Tag Archives: hiking and trekking

East-Iceland-Shadow-Vatnajokull-delta-view.jpg

Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 4

On the last day of the In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides, we awoke to a cloudy morning with low fog hanging over the tops of the mountains. Quite a contrast to the brilliant finish to yesterday!

Múlaskáli Hut under grey skies - East Iceland

We made our final lunches out on the deck

Making lunch on an Icelandic Mountain Guides Trek

Part of the morning routine on an Icelandic Mountain Guides trek – making your own lunch

before heading across the river (thankfully with a footbridge!) and up the ropes at the start of our last day of trekking.

Crossing the bridge and climbing the rope on the last day of Shadow of Vatnajökull - East Iceland

Although the colours were muted by the clouds, the mountains were impressive,

Hiking trail on Day 4 of of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and the steep climb made for some fantastic views back over the river.

River view from ridge on Day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Can you see Múlaskáli Hut?

Once we’d climbed out of the river valley, our trail took us on an undulating route across green flats and down into rocky gullies with small streams at the bottom.

Scenery from last day of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

As we took a break at one of these gully crossings, Þorbjörg decided she’d teach us a simple Icelandic song.  I didn’t do too badly remembering the lyrics actually, but it helps that the word for Sun in Icelandic sounds the same as does in Spanish 🙂

 

The lyrics, translated into English are:

Sun outside

Sun inside

Sun in the heart, Sun in the mind

Nothing but Sun

Love it!  And how interesting the focus on the Sun 🙂  Perhaps because they see relatively little of it here in Iceland?  This was the first time anyone had sang on this hike, and it occurred to me that I’d been missing the singing that had been so much a part of my other hikes with Icelandic Mountain Guides.

The trail continued through numerous gullies and took us boulder-hopping along a stream 

Hiking along a stream on Day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

before descending into the biggest gully of them all!  I waited on one side of the gully for the others to have a 20 minute rest at the bottom, so I could get this shot of them walking up the steep slope on the other side.

Hiking up scree slopes on Day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

And it was actually very steep!  Especially when I was so far behind and “sprint-hiking” to catch up with them again 🙂

A little further along, we came to an amazing lookout over the delta of the river that would lead us to the ocean

Lookout over the delta leading to the ocean on Day 4 of Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and for the remainder of the hike we basically followed the river along the moss-lined trail.

Hiking along the river delta on day 4 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Þorbjörg had told us at the start of the day that we would have one final river crossing right at the end of the hike.  But what she didn’t tell us was that this one had a suspension bridge over it 🙂 .

Final river crossing - with a bridge - Day 4 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Ironically, less than 1km from the end of the trek, 4 of us (me, Eric, Melinda and Martin) managed to lose the group in the small Icelandic forest on the other side of the bridge.   

Icelandic forest on Day 4 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Yes – there are forests in Iceland

We were not far behind the others, but by the time we’d finished taking photos and crossed the bridge they were nowhere to be seen.  Unfortunately, there was also a fork in the path. The obvious way forward was to keep following the yellow poles, which also went in the direction that Þorbjörg had indicated we were going.   So this we did.  But as we kept walking and failing to see the group (we even tried yelling and blowing the emergency whistle and still nothing), our confidence eroded to the point where we ended up turning back and waiting at the bridge.

Not a minute after arriving back at the bridge, Þorbjörg comes running along that same trail to find us.  Doh!  It turns out we were only about 100m shy of the group when we turned around!

Yes – it is possible to get lost in an Icelandic forest 🙁

Reunited with the group, it was only another 200m of hiking to reach the edge of the stony river delta where our “super-jeeps” were waiting to transfer us to Höfn.

Hiking towards the super-jeeps in the river delta - Shadow of Vatnajökull - East Iceland

The end of the journey

It was very slow going until we reached the main road (they basically drive up the river bed for several kilometres), and then it was all over far too quickly as we dropped people off at the hostel and said our goodbyes. 

Group photo taken at Tröllakrókar on Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Summary

In the Shadow of Vatnajökull is a beautiful, remote hike in East Iceland.  It is not particularly difficult, but you must be prepared for walking across stony ground without trails, wading across cold rivers, basic food and accommodation, weather of all kinds, and some short but moderately steep uphills and downhills.  All the while carrying a ~10kg backpack.

I particularly loved the variety of the landscapes that we hiked through in only 4 days, and hope that the other hikes I’m doing in Iceland have a similar diversity. 

Million thanks to Þorbjörg and my trekking companions for a wonderful trip!

Trekking Information

Distance = 14.25km

Time taken = 7 hours

Map

Basic Map of Day 4 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” 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:
East-Iceland-Shadow-Vatnajokull-valley-view.jpg

Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 3

Sunrise at Egilssel Hut.  Yes, once again I was up at about 2:30am to see this.  Totally worth it! 🙂

Sunrise at Egilssel Hut - Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Sunrise at Egilssel Hut

After another relaxed 8am breakfast, we retraced our steps from the day before around the lake and started to ascend towards a higher plateau. 

Climbing towards the ridge on day 3 of the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

There were fantastic views back down over the lake and hut, despite the weather being more than a little grey!

Panoramic view over lake in front of Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

The climb was not too steep for the most part, and delivered us to the edge of the cliffs lining the deep river valley that we had seen yesterday.

Tröllakrókar Cliffs on Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Do I need to say that the views were incredible?

Panoramic view valley below Tröllakrókar - Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

I loved the patterns in the landscape!

Abstract landscape - East Iceland

But even better was the surprise hidden within the Volcanic Tuff from which the cliffs were made.  Trolls! 

I’ll let Þorbjörg tell the story 🙂

This was Tröllakrókar – cliffs of the Trolls. And the pillars of stone and shapely rocks we were admiring were the petrified remains of party-goers according to Icelandic Folklore.  How cool is that?!  You can really see it too if you let your imagination run wild 🙂

I could have spent hours here giving each Troll my attention and looking for different angles to photograph.  But unfortunately, this is exactly the moment when my new Fujifilm XT-2 camera decided to break 🙁  The on/off switch on the top of the camera came off as I was pulling it out of the camera bag … which (as you can imagine) distracted me from the incredible place I was in and sent me into a bit of a fluster.  

After ascertaining that I couldn’t do anything to fix this problem while on the trek, I switched to my trusty Fujifilm XT-1 camera (which I’ve been using for the past 2 years) and carried on.   But I lost a lot of precious time at the Trolls, adding to my feeling that we didn’t stay here for nearly long enough.  It would have been great to have taken this part of the trek slower … even if I hadn’t had camera issues.

We took our lunch overlooking the river valley, glacier and last of the trolls

Tröllakrókar and its trolls on Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and then headed down towards the river and the start of the colourful rhyolite mountains.

Descending towards the river on day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Here we came across the first “trees” in several days, which had managed to grow to the height an adult person

Small Icelandic trees on Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

and chains to help us “abseil” into a gully and back out the other side.

