Tag Archives: Iceland

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Walk with a Viking – Reykjavik city walking tour

After a 2-day delay in leaving East Greenland due to a broken helicopter, I managed to arrive into Reykjavik in time to team up with Your Friend in Reykjavik for another of their city walking tours.

Last year, I had a great time on both the Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour and the Icelandic Mythical Walk, so I was keen to join in again – this time taking a Walk with a Viking.

Foodie Tour (top) and Mythical Walking Tour (bottom) from Your Friend in Reykjavik
I enjoyed the Food Lovers Tour (top) and Icelandic Mythical Walk (bottom) with Your Friend in Reykjavik last year

It turned out that Stefan (from the Mythical walk last year) was our Viking, and I was happily reunited with him at Ingolfstorg Square to began our exploration of the history of Reykjavik and Iceland in general.

Walking with a Viking in Ingolfstorg Square, Reykjavik
Stefan telling us the origin of the name “Reykjavik” at Ingolfstorg Square

Stefan has a great way of diving into historical stories, with loads of interesting information and anecdotes. For example, did you know that Iceland has the oldest running parliament in the world? Can you guess which year the first Alþingi (Icelandic parliament) was established (no, not the date on the current parliament building)?

Outside the Alþingi - Icelandic Parliament - on the Walk with a Viking Tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik
The Alþingi – site for the “Pots and Pans” revolution in Iceland

Do you know what the people were upset about during the “Pots and Pans” Revolution” of 2009? The protests in front of the Alþingi were the largest ever held in Iceland.

Do you know who invaded Iceland during WWII? It’s probably not who you think!

Our viking - Stefan - in storytelling mode - Reykjavik, Iceland
Stefan in storytelling mode

Who is this dude? Why does he have a statue? And what is so special about the tree in the background?

statue of Skúli Magnússon in Reykjavik, Iceland

I’m not going to tell you 😀 But I really encourage you to do the tour while you are in Reykjavik to find out!

Stefan also talked quite a bit about the architecture of Iceland, from the prolific use of the basalt column motif in iconic buildings such as the Harpa Concert Hall and Hallgrímskirkja

Basaltic columnar jointing motif at Harpa concert centre and Hallgrímskirkja - Reykjavik, Iceland
Basaltic columnar jointing is a common geological feature in Iceland and its motif is very prevalent in the design of the Harpa Concert Hall and also Hallgrímskirkja (at the far end of the street, bottom right)

to why the exterior walls of many buildings are covered in corrugated iron.

School in Reykjavik
The school Stefan attended is sheeted in corrugated iron – very common in Iceland

He also touched on the mythology of Iceland as we re-visited the Elf Rock I was introduced to last year (though obviously you’d want to do the Icelandic Mythical Walk if this was your particular interest)

An Elf Rock

and strolled past several other points of significance in the downtown Reykjavik area – with Stefan keeping the stories and anecdotes coming all the while.

Various sites along the Walk with a Viking Tour with Your Friend in Reykjavik, Iceland

Recommendation

The Walk with a Viking tour from Your Friend in Reykjavik is a great way to kick off your trip to Iceland and learn a little about the history of this fascinating island and its capital city. It is also a great way to pick up tips on where to eat and hang out, and ask questions of a local about anything at all to do with Iceland and Icelandic culture.

Cost: 5,000ISK (~USD$40)

Time: ~2 hours

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Trekking Iceland – Laugavegur Trail – Fimmvörðuháls to Skógar

Unfortunately, the weather had deteriorated even further overnight and our last day on the Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls trek was very, very wet 🙁  

We could just see the bottoms of a few of the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier tongues peeking out from below the fog and clouds as we donned all our wet weather gear and said goodbye to our eccentric warden.

Not much of a view from the Fimmvörðuskáli hut - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Not much of a view from the Fimmvörðuskáli hut on this day

The ocean (close to our ultimate destination of Skógar) was also visible from our perch between the Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull Glaciers, but it was at least a 6-7 hour hike to get there according to the schedule provided by Icelandic Mountain Guides.

Sign pointing to Skógar and Thorsmork - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Heading towards the ocean from the Fimmvörðuskáli hut

We hiked across more snow fields and desolate volcanic landscape during the first part of our descent off Fimmvörðuháls.

