Monthly Archives: December 2018

Hiking-Iceland-Volcanic-Trails-climbing-out-of-river.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Dalakofinn to Landmannalaugar

I think Kjartan needs to sack whoever made the weather prediction we received last night!

It was cold, windy and raining as we set off for our last day of hiking along the Volcanic Trails.  Kjartan had told us that we would start the day with a river crossing and, not 500m later at the base of the steep hill leading down from the Dalakofinn hut, it was time to change shoes.

Descending to the river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

In full rain gear, descending to the first river we were to tackle on Day 7

I decided to be lazy and just put on my neoprene socks for warmth, but leave my sneakers (which protect my tender feet from sharp things and uneven rocks) tied to my pack.  Ohhhh what a mistake!  What I hadn’t realized was that the channel of water before us was just the beginning … we were essentially going to hike along the river itself, crisscrossing back and forth across rocky channels for over a kilometre!

River crossing Day 7 - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

The never-ending river crossing

It was murder on my soft feet.  And my neoprene socks and our cold-water training from yesterday was nowhere near sufficient to allow us to cope with the extent of frigid water we endured here. 

There was one saving grace.  About half-way along and just as we thought we couldn’t bare it any longer, Kjartan gathered us all in one particular spot.  A small hot pool!  In the middle of the river! 

Thermal pool in the middle of the river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

We were all so very, very happy to be standing here. Not so keen to venture out into the freezing river again

We huddled together warming our feet for about 10 minutes before forcing ourselves back out into the freezing water to continue our journey.

It was such a relief to finally exit the river and climb the hill immediately before us, which helped a little in our efforts to warm up.

Climbing out of river valley - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Unfortunately, this hill was not sufficiently steep or long enough to completely defrost my feet and warm me up after the river ordeal

That being said, I was hiking in full wet-weather gear with my waterproof/windproof gloves on, my beanie pulled down low, and my buff pulled up over my mouth and nose (in other words, all you could see were my eyes), and my fingers and toes were still cold half an hour later at the top of the climb!  Part of the problem was we were walking directly into the teeth of  ~50km/hr wind, and the rain and fog weren’t helping much either.

Hiking into the teeth of a very strong wind - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

If only you could get a sense of the cold and wind from an image…

The normal route from this area to Landmannalaugar is actually to follow the river valleys.  However, there was a lot more water than usual in the rivers for this time of year, which made finding a route that did not involve changing into river shoes every 5 minutes difficult. 

Changing shoes after river crossing - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Martin looking much happier than he felt after yet another change of shoes having crossed yet another river

Kjartan did find a very cool ice-cave, which distracted us from our misery for several moments,

Vibrant blue ice cave - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Ice caves are incredibly beautiful and we were fortunate to be able to make our way through this small one during the hike

and studying the boiling mud pools as we hiked past kept us occupied,

Geothermal activity - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

but when we reached yet another river with no way across apart from wading, he decided to abandon the normal route and follow a higher option across the hills to join the main Laugavegur Trail at an earlier point.

This kept us out of the water but was not without its own drama.   There were some very steep uphills, there was no protection from the relentless, biting wind

Hiking across black volcanic sand in miserable weather - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

and there was a dodgy cliff-edge snow-slope to negotiate that got the adrenaline pumping in several of my fellow hikers.

Negotiating a precarious ridge - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

This was a little dodgy, especially given the weather conditions, but the only way forward

The abysmal weather meant that I didn’t really get to fully appreciate the landscape through which we were walking, which included the largest obsidian lava field in Iceland – Hrafntinnuhraun.  In this location, the obsidian (which forms when magma cools rapidly) is completely free of crystals and gas bubbles and appears as an almost pure black “glass”.

Hrafntinnuhraun obsidian field and obsidian - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

My trekking companions admiring (top) the obsidian specimens (bottom) as we crossed Hrafntinnuhraun

On and on we forced our way against the interminable wind and spitting rain and, after what seemed an eternity, an enormous stone cairn marking the Laugavegur Trail appeared out of the fog before us.  Still 8km from Landmannalaugar, we turned left and joined the “superhighway” of Iceland’s most popular trek.