Abseiling - Day 3 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

By this time we were following a marked trail (actually, this started at our lunch spot on the southern end of Tröllakrókar), as we skirted the shale coming off the mountains along the edge of the river.

Hiking scenery - Day 4 - Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

We arrived at Múlaskáli Hut quite early (really wishing for more time at the Trolls!) and in bright sunshine.  This was the biggest and most luxurious hut of them all – it even had flush toilets (the others had extremely clean dry toilets) and hot showers if you wanted to pay 500ISK (~USD$4).

Interior of Múlaskáli Hut - East Iceland

Interior views of Múlaskáli Hut

Just before we reached the hut, Sabine had noticed wild mushrooms growing along the trail and asked whether they were edible.  Þorbjörg said that she thought so, and both Sabine and I thought they looked very similar to edible mushrooms we’d picked in Germany and Slovakia respectively.  So before Sabine and I settled in, we headed off mushroom picking 🙂   

As was the case at Filip’s family’s hut in Slovakia, I loved picking wild mushrooms!  You really have to slow down and take your time, as they are not the easiest things to spot under the trees.  But it is this slowing down that makes it such an enjoyable experience, and before you know it, you’ve been wandering around for over an hour – hopefully with a good haul to bring home and cook.

Mushrooms - East Iceland

I added my collection to Sabine’s and sat out on the deck in the hot Sun chatting as Sabine and Wolfgang cleaned and prepared the mushrooms.  We ended up with just enough for everyone in the group to have a taste … though were surprised that the majority of the group were highly suspicious about their edibility.

cleaning mushrooms outside Múlaskáli Hut - East Iceland

It never ceases to amaze me how little mushroom remains after you finish cleaning it!

Dinner was tomato soup, followed by sauteed mushrooms (in the end, almost everyone had a taste) which were delicious and not poisonous nor hallucinogenic, followed by pasta with a creamy pesto sauce and dried lamb sticks that were similar in texture to twiggies.  Dessert was McVities Hobnobs digestives, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate, but unfortunately we couldn’t monopolise the dining table as there were our 3 Icelandic ladies from the previous hut and another group of hikers who also needed to use the kitchen.

Cooking wild mushrooms and eating dinner at Múlaskáli Hut - East Iceland

Sabine cooking wild mushrooms, and the group eating dinner at Múlaskáli Hut

No sunset again tonight as the Sun disappeared behind the mountains quite early. Instead it was upstairs for a relatively early night 🙂

Trekking Information

Distance = 10.22 km

Time taken = 5 hours 38 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 3 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” 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:
East-Iceland-Shadow-Vatnajokull-leaving-Geldingafell-Hut.jpg

Hiking Iceland – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 2

It is always a good idea to get up for sunrise … even when it occurs at 3am!  

Sunrise at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Sunrise at Geldingafell Hut

It is also a good idea to go back to bed afterwards, and when we finally crawled out for our 8am breakfast, we were greeted with bright blue skies and loads of sunshine.

Geldingafell Hut and its surroundings - East Iceland

Geldingafell Hut with its pyramid-shaped outhouse, and the snow-capped Mt Snæfell on the left.

We helped ourselves to a spread of muesli, crackers, jam, peanut butter, nutella, tea and coffee to fuel our day, and then made our lunches with the same ingredients plus Icelandic Flatbrauð (rye flat bread), other long-lasting breads, cheese (Brie, Gouda), capsicum cream cheese, and a variety of processed meats – including hangikjöt, Icelandic smoked lamb.  Plus a couple of chocolate bars for energy 😉

Making breakfast on an Icelandic Mountain Guides trek

After cleaning the hut, returning unused supplies to the “store”, closing the wooden shutters over the windows to protect against wild weather, and locking the door behind us, we headed off across country for Day 2 of our trek in the shadow of Vatnajökull.

Leaving Geldingafell Hut on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Leaving Geldingafell Hut for Day 2 of our hike

The awesome weather meant that we could take the route closest to the glacier, so this would be a long day of hiking.  There were no tracks at all, and we spent the whole day walking across ankle-turning shaley rock, or ankle-turning pumicey rock.  Ankle-turning either way, and I highly recommend you wear really good waterproof hiking boots with ankle support for this trek!

Different types of rocks on the In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Shale (top) and pumice (bottom)

For the first hour or so we had a perfect view of Mt Snæfell, if we looked behind us.  It often pays to turn around while you are hiking 🙂

View of Mt Snæfell on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Apparently our driver yesterday mentioned to Þorbjörg that he’d never seen the mountain this cloud-free for so many days during a Summer.  Apparently, while Reykjavik has been struggling under the cloudiest Summer in 100 years, the weather in the East of Iceland has been the opposite!

We hiked beside a series of lakes and through pockets of snow, before spying the next glacier tongue coming down from the Icefield.

Lakes and snow on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Our lunch-stop was on a high perch looking down onto the face of the glacier (does it look like the head of a fish to you too?) and the deep valley that its meltwater was carving out of the East Iceland landscape.

Glacier views on Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Given the sunshine and lack of wind, we had a very relaxed lunch while admiring the view, before setting off again in the direction of the mountains we could see in the distance.

Scenery on day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

We were able to cross most of the streams/rivers by stone hopping (I’m so glad I’ve started using trekking poles)

Rock hopping across another stream on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

but eventually came to one that defeated us.  Þorbjörg wasn’t sure how deep it was and whether we would be able to cross or whether we would have to walk around.  So she told us to hold off on changing our shoes while she “tested the waters” as it were.  I love guided treks 🙂

Testing the depth of the water on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Þorbjörg finding a route across the river

In the end, she decided we would cross the river, as it only came up to lower-thigh on her (at least mid-thigh for myself, Melinda and Maria).  She suggested that we take off our hiking pants and wade across in our undies, putting our waterproof pants on if we really felt the cold badly.

Wading across the river in underwear on Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Eric and Maria making their way across the river

My second river crossing in my underwear since arriving in Iceland!

Obstacle overcome, we put our pants back on, dried our feet, re-shoed, and  continued our journey over the rocky terrain in the direction of our next hut.  BTW it turns out Martin and Wolf walked a little further around and crossed the river on a snow bridge.  But I reckon you haven’t really hiked in Iceland until you can say you’ve stripped to your underwear to ford a river 🙂

I was completely mesmerised by the colours and patterns in the cliff face on the opposite side of the valley, once again wishing I was hiking with a geologist.  And although Þorbjörg was great at explaining the basics of how the geology of the region formed, I’m absolutely fascinated by rocks and really want to dive more into the details.

Patterned geology of East Iceland on Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek

Eventually, Egilssel Hut appeared in the distance as a white spec overlooking a lake. 

Approaching Egilssel Hut on Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Can you see Egilssel Hut?

