Trails: Laugavegur

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Hálendið
Laugavegur

Description

The hiking trail between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk is one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland. National Geographic listed it as one of the most beautiful trails in the world. It is unusual to find so much variety in the landscape. The trail goes through incredibly colourful rhyolite mountains, black obsidian lava, wheezing hot springs, lakes clear as a mirror, black sandy desert and ends in a lush forested area.

The traveling schedule depends on what suits the hikers. Some run the length of the trail in a single leg, while other use at least four days to enjoy all the fantastic and beautiful spots along the trail. Many use the sleeping bag accommodations found in the huts along the trail but other choose stay in tents. Keep in mind that it is absolutely prohibited to pitch a tent outside designated areas inside the nature reserve. It must be emphasized that no one can throw away and leave their garbage, including toilet paper and leftover foods out in the open nature. You must bring it with you to the next cabin where there are garbage bins where you can dispose of it.

The whole trail is well marked and has enough traffic that the danger of getting lost is minimal. However, in bad weather and fog, when visibility is close to zero, everything can change momentarily. This is  especially true during the first two parts of the trail, from Landmannalaugar up to Hrafntinnusker and then down to the lake Álftavatn. Early summer this area can also be covered with snow. The hikers must keep in mind that they are in the middle of the Icelandic highlands, reaching altitude of more than 1000 meters. You must be prepared for every type of weather, even snowstorm in the middle of July.

Some rivers on the way have no footbridge. Generally, they are not difficult to cross but they can grow without a moments notice in rain and ablation. Be extra careful, always let the current help you get across.

The water in rivers and streams is in most cases potable so there is no need to carry water.

Huts along the trail

There are six cabins along the way, all owned by Ferðafélag Íslands (Iceland Touring Association, FÍ). In Landmannalaugar there are great facilities and accommodations for 78 people. In Hrafntinnusker 52 can sleep and 72 in the cabins in Álftavatn. In Hvanngil there is room for 60 people and the same number in the Botnar cabin in Emstrur. Þórsmörk offers a large and spacious chalet with room for 75 people.

In which direction?

It is fair to say that almost all Icelanders who hike Laugavegur take the north to south route, from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, as the trail slopes down in that direction. In addition, the view that suddenly opens across the southern part of the trail, Álftavatn and the southern glacier from Jökultungur, is purely magnificent and sits forever in the memory of those who have experienced it.

In recent years, however, it has become increasingly common to see hikers, mostly travellers from abroad, hiking in the opposite direction, from Þórsmörk up to Landmannalaugar. Due to the popularity of the route, many are pressing for a one-way trail but as it stands today nothing forbids hiking the Laugavegur in the "reverse direction".

Landmannalaugar-Þórsmörk

Landmannalaugar-Hrafntinnusker
12 km. 4-5 hours. Ascent 470m

This first part of the route is the shortest in kilometres, but as the elevation is close to 500m and this is the first day of the hike, many people find this part a little strenuous. The weather is unstable in these areas, and it is often necessary to walk in snow, which further increases the difficulty. The reality is that hikers may need all the energy they have, to get through this first part of the trail.

The first part leads up to the lava field of Laugahraun, crosses it, then heads downhill before heading up again to the plateau, just below Brennisteinsalda. It is a good idea to stop here and look around at the stunning views, flora, mountains and gorges in all colours of the rainbow.

The trail then continues further up on to the plateau, where small ravines cut into the landscape as the rivers shape the soft mountain. The way ahead is all uphill, but it not extremely steep.

The next destination is Stórihver, a beautiful vegetation spot right next to a whizzing geyser where you can stop, rest your legs and get a bite from the provision box. It is approximately an hour walk from here, up to the hut Höskuldsskáli at Hrafntinnusker. This part of the trail is often covered with snow. Here is also the greatest risk of fog. It must be stressed that hikers must be careful and follow the stakes.

Hrafntinnusker-Álftavatn
12 km. 4-5 hrs. Descend 490m

The path from Hrafntinnusker runs along the slopes of Reykjafjöll. The area is a valley bottom which is mostly flat, but there are a few ravines that should be crossed extra carefully, since they are often half-full of snow. Next, the direction is taken to the west of Kaldaklofsfjöll and up to the spine (GPS N 63 ° 55.123 '- V 19 ° 09.208) between them and Jökulgil.

If weather and visibility are good, it is recommended to take an extra hike and walk up to Háskerðingur, the highest mountain in the area, 1281m. The hike up takes about 1-1,5 hours. Tread carefully, there are often cracks in the ice just below peak. The peak however is usually snowless during summer.
The trail now goes up and down through few ravines until it reaches the edge of Jökultungur, with incomparable views over the whole trail and the three glaciers Tindfjallajökull, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull.

The road down Jökultungur is quite steep and rocky, please be careful. At the bottom of Jökultungur the Grashagakvísl river awaits and can in some cases be crossed on a snow bridge. If not you need to ford by wading on foot. The water in Grashagakvísl has fresh and good water to drink. From there is an easy route southwest to the hut in Álftavatn lake.

Álftavatn-Emstrur
16 km. 6-7 hrs. Descend 40m

From Álftavatn, the trail goes in an easterly direction over Brattháls and continues east to Hvanngil. The Bratthálskvísl river is without a bridge and needs to be forded by foot which in most cases is relatively easy. From the hill above Hvanngil the view is magnificent.

In Hvanngil there are toilet facilities. Many hikers prefer to stay there instead of Álftavatn. From Hvanngil, there is a short walk to the river Kaldaklofskvísl, which can be crossed on a footbridge. Just south, is another river, Bláfjallakvísl without a bridge. In most cases, it is not so difficult to cross care is needed, especially during heavy rain when the river can grow fast.

Now the route lies mostly on the main road until the river Innri Emstruá is reached. It has a bridge. Occasionally you have to tread through some water as there is an overflow that bypasses the bridge. Just south of it, the trail lies from the main road to the left and south to Emstrur, where the land is practically without vegetation. If the weather is dry, with strong wind, especially from north, the sand can drift. The trail lies between two mountains called Útigönguhöfðar and in about an hour the Botnar huts in Emstrur is reached. The cabins are not visible until you are almost completely next to them.

Emstrur-Þórsmörk
15 km. 6-7 hrs. Descend 300m

The trail heads towards the east from the huts in Botnar. Shortly, the bridge over the river Syðri-Emstruá is reached. The river flows into a narrow deep canyon that reaches most of the way to Entujökull. People with vertigo sometimes struggle to get to and across the bridge. From there, the path lies along Langháls and towards the junction of  the rivers Markarfljót and Syðri-Emstruá. It is recommended to walk to the edge of the gorge where the rivers meet, before hiking south through Almenningar.

Soon the trail runs through two small ravines, Slyppugil and Bjórgil. In each of them there is a little creek with drinkable water, making this an excellent spot to rest and have lunch. After hiking up from the latter ravine, Bjórgil, the trail leads to Fauskatorfur and gradually to an area with more vegetation. It is called Úthólmar. The hill upwards from the river Ljósá is called Kápa or Coat, and is the last steep on the trail.

When the trails comes down from Kápa, hikers have to ford the river Þröngá which in most cases is not difficult but can be quite rocky. The river marks the boundary of Þórsmörk and now there is only a bit more than half an hour hike through Hamraskógar until you arrive at the Skagfjörðsskáli cabin in Langidalur, Þórsmörk.

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