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Hiking the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trail in Iceland

One of the best ways to see the natural beauty of Iceland is to hike some trails and get off the ring road. We were visiting in end of Aug / early Sept. which was the start of the low season, but there was no dearth of hikers on this very popular trail and even more so along the popular sights in Iceland.

The Laugavegur stretches from Landmannlaugar to Porsmork (or vice versa) & Fimmvörðuháls from Porsmork to Skogar (or vice versa). We decided to hike both the trails which takes 6 days in total and could be done in 4 days relatively easily. You can see the map of the trails below.

Read about our experience and our ups and downs along the trail ()


Day 1 – Getting to Landmannlaugar from Reykjavik and hike to Hrafntinnusker


Bus ride to Landmannlaugar: 8am to 12.30 pm

Hike to Hrafntinnusker: 12km

Reykjavik to Landmannlaugar

We had our packs all set to go the night before and stored the rest of the luggage at the hotel in Reykjavik. The day before we had gotten some last minute items such as fresh pastries, bread, trail map and rented hiking poles and were all set for our adventure.

The bus departed from Reykjavik BSI terminal at 8am so we woke up bright and early and took a leisurely walk from the hotel to the terminal and got used to our heavy packs with 6 days of food, tent and other gear.

Hemali gets pretty motion sick so we have a system where we arrive early and as soon as the bus doors open, Hemali gets a seat at the front with wide open view and Jamie stows both the packs under the bus.

The bus ride

We were accompanied by a big dutch group in the bus. They were hiking with guides, staying in the huts with their meals catered by the tour company. The guides of that group were sitting on the other side of the aisle so were able to ask some questions about the trail, weather and the usual chit chat. We were also perplexed by the smelly and sulfuric water in our hotel last night. The guide told us that this was normal in Reykjavik and we just needed to let the water run for longer.  He said we would miss the flavor of the mineral-rich tap water after leaving!

Bus ride to Landmanlaugar

Bus ride to Landmannlaugar

The scenery was great and we took some pictures and made mental notes to stop at some locations because we would be crossing this section of the ring road 4 times! On the way to the hike and back, and then when we rent a car in Reykjavik after the hike to see destinations along the ring road.

After getting off the well-maintained ring road, we crossed some rough roads and the bus went through several little rivers before getting to the colorful campsite of Landmannlaugar.  We saw a few 4WD vehicles struggling to cross the stream and were happy that we didn’t need to drive our own rental car to get there.

Around Landmannlaugar

This part of the trail is absolutely gorgeous. There are several day hikes around the area and a natural geothermal spring / stream where you can take in the nature (and relax your sore muscles if you hike the trail in the opposite direction).

We had baked in 2 extra days (4 hiking days + 2 extra) – one to enjoy in Landmannlaugar or Porsmork, or both in case of inclement weather. Glad we did that because we needed it! More on that in the day 3 section. We heard that there was going to be a storm within the next couple of days so we decided to get on with the hike immediately.

Landmannlaugar to Hrafntinnusker

The trail starts as a gentle uphill stroll. We were getting adjusted to our heavy packs and stopped a hundred times to take pictures. The scenery is just incredible. These pictures are taken from a phone and don’t do justice to the colorful mountains extending as far as your eyes can see.

Since this part of the trail is near the relatively accessible Landmannlaugar, we saw many day hikers here. If you are not up to the whole trail this part of the hike, and other day hikes around Landmannlaugar are still worth a visit. We also made acquaintances with a couple of French-Canadian girls as were hiking. One of the girls was wearing the same exact boots as me and her name was similar (Hemali and Emily).  They did not speak much English, and we don’t know French, but we were able to communicate well enough and share details about out travels.

We heard that Tolkein was inspired by this scenery when he was writing Lord of the Rings. You pass several fumaroles and mud pots along the trail, with gentle wafting clouds tinged with Sulphur. It was just a surreal experience and the hike didn’t feel strenuous with the mostly uphill trail and heavy packs.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the pictures!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geysers and fumerols on the trail

It started raining and the wind speeds increased significantly as we got close to the campsite. This campsite is at a higher elevation than all the other spots on the trail and the weather can get pretty unstable here.

It was a pretty tough evening setting up the tent as we battled the freezing winds and rain. We cooked a meal under the tent vestibule and passed out quickly.