This in itself was quite a shock to the system!  Having been completely alone while trekking for the past 7 days (though there were other people at most of the huts), the steady stream of hikers making their way in the opposite direction to us was a bizarre sight.  Of all the opportunities for trekking in Iceland – why do most people choose to do the same trail?  I’ve never understood this, and it made me appreciate even more the solitude and off-the-beaten-track nature of our Volcanic Trails trek. 

That being said, and despite the lousy weather and the fact that I was not in the right mind-frame to enjoy it at all, it is undeniable that the start of the Laugavegur Trail is spectacularly beautiful!

Views from the Laugavegur Trail - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Views along the Laugavegur Trail as we finally approach Landmannalaugar

It was a welcome relief, however, to arrive at Landmannalaugar, peel off the wet weather gear, and change into dry clothes while waiting for our 7pm public bus back to Reykjavik.  We stocked up on licorice and other goodies at the “store” and, once on board, asked the bus driver to crank up the heating.  Then sat back and slept as the warmth finally seeped into our bodies, dried our clothes and we were delivered back to civilization.

Summary

The Volcanic Trails trek offered by Icelandic Mountain Guides is a fantastic way to explore Iceland’s highlands region whilst avoiding the crowds.  It is a brilliant alternative to the world-renowned Laugavegur Trail and, while the last few days offer similar scenery to Laugavegur, the first few days take you through landscape very different to anything you’ll see on Iceland’s most famous route.

The hiking is relatively easy for the most part, though there are couple of long days and there may be some tricky parts if the route needs to be varied for some reason.  Also, if you suffer very badly from vertigo, this may not be a good hike for you. I didn’t think it would be a problem at all, but several others in the group who do have a little vertigo commented on it.   

The accommodation is very comfortable and often heated, with communal living/eating spaces and dormitories that consist of mattresses laid down upon a long low platform (ie there are no individual beds).  Although most of the huts were shared by other hikers in the area (only the hut at Álftavötn was a private booking for us), our group always had its own dormitory.

The food provided by Icelandic Mountain Guides is fantastic and very, very plentiful!  You definitely won’t go hungry if you join them for a trip!  I can highly recommend making a snacks of Nutella+Icelandic flatbread for during the day, and my go-to lunch is a “cheese bomb” – red pepper cheese spread and thick slices of brie/camembert sandwiched between the large crackers that are ubiquitous in the food boxes.  By lunchtime, the spread has soaked into the crackers and turned them into a more bread-like consistency. Much better than starting with bread that is several days old 😊

Many thanks to all my trekking companions for sharing this amazing 7-day hike through Iceland’s highlands.  I really appreciated that you welcomed me into the group with open arms, and thoroughly enjoyed the varied and interesting conversations I had with you all.  Million thanks also to Kjartan for all the detailed explanations of what we were seeing, for getting us through the last day safely, and for the intellectual conversations we shared which may lead me back to academia and research part-time!

Trekking Information

Distance = 21.6km

Time taken = 9hrs 10mins

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Dalakofinn to Landmannalaugar in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the hike from Dalakofinn to Landmannalaugar in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Volcanic Trails

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
Hiking-Iceland-Volcanic-Trails-waterfall-noname.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Álftavatn to Dalakofinn

Our petition to the Universe for better weather was granted overnight and we awoke this morning to bright blue skies and no wind.  It was glorious to sit on the verandah of the Álftavatn hut and soak in the Sun’s rays while admiring the mirror-perfect reflections in the “Swan Lake”.

Almost perfect reflections in Lake Álftavatn - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Almost perfect reflections in Lake Álftavatn. Quite a contrast to the day before!

These conditions rarely last long, however, especially in Iceland!  And by the time we donned our day-packs and gathered our trekking poles, the lake was once again simply a body of water rather than an echo of the sky above.

After 5 days of black volcanic sand and bright green moss, we were excited to be heading into a more geothermally active region as we made our way along the “back-road” to Landmannalaugar.  Most visitors experience this area by hiking Iceland’s famous Laugavegur Trail (Álftavatn is actually the second hut along this trail), but I was very happy to be taking a less-traveled route through the highlands.  In fact, we didn’t see any other hikers at all until we arrived at Dalakofinn at the end of the day.