We passed some woolly locals and, unfortunately, the Icelandic flies also found us!  Not quite as bad as the flies I encountered in Greenland, but still annoying – especially after not having had to endure them for a long time.

Icelandic Sheep along our path

Icelandic sheep roam free in East Iceland

Egilssel Hut is much larger than Geldingafell, and it turned out we were to share it with 3 Icelandic ladies this night. 

Inside Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Inside Egilssel Hut

While our Icelandic companions finished preparing their evening meal and some of our group went for a quick and cold wash in the lake, I wandered around taking photos of an amazing basaltic outcrop with columnar jointing (I remember that much from 1st year Geology).  I love these structures! The last one I went to see was at Los Tercios near Suchitoto in El Salvador.

Columnar Jointing along the river at Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

Dinner was a thick, delicious cauliflower soup followed by couscous and canned ham.  This latter brought back all sorts of memories from when I was a little girl and my family would buy ham in this way since it was cheap and would last in the cupboard. I don’t know how cheap it is in Iceland (is anything cheap in Iceland?) but the fact it will last in the food cache at the hut is the important thing for Icelandic Mountain Guides.  

Eating dinner at Egilssel Hut - Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajökull trek - East Iceland

We finished our meal with a dessert of chocolate biscuits and then sat around chatting and drinking tea, coffee and hot chocolate until bed. 

I did wait up again for sunset … but unfortunately it was disappointing this night 🙁   Ah well, maybe tomorrow!

Trekking Information

Distance = 17.13km

Time taken = 8 hours 25 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day 2 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 2 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” 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 – In the Shadow of Vatnajökull – Day 1

My trip to East Iceland started out a little too early in the morning and I’m thankful for 2 things:

  1. the fact that it never gets dark here in the summer makes it easier to drag oneself out of bed at 5:30am
  2. I’m staying very close to Reykjavik domestic airport and didn’t have to get up even earlier

Daniel, the Icelandic Mountain Guides representative, met myself, Eric and Melinda (from the US) at the airport to ensure we had everything and there were no issues, and I promptly fell back to sleep for the 50 minute Air Iceland Connect flight to Egilsstaðir as soon as I was clipped into seat 1C.  I’ve never sat in the first row in a plane before!

We arrived on time and were met off the plane by Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir.   I’m terrible with names in the first place, and Icelandic place and people names are really challenging me!  But thankfully she explained “just think of Thor and then the famous Icelandic singer, Björk, and put them together”.   Ah!  That made it very easy 🙂   And I learned that the Icelandic letter “Þ” is pronounced essentially like “th” in English!

The airport was actually the meeting place for the whole group, and we soon met Wolfgang and Sabine (a couple from Germany), Martin and Wolf (father and son from Germany), and Maria (from France).  Introductions done, we did a pitstop at the local Nettó supermarket for fresh supplies for the next 4 days, made our lunch on the picnic table near the carpark, dropped off some luggage that would be transferred to the end of the hike for us, and then were on our way to the start point of our trek.

We had all signed up for the 4-day lightweight-backpacking trek: “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” in East Iceland.  The name aptly describes the trek, which travels down the remote eastern edge of  Europe’s largest glacier – Vatnajökull.  The “lightweight backpacking” part meant that although we would be staying in huts where sleeping bags and mats were provided and where Icelandic Mountain Guides had food caches, we would need to carry our clothing, sleeping bag liner, anything else we deemed essential, and a portion of the fresh food for the 4 day trek.   

It was a pretty grey old day with low clouds, so there were not many views as we traveled firstly along the edge of a fjord and then up to a higher plateau in the direction of Mt Snæfell (“The Snow Mountain”), the highest mountain in Iceland outside of a glacier region. 

Driving to the trailhead - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Driving to the trailhead in our minivan. No. That is not Mt Snæfell. It is still in the distance, its peak covered in snow. Note the the lack of fences – Icelandic sheep roam free in the East.

After about an hour, our driver pulled off to the side of the road and stopped.  Once we’d all piled out with our gear, he promptly took off back the way we’d come, leaving us standing in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.  Þorbjörg quickly assured us that it was all good, and pulled out the map to show us the plan for today and the next 3 days.

Getting dropped at the trailhead of - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

We then set off across rocky, unmarked land (there was no trail to follow) as we hiked along the edge of one of Iceland’s many water storage dams.  

Hikers walking past wildflowers in front of a water storage dam - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

One of the most impressive features we came across in this rather flat terrain was a rocky outcrop that allowed us a slightly elevated view of the landscape.  We managed to find a spot that was more-or-less protected from the wind to have lunch, and Þorbjörg surprised us with a snack of Kleiner – yummy Icelandic donuts.

Lunch spot and Kleinur - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

I’m not a huge fan of doughnuts, but these were delicious! Even cold!

Despite our relatively sheltered position, it was quite cold.  So after I hurriedly ate my sandwich, I kept myself moving by taking photos of the surroundings

View from lunch spot - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The view from our slightly elevated lunch spot

and all the nearby wildflowers.  There were quite a few!

Wildflowers - East Iceland

We were slowly making our way towards one of the glacier tongues of Vatnajökull, at the base of which sat our home for the evening – Geldingafell Hut.

Hikers walking towards Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Can you spot the little yellow hut?

But before we arrived, we started to come across swathes of bright green moss growing in the wetter areas of the lava field.  Its vividness amidst the almost monochrome volcanic rock was startling and I loved how it held the water droplets so carefully in its embrace.

Bright green moss holding drops of water - - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Unfortunately, not all was well with parts of this green carpet, and Þorbjörg also pointed out some “witches circles” caused by a fungus that attacks the moss in a circular pattern.

Our guide explaining how "witches circles" are formed

Those who have been following my hiking adventures in Patagonia, Iceland and Greenland know how much I “love” cold river crossings.  Day 1 placed two of these in our path.  But now I have my neoprene socks – I have no fear!  🙂

Crossing a river - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Thank goodness for neoprene socks!

There were a few small snow drifts to navigate (nothing compared to what we had on the Icefjords and Remote Villages trek in East Greenland) on the final uphill to the hut, and Þorbjörg welcomed us to our home for the night by tasking us with opening all the shutters that protect the windows from wild weather.

Approaching, and arriving at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Approaching (top) and arriving at (bottom) the Geldingafell Hut. You can see the glacier tongue above the hut in the top image.

Geldingafell Hut is very small and cosy inside – especially for 9 people.  There is nowhere really to sit except for on the bunks, which is why we were all very happy that the skies finally cleared and the Sun started shining brightly just after we arrived!

View of hut and river valley from behind - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The Geldingafell Hut has an amazing view over a beautiful river valley. The pyramid-shaped building at bottom left is the outhouse

I decided to go for a short hike up the hill behind the hut before dinner to get a clearer view of the glacier and epic views back down over the hut and the valley below it.