Day 2 – Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn to Hvanngil (16km)


It kept pouring all night and the winds kept increasing speed. The next morning, we inquired with the hut ranger about the weather and found that there was going to be a storm starting the next night and camping wouldn’t be allowed. The next hut at Álftavatn was full so we booked a spot at a smaller hut Hvanngil which is between Álftavatn and Emstur.

The trail was gentle uphill and downhill, but the foggy and windy weather made for a tough start to the day. We crossed long stretches of ice fields, snow bridges and also had a fun slide on one of the steep snow hills. Gradually the weather cleared and we were surrounded by unbelievable views of the canyons and gorges for the rest of our hiking that day. I thought this was the most scenic section of the trail until we got to Porsmork.

 

 

 

 

We were excited and nervous for our two river crossings. One of the crossings was an easy hop along several stones for which we didn’t have to even take off our boots. After passing the Aflavtan hut we came across a slightly bigger river. We looked for the widest and the shallowest part and got ready for the crossing.

Few things to note for river crossings:

  1. Use hiking poles mostly for river crossing which was a good idea.
  2. We carried a pair of light river crossing sandals which doubled as camp shoes.
  3. We unbuckled our packs (so you can easily take it off in case you get swept by the current) and used the tripod method (See video) with one pole each as we crossed the freezing river.

The cold water filled us up with adrenaline rush as we finished the last 5km in no time.

River crossing Laugavegur
River crossing Laugavegur

After assessing the weather, we decided to stay in the hut to pass the storm and give a chance for our tent and other gear to dry from the previous night. The warden also advised strongly against hiking the next day considering that there would be winds of 100 miles per hour!

We could’ve gone to the next hut Emstur which was only 12 km away but it was full so we decided to take a zero day and hike 27km directly to Porsmork the next day.

After seeing memorials of people who had died along the trail in bad weather, it seemed like we made the prudent choice. When Icelandic people say that the weather is going to be rough, you take it seriously!

We met up with my shoe twin, and a couple of other hikers at this hut that we met along the trail and enjoyed passing the time.

 


Day 3 Hvanngil (0 km)


The storm started late at night and kept getting strong all day long. We were a bit edgy and anxious because we didn’t have anything else to do but to sit around. An emergency deck of cards can be well worth the pack weight sometimes!

We woke up late because we had nothing else to do that day. We went to the entrance of the hut where all hikers take off their boots and hang their wet jackets before getting into the huts. As I started putting on my boots, something felt weird. They would barely fit. These were not my shoes!

What happened to my boots in the middle of a trail?

I looked around the shoe racks in a frenzy and tried fumbling around with the boots and that’s when it hit me. My shoe twin Emily had accidentally worn my pair and left! I almost fainted.

We asked the hut warden to call the next hut Aflavtan and ask if someone named Emily was staying there and if we could arrange to swap the shoes. Nothing to do but wait for a response from the next warden that was surely busy managing their own set of wet, smelly and cranky hikers.

I was pretty bummed out. We were supposed to hike 27km the next day. How would I do that?! After wallowing in my misery for a while, I decided to end the pity party and started messing around with the boots Emily left behind. I loosened them up as best I could and wore a single thin pair of socks. It’s normally best to wear two layers of socks to avoiding blistering (a thin liner sock and a thick hiking sock).

Passing time in the hut

To stop thinking about my situation, I was looking for other distractions on this day where we had nothing else to do but remain cooped up in the dank, smelly hut. There were a dozen or so books in Icelandic, but we snagged the only two books which were in English. One was fiction (Deception point) and other was a collection of children’s poems “Where the sidewalk ends” by Shel Silverstein.

After quickly going through the poems we were left taking turns reading the military crime thriller and made the most of our day. Several hikers came in around noon, visibly shaken from the storm and happy to be alive.

The warden got there later in the day and informed us that she had contacted Emily in the next hut and they would wait for us outside the Porsmork hut the next day before their bus back to Reykjavik. Filled with determination to catch-up to them, we went to sleep early which was a futile exercise because of the noise in the hut.

The huts were at capacity but the warden made room for anyone who wanted to take refuge in the storm. The hut was packed to the brim and it was quite an experience for some other city slickers who came in late at night as part of a tour group and had never been in this type of weather or accommodation before.


Day 4 Hvanngil to Porsmork (27 km)


After being kept awake by several snoring harmonies all night, we woke up bright and early the next day at 5am to start our hike. This night was a good reminder of why we prefer camping outdoors to avoid group accommodations these huts.

