One day at work I carelessly googled “best hiking trails in the world”. The Laugavegur Trail in Iceland kept appearing in multiple links. By the time I finished closing my web browser, I knew I had to go. My wife and I began planning and researching the trip before Christmas 2014. June 2015 we had purchased our tickets and August 12 we were boarding a plane to Iceland.
Stepping off the bus at the trailhead in Landmannalaugar, an icy torrent of rain greeted us as well as the news that the Laugavegur trail was closed due to dangerous weather in the mountain passes. Considering how long we had panned for this trip and the distance we came to hike it, we had to fight hard to keep our spirits up at this news. But the relentless wind and driving rain made it difficult to foster optimism. Yet we had little choice but to wait and see if the next day would bring better news and better weather. We struggled to set up our tent in the windy, rain soaked field and had to cram into a small leaky picnic shelter to make dinner.
Thankfully there is a hot springs in Landmannalaugar, a bubbling creek of hot water pouring out of the maintain. We climbed into this shallow pool of hot water and despite the unrelenting rain, felt content to stay in the hot springs most of the evening.
The morning did bring a more promising start. The wind and rain eased up and no one was stopping us from beginning our adventure on the Laugavegur. We quickly packed our packs and set off before the Wardens changed their minds about the trail conditions.
I do not recall exactly when the rain turned to snow. Or when the boulders of obsidian volcanic rock gave way to chucks of ice and fields of snow. But we suddenly found ourselves in the heart of a mountain pass being lashed by a blanket of cold white that was threatening to hide the trail ahead of us.
The rock piles that marked the trail were no longer visible and the snowstorm was quickly erasing all the footprints in the snow. The only thing we had to guide us was the hazy visage of the hikers in front of us. This was only our first day on the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland and already I was wondering if we had gotten in over our heads.
But we pushed on, keeping the hikers in front of us in view until we reached the first campsite, the Hrafntinnusker hut. People have often described the emotion of seeing this first hut as a wash of relief. For us it was a different feeling. The campsite was still covered in snow with no relief from the lashing wind and cold. Even though we had originally planned on staying there, we decided instantly that we needed to keep going to get out of the mountains and down to the Álftavatn campsite in valley below. We stopped briefly to have lunch at Hrafntinnusker. Our fingers cold and frozen, we scarfed down a quick meal and set back out across the snow.
The next 12 KM were challenging. After a steep, rocky descent from the mountains, and an icy river crossing, we finally made it to Álftavatn. Even though we were prepared to set up our wet tent in the rainy drizzle, we were relieved to find out that the hut had an extra bed. We stumbled into the crowded hut, and were hit with a wave of warm humidity and a jungle of wet clothing that hung from every rafter, nook and cranny. It was a luxury to be able to dry out our gear and get a comfortable night sleep.
Even though our muscles were sore from the hard 24KM hike the day before, we now had dry gear and full bellies from a hearty breakfast of southwestern grits. Clipping our packs on in the gloomy morning light we set out through the black sand deserts ahead of us. The landscape was marked with ice-cold streams and giant green mountains pressing through the monochrome of the volcanic rock.
We arrived at Emstrur hut just as the rain retreated allowing us to set up our tent at a leisurely pace. We had a hearty dinner of Mountain Chili and relishing in the clear weather we took off our damp shoes and socks and let our wet gear dry and air out.
The area around the Emstrur hut has lots of good day hiking so we took an extra day exploring a nearby canyon and a glacier-covered volcano. This was probably one of our favorite days on the trail, the opportunity to soak in some of the sunshine, and explore the surrounding area at our own pace.
That evening we went for a walk with some friends we made on the trail to a canyon a mile or so away from the campsite. We took in the majestic views of the barren landscape as the sun sank back into the earth. We had booked space in one of the huts, so we had the luxury of a bunk bed for the night.
The last day we made our final approach to Þórsmörk. As we closed in on the final miles, my soul felt unwilling to give up the Laugavegur trail. My feet and legs were tired, but I was now familiar with the rhythm of the trail, had tasted the grit of Iceland, and connected with the majestic landscape. And yet before I knew it we found ourselves at the final campsite, waiting to be picked up by bus the next morning.
As a celebration of our adventures, and surviving the 55 km trek through Iceland, we met up with our friends and feasted on roasted lamb, Icelandic beer, and other local dishes at the small restaurant in Þórsmörk. As we raised our glasses around the crowded table in cheers, a warm glow of appreciation and satisfaction washed over us. The chance to hike the Laugavegur trail, and experience the Icelandic wilderness is an opportunity and experience that we will not easily forget.
Justin McCormick grew up in the Yukon Territories in a cabin on Nisutlin Bay. Being surrounded by the majestic and harsh wilderness of the north, he developed a passion for canoeing, hiking, mountain climbing and skiing. He currently resides in Texas and is trying to impart his passion for the outdoors to his four children.