Late September. Summer seems to be just begun in Iceland, finally the sun came out, after a cold, cloudy and rainy summer. I board a touring minibus of a big American tourist corporation. As a hotel employee who sells trips to guests visiting Iceland, I can try some of them for free. It doesn't entertain me, however, and I use it only as a transport. My goal is to start the Laugavegur trail - a place that I wouldn't easily reach by hitchhiking because you can only get there by car driving through vast Icelandic highlands (using 4x4 vehicles).
The trail leads from a place called Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk (more about in the further part). It the most popular hiking trail in Iceland, famous for its incredibly beautiful and very diverse landscapes. By many people called the most beautiful trail in the world (!). This route is 55 km of moderate difficulty in mountainous terrain, with frequently rapidly changing weather conditions. It takes between 2 to 5 days to complete the trail, depending on our abilities and pace.
On the way to Landmannalaugar there were two stops awaiting us. The first one was the waterfall Hjálparfoss. It is composed of two rivers that meet at one point and form a common pool. The name means "helping waterfall" and according to the guide's words, it originated from the fact that the waterfall was the first oasis of greenery and life encountered by Icelandic people from the north and east who crossed mountains and highlands to come to the South. And this was the shortest route from these remote areas to reach Alþinigi, the medieval Icelandic anarchist-quasi-parliament about which we wrote on the Steem-Hikers glot. It was therefore a place where one could rest, fish or feed horses with the greenery that vegetated here.
The crater lake Hnausapollur is the number two stop. After 20 minutes of stay, when each of the tourists took a photo, we headed towards the right destination. We were driving through the black wilderness for another hour or two (unfortunately I didn't take any photos), and at that time I was absorbing the first theses of the famous Wittgenstein's Tractatus (being completely surprised how well I was digesting it!).
Landmannalaugar is a very difficult place to describe. Coming from the black desert we suddenly appear in one of the most surreal places of nature on this planet. Endless space, surrounded on each side by wonderful, rhyolite mountains. It seems as if you are in some 19th century impressionistic painting. The sensation actually takes away speech or any verbal thoughts. Only the eyes seem to absorb it all and at the same time they constantly evaluate that these are not hallucinations.
There is a large base and camping site here, because there are a lot of buses coming here with excursions (like the one I arrived here myself), but it is also the beginning of the trail, from where many people are preparing for the path (or resting after its end, if they were walking from the other direction). I said goodbye to the tour, which after 2-3 hours spent in this place was going to return to the capital. It was already late afternoon, and that day I wanted to reach the first base on the way (Hrafntinnusker). I decided to eat something and prepare for the march.
A full combo-breaker to the already enormous fantasy of this place are the hot springs surrounded by a little marshy terrain. Yes, you can bathe here in hot water, admiring all these wonderful sights. I would do it if it wasn't for the limited time of the day.
It was so warm that for the first time since I was in Iceland I striped off to a t-shirt (in September!). Sun illuminating the rainbow-colored mountains and warming the skin of my face and hands made me so euphoric that for the rest of the day I was bareing my teeth like a fool while I was sauntering along the trail.
Surely there is no colour on the palette of colours, which in some form does not appear in this area. There are reds, green rocks, orange, almost fluorescent lichens, violets - whatever the eye desires.
Unfortunately, the weather here is not always as beautiful as I have come across. The tragic snow storm in June (!) 2004 took the life of a 25-year-old.
I reach the first base about 2 hours before dusk. With the sunset, the temperature started to drop rapidly - phenomenon that is rather uncommon in the non-mountainous part of Iceland. Among the stone walls I found my place and set up my temporary house.
I was awakened by excited voices. It was cold. I calculated in my head whether to dress something extra or try to fall asleep further without leaving the heated sleeping bag. A bladder let itself know about its existence. Fortunately!
When I left the tent, I saw for the first time in my life a true, fully-fledged aurora borealis. A Milky Way hanging above me, with an intensely starry sky and green frills by the horizon. I was speechless. The whole world simply disappeared. I didn't really think that I would see aurora during this hike. Complete darkness, lack of a tripod, my level of excitement and, above all, very low, negative temperature did not let me take any sensible pictures. You will find these on the Internet in bulk quantities. But this is my first aurora and I will remember this moment for the rest of my life. After some time the show weakened significantly, there was only a pale glow in the sky, so I went to my shrine to warm up the frozen limbs.
But a few hours later I left the tent again.
This time the northern lights were covering the whole sky. It was literally glowing from all four directions, above me, in the east, west, north and south. It was changing shapes, shimmering, swimming in the sky. In each corner it looked a bit different. It was shining with different colours, sometimes it seemed to pulsate. Slowly and gracefully. Together with those few people who were camping in this place, we witnessed this beautiful show of lights. A truly magical moment that we all admired in silence. Again, the pictures do not reflect in the slightest part of that night's experience. It was my first attempt at what could be called astrophotography, and it was very spontaneous and improvised. Unfortunately, the lack of a wide-angle lens and a tripod did not allow me to capture the "lights of the north" in the right way.
Early in the morning I was shaking from the cold. I was fighting with myself for a long time to get out and start rolling up the tent. It was not easy. Frost made my hand frostbitten and I couldn't wait until I warmed up my whole body on the way. I ate breakfast at lightning speed. A day full of impressions awaited me in this magical, colorful world on the outskirts of the Old Continent.
Obsidian reflecting light scattered along the path resembles stars from afar. Only from close up can we see that he is as black as Satan.
After a while of wandering through the clouds bursting from the Earth, colourful materialized stains and streams, a truly heavenly landscape has opened up in front of me...
The feelings that are raised in a hiker, in front of which such a fantastic view opens up, can only be understood by the one who experienced it. The path leads down to the lake visible in the pictures, so the landscape accompanies you for a long time. Enjoying this terrain as I slowly descended, I began to understand why this direction of the trail is the more often choosen. Otherwise this view would be behind one's shoulders.
By the lake I pass the second base, Álftavatn, which was totally empty. I rest for a while a bit further, by the river. I spend the night in the next base called Emstrur. That day I did more than 30 kilometers, and my footbed quite significantly hurt my heels. The next day I was much more lazy and less creative, so the pictures are less and less interesting, although the trail and nature were equally fascinating. I let go of capturing it and focused on being here and now.
After passing the last river (and there are several of them on the trail, and quite wide!), you enter the mountainous region.. overgrown by trees. The view is completely exotic for Iceland. I felt a bit like in the continental part of Europe. It heralded the end of the route and the approach to Þórsmörk.
Þórsmörk ("Thor's Valley") is a land as beautiful as the one from the beginning of the trail. Situated between two glaciers, it is an ideal starting point for day trips. I would very much like to come back there, as I stayed there only for a moment, waiting for the bus going to Reykjavík. It is worth spending at least two days here, climbing one of the nearby peaks to see overgrown mountain ranges from a height. If I have a chance, I will return there in spring, just before leaving Iceland. Expect a more dignified representation of the Thor's Valley!
However, the Lagavegur Trail made an incredible impression on me and fully deserves to be called one of the most beautiful multi-day trails in the world. If you arrive in Iceland for a few days, I think it's a great idea to choose this route as your main destination - you'll see what Iceland has the best to offer. Not far from Þórsmörk, you can take one more trail to the famous Skógafoss fall, from where it is close to the second famous waterfall Seljalandsfoss. Do you really need more? :)