After witnessing a stunning sunrise, we immediately got started for the trail and decided to skip breakfast for now and have it during our long hiking day. We crossed a frigid river which sent shocks through our body and it took about 15 minutes to get the feeling back in our feet.

The trail was nice and flat, and we covered 10km in no time. We passed the Emstur hut where several hikers were just starting their day. We looked into all the huts to see if Emily had decided to get a late start. According to Murphy’s law, we were unsuccessful.

We passed several deep canyons and ravines. The landscape was surrounded by several glaciers and volcanic remains as we headed towards Porsmork. We took two other breaks before crossing the big Pronga river. This was the biggest river to ford. It is not very deep but is rocky which can make it a little difficult to navigate. After crossing the river, we passed through pleasant woodlands which made it feel like we were on the lord of the rings set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The biggest river crossing on the trail
The biggest river crossing on the trail

 

The grand finale of the shoe twins

Weary and satisfied with a full-day’s hike, we made it to Porsmork before Emily’s bus departure! We hurried to the bus stop to search for her, and when we didn’t see her there we expanded our search to other parts of the campsite. Still no luck. After getting dismayed, we decided to start setting up our campsite. I had given up on finding my boots at this point and decided to promptly start eating and just ignore my worries.

As we were lounging on the grass meadow next to our campsite, we saw Emily and more importantly my boots on her feet! I almost cried when I got them back. These boots had walked with me all around the world – from the summit of Kilimanjaro to the hiking circuit in Patagonia to the Inca trail in Machu Picchu. At last, I was reunited with my boots!

She was very apologetic and didn’t even realize that she had walked out with my boots because it was a half size difference in her favor, and in fact the bigger size was more comfortable for Emily as the foot expands after a couple of days of hiking!

We camped upon a babbling brook on a manicured, soft lawn and languished about as our hike ended on a high note. I had made it to Porsmork but my toes were raw after hiking in a smaller sized shoe for 27km so we decided to stay in Porsmork the next day as well. The various day hikes around this campsite were easy, accessible and provided some magnificent views.

 

 

At last! Reunited with my shoes!

Day 5 – Day hike around Porsmork


We woke up late and had a leisurely breakfast while staring at the stunning views all around us. It was a bright sunny day with clear skies. Days like this make the minor pains and effort of hiking worth it.

We were going to stay one more night at this campsite so we spent an hour walking all the around the camp and finding the best possible site for our second night. We found a nice secluded spot that offered a great view. Jamie is really good at scouting out all locations before picking the perfect spot.

 

 

 

 

After relocating our tent and gear to the new location, we went on a couple of day hikes. If you are in the region, we highly recommend the short hike that starts in the campsite with the sign Valahnúkur , that goes to the top of the hill giving 360 degree panoramic views of Porsmork. This is one of those hikes where you get a really good return on your hiking investment.

 

 

 

 

 

Spot the bus!

 

Volunteers on the trail

Day 6 – Fimmvörðuháls (25km) / Return to Reykjavik


Fimmvörðuháls starts in Basar, Porsmork and ends in Skogar near the ring road and is a pretty strenuous hike with a decent elevation gain. The weather on this section of the trail is very unstable. A few people have died on this section and hikers are asked to take extreme caution and monitor the weather carefully before starting this hike.

It was a little windy near the campsite but it looked like a pretty nice day to hike but the weather prediction for the hike was extremely windy with winds of 120 miles per hour. The weather can vary significantly between different locations and with a heavy heart we decided to skip this section.

We were supposed to get to Skogar before 7pm this day and take bus back to Reykjavik from there. Instead, we just took a morning bus from Porsmork to Reykjavik. Instead of taking a direct bus which was later in the day, we took an early bus to lava center in Hvolsvöllur. It always feels strange to be back in civilizations – sit on chairs, see cars, etc. after a few days in wilderness. After a short break and after mailing a post card to our parents we took a return bus ride to Reykjavik.

After seeing the scenery on Laugavegur, we will definitely be back some other time to hike the Fimmvörðuháls.


How to get there


There are a couple of companies that offer bus shuttle to the start and end points of both Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails. We suggest getting a hiker passport or a bus pass that allows you to take two uniue transfers which helps to keep the schedule flexible. For example, we were planning to return from Skogar but instead returned from Porsmork due to bad weather. This would not be possible if we had fixed bus tickets.

Alternately, you can buy the tickets in the bus as well but bear in mind that during high season, the bus might be full of passengers with reservations and you may not be able to get a spot.