Hiking towards the Ljósártungur rhyolite mountains - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

The rhyolite hills of Ljósártungur were almost a sensory overload of colour under the bright Sun

Panorama of the colourful Ljósártungur rhyolite mountains - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

[move mouse over image to see the full panorama]

and we spent quite a while perched on a ridge taking in their deep yellows and oranges.

Admiring the colourful Ljósártungur rhyolite mountains - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Mike taking some time out to admire the colourful Ljósártungur mountains

Then it was down into the valley for our first river crossing for the day.

Descending towards the river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Kjartan had warned us that today would involve a lot of river crossings (there were actually 4 of them), which gave us even more opportunities to improve on the cold-water tolerance of our feet 😊

River crossings Day 6 - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

We also collected quite an array of footwear (and other rubbish) as we negotiated the waterways – reinforcing the recommendation that good trekking companies make about using closed sandals for this kind of activity.

Rubbish found in the river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Our shoe haul from a single river crossing. Such footwear is not appropriate for negotiating rivers while hiking

The last of the river crossings was actually quite extensive with multiple channels to ford.  Given it was not clear how deep the later channels would be, Gunnar and I ditched our long hiking pants again and spent the next half hour walking through the Icelandic highlands in our underwear.  No, we have no shame.  And we agreed that it was much better than having wet pants!

Final river crossing Day 6 - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Crossing the final river on Day 6 of Volcanic Trails. Another relatively deep one with a strong current. Another opportunity to strip down to underwear

After changing back into our hiking boots (and putting our pants back on), we watched several 4WD vehicles ford the river as it cut across the road.  This is not a straightforward maneuver (note the sign), and given how expensive it is if you get stuck out here, they were, very, very cautious indeed!

Cars crossing the river and a warning sign - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

If you get stuck in the middle of a river in Iceland, it is VERY expensive to be rescued! For this reason, people take things very very slowly

Although the Sun had disappeared behind a significant cloud layer by this point, the scenery continued to be a kaleidoscope of colour and interesting shapes as we followed yet another river, but from on high.

More colourful hills on Day 6 - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

This led us to an absolutely stunning waterfall, surprisingly named “the Waterfall With No Name”, where we spent a great deal of time exploring

The "unnamed waterfall" on the way to Dalakofinn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

The “unnamed waterfall” on the way to Dalakofinn Hut. This was a really amazing view

before hiking the final few kilometres to the hut at Dalakofinn.  Here I tried pickled herring for the first time and discovered it was absolutely delicious!  Not too fishy in either taste or smell, and surprisingly sweet in fact!  I’ll be eating a lot more of this in future!

It occurred to us over our dinner of baked salmon and salad that today was the first day of the trek that we didn’t have to stop to put rain pants on.  The forecast for tomorrow promises more of the same … fingers crossed!

Sunset from Dalakofinn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Trekking Information

Distance = 20.3km

Time taken = 9 hours

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Álftavatn to Dalakofinn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the hike from Álftavatn to Dalakofinn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
Hiking-Iceland-Volcanic-Trails-Álftavatn-bar.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Hvanngil to Álftavatn

Another relatively short day today at under 10km.  I guess this is to make up for the last 2 days which have been quite long. 

Heading out from Hvanngil, we followed the Kaldaklofskvísl river past hills decorated with a seemingly endless variety of bright green patterns.

Start of trek from Hvanngil to Álftavatn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Pleasant hiking before the weather set in

Of course, it wouldn’t be a day on Volcanic Trails without a river crossing (I firmly believe Icelandic Mountain Guides could rename this to be “River Crossing Trail”),

River crossing on Day 5 of Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Yes, another one!

but by the time we’d reached the lookout over lake Álftavatn (“Swan Lake”), the rain had well and truly set in.  We had a very quick lunch before setting off on a quick-march around the shoreline to reach the warmth and dryness of the hut at Álftavatn. 

