Monday, July 6, 2009


... is the most famous hike in Iceland. Its 55 kms strech from Landamannalaugar in the highlands to the green valley of Þórsmörk.

This hike gives a very good overall view of the different types of landscape one can find in iceland:
mountains declined in almost every colour of the rainbow, glaciers, roaring hot springs, icy rivers, canyons, lakes, desert of volcanic ash, moss covered lava, etc...

The hike is generally done over 4 days in very short hikes of about 4-5 hours daily (from webpage):

Day One: Landmannalaugar - Hrafntinnusker
12 km, 4 - 5 hours
Elevation increase: 470 m

Starting point is the hut in Landmannalaugar (75 beds, GPS N63°59.600 - W19°03.660). From there it’s an easy hike through the lava field of Laugahraun towards the colourful mountain Brennisteinsalda. There the gradual climb starts through dissected hills with views offering an incredible spectrum of colours. After 3 - 4 hours you arrive at Stórihver, a geothermal area with hot spring (unfortunately too hot to bath in).
About 2/3 of the way are very likely to be covered with snow until late summer. At an elevation of around 1000m fog can show up suddenly and without warning. The trail is clearly marked but hikers must be careful.
Hrafntinnusker hut (Höskuldsskáli) can accommodate 52 persons (GPS N63°55.840 - W19°09.700) and will show up suddenly and unexpected about 2 km after the memorial of an Israeli who died of hypothermia close to the track.

Evening walks: 20 minutes walk to Mt. Söðull (beautiful views) or 40 minutes walk to ice caves (collapsed in 2008). Ask hut warden for more information.

Day Two: Hrafntinnusker - Álftavatn
12 km, 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. A short and steep incline leads to the highpoint of today’s walk. If the visibility is good, a side trip to the summit of mountain Háskerðingur (1281 m) will reward your with a breathtaking view. This is best done from its western slope, but care must be taken as a glacier is crossed. Ask the hut warden for further information.
If you stay on the main track, you’ll soon 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 quite steep and care must be taken during the descent. The last few kilometers to the huts by the lake Álftavatn is on flat land. The two huts take up to 52 persons (GPS N63°51.470 - W19°13.640).

Evening walks: a hike up Mt. Brattháls, which takes 1 - 2 hours return. Wet feet included as it’s necessary to wade the little stream coming from Lake Álftavatn. Another hike is up Mt. Torfatindur (818m), estimated walking time 1 - 2 hours.

Day Three: Álftavatn - Emstrur (Botnar)
15 km, 6 - 7 hours
Elevation decrease: 40 m

The trail takes us over the ridge Brattháls into Hvanngil ravine, wading across the small river Bratthálskvísl. In Hvanngil are two huts, one built for sheepherds in 1963 and one for tourists, built in 1995. As Álftavatn and Hvanngil are only 5 km apart, Hvanngil can be used as an alternate accommodation. The huts can accommodate xx people, provides toilet facilities, showers and a small camp side inside an old lava field.

Leaving Hvanngil, a bridge crosses the river Kaldaklofskvísl. On the eastern bank of Kaldaklofskvísl the trail splits, one branch leading eastwards to Mælifellssandur (Road F 210) but the other one southwards to Emstrur, and we choose the latter. Soon, another river has to be waded.
For a few kilometers, Laugavegurinn joins a road until it separates again, leading further south than the track. It is possible to simply follow the road until a sign shows the way to Emstrur-hut.
The powerfull glacial river Nyrðri Emstruá can be crossed on a bridge. Another few kilometers on flat land and we will suddenly be overlooking the huts in Emstrur (Botnar) which can take 40 persons and offers a nice and grass-grown camp site (GPS N63°45.980 - W19°22.480).

Evening walk: small poles lead onto a panoramic walking trail to Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon. It’s an easy walk of 1 ½ hours if doing the circle or 40 minutes if going the same way back.

Day Four: Emstrur (Botnar) - Þórsmörk
15 km, 6 - 7 hours
Elevation decrease: 300 m

45 minutes on the track, a steep path leads towards the canyon of Syðri-Emstruá which then can be crossed on a spectacular bridge. A rope helps to overcome the last meters of the steep descent, so be careful. Most of the track you’ll be walking through a hilly area known as Almenningar. At the very end, the river Þröngá has to be waded which uses to be the deepest river on the track. When wading it is good practice to go hand in hand and head downstream or to use hiking poles to keep balance. After crossing Þröngá, Landscape and vegetation change once more. A walk of 30 minutes brings trough a small forest to an intersection on a hillside. Signs will show directions to different huts in Þórsmörk. From there, Langidalur hut is only a few minutes away. It takes up to 75 people (GPS 63°40.960 - 19°30.890).

In 2004, I did the hike in 3 days. This time the hike will be done in 2 days: from Landmannalaugar to the hut Hvanngil and from Hvanngil to Langidalur in Þórsmörk.

The weather forecast seems to be excellent for these 2 days but this is Iceland and anything can happen.

Weather outside: mostly cloudy, 17°C