Here are the two main companies. We decided to go with the Reykjavik excursions IOYO Hiking pass which cost 14,000 ISK ($120 USD) per person

https://www.re.is/iceland-on-your-own/

http://trex.is/hikers-bus-pass

You could also drive to the trail start, park there and then get a bus ride back once you end the trail. We didn’t go for this option because –

  1. It would require renting a car for 6 extra days and not using it
  2. We didn’t want to keep all of our luggage in the car for 6 extra days and thought it would be safer in a hotel

Packing for the trip and other prep


We packed all our hiking gear from home. Here is a quick summary of our gear. We had six days of food so we kept our clothes to a minimum to keep the pack weight down.

Clothes

Food

The huts do not have any food except for the occasional snacks so bring everything that you need with you unless you are part of a group where catering is included.

  • Dehydrated meals – We dehydrate and vacuum seal our meals to have tasty food on the trail. Its no fun to hike all day and eat ramen or freeze-dried boring food. This also helps to keep our pack weight really low.
  • Energy bars and candies
  • Rice and fresh bread from Reykjavik to go with the dehydrated meals
  • Some snacks
  • We also got some fresh pastries from Reykjavik which were great for breakfast

Shelter

We brought our 3 season tent which survived but had a pretty tough time on one of the nights. Make sure to bring a ground cloth for some extra insulation between the tent floor and the earth. You obviously don’t need a tent if you are staying in huts. Keep in mind that the hut spots sell out months in advance so book ahead. We don’t prefer huts for the following two reasons:

  • We seek solitude on the trail and staying in a hut provides opposite of that
  • It’s a luck of the draw whether you will find fun loving, well mannered hikers or a crowd of bros that enjoy drinking and yelling all night
  • Chances are there is at least one-person snoring in the room
  • Reserving the hut limits you to a set schedule. See how we had to change courses on day 3. This may not be an option if you booked huts in advance and didn’t have flexibility to camp along the way
  • The weight difference is not significant enough because we have a pretty lightweight tent

For these reasons, even though we planned our trip almost a year in advance, we opted to camp and not reserve a spot in the hut.

Costs vary slightly per hut but in general, it costs about 9000 ISK ($75) per person/ per night to stay in the hut and about 2000 ISK ($17) per person / per night even if you are staying in 1 tent. Can be paid using cash or credit card.

The cost of showers is separate 500 ISK not included in hut or camp fee. Campers don’t have access to hut facilities.

You can get more information from the official website here.

Camping gear

We use ultralight and durable gear. Its no fun lugging around huge packs with gear that’s bursting from the seams of your pack. Here are the two rules we follow:

  1. Ruthlessly cut weight from the backpack – every ounce counts. Only take stuff that you absolutely need. If you think you might use something, you dont need it.
  2. Invest in the ultralight, reputable and durable gear that stands the test of time.

Here’s the list of items we use for this 6 day hike. We might cut some items for a shorter hike.

Pro tip: Remember to line the packs with garbage bag which protects your clothes and gear in case of heavy rain or worse if your pack falls in the river!


Safety and other precautions


  1. Trail Map: We bought a trail map in Reykjavik which was pretty expensive (about 25 USD). The trail is well marked and we didn’t really use it except for during the storm when we were planning for alternate scenario. We still recommend getting one. You never know when you will need it.
  2. GPS map: GPS or a GPS watch is strongly recommended for the Fimmvörðuháls trail. We loaded the Suunto Spartan watch with GPX files and practiced using it before the trail.
  3. Compass: Our GPS watch indicated the direction but it always a good idea to carry a light weight compass

 


When to go


Iceland is so accessible now with variety of cheap flights and access from so many different cities. The trail is also moderate difficulty if you are in average shape and are used to hiking. The difficult part about planning this hike is really the timing.

The trail is open on average from June 25 to September 15. The weather can be a little rough during end of June because some parts may still have a heavy snow cover and trail may not be accessible. We hiked in the last week of Aug. Remember to bake in extra days in case of storms and rough weather which is pretty common on this trail.

Also, look at the bus pass schedule. The buses stopped running to several trail heads on the 1st of September in 2018 so we planned our hike with the schedule in mind.

What are you waiting for? You have plenty of time before the next summer to book and plan this hike. Hope you go for it because it is one of the most beautiful hikes we are on which compare with the likes of hikes in Patagonia and New Zealand right here a few hours. Hope you go for it.

Share your thoughts if you have been on this hike and let us know about your experience!

 


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Hiking the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trail in Iceland

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