Iceland

Bex and I spent a week in Iceland in September this year, with the highlight being a 4 day hike along the Laugavegur trail. The tail end of tropical storm Cristobal was lashing the island as we flew in, although it didn't seem particularly 'tropical' - 60 mile per hour winds and horizontal rain whipped across dark grey skies as we landed in single digit temperatures. 

The next morning we caught a bus to the trail head at Landmannalaugar, took a quick dip in the natural thermal pools and started walking south...

We began in gentle rain with heavy packs - 4 days food, camping equipment and weatherproof clothes fills a pack surprisingly quickly! As usual before our infrequent hiking trips we'd done zero training, so made sure we enjoyed our fresh legs before the inevitable muscle ache set in. 

Having been in sunny England only 36 hours beforehand, it felt like we'd be transported to another world. The landscape in Iceland is like nothing I've seen before - incredible greens, browns and blacks, usually with a healthy amount of rain, wind and cloud on top.

I found myself frequently pausing just to take in the view - interesting photos could be made seemingly in any direction at any time.

Walking through the distinctive black rocks of a lava field.

The first day of the hike included a climb up to 1,100 metres which, due to Iceland's high latitude, has the unpredictable weather associated with much higher altitudes back in mainland Europe. I guess given the high winds down at the trail head it was actually fairly predictable that things would be pretty miserable once we got up high...and they were!

Once we we'd reached the top of the climb the wind was frightening, threatening to blow us over as we crossed a ridge. Rather than help us with their weight, the big packs acted like sails and made it hard to balance. Bex looks a bit like an astronaut taking the first few steps on the moon in the photo above, but she's just trying keep upright in the gusts.

We quickly got very cold as the wind drove the rain through our waterproofs, soaking us through. We decided to pitch the tent and try to warm up, which was easier said that done with ice blocks for hands and a wind that threatened to rip our tent to shreds. We eventually managed to get it pitched, built a wall of stones as reinforcement and dove inside, soaking wet packs, boot and all, to get out of the wind. Morale was extremely low as we stripped the wet kit off, put on all our spare clothes and huddled in the sleeping bags. The photo above looks relatively calm, but it wasn't a pleasant place to be - the wind was hammering the tent, which flapped wildly against my head all night. We didn't feel particularly refreshed the following morning!

The rain and wind were still strong the next morning, although the clouds briefly broke to make our camp spot look way more pleasant than it felt! Iceland is a beautiful place.

The wet kit went back on and we continued. Unmelted snow began to appear...

...and then a full on glacier.

 
 

Another moonscape in eerie light.

The trail eventually comes to the edge of the high land, and presents this view of the plains and hills beneath. We stopped for a snack and some photos whilst taking it all in...

[Click image to view large] 

 
 

...before beginning the descent./

The land was much greener down here, with lots more water too. Some streams were tiny and could be leapt across...

Some were bigger, but with rocks enticingly placed, imitating stepping stones...

And some were so big that the only option was to take the boots off and wade through. The water flowed straight off a glacier, so it was nice and refreshing on the feet!

 
 

It was painfully cold when in the water, but afterwards with shoes and socks back on, our feet felt amazing.

The Laugavegur trail is famous for the incredible variety of terrain in just 4 days of hiking. Next up were vast lava fields, which were relatively easy to march across as they were largely flat.

They seemed to go on for ever...

...and ever...

Not much grows in the black dirt, although a few hardy plants call it home.

After dipping over another ridge, the terrain changed spectacularly again. The sun even came out, warming us as we hiked in short sleeves - an unthinkable treat a couple of days ago.

This wide river bed was one of the last challenges, requiring another cold bath for the feet to cross the widest channel over to the right. On the far bank there were also trees - the first we'd seen. It felt like a nice end to the hike, a feeling of returning to civilisation after a few days traversing some rugged terrain in challenging weather.

After reaching þórsmörk, we caught a bus back to Reykjavik for a couple of days of relaxing and coffee drinking. The Laugavegur is a popular trail, but justifiably so - I'd definitely recommend it for the incredible and varied terrain and good access from Reykjavik. Iceland is an awesome place - I think we'll be coming back!