Álftavatn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

This image was actually taken much later in the day when the rain finally eased up

On the schedule, there was time during the afternoon “to explore the area around the lake” but, given the crap weather, we all opted to just hang out inside drinking copious amounts of tea (most of the huts have an enormous pot of water constantly on the boil) and eating waaaay too many bikkies and cake.

For a change of scenery, we also headed across to the only “Bar and Restaurant” in the highlands.  It was absolutely packed with trekkers escaping the weather, something that perhaps shouldn’t have been surprising given that Álftavatn is also one of the key stops on the most popular hiking route in Iceland – the Laugavegur Trail. 

Bar/Restaurant near Álftavatn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

What did surprise me was how everyone was drinking 1200ISK (USD$10) beers!  I guess when you are the only bar for several hours drive (and several days walk) in every direction, and you have a captive audience, you can charge whatever you like and people will pay it.  The restaurant also made the bold claim that it served “the best food in town” and, although I didn’t try the food there, I’m sure Kjartan could have given it a run for its money with the meals he prepared for us each night.  Tonight’s offering – lamb chops and chocolate dessert. 

Here’s hoping the weather is better tomorrow!!

Trekking Information

Distance = 9.2km

Time taken = 3hrs 30 mins

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Hvanngil to Álftavatn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the hike from Hvanngil to Álftavatn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
Hiking-Iceland-Volcanic-Trails-view-from-ridge-Day-4.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Strútur to Hvanngil

Our day started in the usual fashion – a breakfast of muesli, porridge, crackers, cheese, processed meats and various spreads, followed by the making of our packed lunches out of more-or-less the same ingredients.  Then, once Kjartan had showed us our route for the day on the map,

Daily summary of trail we will hike - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Kartjan showing us where we would be hiking today and pointing out the key features of our route

off we set up the relatively steep hill behind Strútur hut.

Climbing the ridge above the Strútur Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

You can see Strútur Hut below us in the river valley

 The first part of today’s hike saw us traversing the black volcanic sand plain of Mýrdalssandur

Crossing the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Crossing the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur

with a stone cairn marking one of the old travel routes from the 9th century (did you know it is illegal to add rocks to cairns in Iceland?)

Stone wayfinding cairn from the 9th century- Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

This cairn has been here a long time! We are hiking in the footsteps of 9th century travellers

and the Mýrdalssandur glacier bordering our southern side. 

Mýrdalssandur glacier above the black volcanic plain- Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to get a good picture of the glacier. Aaarrrgggghhh the contrast! Some things you just have to be there to see for yourself

We took our lunch at the base of a small pass

Lunch on the black volcanic sand with the Mýrdalssandur glacier in the background - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Our lunch spot on the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur with the glacier in the background. Desolate place! But very beautiful!

and I hiked up the hill behind to see what the next valley looked like from on high. Wow! What a view! And completely different to the valley we’d just been hiking through.  Absolutely worth the effort of the climb!

View into the next valley from the hill above our lunch on the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

View into the next valley from the hill above our lunch on the black volcanic sands of Mýrdalssandur. Definitely worth the climb!

In both the trek schedule provided by Icelandic Mountain Guides and in Kjartan’s briefing that morning, we’d been warned that we would need our river shoes handy for the next section of the hike.  We started hiking across the river valley in our normal boots

Hiking towards a wide series of river channels - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Hiking towards our major river crossing for the day

but at some point, even the most stubborn of us (hello Leigh! 😉 ) had to admit defeat and change into our river shoes.

Trekking companions wading through river channels - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

None of the river channels were deep, but there were a lot of them one after the other

Those who had sandals would take them off to walk on the soft, cushiony moss between the river channels

Trekking companions walking barefoot between the river channels - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

The moss was so soft and spongy underfoot and most of my trekking companions hiked barefoot between the river channels

as we slowly worked our way through the marsh for the next half hour.

Arctic cottongrass in the river valley - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

The presence of Arctic Cottongrass is a dead giveaway for extremely wet ground

We then climbed one final small pass

Climbing the final pass of Day 4 - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Climbing from the river valley up the final pass of the day’s hike

to end our day at yet another very comfortable hut at the mouth of the Hvanngil valley.