Desolate landscape at the start of Day 7 hike - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

However, we’d been told that this hike was also known as “The Waterfall Way” and so were very keen to get to our first waterfall.  It turns out, this one didn’t even count!

First Waterfall on Day 7 - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

This was a “warm-up” waterfall, before we even got to the Waterfall Way

There are 23 waterfalls between the bridge over the Skógaá River and Skógar, all of them beautiful, some of them very impressive!

The waterfall way - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

The waterfall way

Unfortunately, my trekking companions seemed hell-bent on getting to Skógar and out of the rain as quickly as possible, so I found myself falling a long way behind as I fought the raindrops off my camera lens trying to capture the majesty of this area.  It would be awesome to have an overcast day with no rain to hike this slowly!

The trail essentially followed the river all the way down

Hiking along the trail beside the river on Day 7- Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

and had carved out quite a deep canyon closer to the coast.

Canyons at the end of Day 7 hike - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

The river had carved out a deep canyon as we approached Skógar

The famous Skógafoss waterfall (a key attraction near Iceland’s Golden Circle) was final highlight of our 7-day hike.  Although there were about a billion people there, our band of intrepid trekkers braved the spray for our final adventure together.  After all – how much wetter could we possibly get?!

Getting wet at Skógafoss - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Getting wet at Skógafoss

In the end, we completed the 6-7 hour hike in only 4.5 hours!  It was such a relief to change out of our saturated gear and spend a few hours relaxing in one of the cafes at Skógar while waiting for the bus back to Reykjavík.  We all had such a great time together, we didn’t want to say goodbye!

Summary

If you want to hike Iceland’s famous Laugavegur Trail but want to do it in comfort, the Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Combo Tour offered by Icelandic Mountain Guides is a fantastic option.

The hiking is relatively easy along a well-established trail for the most part, though if the weather is particularly bad (it is Iceland remember) it may add a little challenge.   

The accommodation is typically shared with other hikers, is heated, and is very comfortable.  The communal living/eating spaces vary in size from spacious to cozy, and the dormitories consist of mattresses laid down upon a long low platform (ie there are no individual beds).  Only the hut at Fimmvörðuháls is a little rustic 😉 

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 or 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 had a ton of fun with you guys, loved all the joking around and paying out, and hopefully will have the chance to meet up with you all again as I continue my travels around the world.  500 Kroner also to Sigþór (sorry, in-joke) for an awesome trek and all the Icelandic stories – I really loved this element that you brought to our adventure.

Trekking Information

Distance = 14.45km

Time taken = 4hr 36mins

Strava Link = https://www.strava.com/activities/1768355291

Map

Basic Map of hike from Fimmvörðuháls to Skógar - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of hike from Fimmvörðuháls to Skógar - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Combo Tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides

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

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Trekking Iceland – Laugavegur Trail – Þórsmörk to Fimmvörðuháls

Day 6 of the Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls trek was the one that everyone was worried about.  It involved a 900m climb, and we would have to carry a little extra weight (our sleeping bag liner, essentials for a night, and extra food) as it was not possible for the vehicle to transfer our gear to the hut at Fimmvörðuháls.

The hike started out easy enough as we left Þórsmörk via a mobile bridge over the Krossá river.  I imagine they wheel it out of the way when the river floods to avoid it being damaged.

Bridge over Krossá River - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

How cool is this bridge?

From there, we continued to hike along flat terrain through the birch forest before finally starting our ascent to Goðalönd – the abode of the Gods.  

Start of the ascent to Goðalönd - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

What an apt name!

Goðalönd panorama - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

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The climb is truly spectacular, with narrow ridges to distract you and keep you on your toes

Hiking along the ridges of Goðalönd - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Hiking along the ridges of Goðalönd. This one is called the Cat’s Spine

and views that make you forget all about how hard your heart and lungs are working! 

Views from Goðalönd - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Views from Goðalönd

The Morinsheiði plateau is a surreal sight, oddly out of place within this jagged landscape

Morinsheiði plateau from above - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Morinsheiði plateau from above

and the mighty Mýrdalsjökull glacier is almost close enough to touch.

