Laugavegurinn Trek (Part Two)

I had so much to write about in my last post about the Laugavegurinn that I decided to break up the post into two separate parts. We actually hiked for three days, but I’m going to combine days two and three in this post. Sorry if this is confusing.

As I explained last time, our first day of hiking from Landmannalaugar to Alftavatn was difficult but rewarding. The scenery was surreal and beautiful. On day two we set off from Alftavatn and headed to Emstrur.

Admittedly, the scenery was not so grand on day two. The rhyolite mountains and geothermal areas gave way to wastelands of ash. The going was a lot flatter too. This made day two less notable. It would have been almost completely forgettable if it weren’t for the river crossings.

Ashy wastelands

Ashy wastelands

Oh, the river crossings.

As you can imagine, glaciers melt a little bit in August. Even though August in Iceland isn’t particularly warm, it is above freezing. Hiking so near to glaciers means that there are tons of glacial streams to cross. Many of these streams are quite small and navigable. Often there are rocks you can easily hop across with minimal wetting of your boots. Also, the Laugavegurinn is a popular hike, so there’s a little bit of infrastructure (though less than you’d expect given the fees at the huts and the number of hikers). This means that a few of the streams have bridges of varying quality. Sometimes the “bridge” was no more than a wobbly plank; other times, an engineering monstrosity. These bridges truly were the highlight of day two.

Questionable bridge construction

Questionable bridge construction

Of course, glacial runoff being unpredictable in course and variable in volume, not every stream had an easy crossing. On several occasions we were forced to take off our hiking boots, roll up our pant legs, and wade though calf-deep waters. No biggie, right?

Wrong! Did you forget that we’re talking about water coming directly off of glaciers?!?

I know you’re thinking But Jackie, how big a pussy are you? You just said the water only came up to your calves. How bad could it be?

Pretty bad, actually. You know that feeling when you get an awful ice cream headache? Have you ever gotten an ice cream headache that started in your ankles and traveled up your entire body before numbing your brain? Well, that’s what it was like. That glacial water was painfully cold. In some spots the currents were a little swift too, so I had to try not to freeze up while my poor numb brain contemplated the possibility of being swept off my feet and *gasp* actually submerging.

A glacial stream crossing. Can you see his expression?

A glacial stream crossing. Can you see his expression?

When we would finally get to the other side, our legs would be bright red and throbbing. Each time, it took me at least 3 minutes to feel functional again.* Then it was back on with the socks and boots until the next crossing.

When we finally made it to the Emstrur hut and campground, we found it totally packed. There was very little room for our over-sized tent. Nevertheless, we set up, ate dinner, and conked out.

Emstrur. Look how cute those huts are. Too bad we couldn't afford them. Not that they were available anyway -- those things book fast.

Emstrur. Look how cute those huts are. Too bad we couldn’t afford them. Not that they were available anyway — those things book fast.

On our third and last day of the Laugavegurinn, we headed from Emstrur to þórsmörk. With about 9 miles and a 3:30 bus pick-up time, we got started fairly early.

The day was gorgeous with relative warmth and a lot of sunshine. My spirits, so easily affected by weather, were high. I felt good. The scenery was not as dramatic as the first day, but it was better than the second. We crossed a raging gorge, snaked through some neat rock formations, and ended up walking through one of the largest forests in Iceland (which wasn’t really that large, considering Iceland has suffered much from the mass deforestation perpetrated by early inhabitants trying to survive the cold winters). We had one more icy river crossing, but we survived and made it to þórsmörk in plenty of time to catch the bus.

The raging gorge we crossed on day 3. Luckily there was a bridge for this one!

The raging gorge we crossed on day 3. Luckily there was a bridge for this one!

Pretty rock colors on day 3

Pretty rock colors on day 3

Mike was convinced a rhino was stalking us all day

Mike was convinced a rhino was stalking us all day

Ironically, although we completed an unguided, self-powered trek through a wilderness area, the Laugavegurinn proved to be the priciest part of our Iceland adventure (backpack rentals, camp fees, and bus fares). Still, it was well worth the price, the pain, and the wait. It was truly one of my favorite parts of our trip.

Alastair Humphreys, a fairly accomplished adventurer and adventure writer, claims that the Laugavegurinn “should be as famous as the Inca Trail; it is certainly as rugged and beautiful.” Although I have not hiked the Inca Trail (Mike and I did the alternative Salkantay Trek to get to Machu Picchu), the Laugavegurinn is certainly a world-class hike worthy of anyone’s bucket list. It’s simply stunning.


*I may have dramatized the glacial stream crossings a bit, but I promise — it was very uncomfortable.

2 Responses to “Laugavegurinn Trek (Part Two)”
  1. Joe Chance says:

    I’m happy that the rain eased off for y’all eventually, but come on, a little cold water is almost essential to Type II fun! 😉

    I’m currently looking into hiking Laugavegurinn and the extension to Skogar, and I’m wondering how much the camp fees and bus fares were. My friend and I have hiking equipment so I don’t think we need to rent backpacks.

    Thanks! Beautiful blog!

    • Sorry, Joe, but I don’t really remember the specifics. This was the most expensive part of our trip, but we cycled, free camped, and ate peanut butter & jelly the rest of the time… The bus fares are not cheap in Iceland — esp. when you have to take the amphibious buses to get where you’re going. It’s worth every penny, though!!

      P.S. You’re absolutely correct about the necessity of cold water to Type II fun.

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