Hvanngil Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Approaching (top-left) Hvanngil Hut (top-right), and how lovely most Icelandic trekking huts are inside

Trekking Information

Distance = 14.3km

Time taken = 6 hours

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Strútur to Hvanngil in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile of the hike from Strútur to Hvanngil in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
Hiking-Iceland-Volcanic-Trails-river-hike.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Álftavötn to Strútur

In contrast to yesterday, today’s hike was a long one – 20km worth!  Yet we didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get going as we ate breakfast on the bench outside the Álftavötn Hut in the glorious sunshine under bright blue skies.

Outdoor breakfast in the sunshine at Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Outdoor breakfast in the sunshine at Álftavötn Hut

There were several more river crossings to negotiate

River crossing on Day 3 of Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Not so deep, but still wide and cold!

swathes of bright green to cross, with skittish Icelandic sheep keeping a wary eye on us

Icelandic sheep and green hills - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Icelandic sheep country

and waterfalls to admire.  Iceland is, after all, the land of waterfalls!

waterfalls - Central Highlands, Iceland

Land of waterfalls

Iceland is also the land of crazy changeable weather (particularly this Summer – the worst in 104 years according to all the Icelanders I met), and 1.5 hours later, the rain started.

Hiking along a river with the weather turning - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

So much for the bright blue skies and sunshine

An hour after that, the sun came out again – just as Kjartan called a halt for lunch on a plain of volcanic sand with almost fluorescent green moss.  I love how the moss cradles the water droplets in its embrace!  Kjartan, of course, claimed that he’d specifically timed lunch to coincide with the sun coming out.  Yeah, right!

Vibrant green moss that is so typical of the Central Highlands of Iceland

The vibrant green moss so typical of the Central Highlands of Iceland.

After lunch, we continued our hike through stunning scenery, skirting around the edge of a massive delta

Descending towards a huge delta - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

My trekking companions descending towards the massive river delta that looked a little like an old crater

and crossing the relatively deep (mid-thigh on me) and fast flowing river Hólmsá to arrive at our reward for the day.  The Strútslaug thermal hot pool!

Strútslaug thermal hot pool - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

View from the Strútslaug thermal hot pool

This natural pool is only small and has a silty bottom (the idea is to try to not move around too much to stir it all up), but it is the perfect temperature for soaking and relaxing in the most stunning environment.

Contemplating the view from the Strútslaug thermal hot pool - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Contemplating the view from the Strútslaug thermal hot pool

With the cold river only a few steps away, naturally someone in the group suggested a “polar plunge”, something that several of my fellow trekkers decided to brave.

Cold river plunge next to the Strútslaug thermal hot pool - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Some of my trekking companions taking on the cold river plunge next to the Strútslaug thermal hot pool

I wasn’t going to, but then Mike threw down the challenge of betting a Kiwi would do it if there were one in the group, so I really couldn’t let Australia down.

It. Was. Freezing!

I had asked Martin to record my plunge into the icy waters for evidence, but I’d forgotten that I’d left my camera on an odd setting.  Yes, you guessed it.  After braving and bearing it once, I had to go back in and do it all over again!

My cold river plunge next to the Strútslaug thermal hot pool - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Yes, I got shamed into doing it too!

Refreshed and relaxed, we left the hot pool behind as we still had quite a distance to cover before we made it to the next hut at Strútur.  The drizzle mostly held off

Crepuscular rays as we avoid the worst of the rain - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

as our route took us through more gorgeous scenery

Views along the hike from the Strútslaug thermal hot pool to Strútur in the Central Highlands of Iceland

with a view of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier

Mýrdalsjökull glacier sitting atop more greenery - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Can you see the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in the image? It sits above the vibrant green moss that is so typical of the Central Highlands of Iceland

before finally arriving at Strútur late in the day.  Our dinner of baked Icelandic lamb was very welcome after such a long hike!