Views of Mýrdalsjökull Glacier - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Views of the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier

Towards the top of our ascent, there was one last obstacle between us and a relatively easy run to the Fimmvörðuháls high pass – “The Devil’s Crest”.  This is a relatively narrow ridge with steep drops on either side

Devil's Crest - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

The Devil’s Crest

followed by a steep but short climb assisted by chains.

Climbing Devils Crest with chains- Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Climbing to the top of Devil’s Crest with the help of chains

Fortunately, such scenarios don’t bother me much (and I’ve certainly done a lot worse than this – for example on the Los Miradores hike in Podocarpus National Park in Ecuador), but it was a bit of a nail-biter for some of my companions.  

It was a long climb to the highest point on our trek 

Climbing above the Devil's Crest - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

and, once over the pass, we were hit by the full force of the strong wind that had kicked up during our climb.  Unfortunately, its direction was such that blew dust straight into our faces as we made our way through the very new Goðahraun lava field, which was created by a flow from the Fimmvörðuháls volcano in March/April 2010.

Goðahraun lava field - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Views of the Goðahraun lava field. You can see the new rock in the bottom of both images as a black-red colour

Its not often you get to see recently formed rocks, as most of what we walk around on is quite old.  So almost all of us took the opportunity to ditch our packs and brave the gale-force winds for a quick side-trip up the red-coloured, and only 8-years old, Móði crater.

Móði crater - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

The Móði crater

The last 40 minutes of the hike was a trudge against the wind and across snowfields (at least there was no dust!) leading to the small Fimmvörðuskáli Hut.

Hiking through snow on Day 6 - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Leaving Móði crater (top) and heading towards the Fimmvörðuskáli hut (middle and bottom)

Located at the top of a hill and nestled between the Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull Glaciers, I can only imagine the view from here if the weather had been better!

Fimmvörðuskáli Hut - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

The approach to (top) and exterior of (bottom) the Fimmvörðuskáli Hut

Nevertheless, the hut provided us with some unique experiences!  

For a start – there was no running water either at the hut or in the vicinity of the hut.  Therefore, Alexi and Etienne (the youngest members of the group) headed outside with our slightly eccentric warden to collect fresh snow to melt for drinking and cooking.

Collecting snow outside Fimmvörðuskáli Hut - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Collecting snow outside Fimmvörðuskáli Hut

The other interesting conundrum was the toilet!  While there was a dry toilet inside the hut with a heavy-duty plastic bag to catch the waste, because there was no vehicular access to the hut and the bags had to be carried out, it was specified that this could only be used for solid waste. 

Toilet in Fimmvörðuskáli Hut - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

The toilet at Fimmvörðuskáli Hut. Would you have given the urinal-contraption a go if you were a woman?

In order to pee, the men were encouraged to simply go outside.  However, there was a urinal-type contraption in the bathroom that could be used by women (theoretically), and men if the weather was really bad.

I say “theoretically” because there is no way in the world that a woman actually designed or tested this thing!  Yes, I had to have a go (come on, how could you not?) and quickly decided that the outside option was a better one, no matter how bad the weather.

Once again we spent the later part of the afternoon and evening chatting while eating and drinking far too much (Icelandic Mountain Guides had a cache of dry food – ie biscuits and cake – under one of the beds in the hut 🙂 ), and persevering with the time-consuming process of melting and boiling snow. 

Inside Fimmvörðuháls Hut - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Eating (again) and how we stored our snow in Fimmvörðuháls Hut

Trekking Information

Distance = 12.1km

Time taken = 5hr 56mins

Strava Linkhttps://www.strava.com/activities/1768355481

Map

Basic Map of hike from Þórsmörk to Fimmvörðuháls - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of hike from Þórsmörk to Fimmvörðuháls - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Fimmvörðuháls Trail

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Combo Tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides

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

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Trekking Iceland – Laugavegur Trail – Þórsmörk Valley

Day 5 saw us saying “goodbye” to our 3 Korean trekking companions and swapping them for 3 New Zealanders!  This was to take place at the Volcanic Huts at Húsadalur, and we set out under heavy grey skies to make the exchange.

