8 Days a Tourist

Sipping my Americano coffee in a cafe early in the morning, the gravity of what I was doing began to slowly seap into my consciousness. I have been going strong for nearly 24 hours straight so I could be sitting here in this little sandwich and coffee shop in the city center of Reykjavik Iceland, staring at the people around me in a drunken daze of fatigue. The hostel where I had booked my stay for the first couple of days and last couple of days wouldn’t allow me to check in until 2:00 this afternoon and being that it’s 9:00 in the morning, here I sit in the middle of a city of over 100,000 people completely lost as to what I was going to do for the next two days before the adventure truly will begin. I had accidentally arrived a day early after having messed up my time zones, thus I had an extra day to explore this land that I have been waiting so long to be a part of.
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A year ago I learned about a trail here that was suppose to be incredible, a trail that you would never forget about as long as you live so I looked it up. It was amazing and incredible by all accounts that I could see from the internet, the need to be on this trail became an obssession. Roughly 35 miles long, the Laugavergurinn stretches from the Icelandic highlands of Landmannalaugar and winds its way to
Þórsmörk  closer to the south. It looked incredible and i wanted to hike it, but for me it was too short to just spend a few days on a trail so far away and then I saw it. Just a mile or so up river from Þórsmörk  in Básar is the start of the Fimmvöróuhál Trail and quite possibly 17 miles of the most incredible hiking I will ever experience in my life.
After two days of trapsing around the streets of Reykjavic, seeing its galleries, shops, restaruants and bars the moment had finally arrived. I was up at 6:00am, gathered all my gear, checked out of the hostel and hit the road by 7:00am. The 2 kilometer walk to the bus terminal went by quickly and by 8:00 I was boarding my bus headed for Landmannalaugar and the beginning of my adventure. The bus was a wonderful way to see this corner of Iceland, images flashing by of geisures, horse pastures and dramatic hills gave way to a stark beauty of the beginning of the central highlands.
After 4 incredibley beautiful hours, I along with all the other passengers were unceramonially dumped into another world, that of Landmannalauger. With my tent set up among a sea of tents and all of my domestic camp duties completed I set out to explore this amazing valley and wandered wherever I possibly could until finally returning to the tent for dinner and eventually bed thinking about how incredible tomorrow is going to be.20150827_073955 20150827_125922

With the sounds of a herd of sheep passing through camp dawn arrived and with a steaming cup of coffee anticiption oozed from my pores. An hour after waking I had broken down camp, checked in with the hut warden to get a heads up on weather and trail conditions and that was it, I was off…..finally. Climbing above Laugaraun, the valley of Landmannalaugar I fell face first into the surreal landscape that inspired J.R.Tolkens vision of Middle Earth and it was perfect. The trek was never desperately tiring, infact it was almost pleasant and wonderful, allowing one to stop at seamingly every turn to take in the views and an endless amount of pictures.
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Most of the hike was spent in silent wonder and images that even now as I write this still wait to be absorbed in my mind, this land defied every conception of reality as I knew it. As the trail gradually climbed higher I was wandering through the snow fields of Storihver, passing steaming, gurgling geothermal vents, I forgot how tired I was during the occassional steep sections.
After several hours I reached the large snow fields surrounding the pass that leads to Hrafntinnusker, the high point of the Lagauvagur Trail at 1100 meters and halfway point of the days hike to Alftavatn. The fog limited visibility to maybe a quarter of a mile and the flat light made it very difficult to differentiate the snow and clouds as everything seemed to blend together into one grey white world around me.
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After a quick stop at the hut in Hrafntinnusker the trail meandered through fields of snow and gradually began the descent towards Alftavatn. The closer I got to Alftavatn the wind was beginning to pick up and after the long and steep descent to the valley and a very tricky river crossing, the winds were howling, narrowly blowing me off the trail. Arriving in Alftavatn I checked in with the hut warden and set to getting my tent put up in the crazy wind. It was a struggle to erect the tent and as I finally accomplished the task I watched the other hikers around me still battling the wind and went to the aid of a couple who had never raised a tent in the wind before.
