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Iceland Diaries | Hiking the Laugavegur Trail

As 2019 has just begun, I thought it would be a good moment to publish the final part of our Iceland Diaries. (click here to read about the road trip). Exactly this time last year Paweł and I booked our plane tickets to Reykjavik. If you want to explore Iceland during the summer, now is the perfect time to start planning your journey. 

This post is all about our 4-day hike in the mountains. I describe the route and give you some information you will find useful. It’s a part of the trip that holds a special place in my heart. We were planning the hike for months and the views were the most beautiful I had ever seen in my life.

Laugavegur trail – the ‘Hot Spring Route’

The Laugavegur trail is a 55-kilometre hike through the Icelandic mountains. The usual starting point is Landmannalaugar. It’s a picturesque valley filled with hot springs all around. The ending point is Thorsmork – a nature reserve situated between two glaciers. It’s no surprise that the ‘Hot Spring Route’ is on the list of the world’s best hikes, according to National Geographic. It’s an experience like no other. My boyfriend and I decided that Thorsmork would be our starting point, so we went in the opposite direction than people usually do. At the end of this post, I explain why.

Day 12

7 hours on the trail

5 am: I packed our tent stuff and prepared a mix of hot chocolate and coffee to take with us. Paweł went to pick up my trekking poles. We set off to Thorsmork – the starting point. It was a really bumpy, 4-hour bus ride to get there. The bus was a 4×4 vehicle with massive wheels, making it possible to pass through raging rivers.

After fueling ourselves with sandwiches and dark chocolate, we began our journey. The beginning was beautiful. Sunny with a warm breeze.

A kilometre into the hike, we crossed our first river. I had then decided I hated the rivers for being so awfully cold and leaving my feet numb from pain. The landscape slowly started changing but the weather was still perfect.

More rocks and less greenery on the horizon. There were moments when I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep going, my body wasn’t used to such an intense workout for 8 hours.

As we walked, we had to keep putting on and taking off layers of our clothes because of the sweating, sun and wind. Doing this constantly, with seriously heavy backpacks, it was quite tiresome. It was necessary, though – the last thing we wanted was to catch a cold. We also stopped for a snack by a stream and relaxed there for a while.

It was getting harder and harder to carry our bags. Mine wasn’t so bad but still, my back was burning from the pain. Paweł carried mine for a while and I love him even more for it. The last part was probably the hardest – climbing up a steep hill and freezing from the wind.

Somehow here we are in our first campsite, wrapped up in sleeping bags. I am so happy right now! As soon as we got to the campsite, we boiled a vegan spaghetti bolognese packet. I don’t think I was ever as grateful for a pot of hot food than that evening.

Eating tomato soup that we got at the campsite in Reykjavik for free

I was seriously scared for the next 3 days and was regretting all of it a bit because I realised my body wasn’t strong enough. I hoped a lot of sleep would cure it all and we’d have all the strength to keep going.

Day 13

8 hours on the trail

9 am: we woke up with the sun shining on our tent and warming it up. The first few hours were difficult – the landscape was nothing but black rocks and green mountains with snow. For hours and hours. We kept our minds occupied and talked a lot about our childhoods so it all flew by quite quickly.

Sitting down by a stream and enjoying a bowl of warm soup and sandwiches.

We then kept on going through the same kind of scenery and played a game of guessing what object we were thinking about. At one point, we noticed a river in the distance. We looked around and searched for another way across – crossing was the only way. The water was freezing and it was as if someone was stabbing my feet with a million needles.

It started raining and after that, the most beautiful mountains appeared, with lush, green meadows in between. I couldn’t stop admiring them. From that point, our trek went smoothly until the end. We had two more rivers to cross after which we finally arrived at our 2nd campsite of the hike – at Lake Alftavatn. The campsite was a dream. It reminded me of a postcard-like landscape in New Zealand. We figured it was time to finally take a shower so we paid 500 ISK for 5 minutes of hot water and went in there together. Each person is only given 5 minutes because there’s no electricity. The water is heated by gas, which is brought especially up into the mountains.

