It was somewhere in 2011 when I met Chrissy & Adam for the first time. Way back it seems and on the other side of the globe when I was doing my down under trip. I decide to hike the Overland Track in Tasmania, my first hike ever and at the end of it I met them while waiting for the bus to Hobart. They invited me for drinks, oh how they regret that invite ;-)
But seriously we hit it off, sharing the same sense of humour and love for good food, beer and nature hiking. In 2012 we met up again in Canada to hike the West Coast Trail (WCT) together.
This year they gave me a heads-up that they would be going to Iceland and asked me to join them during their entire trip. From a few days in Reykjavik then hiking Laugavegur and ending it with a roadtrip around the entire island that is Iceland. How could I pass up such a offer...well I didn't!
So this blogpost will detail my first days in Reykjavik and the entire hike of the Laugavegur. The roadtrip will just have to wait until the next blogpost.
As I generally am in good physical condition these days I only upped my interval running schedule just a few months before my Iceland trip (I completed the interval schedule a week or two ago while running a 15K @ 1:21:21 my longest distance run every). But I also build up some upper body strength with pushups/pullups/dips which comes in handy while lugging around a backpack for a day or four (especially as I tend to bring along too much stuff, I should stop doing that).
Last two times I used regular ankle support shoes with a near inflexible sole. This always caused me to have pain in my feet and/or get blisters. Even though I used good socks. This time around I opted for the minimalistic approach that I have been applying in my running for a while now.
Sure there is lots to say about support but I believe or rather know that my feet don't need it. I rather have the tackle feel and natural way your feet shapes to the surface of the terrain which is especially handy on logs and rocks. And not using support builds up your natural feet muscles thus in return making them even stronger.
So after some reading, mostly at my go-to minimal footwear blog Toesalad I found two pairs that seemed to be a perfect fit.
Inov-8 Roclite 295 is the first pair I would be using on almost all terrain except the somewhat colder areas like mountains. As you can see they provide awesome grip (I've used them on icey roads for runs) and are very lightweight with just 134 grams (or 295 pounds). However they breath very well so if it gets chilly, especially with wind, I'll have to resort to my other pair. In the summer this feels awesome though.
Sole Runner Transition Vario will be on my feet where the Inov-8's won't be suitable due to wind, rain or the cold (like in mountains).
I even reviewed the Sole Runner's after using them in Iceland:
Great minimalistic shoes for hiking on level or slightly hilly terrain where grip is not that important or if you have poles. However on mountainous terrain you need more grip that these provide and even with poles you will not be able to decent very fast. They are warm enough for wintery conditions, however only tried them on ~1000 meter altitude with short tracks over icey terrain (glaciers). They have removable padding which would allow for use into other seasons.
Oh and I got some nice gaiters with the Inov-8's which worked very well.
I have since found that I can pretty much use the Inov-8's everywhere as a shoe as long as you use the right socks.
Another piece of equipment I finally got was a set of good walking poles. Although I detest Nordic Walking, at least if you pretend to use walking poles for this activity in countries that are called The Netherlands. I mean come on....Netherlands...literally means Low Country. You really don't need them here.
Anyway I got myself a nice pair of Leki Thermolite XL antishock poles that were the best thing I bought for a hike to date.
On Friday 22nd of August I had a flight from Schiphol to Keflavík flying with Icelandair. It started out with a delay due to bad weather, nearing Iceland itself the weather opened up with amazing amount of sun. Compared to The Netherlands this was very pleasant surprise as August was turning out to be one of the most rainy months of the summer over there.
It's worth mentioning that Iceland is as most of us know a very volcanically active country. Especially after the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull which pretty much halted all air travel over Northern Europe for six days, except for Iceland itself which is somewhat of a joke in Iceland itself.
Well around the time that I was leaving for Iceland (and also my Canadian friends) another vulcano, Bárðarbunga, was getting pretty active. Although during the entire trip it did cause plently of news nothing really happened that would cause us to leave Iceland prematurely or disrupt our flights. Friends and family were more worried about it though.
Before landing in Keflavík I had an amazing view over the geothermal Blue Lagoons.
From the airport I took a shuttlebus to Reykjavik where I would be meeting up with my couchhost Estelle at one of the bigger outdoor swimmingpools. Pools, springs, sauna's are the social areas of Iceland I've learned. People socialize in these areas while relaxing a bit after work. The pools range from very cold to 44 degrees Celcius (111,2 Fahrenheit).
After dumping my backpack and getting in one of the nice warm pools I eventually met my couchhost Estelle. She's a tour guide in Iceland, originally from Switzerland. We talked about plenty of stuff while visiting all the pools and even used the slide!
Estelle is very out spoken on the use of food or rather the in use of it. Especially when food that is still good gets chucked into the bin. As a tourguide she is quite familiar of course with guided tours that include a big lunch. However so much food gets unused and she opts to take it with her and use it. A good thing I'd say. She has a nice place very close to the centre of the city on the Laugavegur (main street and named exactly like the hike I did). Although maybe somewhat hard to get a goodnight's sleep as she lives above a bar and although her cat was friendly the hairs just drove me a bit mad in the end. However I'm very thankful that she let me stay with her for the first two nights I was in the capital of Iceland.
On my first full day in Reykjavik I met up with Chrissy and Adam after they finally got to Reykjavik with the rental 'economy' car we would be using for the entirety of the trip. It was good seeing them again and walking around a bit to do some last minute shopping, which we were forced into by Icelandair's illogical decision to confiscate the hiking stove from Adam & Chrissy. I can understand that they would confiscate the gas canister or something that is flammable but the stove part doesn't make any sense to me.
Although this won't be the last thing to complain about, it was the one that made the least amount of sense to me. I couldn't wrap my head around their thinking. There also was the 'economy' part about the rental car but I'll save that for the next blog about our roadtrip. Good thing that Estelle had a stove which we could borrow for free and had a gas canister. We opted to buy an extra one just in case we needed it.
After all preparation was done we finally got our drink on and started the mandatory pubcrawl. I dare say that Iceland has some awesome beers and food...don't forget about the food.
Adam at Microbar in Reykjavik pointing at the beer-only menu
Road to the trailhead
Next morning we made for an early start, I had already said goodbye to Estelle the day before and didn't want to wake her. I did give the cat a little bit of a pat on the head, before I left and walked down the street to where Adam & Chrissy were staying. We threw our bags in the car and settled in for our ride to the busstop in Hella (pronounced Helta) where we would be picked up by a all terrain bus that would bring us to the trailhead in Landmannalaugar.
But before getting to that part of the journey we first saw mostly flatlands and not a lot of trees. Somewhat weird to experience a country without trees, although Iceland of course has some but you'll have to look for them. However as the terrain grew more rough I finally got to some of the features I love and miss in The Netherlands. Hills, Bluffs, Crags, Rock or in short mountains. Such a beautiful sight. Great thing about hiking is that you generally get to see all of these features and more in a good hike. Animal wise Iceland is not that diverse but not bad with plenty of sheep, Icelandic horses, birds and sealife. I didn't see that much to be honest except the sheep and horses, I'd like to have seen a puffin for instance.
Arriving in Hella we had some time to spare and picked up more food and ate a gasstation breakfast as Adam & Chrissy called it. Something we would experience more during our roadtrip.
The bus to Landmannalaugar (trailhead) showed up and we quickly boarded for the rough ride with the friendly guide / chauffeur. She was actually quite awesome with plenty of stories about the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and the Hekla vulcano which was also called "Gateway to Hell".
Me and Adam in front of the bus
The Laugavegur hike starts in the hot springs area of Landmannalaugar and goes south to Þórmörk. It's roughly 55 kilometers long (34 miles), starts at an elevation of 600 meter (1969 feet) in Landmannalaugar and ending up just shy of 1100 meter (3609 feet) at the end of that same day. After that it's mostly decent on the three remaining days.
Day 1: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker
Distance: 12 K / 7.5 M Walking time: 4-5 hrs Ascent: 470 m (1540 feet)
Just after repacking my bag and sorting out my GPS watch (more on that later) we set off and landed in a amazing landscape right around the corner.
Chrissy with amazing background
Soon however we started ascending and it started getting cold, wet and windy. Crazy cold actually and misty due to clouds. I am immediately glad that I didn't rely on my Peak Performance rainjacket and had a spare (The North Face) old one. I know I bring way too much every time but as I was having my doubts about the waterproof abilities of the jacket, I was very glad to have my other jacket with me. It might be old but it works very well. The other one I brought is sadly wetting out like crazy when it rains and then it stays wet and I get cold. Washing it to reactivate the waterproof ability just doesn't work. I caution anyone buying a rainjacket which relies on an active layer for waterproofing instead of just goretex or the fabric itself.
Temperatures were nearing the freezing range and as we passed over mountains as the view was getting less and less distant, more cloud then view. Soon we got to cross ice bridges between the slopes. As we neared the peak of today's ascent we saw some less then encouraging sights that made the weather feel almost warm. Pushing on we finally reached our campinggrounds covered in volcanic glass or obsidian.
The grounds were covered in little U-shaped man-made rock formations that helped with sheltering your tent and in return you from the harsh weather.
Most of the facilities at the Hrafntinnusker campingground were left to the imagination functionality wise. Toilets, water faucets even drains seem to be far from working properly. And you had to pay to camp on the grounds. Now I can't recall exactly what we paid at every campingsite but Adam puts it between 1000-1500 Icelandic Kroner (ISK). Not per tent as normal countries generally would do but a person, so times three. No wonder we skipped the next campsite payment. I do have to add that we did get hot coffee and tea in the huts during our payment process.
During preparing and eating our meal we met David (UK) & Christina (US) who were hiking in the same direct as us, so we met them plenty of times on the campinggrounds and shared plenty of stories. This time however we just shared some of the alcohol Adam brought for the hike. Very welcome during this cold cold...did I already mention it was cold? Well it was!
This was the only night I used every bit of clothing I had to stay warm in my little trusty Hilleberg Akto tent. That includes longjohns, buff scarf, hat and Icebreaker socks. The long, cold and windy night only made me wake up once for a pee break. I not ashamed to say that at night I opened my tent zipper just far enough to pee into the wide open world. I did check wind direction before going however.
Adam sums up the weather with his interpretive dance
Day 2: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn
Distance: 12 K / 7.5 M Walking time: 4-5 hrs Descent: 490 m (1610 feet)
This day started out with going up and down on the mountains through the wind & rain while crossing ice bridges in the mist. I loved my poles
even more today, super steady with those beauties even though I did manage to fall on my ass.
The scenery was beautiful though once we got out of the mist. With distant views of what was up ahead and where we were headed. Geysers, plenty of ice, valleys, mountainess views, the lake near our next campsite at Álftavatn and the glacier which provide us with ice cold bone chilling wind.
After the biggest decent of the entire hike this day also gave us our first river crossing. I opted to go through it barefoot, not worst decision but certainly one of the coldest with glacier water. After this the terrain changed into what reminds me of Scotland.
The walk into the camp area was specacular and we even got to claim our own picknick table (the only one there). The only thing here that was actually bad was the trash situation. Normally while hiking you adhere to the pack-in/pack-out or leave no trace behind credo. However the sheer amount of rubbish at the outside kitchen area was just bonkers. I never understand why people just chuck their stuff in normal life but doing it out here is just plain idiotic. I do have to commend the ranger that cleanup all of it in a matter of minutes.
While resting a bit we got to enjoy the sun and Adam & I even got to skip stones across the water. After dinner we still had plenty of light left, that's one of the great things about Iceland, the vast amount of daylight.
Day 3: Álftavatn to Botnar/Emstrur
Distance: 15 K / 9.5 M Walking time: 6-7 hrs Descent: 40 m (130 feet)
An early start getting up at 6 and leaving camp after 7 in the morning. The start was a real delight as we got to enjoy beautiful green area on the first part of the day. A little river crossing around the bend but nothing to scare us off.
We trotted onwards to the point where we got our first real bridge crossing over a very active river. After this however there was another river crossing which we had to wade through. Above the knee deep and cold, so very cold.
The desert loomed up before us now and this was by far the longest and mind numbing part of the entire hike. Beautiful expands with mounts enveloping it all but still after hours of walking only some music beat the monotonous walk through the black sand which in turn got everywhere.
After what seemed an age of eternity we stood at the top of a little valley that hid the campsite at Emstrur. After a bit of a descent we managed to set up camp for the day. I even got to wash away all the sand under a hot shower. Unbelievable really. But this is something I love to hate about this hike. Besides some good comfort you feel you’re too close to civilization. Every campsite had a dirt road for 4x4's that supplied the campsite with food and drink (including some other comforts) for the people that opted for a guided tour and stayed in the huts. They got to BBQ the largest piece of meat I have ever seen.
We however had real spaghetti to munch on with real cheese to enjoyment. We were kindly joined by the people we met earlier like David and Christina but also another guy Anthony (US). We actually wanted to play some games but we were all too tired to remember anything worth playing.
Day 4: Emstrur to Þórmörk
Distance: 15 K / 9.5 M Walking time: 6-7 hrs Descent: 300 m (985 feet)
The last day on the track and it proved to be a real scorcher. We set out early again as to catch the bus at the end of the trail. We soon headed into more interesting terrain then the day before with spectacular views of the glaciers we had passed days earlier.
While crossing over to the otherside we got some incredible views of the road ahead while the cloud coverage was minimal and the temperatures started nearing the twenties (68 in Fahrenheit). I could have changed into shorts but didn't.
Soon we started nearing our <href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/gray_um/15107351666/in/set-72157646788858688/" target="_blank">first forested area that also indicated our last river crossing over a vast riverbed covered in rocks, albeit low water levels that helped our transition.
After the river we had to walk on for over an hour to finally reach our final destination and we could park our behinds. This was however one of the parts that was badly marked. It was hard to tell which path to take. Overall I would say that this hike had the worst path markings of all my hikes. Overland Track being marked the best. I hope they do improve this, while also updating and reparing some of the facilities. Another thing they might learn from the WCT and Overland Track is centralizing information. For the Laugavegur there are so many websites but nothing centralized like from a central body, be it government or not like forest rangers. I just loved that you could order a information package for the Overland Track that included a waterproof map, flora and fauna booklet and day by day hike information about the route. More hikes should do this.
In all hike was great with beautiful sights and amazing weather even with the one really cold day. Although again I didn't get to see any stars, something I truly enjoyed in Tasmania. I will certainly have to look out for on my next hike.
I did also get the chance to use my GPS running watch to track our 4 days worth of hiking. It was 100 % but it did work. Check the hike route. I do hope to someday get a multi sports watch that will support all my activities including hiking, running and cycling but not be exclusive to these.
Back to Hella
After we left the trail end we had some time on the bus to relax, although the bus had to trevers another riverbed so we did get some bone rattling. The bus behind our even broke down, which resulted in our bus getting filled up to the brim with plenty of sweaty hikers.
We arrived safely in Helta making it full circle and after saying hello to our rental car we ended up eating somewhere nearby before heading out to Vik and camping there for the night in light rain but with plenty of wind.
My last hike with Chrissy and Adam to date was fun. Hopefully a new hike isn't to long off but you never know. Skye Island in Scotland is still on my list but that will be a solo hike.
I hope everybody has a good holiday season and I wish you all a great 2015!
Some more photos can be seen in the links below