Mid-July, I was doing some research on various treks around the world, and stumbled upon Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail. Running from the Landmannalaugar geothermal springs to the Þórsmörk nature reserve, the trail spans approximately 50 kilometres and “Laugavegur” translates roughly to “the way of the thermal baths”. I learned that rain gear is a must, and that the trail is only open a few months of the year. Equipped with these few facts, I knew one thing for sure; I had to go.
I found a last minute sale on a tour with G Adventures, and booked my flights. Two weeks later, I was on an IcelandAir flight to Reykjavik. The following are excerpts taken from my personal journal while traveling Iceland.
Day No. 1: First impressions of Reykjavik
My first impressions of this city have been:
In one word: QUAINT
In two words: OLD YET NEW
Surprised by: HOW IT REMINDS ME OF HALIFAX
Not surprised by: THE NUMBER OF TOURISTS
Since arriving at 6:00AM local time, I’ve stashed my backpack at the hostel, walked the main shopping street, enjoyed breakfast and journaling, and walked down to the Harpa Concert Hall. Harpa is a beautiful, modern building that served as the ideal spot to just…sit. stretch…close my eyes. A mix of jet lag, flying on the red-eye, and nerves about the unexpected have me a bit distracted. I wandered around quite a bit before backtracking to Cafe Babalu – a Zephyr-esque cafe where I’m currently indulging in the BEST chai latte and a savoury crepe.
Kings of Leon is playing and there are a dozen or so figurines dotting the window ledge, including Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh, and Buzz Lightyear. This cafe is the epitome of funky and cool with its mismatched chairs, granny-style chandeliers, rug-hooked pillows, and all sorts of collectables from eras gone-by. I’m soaking in the calm before the storm, about to meet the group of strangers I will be hiking with for a whole week.
Day No. 2: At Least I Know You’re Not My Cousin…
and other fun facts about Iceland
Last night, upon settling into the hostel, I met the loveliest family from Montreal who are now my travel companions. Mom, Dad, and their three daughters (the eldest being my age) immediately put me at ease, and at 6:00PM as our Welcome Meeting began, I quickly learned the rest of the group was going to be just as kind. Our Icelandic guide, Fiva made us all feel welcome, and our group of eleven headed out to dinner. Some of the group were brave enough to try the fermented shark!
This morning we packed up and were on the bus by 7:30AM. Some fun facts learned as we drove along included the history of Iceland’s tourism boom, which is said to have begun when a volcano’s eruption in 2008 saw international media attention that hightlighted Iceland’s untouched wilderness and unique beauty. There is also a geneological app where you can double-check that your lineage isn’t TOO integrated with that of a potential romantic partner.
Upon reaching Landmannalaugar, our first camp, we set to work putting up the kitchen tent, then our own tents. We enjoyed lunch and headed off for a short hike to stretch our legs and get a sneak peak of the scenery that we will be taking in over the next four days. Any direction one looks here is a breathtaking landscape oil painting. Rich caramel browns, mossy greens in various saturations, splotches of greys and blues from rivers, clouds, and lava formations, and the occasional white patch as sheep roam the rhyolite mountains.
Once back from our nine kilometre excursion, I bought a ticket for a hot shower (500kr, or $5.00CAD) and changed into my swimsuit for a dip in the hot springs before my shower. The hot springs were neat, but the hot shower? Worth every penny!
Now, following dinner, I am sitting in the kitchen tent, the skies still bright despite it being 10:30PM. I’m delighted to be here, soaking in each moment as much as possible. I’ve already surprised myself so much just by being here.
Word of the day: PROUD
Intention for tomorrow: MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS
What I’m leaving behind: SELF PITY
Day No. 3: This too shall pass…
Today was brutal, miserable, soaked right through to the bone, cold, wet, wet, cold, long!
It was also a day of beautiful scenery, lots of laughter, appreciating the small things like a pair of dry socks and the relief of staying in a backcountry hut instead of a second night of rain and wind-torn tents. The rain was bad, the wind was worse, but the challenge and subsequent accomplishment of surviving this day will be cherished always. Now, off to sleep, with a bedtime prayer that my gear dries out by morning.
