Hiking Iceland – Landmannalaugar to Skógar

For two years now I have been wanting to hike Iceland. My original wish was to hike across Iceland. That would have been approximately a 24 day hike, but because of practical reasons (I do not have an unlimited amount of vacation days) and security reasons (dangerous river crossings alone), I decided to “compromise” and do a six day hike from Landmannalaugar to Skógar instead.

This post will be about my adventure day by day. I have also written about equipment, food, camping and some other practical stuff in this blog post, for those of you who are looking for more practical information.

Now my adventure in Iceland day by day:

DAY 1

I started my adventure in Reykjavik by taking the bus up to Landmannalaugar. Many hikers start the trail in Skógar instead so that they can end up with the hot springs in Landmannalaugar. I decided to do the opposite because of security reasons. There have been cases where the road over the mountains has been closed because of bad weather and rain and I did not want to risk getting stuck in Landmannalaugar. In the end I had really nice weather, but of course I could not have known that.

So I took the first bus of the season to Landmannalaugar. During my ride I started to doubt myself. It was so windy that the lampposts at the gas station were shaking!! And everything was just gray. I could not see a single green spot during the ride to Landmannalaugar. The thought of having to hike six days in gray dust fields was very far away from how I had imagined my hike to be.

Here is what I saw from the bus window for hours:

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Luckily when we arrived to Landmannalaugar it was not windy anymore, the sun was shining and the mountains had all kind of rainbow colors. It was amazing.

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I wanted to start hiking the trail right away, but the nice lady at the information desk convinced me not to. She said that there would still be a lot of snow in the mountains ( 3 km of snow she said) and that it would be better to start early next day, to have to whole day. She was also nice enough to recommend me a 4-6 h hike in the area for the afternoon. Actually, there are several day hikes that can be done from Landmannalaugar, so maybe I should even have stayed two extra nights. That is definitely something I would consider if you have time. Anyways, I went to lake Ljòtipollur. It is a lake inside a volcanic crater and if you have time and energy, you can even hike around the whole crater/lake. It’s truly beautiful. And best of all, I was there alone.

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Lake Ljótipollur

How to get there? Ask the information desk for directions, but my recommendation is to not follow the road. Walk over the hills on the left side of the road so that you can see another lake and the lava tongue that runs into it and the small red volcano that you can climb from distance.

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It is sooo much nicer than taking the easy but boring and dusty road to the lake. Be aware, the hike took me 6h not 4 as suggested by the lady, but I was also in no hurry and used a lot of time on taking pictures. It was all just soo beautiful and like no other nature I have seen in my life.

When I got back from the lake I decided to prepare dinner in the “party” tent outside. The tent was full of couples and small groups, so as a single hiker I felt quite lonely. It was not easy to make conversation with the couples and groups. I hurried up, cooked my dinner and disappeared to my tent.  During June it almost does not get dark in Iceland so it still seemed early and I decided to try out the hot springs. The hot spring is for free, but the water is not hot everywhere so you have to be patient to get a hot spot. After some time I managed to squeeze into one such spot and stayed in the water for 40 minutes. Again it was difficult to make conversation. I am normally a very social person, but I do not want to destroy a couple’s romantic moment or just jump into a group discussion between friends. After the hot spring it was time for bed. I set my alarm to 7:30 and planned to start hiking around 9:00.

DAY 2

My first night in the tent went without troubles, but it was a bit hard to fall asleep with all the noises from other tents. I woke up to sunshine and decided not to go to the common tent, but to prepare my breakfast in my own tent. It felt actually as a luxury to be able to prepare coffee without getting out of my sleeping bag 🙂 .

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After breakfast I packed my camp and discovered that I used 45 minutes to do that. I was quite slow in other words. Nevertheless, I started hiking before the most and was leaving at 9 as planned. There were no other people hiking yet and it felt good to escape the crowd.

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Ok so it wasn’t that sunny after all – the view to the camping
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Lava!

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Here you can see how big my bag was

The landscape during the first day was amazing. I often had to just stop to admire it and take it all in. I walked between the yellow and orange mountains. At times the trail went between black lava stones and I realized that I was walking between what used to be red hot lava. I could see that there was still a lot of geothermal activity in the ground.

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There was smoke coming from cracks and the air smelled like sulfur. I could warm my hands against the smoke. It was unreal. I can’t describe it, one just needs to experience it. After some hours the snow began.