Sunset from Strútur in the Central Highlands of Iceland

Sunset from Strútur Hut

Trekking Information

Distance = 20km

Time taken = 9hr 48 mins

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Álftavötn to Strútur in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the hike from Álftavötn to Strútur in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Volcanic Trails

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
Hiking-Iceland-Volcanic-Trails-green-moss-trail.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Hólaskjól to Álftavötn

At less than 10km in distance, my first day of hiking in the central highlands of Iceland was a short one.  While I was raring to go, this was a welcome “rest” for the others who had already been hiking for 3 days in very wet conditions.  The mood at the breakfast table was resigned as we watched the drizzle fall steadily outside, but this turned to palpable relief by the time the luggage transfer arrived and we set out on the hike at 10am.  Thank goodness for late starts!

Loading the luggage and our food into the support vehicle at Hólaskjól Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Loading the luggage and our food into the support vehicle at Hólaskjól Hut. I love supported treks where you only have to carry a day pack!

“Wow!” 

That’s all I can say about the first kilometre or so of the trek where we hiked through the bright green moss along a narrow trail. 

Surrounded by "trolls" - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Hiking through a valley of “trolls” – amazing volcanic rock formations

We were surrounded by interestingly shaped volcanic outcrops – still and silent “Trolls” who had been turned to stone by the touch of the Sun’s rays according to Icelandic folklore.  These guys had clearly been here for a while judging by the green cloaks they were now wearing, and it is surprisingly easy to find their faces when you really start looking!

"Trolls" - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Can you imagine this as a Troll that has been turned to stone? The Icelanders could!

Our hike took us past several waterfalls including the impressive Silfurfoss (“foss” means “waterfall” in Icelandic)

Silfurfoss waterfall - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Just a 10 minute walk from the Hólaskjól Hut is the impressive Silfurfoss waterfall

and along a carpet of green

Hiking in a never-ending field of green - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

as we followed the Syðri Ófæra river.

Hiking the trail along the Syðri Ófæra river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Hiking the trail along the Syðri Ófæra river

This same river turned out to be our major obstacle for the day, and we all watched with growing anxiety as Kjartan explored the crossing point to find the best route.  It didn’t bode well for myself nor my fellow short companions that the water came up to his mid-thigh, and in the end, I decided to remove my long hiking pants and just cross in my underwear. 

Given the strong current, Kjartan had us stow our trekking poles and link arms with at least two other people to make the crossing.  At the deepest point, the water came to just below my hips, and I was grateful for the support of Jewells and Gunnar as we all made it to the other side safely.  Apparently Kjartan hadn’t seen the river this deep for several years!

Fording the quite deep Syðri Ófæra river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Where we had to cross the Syðri Ófæra river, it was quite deep and had a strong current. I stripped down to underwear and we crossed in groups of 3 with our arms linked for extra support/stability

We dried off and got dressed again on the other side, and then sat down to eat our gourmet lunch creations (well, mine was 😀 ) as we took in the views back towards the gorge.

View from our lunch spot on the Syðri Ófæra river - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

View from our lunch spot on the Syðri Ófæra river

The last couple of kilometres saw us ford another river (not as deep or strong as the first), hike over never-ending green hills, and encounter more trolls (these ones sporting tufts of hair) before reaching Álftavötn, a very traditional Icelandic hut that is half buried in the earth and really beautiful inside.

Exterior and interiors of the traditional Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Álftavötn Hut is very traditional and built half-buried in the earth for insulation. It’s interior is really beautiful and rustic.

Our first job upon arrival was to collect our gear and what supplies we needed for dinner, breakfast and lunch tomorrow from a small shed located about 500m away.  Many hands (and a wheelbarrow) made this a relatively quick task,

Storage shed near Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Collecting our gear and food supplies from the storage shed near Álftavötn Hut. The access road doesn’t actually reach the hut itself so we employed the use of a wheelbarrow to cut down the number of trips required

which left plenty of time to head off and explore the surrounding area.

Views from around Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Álftavötn Hut is in the most incredible location, surrounded by spectacular scenery

When I returned, the BBQ out the back was already fired up for our salmon dinner with rice and salad, and caramel pudding with pears for dessert.  I love the food that is provided on treks with Icelandic Mountain Guides.  Delicious!

Salmon BBQ outside of Álftavötn Hut - Volcanic Trails - Central Highlands, Iceland

Wonderful Salmon BBQ for dinner at Álftavötn Hut

Trekking Information

Distance = ~6km (sorry, forgot to start my watch at the beginning – doh!)

