Category Archives: Iceland

Part 2 – Iceland the Incredible

Where were we up to…oh yeah that’s right. Wind, wind and more wind. Arriving into Swan Lake after the gob-smacking day we were greeted Icelandic style. Erecting our tents became a 4 man job and while brushing our teeth, spitting out became dangerous at the outdoor sinks. The wind blows doesn’t it Christiane?

But despite the high winds and our droopy eyelids we gathered around in the tent and relished the simple pleasures in life. Like being out of the wind (yay), sipping on hot chocolate…maybe with a dash of Bailey’s, and chowing down on a delicious pasta dinner.

Tonight we also discovered that Alli our guide loves to dish out daunting weather forecasts. “So I called the weather station and it’s not good. They say more wind and more rain tomorrow and getting even worse the next day” he said with a big grin and laugh. He’s a mountain man and loves “Icelandic” unpredictable weather.

We managed to drag ourselves out of our cosy cocoons to tackle Day 2 (of the official trail), 18km from Swan Lake to Emstur. This was the day of stream crossings and lava fields.

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Feeling refreshed after our first stream crossing

The three stream crossings required boots off, pants up and a walk through icy cold water. We learned good stream crossing technique – pick a shallow section (generally wider), unclip backpack straps, link arms with the stronger person upstream and slowly walk across angling slightly downstream while keeping your eyes on your target – the far bank. We were all super happy to get through all three and not have to face the arctic water….well until tomorrow anyway.

Furthermore some highlights of the day were eerie desert-like lava fields, witnessing angry, “tear you to pieces type” waterfalls and a magical low slung rainbow.

Lunch overlooking a lava field
Lunch overlooking a rock-strewn lava field
This is the most angry waterfall I've ever seen
This is the most angry waterfall I’ve ever seen
A low rainbow.
A low rainbow after the rains

With poor weather forecasts for the coming days we got lucky. Alli pulled some strings and got us into huts for the next three nights. To be fair the weather didn’t fully live up to it’s expectations and we really could have camped but it was a welcome luxury.

Even so we still spent a few days hiking for many hours in sopping wet boots, soaked gloves and depending on how good our clothing was, somewhere between dry and saturated for the rest.

Day 3 we continued along this incredible trail from Emstur to Thorsmork. About 19km and 7 hours of wet and windy work. We made it up ridges, gazed down into inspiring canyons, and finished by making our way up a dry river bed in the shadow of unforgettable glacier tongues.

Here's the old riverbed
The old riverbed that likely carved the surrounding mountians

Surprisingly we even found some actual plant life! A beautiful field of Alaskan lupine flowers. As Paul said as we approached lush vegetation, “Did we just leave Iceland?”

Alaskan Lupines were imported to Iceland from you guessed it Alaska
Alaskan Lupines

The food throughout the whole trip was brilliant and more than enough for seconds (or thirds) and I took full advantage of that! By the end of the trip if someone couldn’t finish their meal they knew who to ask.

Day 4 was the last day of the trail and it was just awesome. As it turned out the bad weather prevented us from taking the originally planned route so Alli made a good call to hike halfway and then re-trace our steps back down.

The trail went up and up until we came to a wind struck plateau about 850m up. From this point on we charged head down through mini blizzard-like conditions ever higher and into snow. We were now in a solid winter environment when just half an hour earlier we were enjoying a peaceful lunch.

One exposed plateau
A wind struck plateau
1000m elevation gain took us right up between two glaciers and into a mini blizzard.
1000m elevation gain took us right up into the thick of things

The sideways sleet stung my face like little pin pricks until we eventually reached our destination and the reason for enduring this – the still warm lava field from the eruption 3 years ago. It’s smack bang between two glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Mýrdalsjökull hence the crazy weather.

I dug down into the loose gravel just 20cm and it’s still hot! Don’t ask me to explain how but it sure is, Iceland is wild.

The last couple of days were busy but also a welcoming wind down. Ice climbing on Sólheimajökull glacier was brilliant, seeing more thunderous waterfalls, and relaxing in natural hotsprings that got so hot I started sweating.

Iceland is just one of those places!

Ice climbing was a great experience but tough with soft soles boots
Ice climbing was a great experience but tough with soft soles boots
Skogafoss -  a picture perfect waterfall
Skogafoss – a picture perfect waterfall

It was so hard to pick which photos to put in these posts. To see the rest of my Iceland photos click here.