View behind the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The hills behind the Geldingafell Hut. I hiked up to where that little plateau juts out at the top left

And arrived back just in time for our al fresco dining for the evening – minestrone soup and spaghetti bolognaise 🙂  We all enjoyed sitting outside in the warm sunshine, but eventually had to retreat inside as the Sun approached the horizon and the temperature dropped.

Hiking companions sitting on the ground outside the Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

For dessert, Þorbjörg “went shopping” for us in the Icelandic Mountain Guides “store” out the back of the hut.  Because of the remoteness of this hut, the company estimates how many trekkers they will have during the summer and caches enough dry/tinned food during the winter (when they can access the hut by snowmobile) to cover their estimate.  The logistics for some of their treks are really impressive!

Icelandic Mountain Guides store at Geldingafell Hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

The “store”. A food cache set up by Icelandic Mountain Guides during the winter when they can access the hut by snow mobile

Sitting on our beds, we downed chocolate cake, Jägermeister (thanks to Wolfgang and Sabine – no Wolfgang – half a glass does not constitute “the smallest amount possible just for a taste”), and hot chocolate before most people turned in for the night.  I stayed up a little longer to catch a beautiful sunset at around 11:30pm, and then followed suit.

Sunset at hut - Shadow of Vatnajokull - East Iceland

Worth waiting up for!

Trekking Information

Distance = 11.39km

Time taken = 5 hours 07 minutes

Map

Basic Map of Day 1 of In the Shadow of Vatnajokull - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of Day 1 of Shadow of Vatnajokull from Strava

Read more about hiking In the Shadow of Vatnajökull

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 4-day trek “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” 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:
Greenland-Assaqutaq-from-above.jpg

Hiking Greenland – Abandoned Settlement of Assaqutaq

When you start researching things to do around Sisimiut you very quickly come across excursions to Assaqutaq – an abandoned settlement about 10km away.  The Hotel Sisimiut offers a boat tour to and from the settlement, but what I really wanted to do was take a boat out and then hike back.  I contacted Jan from Sisimiut Private Boat Safari to arrange and, with instructions to bring gloves and a beanie, was down at the harbour at the agreed meeting time.

The ramp down to where Jan's boat was docked in Sisimiut Harbour - West Greenland

The ramp down to where Jan’s boat was docked in Sisimiut Harbour

Jan’s boat is small – equipped to carry only 4 people at a time.  It is also open which means we were bundled up in freezer suits to combat the chill in the air (gloves and beanie not included). 

My friend and I in freezer suits ready for out boat outing - Sisimiut, West Greenland

All rugged up!

Jan, made of sturdier stuff, just wore a normal jacket and beanie!

My friend in a freezer suit sitting in front of Jan with just a normal jacket on - Sisimiut Boat Safari - West Greenland

Tyson in a freezer suit and Jan … not

As we made our way around to the entrance of the Amerloq fjord in which Assaqutaq is located, we had wonderful views of the colourful buildings of Sisimiut.  This, despite the very low cloud that didn’t look like it would be clearing off anytime soon 🙁

The colourful houses of Sisimiut as seen from the water - West Greenland

The colourful houses of Sisimiut as seen from the water

Jan kept a keen eye out for whales, seals and other wildlife as we motored along but, unfortunately on this day, the waters were very quiet.  We did see some fishermen with a lot of winged friends

Fisherman being swarmed by seagulls as he attempts to check his nets from his boat - near Sisimiut - West Greenland

and Jan made a brief stop at an historical site with the remains of round stone houses

stone ruins of old houses on the way to Assaqutaq

Ruins of old stone houses on the way to Assaqutaq

before arriving at Assaqutaq half an hour after setting out.

front of the boat with the buildings of Assaqutaq in front of us - Sisimiut - West Greenland

Arriving in Assaqutaq

The settlement is an interesting mix of derelict buildings and ones that have been refurbished to accommodate primarily school and scout groups.  Jan explained that hunters, fishermen and other people who follow more traditional Greenlandic practices are often brought in to teach the kids some of these skills and about their heritage – an awesome idea if ever there was one! 

As we tied up to the dock, we were greeted by 5 kids on a school camp.  While 4 of them endeavoured to manipulate a canoe and catch fish (no supervision at all, they had to figure it all out for themselves), the 5th one started peppering us with questions in very good English!  “I’m feeling lazy”, he sighed when we asked him why he wasn’t in the canoe.  And his response when we asked him where he learned his English: “YouTube”!

School kids fishing and maneuvering a canoe in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

Being a native English speaker, I’ve often lamented that it is much easier for a motivated person to learn English from anywhere in the world than to learn any another language – simply because English is so ubiquitous and so dominant in popular culture.  Certainly, many of the people I’ve met who have learned English have cited YouTube or TV or Hollywood movies as one of their key reference sources.  The other: having the opportunity to talk to English-speaking tourists they encounter – something that is very much put into practice in Uzbekistan.  And while I acknowledge that most languages have a web presence these days, try teaching yourself Greenlandic via YouTube … it is not so easy to find material, nor is it easy to find a Greenlander outside of Greenland and Denmark (yes, I’ve started learning a little Greenlandic – thanks Memrise)!

After hot tea and biscuits at the dock, Tyson and I set off to explore the crumbling structures of Assaqutaq. 

My friend looking in the window of one of the derelict buildings at Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

It was absolutely beautiful! 

The faded paint that is slowly being stripped off the walls by the harsh Greenlandic weather,

Several photos of the faded exterior of derelict houses in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

the almost empty, half-collapsed but still brightly painted interiors,

Several images of the interiors of the abandoned houses in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

the overgrown cemetery,

Wooden crosses and paling fences around the graves at Assaqutaq cemetery near Sisimiut - West Greenland

Assaqutaq cemetery

and the complete silence

Panorama over Assaqutaq from one of the highest points on the island - Sisimiut - West Greenland

[move mouse over image to see the full panorama]

made for a fascinating, if slightly eerie exploration of this settlement that was abandoned in 1968.  In fact, Jan’s wife was the second-last child born in the settlement – her family home now slowly falling into ruin.

Derelict porch of a house in Assaqutaq near Sisimiut - West Greenland

The derelict remnants of the house that Jan’s wife grew up in.

We poked our heads into the refurbished building the school group was occupying, walked through the old fish processing plant, and checked out the church as well (you can get married here if you wish!)

Images of the exterior and interior of the refurbished church at Assaqutaq near Sisimiut, West Greenland

before Jan pointed us in the direction of where to start the hike and gave us some instructions on how to find the trail.

Assaqutaq is actually located on an island, separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water.  There is now a bridge spanning the gap, and it is one of the coolest bridges I’ve ever crossed!