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Waking in the morning the air was still, the sun creeped above the mountains and the silence was unnerving. It felt good to feel the weight of my pack on my shoulders again, I turned my back on the beautiful lake and began climbing a small hill out of the valley. River and stream crossings were always a pleasure, meeting up with other hikers laughing and talking as we went through the proccess of removing our boots, wading through the water, drying our feet to put our boots back on and moving on.20150829_080728
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Arriving in Hvanngil the landscape changed dramatically from rolling green hills and snow covered mountains to a desert of lava flows and black sand that seemed to go on forever.
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The contrast between the black soil and the green moss covered hills and mountains that bordered this plain was incredible and I was failing miserably at absorbing all the imagery around me. After many miles of travel through this desert I arrived in Emstrur hut and with it the amazing, jaw dropping Markarfjúfur Gorge and the incredible river that flowed through it. Waterfalls cascade down the great walls to the bottom of the gorge far below. In camp a small stream gurgled past my tent site and afforded me with some of the best tasting water I’ve ever experienced.
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The final day of travelling on the Lagauvagur Trail was before me, and the hike to Þórsmörk  began with steaming cups of coffee and knocking frost off of the tent before I could pack it away and get on with the day. It was a beautiful morning to be hiking in this land, fog drifting across the low lying valley adding a touch of romance to the approach to the first stream crossing of Botnaa. Slowly winding through the hills and small gorges I was suddenly greeted by the region of Sandar and the Frommri-Emstruá river gorge, it was truly wonderful watching this massive river that originated from the terminus of the Entujökull Glacier. I kept getting lost in my thoughts as I wandered through areas like Fauskatorfur, a sandy river valley that hugs the hills on the south side of the valley of the Markarfljót  River.
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Having crossed the startling gorge of the river Liósá via a foot bridge I began the tiring ascent of the Utholmar hills, and just as soon as the climbs began so did the descent to the final river crossing at the þróngá River, and again crossing in the company of other hikers the air was filled with laughter and good spirits. The last hills of Hamraskógar was all that stood before me as I slowed down my pace, savored more of the views and breathed in the air knowing that Þórsmörk  was just a short distance away, sadly the end of this journey was coming to an end but with it the next adventure was soon the begin.
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After a short pause in Skagafjörðskáli I smiled at the world I have spent the last few days in still numb from all that I had seen. I spoke with fellow travellors about how delightful the trail has been, disgussed what was next as some were getting on a bus and heading home and others such as myself were heading off for the next trail. Turning my back on this amazing area I began the trek across the river Krossá and hike to my next camp in Básar and the beginning of my next adventure, the hike of the Fimmvörðuhál.
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The Fimmvörðuháls trail begins in the Þórsmörk  valley here in Básar, ascends the ridgelines and mountains to pass between two enormous volcanos, Eyjafjallajökull and Katla and finally gradually descends to the coastal village of Skógar. I rose early in the morning to a steaming cup of coffee and great anticipation to get on the way. The short walk up the valley to the start of the trail was wonderful and loosend my legs up for what I could only assume to be a rather streneous day ahead of me.
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As I ascended the Fálkhöfuð ridgeline the Strákagil River Valley fell away from me on the west side of the ridge in a breathtaking manner with its sheer cliffs of black and green, the white snow of the upper slopes of Eyjafjallajökull added to the drama of the landscape. Suddenly I was on the Kattarhryggur or Catwalk, a very narrow portion of ridgeline that is only a couple of feet wide and spans the ridge for possibly a hundred yards. At its narrowest point the Kattarhryggur is barely a foot wide falling away to the Strákagil River a thousand feet below to the right and the þvergil valley on the left. Slowly and with wonderful excitement I stepped across the knife blade ridgeline, around the sides and past the useless safety cable designed to be cought if you slip and begin to fall.