Three km of snow was about right, but it was easy to walk on and I did not get any in my shoes. Lucky I guess 🙂 On the snow the navigation got harder, there were no other hikers whose tail I could follow, so to make sure I did not get off the trail I used my GPS track on my phone. Thank God for technology 😀 I then reached the Hrafntinnusker hut. I did not get to go inside as I was not staying there, but we were allowed to sit on the floor in the tiny hallway and eat our lunch in warmth. This was nice. After lunch I went on, and it started to rain. I put on my rain jacket and pants, just in case, but it didn’t rain that much. When I was done with the snow I got to a yellow hill in front of Lake Alftavatn. It was around 6PM and I decided to set camp. I was quite nervous as it was my second time wild camping alone, and I wasn’t sure if it was allowed :D. As I was deciding on where to set up my tent, another hiker appeared and turned out he also planned to camp. He wasn’t talkative, but sat up his tent fast and disappeared into it. In the morning he was already gone when I woke up.

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Camp day 2

DAY 3

I had a really nice night in the tent. It rained a bit during the night so I needed to dry my tent before leaving. This became part of my morning routine during the days to follow. I had breakfast with amazing view and headed down to Lake Alftavatn. The landscape changed from yellow orange mountains to green steep dramatic mountains.

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Lake Alftavatn

Before I could reach Alftavatn I needed to do my first river crossing. The river crossing was a bit scary, because again, I had no other hikers around who to copy, so I walked back and forth beside the river trying to decide where to cross. In the end I just had to go for one spot and luckily it did not get steeper than to my knees. Then lake Alftavatn and the hut waited. The weather was nice so I decided to have an early lunch at the hut. I then asked them if one could climb the big black super pointy peak seen from the hut (Stórasúla). They assured me that it is not possible. I have now googled it and discovered no evidence that it is climbable 😦 

The girl at the hut recommended me a small hike to a canyon close by (Torfahlaup). I decided to take her advice as it was still early in the day and I had enough time. The canyon was truly beautiful, but the hike there was a bit longer than expected.

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I was back at the hut around 3PM and now it was time for lunch number two. When I finished people started arriving from the trail. I went against the stream and started on what officially is the third stage of the trail. Soon after the hut I had to cross another small river and then the landscape changed yet again. This time it was just black sand desert. The sand was really fine grained. I had to cross one river by bridge and another by foot.

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These rivers were coming from the glacier close by. The river after the one with the bridge was the scariest until this point of the trail. It was quite big and the water was gray and fast. There was no way of saying how deep it could be. I just had to go for it and hope it would not get too deep. I put on my river crossing shoes and started walking. It was freezing cold! Much colder than than the previous rivers. I tried to be fast, but when I finally got over, my toes were aching from the cold water! It felt like hundred needles were sticking me all at once. It took a couple of minutes to recover.

After the river the desert continued. It was the same black desert for hours! Luckily it was flat, but after an hour it got boring.

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It reminded me of the “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”  music video and the lyrics kinda matched how I felt. Since there was no other soul around I decided to sing the song out loud to myself.  First not that loud then shamelessly loud 😀

After some time I met another couple coming from the opposite direction and decided to ask them about the length of this desert. They told me that I had about another 7 km to the next hut and that it would be the same all the way. Shortly after meeting them I decided to set camp. The rest of the desert could wait another day…

I once again set camp in front of a glacier. Generally not a good idea, as there are often cold strong winds coming over a glacier. Today it was no exception, but at least I found some nice rocks to set up my tent behind and there was a small stream right next to the rocks from where I could fill water. I was again a bit nervous about camping, especially since there was a road quite close by, but luckily there was no traffic. Dinner and an episode of adventure sports podcast was all I managed before I fell asleep.

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campsite day 3

 

DAY 4

Oh day four had a most beautiful start. I had decided to wake up 6AM so that I could avoid my tent being spotted by cars passing by. When I woke up the sun was already up high and it was so hot that I could make breakfast outside my tent in underwear 😀 It was nice to sit on the rocks, boil some coffee and look at the glacier behind my tent. BUT this heat was unexpected. I didn’t pack any shorts with me, since I did not expect to need shorts in Iceland!! Therefore I had to improvise and hike in my wool longs. It was better than hiking in my black hiking trousers.  On my way to the Emstur hut I saw this strange phenomena:

These are small black sand pyramids on snow. It still reminds a mystery to me how these get formed, but it was cool to experience. At the hut I took a rather fast lunch break and then headed on. I had to climb up and down a small canyon, but there were fixed ropes so it was not a problem. Then the landscape changed again. Suddenly there were small bushes beside the trail. The locals call that forest 😀 .