Day 14

7 hours on the trail
We found the perfect spot right by a stream – so handy for refilling our water bottles and having water for boiling

For the first time, it felt like summer to me. We had set up our tent by a quiet stream the night before. The sun was almost burning as there was no wind; we cooked up a big breakfast. A slightly shorter route was ahead of us.

First, it was just a casual stroll through green mountains, then one river crossing and after that, we started climbing. Sometimes we were only wearing a t-shirt, the air was so warm.  When we had finally got to the top, the landscape became different. Snowy patches, black rocks and copper-red earth. Our last few kilometres were a path through deep snow.

It got windier and it stayed like that till the rest of the day at the 3rd campsite. I’d say it was one of the worst and not worth the money. But still, what could we expect from a campsite on a glacier?

No flushing toilets and a rocky surface, making it nearly impossible to set up the tent. It was one of the coldest nights too. Luckily we had each other, hot packs and a lot of delicious food to eat. Despite the awful campsite, I think that day we had the most stunning views on our way.

To protect ourselves from the wind, we built a mini wall from rocks. One of our camping mattresses got pierced from the sharp rocks lying beneath. Fortunately, it was our last night in the mountains.

Day 15

5 hours on the trail

7 am: We quickly ate and got ready for our last 12 kilometres. We did them surprisingly quickly with just a chocolate bar to fuel us on the way. Paweł had an amazing pace seeing as he was carrying two bags the majority of the trek. And seeing as it was our last day, too. I was feeling weak and light-headed most of the time.

As we went downhill, it got warmer and 5 hours later we finally reached Landmannalaugar. We tried out the geothermal river but it turned out to be too hot and too cold at the same time. That’s because the hot pot is actually a cold and a boiling river crossing in one place. The freezing-burning sensation was more irritating than relaxing. On the surface, the water was hot; on the bottom – freezing. It’s a shame we don’t have a picture of people’s red bellies and white legs to show you 🙂 .

We ran for our bus and travelled back to Reykjavik. It’s amazing how the landscape can change so much in such a short space of time. From snow to boiling rivers. Before setting up our tent we gave back the trekking poles, went food shopping and cooked dinner back in the campsite kitchen.

My way of carrying the rucksack when my back hurt too much

Day 16

Leaving Iceland

It was sunny, 16 degrees. We didn’t have to rush so we just ate breakfast, packed everything up and headed to the bus terminal to the airport. At 3 am we arrived at a hostel in Katowice (Poland). The whole hike was a real challenge – physically and mentally. We were uncomfortable, cold, our muscles sore and our backs burning. No electricity, no toilets, no signal, no warm beds.

When I think back, though, good moments outweighed the hard ones. The fresh air and spring water that tasted SO GOOD. The feeling after climbing a mountain, completely out of breath, and seeing the beautiful horizon beneath.

Would I hike the Laugavegur trail again? Definitely. It was a magical experience that will stay with me forever.

Here’s our Iceland Diaries video for you to see our whole trip, including the Laugavegur trail.

Useful information

The Reykjavik Campsite

The campsite in Reykjavik is a special one. It’s really big, with so much space for everything. There’s a big dining hall, wifi access, a kitchen for 30 people and even a small library. The campsite is also eco-friendly – with a recycling system, a bike rental service and a corner with free camping gear and gas containers. There are also baskets of free food that campers leave behind for other people to use!

Getting to the start of the trail

You can take a bus to either Thorsmork or Landmannalaugar from various places in and around Reykjavik. We got on this bus at the campsite bus stop. To get back to the capital of Iceland, we took the same bus (from Landmannalaugar to the campsite).

Why did we choose Thorsmork as the starting point?

We read that Icelanders usually choose this direction. This way, they avoid the crowds. Most of the time, we only passed hikers going the opposite direction. Hot springs waiting for us at the end of the trail was just another added bonus.

However, it’s not like the Laugavegur trail is full of people. If we had chosen the other way, I don’t think the hikers would have bothered me. Day 1 and 2 of the hike were the hardest for us because we were climbing up more than walking down the mountains. Plus, the landscape was the most monotonous. The last two days were like a reward.

The next post will be more of a guide, where I tell you all about how we got ready for the hike and what food and equipment we took with us. I will also describe every campsite on the trail in detail so you know what to expect. Stay tuned!

Zuza Xx

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