Time taken = ~3.5hrs

Map

Basic Map of the hike from Hólaskjól to Álftavötn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Basic altitude profile of the hike from Hólaskjól to Álftavötn in the Central Highlands of Iceland - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Volcanic Trails

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
Hiking-Iceland-Volcanic-Trails-Ófærufoss-waterfall.jpg

Trekking Iceland – Volcanic Trails – Hólaskjól via Eldgjá

The Complete Volcanic Trails Trek by Icelandic Mountain Guides is a 9 day journey through the volcanic highlands of Iceland.  Unfortunately, I was not able to do the first few days of this trip, but rather would join the group at the end of their 3rd day of hiking at Hólaskjól.

I met the Icelandic Mountain Guides representatives at the BSI bus station in Reykjavik for our 8:00am public bus transfer to Landmannalaugar (hiking central for Iceland!), and then sat back and slept for most of the ~4 hour journey (there is a 45 minute stop about half-way).

Bus to Landmannalaugar - Iceland

We arrived at Landmannalaugar to heavy grey skies and cold rain, which meant that the communal tent at the campsite was absolutely packed with people.  Hmmm… how to fit 17 more people in here (I was travelling with a group of 16 others who were hiking the Laugavegur Trail with Icelandic Mountain Guides)??

Dining tent at Landmannalaugar campsite - Iceland

How are we going to fit another 17 people in here?

I’m still not quite sure how, but we did manage it, and set about making lunch for ourselves.  I then looked on with pity as, an hour later, everyone else headed out into the rain (they didn’t look too enthusiastic) and I tried to stay warm for another 2.5 hours in the very drafty tent.

Views from Landmannalaugar campsite

The scenery around Landmannalaugar is spectacular, even under very heavy, grey skies!

My instructions were to get myself on the 10A public bus to Skaftafell at 4pm. It quickly became clear why the vehicle looked to be a cross between a bus and a truck as we made our way along a single-lane volcanic dirt road with steep hills and tight corners. There was one bridge, which barely accommodated the width of our transport, but the remaining river crossings (and there were quite a few) were all fords – one of them, quite deep!

The truck-bus to Skaftafell - Landmannalauger

The truck-bus to Skaftafell. It was soon revealed why such a vehicle was required for the journey

The scenery, with its black volcanic rock and bright green moss, was spectacular and matched what I thought Iceland would look like based on all the photos I’d seen.   It turns out that I hadn’t “missed something” during my treks in Hornstrandir and East Iceland.  It’s just that this type of scenery is characteristic of Iceland’s highlands, not the rest of the island.  The reason there are so many photographs featuring these landscapes is because this is where the majority of visitors come to trek!

Unfortunately, our views were hampered somewhat by the worsening rain and low cloud

Rain obscuring the view out the window of the public bus to Skaftafell - Iceland highlands

and about 30km and 1.5 hours later (!) we arrived at Eldgjá – a 75km long eruptive fissure that formed around AD934 as part of the largest eruption on Earth during the last millennium. 

The bus stopped here for an hour (not quite sure why – perhaps the driver needed to recover after the road he’d just driven?) and we had just enough time for a short hike in the world’s largest volcanic canyon.

Hiking to Ófærufoss waterfall at Eldgjá - Central highlands, Iceland

Fortunately, the rain had largely stopped by this time and our destination – the Ófærufoss waterfall – was definitely worth the effort.

Ófærufoss waterfall at Eldgjá - Central highlands, Iceland

Ófærufoss waterfall at Eldgjá

Back on the bus, it was only about another 15 minutes before I was dropped off at the large hut at Hólaskjól.  There I met our guide, Kjartan, and the rest of the group, who all welcomed me enthusiastically, plied me with too many snacks, shared a wonderful meal of Icelandic Lamb soup, and broke out the cards afterwards 😊

Some of the hiking group playing cards at Hólaskjól - Central Highlands, Iceland

Some of the hiking group playing cards at Hólaskjól Hut

I’m looking forward to sharing the experience with these guys!

Read more about hiking the Volcanic Trails

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Iceland and around the world.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me: