The Laugavegur Trail is one of the most beautiful and rewarding hikes in the world. It leads through the lava landscape of Iceland and offers spectacular views over glaciers and hills with smoldering sulfur springs. The hike is usually trekked from north to south, as in that direction there are 300 feet less to overcome.
At 8.30 I shoulder my 20 kg blue backpack. To get to the route, I pass the huge Skógafoss waterfall on its right side and climb up the steps to the river where this natural spectacle originates. I join a New Zealand couple, Neil and Frances, who want to march to the cottage of Fimmvörthuhal, the first on the way. The river is occasionally interrupted by small waterfalls that sometimes pour down from a height of 20 meters or branch out over a huge rock.
During a short rest, on the side where we have ascended, we can admire the deep blue sea on the horizon, illuminated by the sun. On the other side the first dunes of black lava sand had appeared. Here I say goodbye to my hiking fellows who choose the right turnoff to the hut, and I continue my journey to Porksmork.
Getting over the hills of lava sand is not an easy task – for every step I take upwards, I slide back a half. In addition, a short time later fog emerges, which completes this gloomy atmosphere.
The pale snowfields in front of me are traversed with crevasses, from which I keep safe distance. The wind is steadily increasing, unexpectedly I feel sleet falling from the sky. The more remarkable seems the view over the illuminated valley on the horizon, surrounded by a rainbow, despite the fact that the sun itself is nowhere to be seen.
The underground now consists of misshapen black and red volcanic rocks, reminders of an eruption some years ago. After crossing the highest point of today’s program, the path lowers steeply a few minutes later. The loamy soil becomes slippery through the rain, which transforms the descent into an exciting underpass. When I briefly stop at a wind-sheltered place, an impressive spectacle opens to my right: two mountain peaks are connected by a giant, bright glacier – between them a waterfall paves its way down. This disappears shyly between a white long snow bridge, which connects the middle and lower part of the mountains, before it falls again onto the ground at the foot and continues as a river further towards the valley.
I arrive at the Volcano Hut, which offers camping, a warm pond and a sauna. So, at the end of that cold day, I find myself in a nearly 60-degree warm barrel-shaped structure – a conciliatory conclusion.
In order to make use of the dry weather, I make an early start. Unfortunately, this only lasts five minutes before it is interrupted by the rain. The day begins with a river crossing, where I am being watched confusedly by the other hikers because I keep my hiking boots on rather than exchanging them for hiking sandals.
The rest of the morning passes uneventfully, some hikers and even a few mountain bikers cross my path, which is clearly marked by wooden rods with blue heads.
About 1 pm I reach the cottage “Emstrur.” The lunch consists of some nuts and dry fruits while I stand shivering underneath a temporary shelter, and I am told by Clint, an American, that it was only about three hours to go to the next hut. So, I move on, hoping to arrive at about 5 pm. A short climb must be overcome before I enter a black sandy desert. This infinitely expanse is framed by hills, which can only be perceived vaguely due to the mist. I would not be surprised if I suddenly encountered Orcs and Elves in this Lord-of-the-Rings-reminding-landscape.
After an hour, I reach a jeep road. Fifteen minutes later, my gaze falls on the wooden markings – I stop, alarmed: there is no blue marking. Confused, I turn around and walk back until I reach the last correct mark and I’m sure: I was and am on the right track. Frustrated and powerless I admit that I need a break. As it is already late afternoon, I look for a spot for a temporary camp and pitch my tent on the lava sand. I tear a small stone pyramid apart to secure the tent pegs with them.
The wind, which has now strengthened, whirls my outer tent back and forth – some pegs have already given in because of the loose ground. I wonder if the stones might have been part of a fairy house, and the angry inhabitants would now avenge themselves for the destruction. So, I spend one of the most restless nights of my life, but I am glad to be able to lie in a dry, warm sleeping bag. After midnight I wake up briefly – there is an impressive silence.
I force myself into my wet shirt, my wet pants, my wet socks as well as my wet shoes, before carefully restoring the stones back to their original place while muttering an apology for the disturbance. Not even ten seconds later, the sun flashes through a cloud-gap – only lightly, just enough to brighten my mood (and to be more faithful to the stories of fabulous creatures).
An ankle-deep river must be overcome before I reach the Hvanngil Hut. Here, I meet two more German hikers, Sivana and Andre. After a short conversation, I feel the cold return and hurry to get on. A steep climb later I take a look back: the picturesque scenario encompasses a vast, hilly valley as well as a deep blue lake, close to the hut. The sulfur fields at the side complete this view. Thick smoke clouds sweep across the path.
As I walk over the yellowish-white ground, I try to hold my breath so as not to inhale the stench. Half an hour along the path and in front of me opens up another hilly landscape of black lava rocks with green spots. In the distance I can already recognize the hut Hrafntinnuser, and am happy about a short day. Unfortunately, a snowstorm, the hard ground and a barely tolerable cold at 1,000 meters above sea level quickly destroy my attempts to pitch the tent. Andre, Sivani and their two friends Jens and Darya have also arrived in the meantime and after a short rest they want to continue to Landmannalaugar, the end of the hike. Spontaneously, I join them.
The thermometer of my watch shows 2.7 degrees Celsius. In order not to get cold, I walk faster and leave the others soon behind me. The last section crosses lava rocks and smoking, boiling springs. Thereafter, the path loses noticeably in height and the temperature rises slightly. Passing an enormous stone formation of cold magma, the first day hikers cross my path. Around 7 pm I reach the hut and pitch my tent on a camping site. After dinner, I go in the dark towards the hot pool, which makes this facility a very popular destination. Surrounded by the warmth, muscles and thoughts begin to relax and I enjoy a radiant starlit sky – a perfect end to this hike.