Part 1 – Iceland the Incredible

There’s just so much that’s fantastic about this little heard about island in the middle of the Atlantic. This is going to be a long post so I’ve split it into two parts. Get your reading glasses out.

Just sitting here thinking about the landscapes I’ve been lucky enough to hike through over the last week blows my mind. Unbelievable is not an overstatement. The landscapes on the Laugavegur trail are phenomenal….

.............yep............
………….yep…………your mind is not playing tricks. Ash mixed with snow causes a myriad of swirls.

But not getting ahead of myself let’s get back to basics.

Why Iceland you ask? Two reasons. Number one to explore the wild side of a wild unknown country – to uncover the land of fire and ice, volcanos, geysers, hot springs, glaciers, mountains, waterfalls and lava fields. Number two because I knew no one else who had been here, so I wanted to make my trip unique.

I booked an 8 day trekking tour way back in November and with hindsight it was the best decision. But before I get to that I want to expand on Iceland as most people just have no point of reference of what this place is all about.

Iceland is right here…..

Pretty much in the middle of no where
Pretty much in the middle of no where

Iceland was settled at the end of the 9th century by Norwegian vikings in search of new farmland. The first parliament in history was founded way back in 930 at the sacred site of Thingvellir, now part of the tourist golden circle drive.

Reykjavik is the capital and is in fact the northernmost capital city in the world. For a city of 200 000 it feels like a large town more so than a city. Everywhere is within walking distance and there’s barely any traffic…just lots of stray cats. Total population is around 320 000.

To Iceland’s credit 99% of their energy is renewable. Primarily through hydro and geothermal.

Prices are on the expensive side and it seems ridiculous when they say that’ll be 2000! (Icelandic Krona of course…) Icelandic is the local language but English is well spoken by everyone.

The tourism industry is on the rise, 750 000 last year mostly from Europe and America, a sign of things to come I think.

The country also sits smack bang on the divide between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate which are pulling apart at 2cm a year. I even went snorkelling in the crack known as Silfra with crystal clear 100m visibility and dry suit worthy 2 degree water.

North America continent is on the right. Eurasian on the left.
North America continent is on the right. Eurasian on the left.

Upon arrival I made the most out of my body clock being out of sync and stayed up 8pm to 4am taking a photo every hour of the sun from the same spot…eventually I’ll make a t-shirt out of the images! Sunset was at midnight and sunrise around 3am and in between just a steady sunset glow.

Midnight sun on 20 June 2013
Midnight sun on 20 June 2013. One day before summer solstice (longest sunlight day of the year).

I met up with my trekking group and we hit up the famous golden circle sites. Historic Thingvellir, geyser hot springs, and Gullfoss waterfall.

Our trekking group for the next week
Our group anticipating the unknown adventures in store.
Gullfoss waterfall. Foss means waterfall in Icelandic.
Gullfoss waterfall. Foss means waterfall in Icelandic.

Following the day of sightseeing we hit the highlands in search of the much fabled elves and trolls hiding in the cliffs and ideally to find our Landmannalaugar campsite. I remember catching my first glimpses of these “watercolour painting-like” mountains, heart beats faster and shaking my head thinking “this can’t be possible”. Again with hindsight in my back pocket this would become the hike of my life – and it equally would for others in the group who have hiked all over the world.

First glimpse
First glimpse

When we started the day’s trek from Landmannalaugar to Swan Lake I couldn’t believe how fast the landscapes changed. One moment we were on a vast desert like lava field then in literally an hour we were pounding through snow fields then along mountain ridges…wow. It was jaw dropping stuff. 24 km, 10 hours and lots of photo breaks.

Day 3 - start of official trail. Landmannalaugar to Swan Lake, 24km.
A lava field and hot springs just to kick things off
Up the ridges.....
Up the ridges…..
Along the snowy plateaus.....
Along the snowy plateaus…..
My favourite landscape in the world to date. It's like a portal to a new world of elves and trolls. Wild mountains with 3 glaciers visible behind.
And to my favourite landscape in the world to date. It’s like a portal to a new world of elves and trolls. The most beautiful mountains I’ve seen with not one but three glaciers visible behind.

The following days held plenty of tricks up their sleeves. Buffeting winds, swirling rains and sideways snowfall. This 4 day trek is just getting started. To be continued in Part 2….