My friend making his way across the footbridge with Assaqutaq in the background, near Sisimiut, West Greenland

Tyson braving the footbridge

It is made of wooden planks tied together and to the bridge supports by rope, but there appears to be some missing and the experience of crossing this bridge can be described as “unstable” at best.  It was so much fun – we did it twice!

detail of the wooden planks and ropes tying the footbridge from Assaqutaq to the mainland together - near Sisimiut, West Greenland

The wooden planks of the footbridge are tied together with rope

The next obstacle was a scramble up an almost vertical cliff

My friend climbing the almost vertical slope to get to the trail - Assaqutaq, West Greenland

and then some bush-bashing until we finally stumbled upon the foot-width trail heading towards Sisimiut.  The views back over Assaqutaq were stunning!

View from on high back down over the abandoned settlement of Assaqutaq - near Sisimiut, West Greenland

View of Assaqutaq from the trail

and the trail, once found, was pretty obvious through to unmissable – especially once the red-or-blue-paint-on-rocks trail markers began.  I later found out that the trail markers had just been renewed the previous weekend.

Images of the trail leading from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut, West Greenland

The trail and its red markers (painted on the rocks) were usually very visible.

After about a kilometre, we came across a grave that was the most obvious visible sign of the old whaler’s station of Qerrortusoq,

Old grave at the site of Qerrortusoq - on the trail from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut, West Greenland

and a little further along, a group of students and teachers from Arctic DTU camped by the trail.  They invited us to have tea and explained how in their program (which is focused on construction engineering in Arctic environments), the Danish and Greenlandic students spend their first 3 semesters in Sisimiut, and then finish their studies in Denmark.  We had come across the group during the very first activity at the start of their commencing semester, where they get to know each other by spending 3 days camping near Sisimiut working on a project together. 

The awesome footbridge we’d just crossed was a project from 2 years ago (apparently the wooden planks were originally evenly spaced, but the knots holding everything in place had moved), and for the past two years, students have been working on building a small cabin for their own use when they need a break from study.  They were more than enthusiastic to show us around and explain what they were doing and, after waiting a couple of minutes for the finishing touches to go on, I even got to be the first person to walk up the newly constructed stairs to the hut 😊

Images of the hut being fitted out by the students of DTU

The hut being built by the students from DTU. I love the use of the shape of Greenland to secure the large windows (middle), and in the bottom left image we are learning about the special stove they are installing which also provides hot water.

We spent quite a while chatting about the unique features of the hut and how to construct a cabin that is completely isolated from everything, before wishing them well in their studies and heading further along the trail.

Despite the less-than-spectacular weather, with the fjord on one side and the mountains (their tops admittedly lost in cloud) on the other, it was a really stunning hike.  We stopped to enjoy the mist and light playing out over the fjord

Light playing on the fog and fjord between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut, West Greenland

I love abstract scenes!

while keeping a wary eye on how low the cloud was reaching on the mountains.  Although the trail was well marked, we didn’t want to be walking in fog.

My friend hiking towards a mountain obscured in the fog between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut - West Greenland

Keeping a wary eye…

In fact, the only time we temporarily “lost” the trail was when it descended into a mini-forest of Dwarf Arctic Birch that had managed to grow as tall as Tyson!  It is amazing what can happen with abundant water and a sheltered position.

My friend almost completely covered by the dwarf Arctic Birch forest between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut - West Greenland

For reference, Tyson is around 2m tall

Yes, there are boulder fields to negotiate, and rocks to scramble over and climb, but the hike between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut is not overly technical and these kinds of obstacles just make it even more fun and interesting 😊

Images of some of the trickier parts of the trail between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut, West Greenland

There were quite a few rocky obstacles to overcome between Assaqutaq and Sismiut

We were almost all the way back to Sisimiut when the cloud started to lift and the sun finally put in an appearance.

Images of the final parts of the trail between Assaqutaq and Sisimiut - once the sun had come out. West Greenland

Blue skies!

When this happened, the whole feeling of the hike was transformed from one of mystery to one of joy and I look forward to returning one day to hike the whole thing under blue skies. 

I’m super-keen to see what those mountains look like from the trail!

Recommendation

If you like hiking, I highly recommend taking a boat transfer from Sisimiut to Assaqutaq and then walking back to town.  It is stunning to experience the area from both the sea and the land, and the trail is only moderately difficult with quite a few boulder scrambles and small rock climbs.

Cost: Have a look at the Sisimiut Boat Safari website for details.

Time:

  • Boat transfer: ~1/2 hour (though it depends on how much wildlife is around)
  • Assaqutaq: as long as you like. We spent about an hour here but could easily have spent longer
  • Hike back to Sisimiut: 3-4 hours

Hiking Information

Distance = 9.8km

Time taken = 4 hours 30 minutes (includes stopping and chatting with DTI students for almost an hour)

Map

Basic Map the hike from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut - from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Basic altitude profile of the hike from Assaqutaq to Sisimiut - from Strava

Download trail as .gpx or .kml

Discover more about Greenland

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences and adventures here on my blog.  

Or, if this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland in general, learn more about this amazing country by:

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
greenland-russell-glacier-face.jpg

Hiking Greenland – Russell Glacier

It was quite difficult to tell how many days I should allocate to exploring the area around Kangerlussuaq before starting the Arctic Circle Trail trek.  There seemed to be a fair few options for things to do – the Russell Glacier, visiting the Greenland Ice Sheet at Point 660, Sugarloaf Mountain, Garnet Rock, a wildlife safari – and in the end, I decided on 2 days at the beginning and 2 days at the end.  Unfortunately, this was curtailed to 1 day at the beginning (thanks to Air Iceland Connect dropping their direct Reykjavik-Kangerlussuaq route) and no days at the end (thanks to being stranded in Sisimiut due to bad weather) – so the only activity I managed was a trip out to Russell Glacier with Kang Mini Tours.

Our guide, Tommy, arrived at Old Camp to pick me up at the agreed time, and off we headed up the gravel road.  Running approximately 53km from Kellyville to the Icesheet, it is the longest road in Greenland and accounts for around 1/3 of the road infrastructure (outside of the settlements) in the country! 

Our 4x4 jeep on the road to the Russell Glacier

It was originally constructed to give access to the icesheet so that Volkswagon could test their cars under extreme cold and almost zero traction conditions.  However, this activity no longer takes place and it now provides inexpensive access for scientists studying the ice as well as for tourists wanting to visit the world’s second largest icefield and the Russell Glacier.

As we followed the meandering Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua river (more commonly known by its Danish name: Sandflugtdalen), Tommy told us some of the history of Kangerlussuaq, kept a keen eye out of wildlife – particularly Musk Oxen – and also explained a little about the geology and botany of the area.  

Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua (Sandflugtdalen in Danish) is the river that flows from the base of the Russell Glacier to the Kangerlussuaq Fjord

Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua (Sandflugtdalen in Danish) is the impressive river that you follow all the way from Kangerlussuaq to the Russell Glacier

Our jeep ride ended just past the locked boom-gate at the end of Aajuitsup Tasia lake, and we followed a trail up and over the ridge

Aajuitsup Tasia lake as seen from the trail ascending the hill in front of the Russell Glacier, Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

Looking back down the trail to Aajuitsup Tasia lake

for our first view down onto the Russell Glacier itself.