Above huts at Þórsmörk - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

View of the Þórsmörk hut as we climbed Valahnúkur mountain

Along the way, we stopped off at the magnificent viewpoint of Valahnúkur mountain, with it’s panoramic view of the entire Þórsmörk area. 

Panorama from Valahnúkur Mountain viewpoint - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

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Even under fairly terrible conditions – it was absolutely beautiful.  I can only imagine what it must be like with a clear view to the horizon!

Views from Valahnúkur Mountain viewpoint - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Views from Valahnúkur Mountain

Oh how I wish I’d known about this spot yesterday afternoon and came up here for the sunset!

After about half an hour, we hiked  down the other side of the mountain and squeezed our way into Sönghellir cave (“Song cave”)

The Sönghellir Cave (Song Cave) in Þórsmörk - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Making our way into Sönghellir Cave (Song Cave)

where Sigþór sang us some Icelandic songs

before making our way to the bus stop to await our new friends.

Given this was a “rest day”, we had the option after lunch of going for another short hike or staying and chilling out at the hut.  Our new trekking companions were keen to get hiking and the sun had once again come out, so Alexi, Anja, Peggy and myself decided to join Fiona, John, Andrew and Sigþór to further explore the Þórsmörk Valley.

I’m so glad I did!

It was only a couple of hours, but there were really amazing views as we hiked along the river and then up onto a ridge through the Arctic Birch forest.

Hiking in Þórsmörk valley - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

An added bonus was that Sigþór told us another of his Icelandic stories – this time about the “hidden people”, something I’d also heard about on the Reykjavik Folklore Tour.

SigÞor telling folk tales in Þórsmörk valley - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Sigþór telling us about Iceland’s “Hidden People”

We returned to the hut to find the others basking in the sunshine and, you guessed it, sat around drinking tea and coffee, eating biscuits and cake, and chatting endlessly until dinner.  So much fun 🙂

Trekking Information

Distance = 4.41km + 6.26km

Time taken = ~2hr + ~2hr

Strava Links

Map

Basic Map of hikes around Þórsmörk valley - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of hikes around Þórsmörk valley - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Laugavegur Trail

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Combo Tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides

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

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Trekking Iceland – Laugavegur Trail – Emstrur to Þórsmörk

Today we woke up to blue skies and bright sunshine over the huts at Emstrur.

Botnar huts at Emstrur - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

The Botnar Huts

The trail led us towards the Mýrdalsjökull glacier

Trekking towards the Mýrdalsjökull glacier - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Heading towards the Mýrdalsjökull glacier

and, after crossing the Emstrur River

Crossing the Emstrur River - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Crossing the Emstrur River. There was a lot of water!

we turned south to follow at a distance the north-western edge of this enormous glacier.

Views while hiking on Day 4 - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

We followed the edge of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier (top) for a large fraction of the day

It was such a joy to be hiking in fantastic weather

Hiking in the sun on Day 4 - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Peggy and Anja enjoying the Sun on Day 4 of the Laugavegur Trail

and Sigþór took a very relaxed approach to the day, stopping several times for long “rests”, including at the Markarfljót Canyon. 

Looking out over the Markarfljót Canyon - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Looking out over the Markarfljót Canyon

In contrast to previous days, it was positively hot (especially when one is wearing thermally insulated, high-altitude mountaineering boots!) and the arms came out as we came across a relatively rare sight in Iceland … trees!

Rest stop on Day 4 of Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Time for another rest

This area was also quite grassy, with Icelandic sheep silently cropping the vegetation below the glacier.

Panorama of part of Day 4 of the Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

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After the last river crossing of the trek

Last river crossing of the Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

In theory, this was our last river crossing

we found ourselves hiking through the thick arctic birch forest of Þórsmörk (“Þór’s forest”) – quite a shock after the previous 4 days of barren landscape!

Arctic Birch forest near Þórsmörk - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Tea, coffee, bikkies and cake on the patio of the enormous and gorgeous hut at Þórsmörk was followed by a delicious dinner of roast Icelandic lamb, peaches+cream+chocolate sauce, and “Glacier Chably” (ie water 🤣).  

Dinner at Þórsmörk - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Dinner at Þórsmörk – roast lamb and peaches with cream and chocolate sauce

Life really doesn’t get much better than days like today 🙂

Sunset from Þórsmörk - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Sunset from Þórsmörk

Trekking Information

Distance = 16.32

Time taken = 7hr 27mins

Strava Linkhttps://www.strava.com/activities/1768355348

Map

Basic Map of hike from Emstrur to Þórsmörk - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of hike from Emstrur to Þórsmörk - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Laugavegur Trail

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Combo Tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides

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

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Trekking Iceland – Laugavegur Trail – Álftavatn to Emstrur

Although the wind was still blowing as we set out to hike from Álftavatn to Emstrur, it was much less fierce than yesterday and continued to abate throughout the day.

Leaving Álftavatn Hut - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

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We had 3 river crossings today, the first of which everyone (including Sigþór) was relieved to discover had a makeshift bridge across it.  The second was not too deep and therefore easy to cross, but the third was a little more of a challenge and a good excuse to whip off the long hiking pants again and cross in my underwear.  As I said to my hiking companions – “you haven’t really hiked in Iceland unless you’ve forded a river in your undies“.

River crossings on Day 3 - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

More river crossings – one with a bridge (top) and one in my undies (bottom-right)!

The scenery we were hiking through changed completely today – from green grass

Hiking through green vegetation on Day 3 - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

to the black volcanic desert of Mælifellssandur, which seemed to never end.

Hiking across the Mælifellssandur desert - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

We stopped for lunch beside an impressive waterfall about half-way across the plain

Lunch beside an impressive waterfall on Day 3 - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Yet another impressive lunch spot

and enjoyed another of Sigþór’s stories from Icelandic Folklore

Sigthor telling another folk story on Day 3 - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

as we slowly made our way across this barren landscape.

Hiking across the black volcanic Mælifellssandur desert - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

I actually thought this was one of the most beautiful views on the trek, but then again, I do have a love for deserts and wide, open spaces.

Mælifellssandur desert - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

Just before we reached Emstrur, we took a detour to see the amazing, 200m-deep Markarfljót canyon, located just off the Laugavegur Trail itself.

The Markarfljót canyon - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

One view of the Markarfljót canyon

Unfortunately, the light was not great for photos, but it was an awesome place to sit and contemplate the view for a while

Contemplating the Markarfljót canyon - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

before making our way to our accommodation for the night at Botnar hut.

Approaching Botnar Hut in Emstrur - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Approaching Botnar Hut in Emstrur

As you can probably guess if you’ve read my other blog posts about this trek (see links below), we all sat around enjoying tea, coffee, biscuits, cake and great conversation outside in the last of the Sun, while Sigþór set about BBQing salmon for our dinner.  I love guided treks 🙂

Relaxing and cooking dinner at Botnar Hut in Emstrur - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

We relaxed (top) while Sigþór cooked us a delicious dinner (bottom) at Botnar hut

Then finished off the day watching the golden sunset illuminate the hills in front of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which we could just see from our front verandah.

Sunset from Botnar Hut in Emstrur - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Sunset over the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier from Botnar Hut

Trekking Information

Distance = 17.56km

Time taken = 6hr 48 mins

Strava Linkhttps://www.strava.com/activities/1768355448

Map

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of hike from Álftavatn to Emstrur - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Laugavegur Trail

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Combo Tour 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:
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Trekking Iceland – Laugavegur Trail – Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn

Ahhhhh Icelandic weather!  

After a relatively nice day yesterday, the wind picked up and fairly howled during the night, making us all grateful that we were in the Hrafntinnusker mountain hut and not camped outside like so many others!

Breakfast at Hrafntinnusker Hut - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Breakfast at Hrafntinnusker Hut

However, we couldn’t stay sequestered in warm comfort forever, and after a hearty breakfast of tea, coffee, porridge, bread, crackers, cheese, and various spreads, we had no choice but to head out into the wind and the cold.

Hiking through wind and fog on Day 2 of Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Not great weather for Day 2 of the Laugavegur Trail. If only you could feel the conditions through a photograph.

The first part of today’s hike was across open ground and plenty of snow-drifts – in other words, nowhere to hide from the relentless wind!  And although it seemed to be about the same strength as 2 days ago on the final leg of the Volcanic Trails trek, at least it wasn’t raining and we weren’t walking into the teeth of it (today it was at our back for the majority of the time).