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After ascending the Kattarhryggur I stopped to catch my breath and stared across the Hruná River valley and could see the cause of the this incredible world, the Tungnakvislarjökull, a beautiful glacier that drops away from Mýrdalsjökull.
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The way the sun broke through the clouds it was like the glacier itself was guiding the suns rays into the valley floor. Moving on I climbed up and along the shoulder of the Heiðarhorn Mountain and gain the Morinsheiði, a stunning perfectly flat mountain top platue that  seemed impossible to me.
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Even trapped in the clouds and the chill of the moisture in the air clinging to every inch of me, I felt nothing as I was numbed by the view. With extreme purpose I ascended the very exposed ridgeline of Heljarkambur before the final climb to the 1053 meter Brattafönn and the lower snowfields of Eyjafjallajökull, a land of volcanic ash, snow and ice. Moving along the soft snow and fields of ash I took a side trip to climb one of two mountains, Móði and Magni that Eyjafjallajökull  created in its 2010 eruption. Climbing to the summit ridgeline of Magni I laughed wondering how many people could say that they have climbed a mountain that has existed on Earth for only five years.
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The snow fields and hills of ash passed by in a blur of white and black, the massive volcanos upper slopes peaking out shortly now and then through the thinning cloud layer when civilization abruply appeared in front of me. A tour group of guided hikers who had recently set off from the nearby Fimmvörðuskáli hut pass me headed in the opposite direction. Just I begin to recover from the intrussion into my world I spot the unmistakable shiny metal A-frame of the Baldvinsskáli hut about a kilometer down trail, it seemed my isolation from the rest of the world would soon be comming to a head. Arriving at the hut the trail joined a small dirt road that would lead me through a stark landscape of rock, moss, lichen and sheep.
The rumble of unnamed waterfalls roar with life from the casm of the Skóga River far below me on the east side of the trail, still there was still roughly 15 kilometers left in my day and I insisted on making every kilometer count. Gradually wandering down this little dirt road the trail reappeared leading me off to the right away from the predictable road to a trail that skirted the Skóga river and its incredible waterfalls and norrow gorges.
Trapsing along the cliffs that line the Innribotnar valley I was so inthrawled by the beauty of the land that I never even noticed the growing number of hikers passing me heading up trail and before I knew it I was within 5 kilometers of the end of the trail.
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The trail ends with a roar with the massive Skógafoss waterfall falling away for 90 meters and a knee burning descent of stairs that lead from the top of the hill to the flat, coastal farmland of Skógar. Elated with how magnificant the trail was, the experiences I witnessed and the fact that I actually successfully pulled off this trip with no outside help, I wandered to the tourist bistro and pub for a celebratory Icelandic Mori Red Ale or two toasting my triumph and the success of completing what I set out to do. I had missed the last bus back to Reykjavik so I was going to be camping with everybody else at the base of Skógafoss .
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The next morning I met and became friends with a French man of about my same age who had fallen to the same fate as I, attempting to find a way home. It was the end of the month as all the tourist bus schedules had become invalid and had changed, we laughed at our misfortune and worked to figure a way for him to get back to Landmannalaugur to retrieve his motorcycle and I to return to Reykjavik. We found a local commuter bus that was scheduled to stop here midday and heads up the coast towards Reykjavik.
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My new friend and I rode the bus chatting about our adventures which paralled each others but were slightly seperate still. In the town of Hella my friend left me to find another ride for the rest of the way to Landmannalauger, left to my isolation I couldn’t help but smile at how amazing this aventure has been . Finally after leapfrogging commuter busses and with no money, begging generous city bus drivers to get me within a couple of kilometers of the city center of Reykjavic and my hostel I was safely back from where this trip began.
The last couple of days in Iceland were spent catching up with correspondence, buying gifts for friends and catching anything in the area that I might of missed. I found myself quietly sitting in the bar of my hostel, sipping a beer and thinking back to the trail I had just recently finished hiking, smiling and laughing at foolish memories I have to keep with me for the rest of my life. This place and its land changed me, showing me more of who I am just as I thought I knew everything about me there was to know.
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