Looking down on the Russell Glacier from the ridge - Kangerlussuaq - West Greenland

Looking down on the Russell Glacier from the ridge

Words cannot describe the shear magnificence of glaciers, and even though I’ve seen a lot of them in my travels both here in Greenland and also in Patagonia, I never tire of their intricate beauty.

different views of the ice making up the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland

Ice details. I am fascinated by ice, so glaciers are a constant source of wonder for me

One of the incredible things about the Russell Glacier is just how close you can get to its 60m-high face. 

Me standing on rocks looking across the river at the 60m high face of the Russell Glacier

Looking up at the 60m high face of the Russell Glacier

And although you should never approach too closely (you never know when the glacier may calve and send ice falling to either crush you or cause a wave that will sweep you off your feet), there are places where you can literally reach out and touch it.

One such place was right near this waterfall spilling into an ice cave under the glacier.  Just a little further around, the glacier was still directly grinding on the surrounding rocks, buffing them with the smooth sheen that is so typical of Greenlandic geology.

Waterfall and Ice cave at the base of the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

Amazing waterfall flowing into an ice cave at the bottom of the glacier

Speaking of which. I’m thinking of creating a coffee-table book of the patterns of Greenlandic rocks.  What do you think of the idea?

views of patterns in the rocks surrounding the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq in West Greenland

Greenland has some of the most beautiful and interesting rocks I’ve ever seen. I absolutely love the “rock art” here

I ended up spending the entire day out at the Russell Glacier, even though the tour was only meant to be ~3 hours long.  When I returned to the jeep at the allocated time and complained that 1.5hrs wasn’t nearly enough time to explore the area, Tommy said that he had to return later in the day to drop off supplies to some locals and that he could pick me up then if I wanted.  Absolutely!

It was an incredible day spent enjoying the peace and solitude of this remarkable site

The purple Niviarsiaq - Greenland's national flower - growing between the rocks in front of the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

Niviarsiaq – Greenland’s national flower – is amazingly hardy and can seemingly grow anywhere!

and it struck me that this is what the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina must have been like at some point.   While Russell Glacier is nowhere near as big as Perito Moreno, it is still a spectacular glacier – made all the more so by the lack of infrastructure and the thousands of tourists.  

Panorama of the Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

[Click and drag to see full panorama]

In fact, I pretty much had the place to myself!  I only saw 3 other people during the entire day – it seems everybody heads out to Point 660 instead!  

Three visitors hiking to the main viewpoint over the Russell Glacier with the sheer wall of the glacier in front of them. Near Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland

The only other people I saw for the entire day I was at the Russell Glacier. Here they are hiking to the main viewpoint over the glacier. I love the scale depicted in this image.

Tommy returned to collect me at the end of the day and we stopped off briefly to explore an old plane that crashed back in the 1960s.

remains of a plane that crashed near Kangerlussuaq in the 1960s - along the road to Russell Glacier

And although we kept a keen eye out for wildlife, the best we saw were a few Musk Oxen down in the river valley, a very long way from where we were driving.  Oh well, perhaps I’ll get luckier as I hike the Arctic Circle Trail.

Recommendation

A visit to Russell Glacier is a highlight of any stay in Kangerlussuaq.  Unfortunately I can’t compare it to Point 660, but I loved the solitude of the glacier and the fact I was pretty much the only one there on this occasion.  This certainly wouldn’t have been the case at Point 660 judging by the number of buses I saw heading out there.

The trip with Kang Mini Tours is comfortable and informative and Tommy was happy to stop for photos as often as we wanted.  For most people, 1.5 hours at the glacier would probably be enough, though keep in mind that around half that time is spent walking to the main viewpoint and back.  The hike is not difficult, but it does take some time.

Discover more about Greenland

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences and adventures here on my blog.  

Or, if this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland in general, learn more about this amazing country by:

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:

Hiking Argentina – Valle de Olum y Laguna Bélgica – Ushuaia

Having exhausted the main day hikes out of Ushuaia (well, except for the Martial Glacier, which didn’t seem too interesting) and not being terribly keen to pay to enter the Tierra del Fuego National Park again (I’d already done the best hike in the park – Cerro Guanaco – in 2016), I needed one more day-hike to fill in my time in the far south of Argentina.

Fortunately, I overheard another girl in the dorm room talking about a hike she’d done with some local friends-of-a-friend to the Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica, and decided I’d see if I could find the trail on Wikiloc.  I love Wikiloc, and it didn’t let me down – there were actually two GPS trails available!  I downloaded both to Maps.Me and put the word out around the hostel about my plan.

Wikiloc map for the trail to Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Wikiloc is a great place to look for GPS coordinates for different hiking trails

I must have done a reasonable job as a guide and hiking companion to the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier because Matthias decided to join me again.  The irony was – he was from Belgium – but I didn’t tell him beforehand that our destination was Laguna Bélgica (Belgian Lake) 🙂

Fortunately, the trail began directly opposite the carpark for Laguna Esmeralda, so we caught the transfer out there (for a change, there were actually 3 of us waiting at 9am!) and started hiking through the Lenga forest. 

Yellow dots marked the start of the trail to the Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

The first part of the trail was very easy, marked with yellow dots, and passed through Lenga forest. Matthias leading the way

The trail was obvious (well, once we’d walked through someone’s property) and we followed the yellow dots and worn path along the river, marveling at just how much damage beavers are doing in this part of the world!

Beaver damage - Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Evidence for beavers is everywhere in the Valle de Olum. It is impressive just how big an area they can destroy – and it is total destruction!

The hike through the forest was not terribly steep, and without too much effort we reached the top of the tree-line and the “beaver dam”.

Beaver Dam - Valle de Olum and Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Exploring the Beaver Dam in the Valle de Olum. Matthias is walking over the beaver dam wall in the image at the bottom

At this point, the yellow markers we’d been following disappeared and so we switched to following the Wikiloc GPS trail on Maps.Me for a while.

the way to the Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Laguna Bélgica is up there somewhere! It turns out it was almost at the top and over to the left

The climb got steeper at this point and we eventually came across a new set of markers … stone cairns.  These were very easy to spot while we were still hiking through vegetation, but became increasingly challenging to find as we ascended the stony trail to the Olum pass.

Stone Cairns marking the trail Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Yellow markers gave way to stone cairns to mark the route to Laguna Bélgica. They were pretty obvious while we still had vegetation (top) but much harder to spot once we’d reached rock (can you find the cairn in the bottom image?)

