Tag Archives: Iceland

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Trekking Iceland – Hornbjarg – Hornstrandir

21 June. The longest day of the year. I was almost on the Arctic Circle, and I never saw the Sun 🙁  In true Icelandic fashion we went from perfectly clear skies yesterday to completely overcast today – this being the view after I’d packed up camp and set off towards Hornbjarg along the beach. 

Beach at Hornvík on a very overcast day - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Weather doesn’t look great!

Given it was low tide, I was able to cross the river where it entered the sea rather than hiking up the valley to wade through at its shallowest point.  My first river crossing in Iceland!  And let me tell you – it is no better than a Greenlandic river crossing as far as temperature and pain goes!

Tidal river crossing at Hornvík and my poor suffering from the cold feet - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking back at the tidal river that needed to be crossed (top) and my poor cold feet (bottom)

After booting up again on the other side, I stopped to explore a beautiful waterfall

Waterfall with driftwood logs - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Iceland is the land of waterfalls

and started to pick my way through the rocks as the trail stopped and started along the Eastern edge of Hornvík.

Beach with large rocks - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland

Once past the farmhouse where day-trippers arrive, the trail became more obvious and eventually started climbing up to the ridge.

Trail from the ocean to the ridge is just visible - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
You can just see the trail curving up to the ridge. If you look closely, you can also see 2 hikers at the top of the trail

Exploring Hornbjarg

It was steep and tough going carrying a full backpack. But one foot after the next I eventually reached the top, and still ahead of the day-tripping group that started just after me.  Competitive?  Who me?!

Views of the trail and the ocean as I hike the ridge to Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Views from the trail as I climb to the ridge

The trail stopped very, very suddenly at a sheer, several-hundred-metre drop straight into the ocean.  It was a good thing I was paying attention!

Looking straight down at the ocean from the Hornbjarg Cliffs - Hornstrandir - Iceland
It drops straight down!

I had reached the famous bird cliffs of the Hornbjarg.

Here, thousands of Arctic Terns and Black Guillemots nest in the sheer rocky cliff walls – their eggs an important source of food for the people who lived in Hornstrandir over 70 years ago (there have been no permanent residents since the 1950s).  During these times, men and boys would abseil down the cliffs to collect one egg from each nest, leaving the others to hatch in order to maintain the population.

Looking along the Hornbjarg cliffs at the birds nesting there - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Birds nesting in the Hornbjarg cliffs

I spent about 20 minutes lying on my stomach in the wet grass holding tightly to my camera and peering over the edge to watch the birds circle and sit.  Unfortunately, 20 minutes was all I could bear before the cold drizzle that had started about 1/2 way up the ridge forced me to start moving again.  

I let the day-trippers go ahead of me as I constantly wiped water droplets from the front of my camera lens (not always successfully), trying to capture the majesty of this incredible place!

Group of hikers making their way towards the higher portion of Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Next section of the trail

The views of the cliffs became more and more spectacular as I traversed a relatively flat section of the trail

Looking back down on the flat section of trail - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking back down on the flat section

before facing the second steep uphill of the day.

The higher cliffs of Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
I love this view!

The muddy trail eventually guided me to a narrow spit of a ridge with panoramic views back down over Hornvík.

Panorama over Hornvik - Hornstrandir-Iceland

move cursor over image to see full panorama

If only it hadn’t been windy and raining (quite a strong wind had also picked up by this stage), this would have been an incredible spot to hang out for quite a while enjoying the view!

A promonotory with views back towards Hornvik - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Amazing view from here!

Looking the other direction was just as dramatic,

Trail on Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Really, incredible views no matter which direction you look

and the view to the next stage of the trail was again – in a word – incredible.  There really aren’t enough superlatives in the English language!

Hornbjarg view including lake - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Yes, those are rain spots on the lens

From there, the trail itself dropped very steeply off the ridge and ran along the edge of the cliff with more great views of the birds (this is not a good hike if heights are a concern), before curving inward and around a small lake. 

Views of Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The trail closely follows the cliff edge (top-left), me taking a break in the rain watching the birds (top-right), the day-trippers near a small lake around which the trail skirts (bottom)

I watched as the day-tripping group headed back down to the farmhouse and their waiting boat, while I headed up another incredibly steep hill in my quest to camp at the lighthouse at Hornbjargsviti. That sharp peak at around the 11km mark in the altitude profile below is not a mistake!

The way to Hornbjargsviti

According to my map (which I was growing to trust less and less), there should have been a high trail off to my left once I reached the top.  I could see a trail going that way, ending in a vertical rock wall about 50m distant.  And while I may have investigated it a little closer had I only had a daypack, there was no way I was going to risk it carrying an 18kg backpack!

So I bush bashed straight down the other side in the hope that I would connect with the lower trail marked on my map. In doing so, I startled one of Hornstrandir’s many Arctic Foxes (they are protected in this area) making him very concerned indeed.  This one started walking straight towards me with intent while making hissing and whooping noises.  Meanwhile, I was wondering whether they carried the rabies virus and what would happen if it bit me!  Yes, I’ve had the full course of rabies shots, but still…  In the end, he approached to about 20 metres and then circled around behind me from that distance. I continued my wet descent through calf-deep vegetation. 

Bush bashing to try to find the trail (top) and a sprinting Arctic Fox (bottom) - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Bush bashing to try to find the trail (top) and a very unhappy (and very blurry) Arctic Fox (bottom)

Eventually I spied what I thought looked suspiciously like a trail heading off in the direction of Hornbjargsviti.  Yes! I had finally found the lower trail.

Glimpse of the lower trail to Hornbjargsviti - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Can you see it?

Which of course meant that I had one more interminable climb before reaching my destination for the night.  I have to admit, I was tired and more than a little over (fed up with) the constant drizzle and stiff wind by this point.  But I’d seen pictures of the lighthouse and I really, really, really wanted to camp there… 

So big girl pants on – off I set.

The lower trail to Hornbjargviti - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Yes, it was the trail I was looking for. I would have preferred the high trail, but no matter. The blurry parts of the images are where I simply can’t keep up with getting rain off my lens anymore

Arctic Fox Research

About 3/4 of the way to the next pass, I came across a bloke sitting on a rock.  Mike ran an ecological charity in the UK and was here volunteering with an Icelandic Institute that monitors the behaviour of Arctic Foxes each Summer.  In particular, they look for changes in behaviour that may have been brought about by contact with humans.  He couldn’t have found a better spot from which to observe, as it was the only place I’d come across in the past several hours that was not subject to the strong, biting wind, and it happened to be located right above a snow drift with a den of foxes in it!  He was telling me that the day before was wonderful as all the cubs were out in the sunshine playing for hours.

Arctic Fox research volunteer monitoring a den of foxes - Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Arctic Fox research volunteer monitoring a den

I ended up chatting with him for about 20 minutes, and then finally made it over the last pass of the day.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to spy the lighthouse, even though it was still quite far away!

View of Hornbjargsviti and its lighthouse from top of the pass from Hornbjarg - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Finally! Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse and my campsite for the night.

Hornbjargsviti

The last few kms were spent watching the lighthouse get closer and closer with each step and, despite being incredibly tired and cursing the wind and the rain, taking more photos.  I know, I know.  I kept telling myself I was an idiot as well.  But it was impossible to predict what the weather would do tomorrow, and it was just so beautiful.

Views around the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking one way, and then the other, as I near the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse

By the time I’d reached the lighthouse, the winds were up around the 70km/hr mark.  The lighthouse was not open yet for the Summer and I was the only one around, so I dumped my pack and scouted for the best place to pitch my tent out of the wind.  This turned out to be right in front of the door to the toilet – so that’s where I camped 🙂  It was also quite convenient for going to the loo, getting water out of the tap, storing my pack out of the rain, and drying my rain gear as well!

My strategically placed tent at the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse - Hornstrandir - Iceland
My strategically placed tent at the Hornbjargsviti Lighthouse. The wind was howling a gale!

I made myself dinner, heated up my Coke-hot-water-bottle, and settled in listening to the wind howl outside and the wind gauge spin manically on the top of the lighthouse.  No, it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep!

The Hornbjarg as a Day Trip

If you are not keen on hiking alone, or don’t have as much time as I did, Westtours offers a day trip to explore hornbjarg.  This is what the group I saw were doing.  It costs 43,900ISK (USD$416, AUD$564) per person (minimum age = 12).

Trekking Information

Distance = 17.3km

Time taken = 9 hours and 53 minutes.  Several short breaks taken.

Map

Basic map of the route I took to explore The Horn in Hornstrandir from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the route I took to explore the Horn in Hornstrandir from Strava

Download track as .gpx

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

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

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Trekking Iceland – Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík – Hornstrandir

When you are a little nervous about something, it always makes you feel better when the sun is shining 🙂   

boats in Ísafjörður harbour
Glorious morning!

