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Iceland 2009 - The "Laugavegur" Hiking Trail

From 20th-27th July 2009, David and I are hiking the "Laugavegur" Trail in Iceland (also called Laugavegurinn sometimes). Update: Alex came too!

Contents

Maps

You can also get the Landmaelingar Islands' 1:100,000 map Thorsmork – Landmannalaugar map from stanfords in London at this URL:

http://www.stanfords.co.uk/search.html?q=165283

Here are some samples so you can see why the map is worth buying:

back-small.jpg front-small.jpg map-small.jpg

A 1:100,000 is quite zoomed out but still perfectly adequate for this route. Usually when walking you would use a 1:25,000, 1:40,000 or 1:50,000 map.

Tip

Because Iceland is so far North the differences between magnetic North and true North become very apparant. In 2000 when the map was produced the compass pointed 17.5° West of true North but this value is decreasing at 0.3° per year so we had to rotate the map about 15° East compared to where the compass said was North.

Another map I've seen is this one from the Nordic Adventure Travel website. The green line is the route and the crosses are the huts (although we didn't go as far as Skogar):

gonguleidir_sudurhal_laugavegur.gif

I believe the Lonely Planet guide to Iceland has a single page with a grey and black diagram showing the route but I don't think it is any clearer than the map above.

Apparantly there also used to be a map produced for the national park but lots of the trails moved as people moved the sticks marking them so the map is now more of a hinderence than a help. There may be a new map by the time we are there though.

Flights

We'll be flying out from London Heathrow to Reykjavik on Iceland Air. You can also go on the budget Iceland Express and with other airlines too. These are our flights:

There is a bus from the airport to Reykjavik which takes about 40 mins.

Busses

To and From Landmannalaugar

You can get from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar on the number 11 bus (and back on the 11a). It leaves at 8:30 in the morning and takes about 4 hours. The busses leave from the BSI bus station 15 mins walk from the city centre.

http://www.re.is/IcelandOnYourOwn/ScheduledBusTours/11ReykjavikLandmannalaugar/

The route starts off on a tarmac road but the last 50Km are along a dusty track. The bus is beefed up with some pretty large tyres which are doubled up so there are two tyres for every one on a normal bus. It needs this as it crosses a few small rivers. There are a few pick-up stops on route and the bus stops so you can take photos of the Hella volcano.

To and From Þórsmörk

The same company run a bus back from Þórsmörk to Reykjavik. It leaves at 16:00 daily during the Summer and takes 3h25. There are actually a few places where you can pick it up but I understand from the wardens at the walking huts that it is the same bus whether you go from the first hut or the last so we just walked to the Husadlur hut which is sign-posted from the route and caught the 16:00 after having some Viking beer and waffles at the retaurant there.

http://www.re.is/IcelandOnYourOwn/ScheduledBusTours/9ReykjavikThorsmork/

This bus is even beefier than the one that takes you to Landmannalaugar as it has to literally drive through a load of fast, large rivers. There is no way you could do this route in an ordinary car and I suspect a normal 4x4 would struggle.

Hostels

Considering Iceland only has a population of about 300,000 there are loads of Youth Hostels:

island_map6.jpg

We stayed in the Reykjavik Downtown youth hostel on the 20th and 21st July and the Reykjavik City youth hostel on the night of 26th July.

The Reykjavik Downtown hostel is right in the centre of town and is rather small but the Reykjavik City hostel on the outskirts of town is much larger and also has a campsite. Try to stay in the Reykjavik Downtown hostel if you can - it also has a laptop, internet and free wifi you can use.

The Reykjavik Downtown hostel also let us leave bags there for 300 ISK per day while we did the route and they were happy to order taxis for us. The Reykjavik City hostel has a bus which you must sign up for which leaves at 4:50am for the airport.

Huts

There are a number of different huts dotted around Iceland:

huts.png

During the hike we are staying in the huts on the Laugavegur trail which David booked by emailing Elín Anna:

You can also go on to Skogar if you want to but we are just doing the five days, finishing at Þórsmörk (or Thorsmork or Torsmork depending on how you want to spell it).

The huts we're using cost 3300 ISK but some of them are cheaper. The price list is at http://www.fi.is/en/huts/price/

We took a stove and roll mats thinking the huts would be fairly ruimentary but actually they are pretty well equipped with full kitchens (think glorified camping burners for the stoves) with pots, pans and utensils. The sleeping areas in the first two huts had mattresses for everyone layed out next to each other but the second two huts had double beds instead so you might have to share with someone you don't know.

Each hut also has a "Free food" box or cupboard where you can leave food you don't want for other hikers to use. There was always some porridge there when we stayed but we also found tea, milk, instant Bami Goring, rice, pasta etc. You shouldn't rely on there being anything edible when you go but we found the extra food very welcome.

Official Route Guide

This is the offical route description and all in all I'd say it is pretty accurate. The ice caves are definitely worth a look at the end of the first day but we couldn't see the route to the top of mountain "Háskerðingur" described on the second day. The view is pretty spectacular anyway.

The Landmannalaugar - Thorsmork route is called „Laugavegurinn", The Hot Spring Route, which is very appropriate. It is clearly marked between the huts in Landmannalaugar, Hrafntinnusker (Obsidian Skerry), on lake Alftavatn (The Lake of the Whooper Swans) and on river Sydri-Emstrua in Fremri-Botnar.

The trail "Laugavegurinn" is one of the most popular and most travelled hiking trails in Icelandic wilderness. It is equally popular with domestic and foreign hikers. This is not without a reason as the trail offers a great variety of landscape. Mountains in almost every colour of the rainbow, great glaciers, roaring hot springs, big rivers and lakes. Generally the hike lasts four days and the starting point is Landmannalaugar (altitude approx. 600 meters) Overnighting is in huts but you have to supply your own sleeping bag. Those with confirmed reservations have a higher priority so it is important to look in aðvance if you want to have a certain place to stay.

  1. day: Landmannalaugar-Hrafntinnusker
Distance 12 km, estimated walking time 4 - 5 hours. Elevation increase 470 meters. From the hut in Landmannalaugar (75 persons, GPS 63°59.600 - 19°03.660) the trail goes through a rough lavafield "Laugahraun". From there on up the slopes of "Brennisteinsalda" and to the plateau. The view offers an incredible spectrum of colours. After 3 - 4 hours you arrive at "Stórihver", a hot spring and almost the only green spot visible in the first day. In most years the rest of the trail from "Stórihver" to "Höskuldsskáli" hut is covered with snow. Chances of fog are very high so even though the trail is clearly marked you must be careful. A walk to the icecaves (approx. 1.5km from the hut) is a must. The huts location GPS 63°55.840 - 19°09.700 and sleeps 36 persons.
  1. day: Hrafntinnusker - Álftavatn
Distance 12 km, estimated walking time 4 - 5 hours. Elevation decrease 490 m. The first part of the trail takes us through a valley with some small ravines but be careful as they may be filled with snow. If the visibility is good a walk up to the top of mountain "Háskerðingur" (1281 m) will reward your with a breathtaking view. Soon we leave the colourful rhyolite mountains and enter an area with dark palagonite mountains and glaciers. You will also notice a considerable increase in vegetation. The trail down the "Jökultungur" is rather steep but leads down to a friendly oasis on the banks of river "Grashagakvísl" a fine place to rest for a while. From there on the trail to the two huts by the lake "Álftavatn" is on flat land. There are two huts (58 persons, GPS 63°51.470 - 19°13.640).
  1. day: Álftavatn - Emstrur (Botnar)
Distance 15 km., estimated walking time 6-7 hrs., elevation decrease 40 m. The trail takes us over the ridge "Brattháls" into "Hvanngil" ravine, wading across the river "Bratthálskvísl". In "Hvanngil" are two huts, one built for sheepherders in 1963 and one for tourists, built in 1995. A short walk from the huts is the river "Kaldaklofskvísl" with a bridge for hikers. On the eastern bank of "Kaldaklofskvísl" the trail branches, one branch leading eastwards to "Mælifellssandur" (Road F 210) but the other one southwards to "Emstrur" and we choose the latter. Less than one km from "Kaldaklofskvísl" another river has to be waded and approximately 4 km further we come to the river "Nyrðri Emstruá" but this time there is a bridge to cross it. Soon we will be overlooking the huts in "Botnar" (40 persons, GPS 63°45.980 - 19°22.480). A fine walk in the evening is to the "Markarfljótsgljúfur" canyon.
  1. day: Emstrur (Botnar) - Þórsmörk
Distance 15 km., estimated walking time 6-7 hrs., elevation decrease 300 m. First we have to go around the canyon of "Syðri - Emstruá" and there is a very steep path down to the bridge so be careful. Then a walk through the area known as "Almenningar" with crossing of among other rivers "Þröngá". It is good practice when wading to go hand in hand and head downstream. After crossing "Þröngá" a 30 minutes walk takes us to the hut in "Langidalur" in "Þórsmörk" (75 persons, GPS 63°40.960 - 19°30.890) Landscape and vegetation is changing rapidly. Birchwood and all kinds of plants a welcome change after the desert now behind us. The hut in Thorsmork is Basar huts in Godaland, in Langidalur Hut Skagfjordsskáli and cottages and huts in Husadalur.

There is a slightly updated version of this guide at the link below and descriptions of the route can also be found on the sides of the huts themselves:

http://www.fi.is/en/hiking-trails/laugavegurinn/

Tip

If you have a Google Android phone you can enter GPS coordinates into the map search field in this format: 63 59.600 / -19 03.660 for 63°59.600 - 19°03.660 for example. You can get the Iceland map even from the UK just make sure you change the map mode to "Satellite".

Reykjavik

Reykjavik was slightly smaller than expected for a capital but not when you consider that it has the same population as Oxford. There is a main street (also called the Laugavegur) where all the fashion shops and bars are.

I was expecting Reykjavik to be a party capital but on the Tuesday and Sunday nights when we were there everywhere was rather empty and the bars closed at 1am. The main club was actually shut. Apparantly Friday and Saturday nights are the only nights where the partying takes place and the bars are open to 6am. Shame we missed that.

Equipment

Here is the kit list describing what I took, why I took it and how useful I found it after the walk:

One thing to bear in mind is that the staff at Landmannalaugar are very keen on you not wearing any cotton. The first (and pretty much only thing) they said when we checked in was "Cotton is Death"! The camp warden also told us on the bus that they would do a kit check for anyone walking the route but this failed to materialise. You are advised to take full mountain walking gear, and avoid cotton.

The page below has the official information about the route as well as the equipment you need. Campers aren't allowed to use the huts facilities so the equipment required for campers is different for those who use the huts as we did.

http://www.fi.is/en/hiking-trails/laugavegurinn/

You can read my MSR Wisperlite Internationale stove review I wrote which includes an update about how I found the stove on the trip.

My Experience

(or Cotton is Death!)

I'll write this later.

Photos

Will be posted as soon as I get a chance.

See also:

(view source)

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