Word of the day: Inner monologue/mantra: THIS TOO SHALL PASS
Intention for tomorrow: STAY POSITIVE
What I’m leaving behind: PANICKING OVER THE UNKNOWN AND THE WHAT-IFS
Day No. 5: Also known as Wednesday
Yesterday was a stark contrast to Monday’s weather and general energy. On Monday, we trekked in torrential rain, through ice, slush, and snow, fog, and chilling wind for 24 kilometres. We had been hiking for what felt like hours when we reached a small stream, and Fiva rewarded us with some chocolate. It was here where she informed us that the halfway hut where we’d finally get shelter for lunch was another two hours away. My heart sank as I already had water soaked right through every layer of gortex I had on: my hiking boots squooshed as if I was standing in a puddle, my Arc’teryx rain gear damp all the way through to my merino wool under-layers.
We were given a short release of comfort upon reaching the middle point hut at Hrafntinnusker, where our bodies warmed up with mushroom soup and sandwiches. I peeled off my layers and rested them on the radiator of the bunk room we’d huddled into. I luckily had a change of socks and long underwear in the dry sack of my daypack. Still, climbing back into wet boots and rain gear was rough, to say the least!
Onwards we hiked, passing a cairn dedicated to a hiker who had passed away after having ventured out along the trail during a storm. He lost his way only one kilometre from the hut, dying of exposure from the fierce elements. This raised some emotions for me surrounding the fragile relationship between humans and the backcountry.
The joy of reaching the Lake Alftavatn hut where a dinner of hot stew awaited our group was indescribable. I’ve replayed the moment of sitting down to eat, exhausted and as wet as a drowned rat, revelling in the heat of the hut, multiple times in my brain over the past 24 hours. Following dinner, we were shown to our room – mattresses and all! I slept SO soundly.
The next morning (Yesterday), it was hard to say goodbye to a place that had so quickly become home. The storm warning was still in effect, but I fuelled myself up a lot better at breakfast, determined to have an improved attitude. Two river crossings and pummelling rain greeted us as we kicked off our morning, but the terrain was flatter and our night’s conditions had us all in better moods. We reached a yellow barn in which we ate our lunch in the loft, and by the time we headed back out, the rain had gone from monsoon to drizzle.
Upon reaching our camp for the night, the skies had cleared and we at long last had sunshine under which we set up our tents. The skies were on fire, ablaze in red and pink hues, and the younger members of our group ran and played, energised by the Midnight Sun.
Today, we trekked the final 16 kilometres of the Laugavegur Trail, arriving here at Porsmark at 5:15PM. It has been an evening of good food, music, and dancing to the Bluegrass Covers playlist that is somehow the only music I have downloaded on my phone. Katherine, my new friend and tentmate, and I have been sitting in the kitchen tent journalling for the past half hour, and although it is 10:30PM, dusk is only just setting atop this small forested land we now find ourselves in. Time to get ready for bed – our final night on the trail.
Day No. 7: Fly Away Home
Just like that, I’m on my final flight home. The past week has been the greatest gift I have ever given myself. It has been simultaneously harder than hell, and absolutely magical. I am not sure if anything can compare to how empowering this adventure has been for me; a true celebration of the changes and lessons learned this past year.
After a few last kilometres of hiking yesterday morning, we boarded the sprinter van out from Porsmark and stopped at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall en route back to Reykjavik. It was our first foray back into civilisation, and it took some getting-used-to to see so many tourists NOT geared up for hiking! After freshening up at the hostel, we went for a final group meal together at Kex, where I enjoyed my falafel with roasted carrots and kale. We reminisced on our shared experience and chatted about future backpacking plans.
By 12:30PM, I was on the FlyBus back to the airport and saying farewell to a country that all so very quickly stole a piece of my heart.
It’s time to go home for now. For one, EVERYTHING I brought needs to go straight into the wash. Everything has been worn multiple times and I am sure it smells like that has been the case.