I made along the trail due to the relatively easy access. Besides a few river crossings, the single road is smooth and unpaved. There were many visiting for the night, locally and internationally, to make the most of the springs and various day hikes in the area. It made the campsite not so pleasant although it was filled with well equipped conveniences.
I chose one of the less strenuous day walks which follows a chunk of the Laugavegur trail before diverting away through a jagged rocky maze, then along a crystal clear river towards the campsite. I took this walk and found it really enjoyable as an introduction to the landscape. As the day went on everywhere became busier and I didn’t get to bathe in the spring until the next morning which worked out wonderfully – I was awakened by my noisy neighbours so decided to get up and saw that the spring was nearly empty of people – the total opposite of the previous evening.
The area of Landmannalaugar is situated in is spectacular – a stony river basin surrounded in rocky rhyolite mountains of an orange-brown-yellow hue. Patches of green moss splash themselves wherever they like and there is not a tree in sight.
The start of the trailhead is of course, very busy, with day hikers combined with long distance hikers. With my backpack on, I felt grateful I’d walked a small distance this way the day before. After my the decision to pack with caution and bring a winter sleeping bag, the total weight of my pack with food and water was around 12kg. I didn’t find it too heavy to bear with the 500m of total ascent through the mountains, and the spectacular factor was off the chart which made me forget about what I was carrying. The hike passes over the mountains exhibiting the masses of geothermal activity in the area. The smell of sulphur is never far away!
Gradually the trail passed away from the rhyolite and rocks began to exhibit lava rock and obsidian, and featured some easy snow crossings. I really love the shininess in the obsidian and wished beyond anything I could carry a huge slab of it back home with me.
Up high on the plateaus of grey-hued mountains the scenery reminded me more of a moonscape with large rocks splayed all over the place, along with stone piles with trail markers wedged through the middle of them. Luckily the weather was clear today – although most of the sun had disappeared by now – but I could easily imagine this place could be so much more desolate with thick fog, rain, snow or strong winds. The word ‘lost’ popped into my mind.
The huts and campsite at Hrafntinnusker popped up out of nowhere after I crossed a ridge and the view over it was quite different to that of my previous camp – its situated along another lower ridge constructed again from black volcanic rock and sand, surrounded by mountains with snowy patches and peaks in the clouds. Each campsite has been marked out with a semi-circle of rocks built up to create protection from the winds that must surely whip through the valleys. Tonight I camped on small volcanic rocks, which looked quite similar to crushed Oreos.