I arrived early at the Borea Adventures dock to catch my boat transfer from Ísafjörður to Veiðileysufjörður and was beginning to think I may have been the only passenger.  However, with 5 minutes to go, 2 guys from the US (Sean and Daniel) and a group of about 15 people on a day tour showed up and we set out on the ~1 hour journey to Hornstrandir.

Views from the Borea Adventures boat transfer from Ísafjörður to Veiðileysufjörður - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Great journey, but unfortunately no whales

Boat transfer to Veiðileysufjörður

It was a very calm crossing in glorious weather, so I sat on the back deck enjoying the views and chatting with some of the other passengers.  We dropped the group of day-hikers off as we entered the Veiðileysufjörður inlet, and then continued on to a triangular structure (which turned out to be a pit toilet) that identifies the locations of campgrounds in Hornstrandir.

The crew launched the small zodiac off the back of the boat to deposit myself, Sean and Daniel on dry land, and then headed back to Ísafjörður.  There was no turning back now and I had 8 days to get to my pickup point in Hesteyri.

Images of the zodiac transfer to Veiðileysufjörður campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Lowering the zodiac (top-left), en route to Veiðileysufjörður campsite (top-right), and there is no turning back now! (bottom)

It turns out Sean is an award-winning professional wildlife photographer (a give-away being the enormous lens that was permanently attached to his camera) who had come to Hornstrandir to photograph a personal project on Arctic Foxes.  He and Daniel (also an amazing wildlife photographer) had met the year before in Alaska and were spending the next 5 days in the Hornvík area (my destination for the day) to capture the images.  Given we were heading the same direction and had similar interests we decided to hike together. 

Although there was a sign pointing in the direction of Hornvík, there was no obvious trail to follow.  So we simply set out across country in the general direction of the waterfall that we could see at the end of the inlet – the direction we should head according to the map. 

Veiðileysufjörður campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Veiðileysufjörður campsite. The pyramid-shaped building is the dry toilet

From Veiðileysufjörður to Hafnarskard Pass

After wading through knee-high shrubbery for much of it (very reminiscent of several of the hikes I did in South Greenland last year), we arrived at the waterfall, and found our first marker and the trail.

Views heading from Veiðileysufjörður campsite to the waterfall - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Bush bashing towards the waterfall from Veiðileysufjörður campsite

From there, the route to the Hafnarskard Pass was obvious and marked by large stone cairns stretching off into the distance.  It was also clear to us looking ahead that there was going to be snow in our very near future!

Large stone cairn - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Nice and obvious cairn, finally

As we climbed higher, the views behind us down to the inlet became more and more spectacular

Cairn and view back down to Veiðileysufjörður - Hornstrandir - Iceland

and indeed, we started to hit patches of snow that we had to cross.  This wasn’t entirely unexpected given how early it was in the season (the boats had only start running a couple of weeks earlier at the beginning of June), and this was one of the things I’d read about online that was adding to my concerns about hiking alone.  However, we weren’t the first people to pass this way and there were boot prints that seemed to be a few days old marking the trail across each of the snowy patches.

Following other people's bootprints in snow drifts - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel leading the way through the snow, following in the boot prints of others

The fun really started towards the top of the pass, where we could see we would have to conquer a very steep snow slope to gain our destination.  

View of bootprints in the snow we would have to conquer leading up to Hafnarskard Pass - Hornstrandir - Iceland
A trail of boot prints leads to Hafnarskard Pass – it was going to be quite a climb

It was every bit as steep as it looked and, given I was in the lead, I ended up having to kick snow-stairs into the slope with my boots in order to make progress.  Good thing that I’d seen Maxime do this last year in East Greenland!  It seemed that trekkers coming from the other direction had had much more fun – bum-sliding down the slope rather than hiking it!

bum trail and bootprints in the snow leading to the pass - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Boot prints and what I took to be the imprint of a bum-slide on the climb to the pass

But I made it eventually

Me at Hafnarskard pass looking back towards Veiðileysufjörður - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Me at Hafnarskard pass looking back towards Veiðileysufjörður

and watched as the others struggled their way up.  I had no idea how Sean was going to manage carrying that enormous lens of his, but he eventually joined us and explained that he basically used it as a trekking pole all the way up!

Trekking companions making their way up to Hafnarskard pass through the snow - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel (top) and Sean (bottom) struggling up the snow towards Hafnarskard pass

The view back to Veiðileysufjörður was amazing of course

View of Veiðileysufjörður from Hafnarskard pass - Hornstrandir-Iceland
Final view of Veiðileysufjörður from Hafnarskard pass

but it was also very exciting to see what lay ahead of us.  No surprises – it was another beautiful vista!

Me looking towards Hornvik from Hafnarsgard Pass - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Looking towards Hornvík, our destination, from Hafnasgard Pass

Hafnarskard Pass to Hornvík

We tucked ourselves behind a rocky ridge out of the wind to eat lunch, relax, soak up the sunshine (after all, it’s not often you get weather like this in Iceland!) and admire the views.  Then it was time to continue on to Hornvík through the snow that lay on the northern side of the pass.

Trekking companions heading across the snow in the direction of Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Daniel and Sean leading the way to Hornvík through the snow

My guess is that we were walking in snow for about 1/4 of the hike from Veiðileysufjörður to Hornvík.  It wasn’t terribly deep for the most part but it was a little slushy, and again I’m very happy with my Lowa boots that kept my feet blissfully dry and warm 🙂

slushy snow and great hiking boots
So happy with my waterproof boots!

We stopped for another rest much further down the slope, though really it was just an excuse to get the packs off and lie in the sun for a while.

Taking a break on the way to Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Taking a break on the way to Hornvík

Not too long after, we reached a steep drop-off that revealed the river valley leading down to Hornvík.

Amazing view of the bright green  river delta at Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Amazingly green!

Wow!  We were not expecting such a verdantly green reveal, made even more so by the bright sunshine and blue skies!  Being photographers, we had a great time here playing with the composition of the river and small lakes as they punctuated this vibrancy.  

Water patterns in the green of the Hornvík river delta - Hornstrandir - Iceland
Nature is an artist

We could also see our home for the night – the Hornvík campsite – which was located just past the yellow house on the edge of the inlet.

View of Hornvík campsite and the Horn - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The campsite is located just past the yellow house

The path became a little boggy as we descended into the valley, but we finally arrived.

Path and signs on the final stretch to Hornvík - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The final stretch…

Hornvík Campsite

Given that Hornvík is the most popular destination in Hornstrandir, the campground is large and really well set up.  There is a bright orange emergency shelter (you don’t want to have to go hunting for it in an emergency), a sink, flush toilets, and a permanent Ranger station. When the Icelandic flag is flying, the Ranger is in 🙂  

Images of infrastructure at Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The rangers station with flush toilets (top), fresh water (bottom-left) and the emergency shelter (bottom-right) at Hornvík campsite

It was here that I met the extremely helpful and lovely Vésteinn Már Rúnarsson and talked him through my hiking plan for the next week.  He gave me updates on the status of the trails (especially pertaining to bogginess) and made several suggestions given I was wearing hiking boots and not gumboots 😀   He also had the latest best guess as to what the weather would do tomorrow…

Ranger at the rangers station at Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
The ranger is in!

Armed with this information, I found a place to pitch my tent with an awesome view (it wasn’t difficult as there were only 7 people camping here this night), and went for a walk along the beach admiring “The Horn” where I would be heading tomorrow on my hike.

view of the horn from my tent - Hornvík campsite - Hornstrandir - Iceland
My view 🙂

Million thanks to Sean and Daniel for hiking with me today!  Loved hanging out with you guys and I hope you have a ton of luck with your Arctic Fox photography!

My trekking companions for the day
Sean (left), Daniel (centre) and myself at Hornvík campsite

Trekking Information

Distance = 9.9km

Time taken = 7 hours and 20 minutes.  But probably 2 hours of that was spent chilling in the sunshine and taking photos 🙂

Map

Basic map of the route from Movescount

Altitude Profile

Altitude profile of the route from Strava

Download track as .gpx

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

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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My first solo multi-day trek – Hornstrandir in Iceland

Although I have now done several long-distance treks

all of them have been guided. 

Trekking group descending towards Karale Fjord with Knud Rasmussen Glacier and mountains in the background
Views over the Knud Rasmussen Glacier in East Greenland as the group descends to the Karale Fjord

My first solo trek

I had never really considered doing a solo, unguided multi-day trek, and 8 months ago when I decided I wanted to hike the Arctic Circle Trail in West Greenland, I was desperate to find trekking companions (turns out Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forums are pretty good for that 🙂 )

However, I’ve discovered that a lot can change over the course of half a year, which is how I now find myself about to embark on an 8-day solo hike in the most remote part of Iceland – the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords region.