Hiking through the snow drifts - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Lots of snow to hike through on Day 2 of the Laugavegur Trail

Despite the terrible weather, the views continued to amaze in every direction

Trail views on Day 2 - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

and at one point I caught myself thinking that the wind was quite invigorating and made me feel alive.  Judging by the smiles that Yves and Annie gave me as I stopped to take yet another photo – perhaps I wasn’t the only one 🙂

Happy hiking companions - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

That’s a smile, right guys? Not a grimace?

Instead of improving as the day wore on, the wind actually became worse, making negotiating the trail tricky in places and forcing us to brace ourselves on occasion against the very strong gusts.

Bracing against the wind - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

It is impossible to tell from a photograph, but the wind was so strong here some hikers actually dropped to their knees and crawled down the ridge!

Unlike the other treks I’d done in Iceland (Hornstrandir, Volcanic Trails and Shadow of Vatnajökull) where I saw hardly anyone beyond those I was hiking with, there was no shortage of people on the Laugavegur Trail.  It was quite a shock to the system both yesterday and today to see an almost continuous line of people stretching out ahead of and behind us along the route.  Though not surprising given that the Laugavegur Trail is the most famous multi-day hike in Iceland and we were there during peak season.

Crowds on the Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

The Laugavegur Trail is the most popular in Iceland.  It is so strange for me to see this many people on a trek!

Our destination for the day was Álftavatn (“Swan Lake”), and the amazing hut that I’d stayed at on Day 5 of the Volcanic Trails trek.  Hmmm… there seems to be a theme emerging about me hiking to Álftavatn in bad weather…

Foggy view over Álftavatn Lake - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

It was blowing a gale here and we could only just glimpse Álftavatn Lake through the rain and fog below us. Can you see it?

This view must be incredible in good weather!

By some miracle, Sigþór managed to find a spot for lunch that was largely protected from the gale, and I sat down to my regular lunch on an Icelandic Mountain Guides trek – a “cheese bomb” consisting of red pepper cheese spread and thick slices of Brie or Camembert sandwiched between large crackers.  The secret is that by lunchtime, the spread has soaked into the crackers and turned them into a bread-like consistency. Much better than starting with bread that is several days old 😊

My cheese bomb lunch on my treks with Icelandic Mountain Guides

My standard lunch on an Icelandic Mountain Guides trek. I do it for the protein … nothing else 😛

After our relatively quick lunch stop (it was cold after all!), we descended from the ridge to the valley floor and began to follow a small river.  At one point, Sigþór gathered us all together for our “Icelandic story of the day”.  Today’s offering – a story about Trolls.  Oh how I love Icelandic Folklore!  

Sigthor telling us stories about Trolls - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Sigþór telling us stories about Trolls

I’m thinking that he timed this to distract us from our next obstacle – our first river crossing for the trek!  If you’ve read the posts about my other treks in Iceland you will know that changing out of hiking boots and into river crossing shoes is par for the course, but it is never a pleasant experience when the weather is miserable.  Fortunately, this river was only small and didn’t take long to cross

River crossing and changing shoes - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

River crossings are dime a dozen in Iceland, and require a change of shoes each time

and it wasn’t long before we were off again through the fog towards our warm lodging.

Approaching Álftavatn through the fog - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Approaching Álftavatn through the fog

It was a relief to arrive about half an hour later and dump all our gear in our dormitory.

Our dormitory at Álftavatn - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Our dormitory at Álftavatn was an explosion of gear drying

Once again, we demolished tea, coffee, biscuits and cake while Sigþór and Þorbjörg concocted another culinary masterpiece.  This time – Icelandic Lamb soup 🤤

Dinner at Álftavatn Hut - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Delicious Icelandic Lamb soup – our dinner at Álftavatn Hut. Here you see the 16 people on our 7-day trek and the 16 people on the 5-day Laugavegur Trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides. We pretty much took over the whole hut!

And we all sent up another petition to the Universe for better weather tomorrow!

Trekking Information

Distance = 10.95

Time taken = 4hr 23 mins

Strava Link = https://www.strava.com/activities/1768355363

Map

Basic Map of hike from Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of hike from Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Laugavegur Trail

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Combo Tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides

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

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Trekking Iceland – Laugavegur Trail – Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker

I was back on the #11 public bus to Landmannalauger at 8am, less than 12 hours after returning to Reykjavík.  Yes, it was a slightly crazy idea to do the Volcanic Trails trek and then the Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls trek (both with Icelandic Mountain Guides) back-to-back, but hey!  I’m making the most of my time in Iceland 🙂

Front of the No 11 bus to Landmannalaugar - Icelandic Highlands

The No. 11 bus to Landmannalaugar

Unlike yesterday and the day I arrived at Landmannalauger for the first time, the weather was actually pretty good!  Well, at least it wasn’t raining … which left plenty of room for our group of 16 and the other group of 16 that was doing the 5-day Laugavegur Trek with Icelandic Mountain Guides to eat our lunch in the communal tent.

Communal tent at Landmannalaugar - Icelandic Highlands

We even had time for a dip in the hot springs, though only a few (not me!) decided to go in.

People soaking in the hot spring at Landmannalaugar - Icelandic Highlands

The hot spring at Landmannalaugar

Then, at 2pm, it was time to shoulder our day-packs (the rest of our luggage would be transferred for us from hut to hut) and head up the hill at the start of the Laugavegur Trail – Iceland’s most famous multi-day hike.

View of Landmannalaugar - Icelandic Highlands

View of Landmannalaugar from the start of the Laugavegur Trail – Icelandic Highlands

The views were immediately stunning as our guide, Sigþór (pronounced more-or-less as sig-thor), led us through the Laugahraun lava field 

Views of the Laugahraun lava field - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

The Laugahraun lava field is amazing to experience

and past the first of many colourful rhyolite hills.

Colorful rhyolite hills that are typical of the start of the Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Rhyolite hills are always so full of colour. Look for the three hikers in the image for scale. Can you see them?

At the top of the first rise, Sigþór stopped and started drawing what seemed to be a very abstract shape in the dirt.  It turned out, it was a map of Iceland with its 3 main glaciers (ahhhhh!) and he used it to explain a little about the geological formation of Iceland and where we would be trekking over the next 7 days.

Sigthor talking about Iceland on the Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Believe it or not, that is a map of Iceland!

With that information under our belts, we continued our journey though this impossibly coloured and beautiful landscape

Trekking through Colorful rhyolite hills - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Amazing colours!

before arriving at Stórihver with its violently steaming vents 

and hot springs.  

storihver thermal vents - Laugahraun lava field - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Hiking through the Stórihver thermal region on Day 1 of the Laugavegur Trail

From there, the trail climbed again to a stark plateau with amazing views of a glacier and the coolest patterns ever in the snow

Stark and barren hills - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

I absolutely loved the patterns made between the snow and brown hills. Note the glacier in the background of the top image

before delivering us to our hut for the night at Hrafntinnusker. 

Arriving at Hrafntinnusker Hut - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Arriving at Hrafntinnusker Hut

Here, we continued to get to know one another by tucking into chocolate, biscuits, tea and coffee while Sigþór and Þorbjörg (my guide from the “In the Shadow of Vatnajökull” trek in East Iceland, and who was leading the group doing the 5-day trek) cooked us a fabulous meal of fish, rice, salad and blue cheese sauce 🤤  The meals on any Icelandic Mountain Guides trek are awesome, and it looks like we have a great fun group for this trek!

Dinner at Hrafntinnusker Hut - Laugavegur Trail - Icelandic Highlands

Serving up a masterpiece at Hrafntinnusker Hut

It was such a relief that the weather today was an infinite improvement over that of yesterday, and that I could actually enjoy this gorgeous start to the Laugavegur Trail rather than ploughing forward into a strong and biting wind with my head down.  What a difference 12 hours makes!

Trekking Information

Distance = 9.77km

Time taken = 3hr 57min

Map

Basic Map of hike from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of hike from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker - Laugavegur Fimmvörðuháls Combo Trek - from Strava

Read more about hiking the Laugavegur Trail

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of the 7-day Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Combo Tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides

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

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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.

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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.

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