Iceland has been in our top 5 hiking destinations for many years. In a country with great scenery, deciding on the hike from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk was surprisingly easy. It’s reported to be a world-class hike. Let’s go!
Could we do this on our own? It’s 53 km and that would mean a 4-day hike. Since backpacking is out for us – we usually look for a way to transport our bags and stay in huts. After lots of research, we realized we needed to sign up for a guided hike. You need to understand that this was a huge leap for us. We’d only done two group trips before, and neither worked well for us. However, for us to do this Icelandic hike, our best option was to go with a group. We narrowed it down to Icelandic Mountain Guides.
Day 1 We were a little nervous as the group gathered with our guide, Robert, at Landmannalaugar in a light but cold rain. Day 1 is the warmup for hiking and keeping pace with the group. The scenery was so spectacular that we just wanted to stop every few minutes, snap some photos, and take it all in. The reality is that we were hiking with a group, and there just was not enough time to stop as often as we would have liked. The rain made photography almost impossible and that was heartbreaking.
By late afternoon when we arrived at the hut, Hrafntinnusker, we were all soaked and cold. Our group slept in shared bunk beds in one long dark room with a big dining table in the center. All wet outer gear was hung in an entry room. The bathroom was a glorified outhouse. After such a spectacular and exhausting hiking day, we welcomed shelter – even a pretty basic shelter. Robert made a wonderful hot meal, and we happily climbed into our bunks soon after chowing down.
By now, we knew that this group hike was for us: 15 hikers from 11 different countries composed of intelligent and convivial hikers ranging in age from 15 to 75, and, instead of six degrees of separation, we found two among some of us.
Day 2 Our wet gear didn’t totally dry out overnight, and the weather continued rainy and cold. Very few photos could be taken. Oh, well. Still, it was a beautiful hike! And a fast hike. Due to the weather the group did not linger along the way, and we made it to the next hut in record time. This hut, Álftavatn, was brighter and cheerier. You could hear the collective sigh of relief from the group as we entered the hut. A bonus was the lake and mountain views. Everyone relaxed, played cards, read…and hoped the weather would improve for the next day.
Day 3 And it did! Still pretty cool, still a spot of rain, but much better. We made several exciting river crossings. At lunch, Robert suggested a possible detour. The usual trail would take us across many kilometers of the flat desert. We could bypass some of that by detouring another 3 or so kilometers climbing up to a glacier overlook; soon after, viewing a terrific waterfall, before coming back to the usual path. We agreed and started the first climb up. Another great hike! Lengthening the hike and adding more elevation showed on us at the end as we trudged in to our next hut, Botnar. Robert made the most wonderful salmon dinner that night, and everyone was of good cheer.
Day 4 Finally, we enjoyed sunshine on day 4! The hike to Þórsmörk went mostly downhill. At times, our descent felt like skiing – schussing through sand on a steep downhill path. This hike had some new features: a tiny bit of rope support before crossing a bridge, followed by more steady downhill hiking. We came to a birch forest – a surprise, as there are relatively few trees in Iceland. Another surprise was the hut at Þórsmörk. It was the nicest we stayed at and a fitting reward after the long hike.
If we did it again, what would we do the same? What would we change?
1) Icelandic Mountain Guides provided a list of what to bring. We thought it was too much. (Two pair of gloves in August?) In the end we followed the list – and good thing for us! The weather turned out to be harsher than expected, and we were oh-so-glad that we were well prepared. Yes, we would use IMG again. Yes, we would hike in a group.
2) We regret we didn’t do the hike continuing on from Þórsmörk to Skógar. This hike climbs up between the huge glacier, Myrdalsjokull, and the volcano, Eyjafallajokull. (This is the volcano that erupted last year.) As we planned the trip, we questioned could we spare the time and have the energy to do this? The answer should have been “yes”.
The hike truly was excellent and far exceeded our expectations. Our guide, Robert, was terrific: imparting information on all we were seeing as well as insights about all things Icelandic, leading the group with a deft touch, and on top of that – a very good cook! Icelandic Mountain Guides gets our high recommendation! The unexpected highlight of the trip was our group. Somehow, we all clicked together and that really made this a trip to remember.