Laugavegur Trail – Iceland

The Laugavegur Trail Iceland – by Alan Ward International Mountain Leader

All photo’s supplied by Alan Ward

When Rohan wrote that I was “a long term friend of Rohan, with deep experience of leading trips to the major mountain regions of the world” I thought I’d better do a decent job of leading the inaugural Rohan Trek to Iceland.
How did Rohan decide to launch such a venture you might ask? I’ve been on the Rohan Test Team for about fifteen years now. Once or twice a year I meet up with Rohan’s Tim Jasper (now Brand Director) for our twice yearly brainstorming session. These are generally held in remote mountain areas on 4-day back packing trips and after cooking dinner, we enjoy a drink or two and start generating ideas for future projects.
Tim and I had been working on Rohan Treks for a couple of years and looked at possibly offering Jade Mountain in Taiwan or Mt Ararat in Eastern Turkey. There were complications with these destinations for 2009 but to cut a long story short, Iceland and the Laugavegur Trail became our intended destination. I’d never been to Iceland before but Tim had been several times so I agreed to go and a partnership with Walks Worldwide was formed for them to arrange the trip for us.
The Laugavegur Trail is a 50km route normally completed in five days from Landmannalugar to Pórsmork. The Iceland Touring Association operates the four mountain huts we stayed at with our Iceland Tour Guide Antoine fulfilling a multi-tasking role of Guide and Chef combined. The Trail is the most popular trail in Iceland with an estimated 7,000 hikers completing the trail annually. There were great opportunities to talk to hikers from other countries and share stories and help each other across rivers.
Our group consisted of Tim and me with twelve clients and throughout the trip, everyone got on well together and supported others when there was a need to.
Day 1 of the trek saw the group set off in heavy rain from Landmannalaugar and pass through the lava field of Laugahraun which is believed to have been formed in 1477. We paused at the foot of Brennisteinsalda (861m) where hot steam seemed to be bubbling up through numerous cracks in the earth’s crust. The landscape was a contrasting mix of colours with snow filled gulleys, yellowish rhyolite mountains with black shiny obsidian and patches of green moss in between. After 5hrs we reached the Hrafntinnusker Hut located at an altitude of almost 1100m and were soon settling in to our dormitory style room.
Day 2 required multiple ravine crossings on the Jökultungar Plateau before we caught sight of the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier to the south. Mt Katla is a volcano under the glacier which erupts once or twice in a century resulting in ice being melted with subsequent glacial flooding. The huts contained “Eruption Emergency Guidelines” which advised that maroons and flares would be released to advise people of an imminent eruption before everyone moves quickly to higher ground!
From the Jökultungar Plateau we descended to the Álftavatn Hut next to the lake. Our support vehicle was waiting for us and the duty team soon started chopping vegetables and assisting Antoine with dinner.
Day 3 would include our first river crossings so I made sure that everyone had sandals in their day packs. The standard river crossing procedure is to remove boots, socks and lower leg clothing and don sandals for the river crossings in small groups of two or three people, giving each other additional support to cross safely.
After crossing several rivers, the trail then crosses a vast area of volcanic ash between the summits of Hattafell (924m) and Stórkonufell (960m). The weather was wet and windy and I was particularly impressed with the new Pinnacle Jacket and Bibs that I was testing.
The Emstrur (Botnar) Huts were full as several campers preferred to sleep indoors but our group had a room to ourselves. We did agree to make space for some campers whose tent had been damaged by the high winds though.
Day 4 required a crossing of the Syđri-Emstruárglúfur Gorge by a bridge which, is replaced every few years due to flood damage. The gorge makes for an interesting crossing which might not suit everyone and I helped young German girls across the bridge as she was very scared of heights.
Passing through an area known as the Almenningar we crossed our last river before arriving at the Langidalur Hut for our last night in the mountains. Dinner was quite an extravaganza which was enjoyed with wine and beer. The hut was located in a spectacular setting below the glacier and with mountains all around.
Day 5 was a leisurely ascent of nearby Valahnúkur (465m) before lunch back at the hut and an afternoon drive back into Reykjavik via a couple of spectacular river crossings and geological features for which Iceland is so popular.
Back in Reykjavik for a day and a half before flying home, our time was spent with the Golden Circle tour to the Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir hot springs and the Pingvellir national park. A final treat before leaving Iceland was a long leisurely soak in the Blue Lagoon before heading for home.

Join Alan in 2010 in Morocco (May – Audley Travel) or India (July – The Mountain Company) for a charity trek to raise funds for your favourite charity.  Also – First Aid & Mountain Training in the Brecon Beacons National Parkbaiml

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