The views back into the valley and across to Laguna Esmeralda were incredible

View back into the Valle de Olum - Ushuaia - Argentina

The view back down into the Valle de Olum and across to Laguna Esmeralda. Spectacular!

but it seemed as if Laguna Bélgica was never going to appear!   We were almost to the pass itself, before we finally came upon it – and I told Matthias its name 🙂

Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

A Belgian admiring Laguna Bélgica

We stopped here to explore and have some lunch, and contemplated going all the way to the pass.  But we could only see one cairn, and the way looked even sketchier than what we had already scrambled up, so we decided to head back to ensure we didn’t miss our return transfer to Ushuaia.

Waterfall on the way down from Laguna Bélgica - Ushuaia - Argentina

Views from our descent from Laguna Bélgica. It was very steep!

It’s amazing how you don’t really get a sense of how steep a trail is until you start to descend it.  We spied a couple of people coming over the pass from Laguna Turquesa (it is in the next valley across) and thought they were absolutely crazy heading down such a steep mountain.  But upon reflection… we had actually just done the same thing.

Recommendation

If you have hiking and navigation experience and want to get away from the “crowds”, the Valle de Olum to Laguna Bélgica is a good trail to do and easy to get to.  You get a bit of everything (Lenga forest, Patagonian vegetation, rocky scree) and some amazing views back down the valley and across to Laguna Esmeralda.  It would have been great to hike the whole way over the pass and back to the road, but unless you can arrange transportation back, that is a little more logistically challenging.

Time: 9:30am – 2pm

Cost: 350ARS for the transfer to the Laguna Esmeralda carpark

 

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
Hiking-Argentina-Laguna-de-los-tempanos-vinciguerra-Glacier-me.jpg

Hiking Argentina – Laguna de Los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier

One of the hikes I wanted to do around Ushuaia this time, was to the Laguna de Los Témpanos and the Vinciguerra Glacier.   I’d already hiked the first part of this trail with Autumn, JB, Marjorie and Cyril when we went to Laguna Encantada, but really wanted to get to the Glacier – the only one in the region that actually has a glacier tongue.

I let it be known around the hostel that this was my plan, and that other people were more than welcome to join me.   I was super-keen for others to join so that a) I wasn’t hiking alone, and b) the cost of the taxi to get there was shared.  In the end, there were 6 of us – me, Shane (Aussie), Matan (Israel), Steffi and Hanspeter (Switzerland), and Matthias (Belgium).

It was an absolutely gorgeous day as we hiked along the flat Andorra valley with its mystery wooden structures.  My new theory on these things is that they are actually drying racks for peat – given I saw another large stash of them the other day in the peat bog on the way out to Laguna Esmeralda.

Start of the hike to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

The Andorra Valley is really beautiful, if a bit wet and spongy underfoot

Since I was the one that organised the excursion and I had actually done the first part of the hike before, I was the unofficial guide for our group.  I steered everyone to the bridge across the river and up through the Lenga forest until we reached the signpost where the track forked to Laguna Encantada and the Vinciguerra Glacier.

Signpost identifying the different tracks to Vinciguerra Glacier and Laguna Encantada - Ushuaia - Argentina

Signpost at the crossroad for Vinciguerra Glacier and Laguna Encantada

This time I took the left-hand fork, which turned out to be much, much easier than the route to Laguna Encantada initially.  It was even flat for a long time, if more than a little slippery!

Trail through the forest to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

The trail through the forest was nice and flat, but quite slippery because of all the logs. The sign on the tree wasn’t the first or last we saw advising us to take care

Eventually we did start climbing, and there was a moment where we really couldn’t figure out where the trail went.  Up until that point it had been very obvious but, judging by the state of the ground, we weren’t the only ones to wonder which way to go!

Trail to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

The trail is mostly obvious and does get quite steep

We did eventually find the markers (stay low when you think you should go high) and continued on until the forest eventually spilled us out into a clearing with a stream and a waterfall.

Green clearing, stream and waterfall on the way to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Beautiful place for a rest stop!

We had a short break here soaking in the sun, and then hiked along the stream towards the scree-slope we could see in the distance.

Final part of the trail to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Another flat bit before the final uphill

This last part was probably the steepest section of the hike, as we climbed the moraine towards the glacier and its lake.

Final scree slope on the way to Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Final approach to the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier

The view was absolutely worth the effort!

Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Impressive view of the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier

We stopped here for lunch and to admire the view, and ran into some more people we knew from the hostel!  Small world 🙂   

We hiked around to the right hand side along the river and past some small pools

Small pools near Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Small pools on the way to the glacier tongue

to reach the glacier tongue itself.

Vinciguerra Glacier tongue - Ushuaia - Argentina

Standing at the edge of the Vinciguerra Glacier

As always, I’m fascinated by patterns in the ice.

Patterns in the ice of the Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

The patterns in the ice are one of the many reasons why I love hiking out to see glaciers

Unfortunately, and before we knew it, it was time to turn around and head back to meet our taxi that we’d arranged to pick us up at the start of the trail at a specific time.  In hindsight – we should have made this at least an hour later … but it’s hard to judge these things when you haven’t done them before. 

So with one last look at the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier we headed back to catch our ride.

Me at the Laguna de los Témpanos and Vinciguerra Glacier - Ushuaia - Argentina

Taking a final look across the Laguna de los Témpanos to the Vinciguerra Glacier

Million thanks to Shane, Matan, Steffi, Hanspeter, and Matthias for sharing this excursion with me!  I had a great day with you guys 🙂

Recommendation

This is an awesome hike out of Ushuaia.  There are many tour operators in town who offer this excursion, but it is actually very easy to do it yourself with little risk of getting lost (well, except for that one small part – we missed the trail coming back down as well).

Time: 9:30am – 4pm

Cost: 300ARS for the taxi from La Posta Hostel to the trailhead, and another 300ARS back (shared amongst us)

Maximum elevation gain: 550m

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
Hiking-Argentina-Laguna-Turquesa-me.jpg

Hiking Argentina – Laguna Turquesa – Ushuaia

Just 2km back down the road towards Ushuaia, the hike to Laguna Turquesa is far less popular than the hike to Laguna Esmeralda.  There were only 2 of us in our transfer who were going to do it (myself and a Marcielo from Buenos Aires), and we had the trail to ourselves up until we reached the lake itself.

We were both waiting at the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre at 9am, but unfortunately a 3rd person didn’t show up to make the transfer happen.  So, it was 10am again before we set off.   Why don’t people want to get out early before the weather turns bad??!!  I’ll never understand…

Sign at the start of the hike to Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Sign at the start of the hike to Laguna Turquesa. I actually took this when we returned – there were a lot more people heading up later in the day

Right from the outset, the trail rises quite steeply through the Lenga forest

Lenga forest on the way to Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Marcielo leading the way through the Lenga forest. This is the way all hikes begin near Ushuaia

and doesn’t let up until you hit the treeline, where it opens out into a green valley leading up to the lake.

Green hills on the way to Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Looking back the way we’d come on the way up to Laguna Turquesa

We actually detoured up to the right, rather than heading straight for the lake, and carefully climbed a very steep shale slope to arrive at a high lookout over the Laguna itself.

Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Our first viewpoint over Laguna Turquesa

It was an amazing view, and I was intrigued that there were actually 2 people snorkeling!  Given the temperature of the water, they had to be wearing dry-suits, and I have no idea what they might have seen in there.

People snorkeling - Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

They *had* to have dry suits on! I have no idea what they would find, but I thought they were keen to be snorkeling in Laguna Turquesa

From our high perch, we also had a panoramic view back across the Carbajal-Tierra valley towards Laguna Esmeralda, which is where I was hiking yesterday.  This provided a completely different perspective on the extent of the peat bogs, which form fascinating patterns from this birds-eye view.

Laguna Esmeralda as seen from Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Laguna Esmeralda as seen from the scree slope above Laguna Turquesa

Given there was no wind, we stayed up here enjoying the view and the peace for about 45 minutes, before veeeery carefully picking our way back down to the shore of the lake itself.  Unfortunately, because it was completely overcast, the lake was not showing off its brilliant turquoise colour, but it was still beautiful. 

Me at Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

On the shore of Laguna Turquesa

We hiked around to the far end of the lake, which looked just like an infinity pool

Laguna Turquesa infinity pool - Ushuaia - Argentina

From this angle, Laguna Turquesa looked just like an infinity pool

and climbed again to a different high vantage point that included a view of both Laguna Turquesa and Laguna Esmeralda.

Laguna Turquesa with Laguna Esmeralda in the background - Ushuaia - Argentina

I love this view! Laguna Turquesa with Laguna Esmeralda in the background. You can see the steep shale slope we climbed initially over on the left

Again, it is an out-and-back hike, with a very easy and fast descent.  Plenty of time to take in the views so you don’t arrive too early for the minivan pickup!

Hiking in the green valley - Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Heading back through the green valley towards the trail head of Laguna Turquesa

Recommendation

This is a beautiful, short day hike that would still be manageable for people who don’t do a lot of hiking.  The hike itself is a little tougher and not as interesting as Laguna Esmeralda, but I preferred the views from above the lake.

Time: The suggested time is 1.5hrs each way, but if you have some fitness you can do it in less.  In total, there was 4.5 hours between being dropped off and picked up by the transfer – which is more than enough time to visit the lake, and scale some of the steep hills around it.

Cost: The transfer from the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre costs 350ARS per person for the return journey.

Maximum elevation gain: 330m to Laguna Turquesa, 420m to our highest lookout over the lake

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
hiking-argentina-laguna-esmeralda-river-me.jpg

Hiking Argentina – Laguna Esmeralda – Ushuaia

In contrast to Laguna Encantada, the hike to Laguna Esmeralda is the most popular from Ushuaia outside of the Tierra del Fuego National Park.  Transfers to the trail head are scheduled to leave from the main bus terminal near the Tourist Information Centre at 9am, 10am and 11am (returning at 4pm), but need a minimum of 3 people to run.

I was there at 9am, but unfortunately I was the only one ☹  So I went and sat in the sunshine overlooking the wreck of the St Christopher in the Beagle Channel for an hour listening to Frederik Elsner on continuous repeat.

The wreck of the St Christopher, which sits in the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia

One of the icons of Ushuaia – the wreck of the St Christopher

By 10am there were enough people for the transfer to run, so we finally drove the 22km out to the start of the hike.   With strict instructions to be back at the carpark at 4pm (or we would be walking back to Ushuaia), off we headed on the very well signposted route to the lake.

This hike is by far the easiest I’ve done around Ushuaia so far, but is very interesting as it passes through 4 distinct landscapes.  First up – a native lenga forest that was logged in the mid-20th century.

Lenga forest - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

As with all hikes around Ushuaia, you start off in Lenga forest

This gives way to the Carbajal-Tierra valley, one of the largest peatbogs in South America. 

Peat bog - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Peat bogs and mountains – this is very typical of the landscape around Ushuaia

Peat forms when vegetation (in this case, mostly Sphagnum moss) doesn’t fully decay in anaerobic conditions, and if you have ever tried to walk across it you know that it is very wet and spongy!  For this reason, and due to the popularity of this hike, they have built log “roads” to help hikers across the worst of it.

Log paths across the peat bog - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Because of the popularity of this hike, there were quite a few of these log paths to help across the peat bogs

There are also loads of beaver dams

Beaver dams blocking the river - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

You see lots of beaver activity on this hike, from felled trees to the dams that almost block the river

and the turquoise colour of glacial meltwater is always beautiful.

Glacial meltwater - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

I love the turquoise colour of glacial meltwater

The third vegetation landscape is native primary forest, though I have to admit that it looked pretty similar to the Lenga forest to my untrained eye.  I guess the tree trunks are thicker…

Primary forest - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

It looks pretty similar to the forest lower down, but apparently this is primary forest

And then you reach the high peat bog, which apparently has some very specific species of plant that are only found in areas under extreme conditions (according to the sign at the start of the hike).  Although I usually want a Geologist hiking with me, there are times when a Botanist would also be very welcome!

High peat bog - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The high peat bog near Laguna Esmeralda is really beautiful

The final ascent to the lake is back on dry ground

Final approach - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The last part of the hike to Laguna Esmeralda is much dryer

with an amazing turquoise river running beside

Me overlooking the high peat bog and river on the way to Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Amazing view over the high peat bog on the way to Laguna Esmeralda

and an incredible view of Laguna Esmeralda once you crest the rise.  

Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The view of Laguna Esmeralda and Ojos del Albino Glacier

It must be very special to camp there overnight (the camping spot looks great!) and experience this landscape first thing in the morning before the clouds come over and the wind picks up.  Next time!

Campsite - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The campsite at Laguna Esmeralda

Behind the lake sits the Ojos del Albino glacier

Ojos del Albino Glacier - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Ojos del Albino glacier sits at the other end of Laguna Esmeralda

and although I didn’t have enough time to hike all the way there, I did hike past the lake for a while to see what I could see.  Mostly more forest with fallen tree “hurdles”, and non-wind-swept parts of the lake that had a spectacular milkiness.

milky water - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Looking back towards where I first arrived at Laguna Esmeralda across the milky water

This is another out-and-back trail, so the return journey was the same as the hike in.  Was much faster though, so we ended up having to sit in the carpark (not the prettiest spot) for about 45 minutes waiting for the minivan to come and pick us up.

Recommendation

This is a really easy and beautiful day hike – great for people who don’t do a lot of hiking but would like to get out into the nature around Ushuaia.

Time: The suggested time is 2hrs each way, but if you have some fitness you can do it in less.  In total, there was 5.5 hours between being dropped off and picked up – which is more than enough time to visit the lake, but not enough time to hike all the way to the glacier.

Cost: The transfer from the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre costs 350ARS per person for the return journey.

Maximum elevation gain: 158m

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