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It was a nice change and the first vegetation I had seen in days. I made my way across another river. This time I got to follow some other hikers, which was good because the river was quite big and so I was glad that I did not have to figure out by myself where to cross it.  After the river I was closing in to Basar. I was tempted to camp, but kept on pushing until I got to the river and then to Basar campsite. The moment I paid for my tent it started to pour down. I was fast setting up my tent but stupid enough to not put on rain clothes while doing it, so I got soaked. To my defense I had hiked over 30 km that day and was exhausted so my decision making was not very good. I was actually so tired I didn’t even care to wash my pot after having two dinners in one and eating half a chocolate. This is also when I discovered that the food I had brought with me was not exactly full of calories. I had prioritized light weight and food that I would also eat back home, but I had forgotten to check the calories!!! The dinners I had with me were giving me 70-80 calories per 100 g 😀 yeah it goes without saying that I was not eating many thousand calories per day. Well that is one lesson learnt!

 

DAY 5

When my alarm went off I ignored it. I was so tired that I just needed to sleep a bit longer. It was not sunny so I had to be creative to dry my tent. Luckily the sun came out every once in a while and that was enough to dry my tent, but sleeping in and waiting for the tent to dry resulted in an extremely late trail start. I think I started to hike at 11 AM. The lady at the Basar camping was very nice and gave me some salt for my oatmeal. I also bought a chocolate, pack of cookies and some dry noodles to make up for the double dinner I had the night before. This was the first and only food I bought on the trail (but you can buy snacks in every hut on the trail).

At Landmannalaugar they had told me that the last two stages should be done as one, because there is no water on the trail. The lady in Basar confirmed that this was the case. LIES LIES and MORE LIES, but I did not know that. So I carried 4L of water up the mountain, because I knew that since I started so late I would need to camp somewhere. Yes, there is no water before after the Baldvinsskàli hut, but once you get to Skoga river there is lots of water! Anyways, the hike up from Basar to the mountain pass is steep. Actually it’s a bit more than 1000hm climb, but It was so beautiful.

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I could see the glacier turning blue in the sun in front of dramatic dark rain clouds. And the mountains beside the trail are steep dark green and rough. You can see the grass growing on the uneven volcanic black sand. Several times I thought I was done with the climb, only to realize that I had to go down and then up again. That is hikers life :D. After some time I got to the Magni and Móði craters.

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Magni is the one to the left

Móði and Magni were formed in the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. This eruption started near midnight on March 20th, and was initially quite minor. However, after stopping briefly, Eyjafjallajökull erupted with much more force under the glacier on April 14th, forming a huge ash cloud that brought much of Europe’s air travel to a standstill for several weeks. Móði and Magni would have been formed late in the eruption. For several years after, they apparently still glowed red in the darkness due to the heat of the lava cooling beneath, and snow would not settle on them, but when I walked by they did not seem hot anymore.

There was a lot of snow that high up and it lasted all the way to the Baldvinsskàli hut. The temperature was also low and it actually started to snow a bit. Therefore when I got to the hut I was eager to warm up and have a short lunch before moving on, but the hut was so small, and so full of people (I think it was a group of scouts), that there was simply no place to warm up. It was too cold and windy to cook coffee and noodles outside so I decided to just keep going. Since I had not eaten after breakfast and now it was already 4 PM, I  started to get VERY hungry. I had no other choice but to eat the pack of digestive cookies I had bought at Basar for dinner/lunch. It sounds more dramatic than it was. Its luxury to eat cookies for dinner! 🙂 Shorty after the hut the weather got better and temperature warmer. After about 30 minutes I reached the Skogar river and the fist Waterfall. From there on there were countless waterfalls. Really nice trail!

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When I came across a camping spot next to the river I decided to set camp. I did not want to get close to Skogar because of all the tourists, so my camping site was about 5km from Skogar.

DAY 6

Last day of the tail, I just had to get to Skogar before 11 AM in order to catch a bus to Vìk, but because there were so many beautiful waterfalls to admire I barely made it! This last part of the trail was the most crowded. There were a lot of tourists, but it was still nice to walk on a trail with countless waterfalls and with a sea in the horizon. When I got to Skogar I had seen so many waterfalls that I didn’t even care to stay in line to take a picture of the biggest one, but yes it was huge!! 

That was it, a nice 6 day adventure! Couple of weeks back when I showed some footage I had filmed to my family, I discovered how exhausted I really was during some of the days. Inr my mind it was not that bad, but from the short video reports I filmed, it was obvious that I was quite exhausted at times. E.g. I could not keep a line of thought and wasn’t able to finish a sentence and repeated myself a lot. It is 😀 funny how my mind only remembers the good stuff. I really only remember it a nice experience, so when my family asked me if I would do it again, my answer was clear – YES!

Again, If you plan to hike this trail yourself, I recommend you to read this post about equipment and other practical stuff. 

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