Map of Iceland showing Hornstrandir location, and map of Hornstrandir
Top: Map of Iceland with Hornstrandir highlighted. Bottom: Map of Hornstrandir with main hiking trails indicated

Could I have chosen an easier place to start?  Most definitely!  But I do tend to dive into these things head first…

Why I’m nervous about Hornstrandir

I had two main concerns going in:

  1. The weather.  Iceland is notorious for its changeable weather (even in Summer) and several of the accounts I’d read online about hiking in Hornstrandir talked of the cold (a constant fear of mine, despite spending most of my time in cold places), rain and fog.  
  2. Whether the trails are well marked.  There is conflicting information online that mentions everything from an obvious track, through to stone cairns (which can often be obscured by fog) through to nothing at all.  What would I find?

In order to address the first concern (of the cold and rain at least), while home in Australia I spent a small fortune upgrading all my camping gear except for my tent.  Given how much camping I’m doing between now and the end of the year (and probably into the future), it was a strategic investment and I now have an Enlightened Equipment -18 degree down sleeping quilt, mittens, hood and booties, the Thermarest NeoAir XTherm sleeping mat, 260gsm thermals, Smartwool socks, plus all the gear I talk about in my summary for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

Almost all the gear I took on my hike in Hornstrandir, Iceland
Almost all the gear that had to fit into my 65L backpack for my 8 day hike in Hornstrandir. Love how small all my down gear from Enlightened Equipment packs (white compression dry-bag) and how small my sleeping mat is (green dry-bag). But even with that, the tent (brown bag) had to be strapped to the outside. I also had a separate chest bag for my camera, with the second lens and other accessories stored in the main pack.

To mitigate the second concern (and for their own sanity as well), my mum and dad bought me the Garmin InReach SE+ personal emergency beacon which, in addition to calling the emergency services if you really get into trouble, allows you to program GPS waypoints, track your route, and send and receive messages (I could check in each day saying I was OK).  I also had my flash new Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch (yes, I have all the gadgets!) which again allows you to set GPS waypoints and track your route, as well as an old fashioned Suunto global compass and map.

Navigation aids - Garmin InReach SE+, Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch, map and Suunto M3 compass
Navigation aids – Garmin InReach SE+, Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch, map and Suunto M3 compass

But it wasn’t just mum and dad that were concerned about safety. 

You need to book boat transfers to and from Hornstrandir in advance.  In order to do so, you must provide your planned itinerary so that if you are not at your scheduled pickup, emergency services can be alerted and they have some idea of where to start searching for you. You are also strongly encouraged to register your hiking itinerary with Safetravel.is. Iceland really tries to take care of its visitors!

So, with both watch and personal emergency beacon programmed, I am as prepared as I can be!  Let’s see what the reality is like…

Read more about my solo trek in Hornstrandir

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure in Hornstrandir:

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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Flying into Ísafjörður – an amazing approach

Reykjavik domestic airport borders the southern edge of the city’s downtown area.  It is literally a 2km walk to the terminal from City Hall.

Map showing Reykjavik domestic airport compared with downtown
It is an easy walk to the domestic airport from downtown Reykjavik

As you might imagine, only small propeller planes take off from here (the rest depart from Keflavik International Airport, 45km away) and the terminal itself is very small.

Being the eternal early-bird, I arrived for my Air Iceland Connect flight to Ísafjörður about 1.5 hours ahead of time, only to find that I couldn’t get rid of my checked luggage until about ½ hour before the flight. They check each flight in in turn, you can’t jump the queue!

Check-in Notification at Reykjavik domestic airport.
They only check in one flight at a time. You have to wait until yours is displayed here

But eventually it all happened and I was winging my way to Ísafjörður in Iceland’s Westfjords region.

Air Iceland Connect plane to Isafjordur
Small planes for domestic flights within Iceland

The approach to Ísafjörður 

To be honest, there was not much to look at out the window of the Air Iceland Connect Bombardier Q200 propeller plane (clouds!) until we were on our final approach to the airport.  And then I kinda wished I couldn’t see anything! 

At least one aviation website considers Ísafjörður to be one of the most scenic and challenging approaches in the world, and I have to say “I concur!”

Flying up a valley with the right wingtip almost touching the mountain just outside my window, we pulled a hard 180 degree turn within the valley itself before landing on the tarmac runway.  Here is what it looks like from the cockpit of a plane (not my flight) – though I’m not convinced it gives you a good feel for exactly how close you get to that mountain!

Skip the first minute and play at 2x if you are in a hurry 🙂

All I will say is thank goodness we had a calm day!  I would hate to be doing that in rough weather!  

We touched down without incident (thank goodness!), and I spent the rest of the day wandering around town, and sorting final logistics for my week long solo-hike in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve.  I really hope the weather remains like this!

move mouse over image to see full panorama

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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

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

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

[move mouse over image to see full panorama]

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: