After arriving in Iceland, spending a day in Reykjavik, and a day exploring Landmannalaugar (read about it here) it was time to start our hike. On this first day, our third day in Iceland, out plan was to hike the 24km from Landmannalaugar to Alftavatn. After hiking the Laugavegur twice, this stretch of trail is easily my favorite. There is so much diversity of terrain over this relatively short distance. The geothermal areas, the multicolored mountains, the black sand, the neon green grasses, the weather… It’s just so incredibly beautiful.
Our agenda was semi-aggressive, doubling up sections so we could cover in 2 days what most people cover in 4. And I have to say, I really enjoyed the longer days. Getting up early, being outside and on the move for the majority of the day… it was great! However, if I had to recommend a strategy… I would suggest taking things slower. There’s really no reason to rush. Take your time and enjoy the scenery and the people you meet along the trail.
Anyway, the stretch between Landmannalaugar and Alftavatn took us 5 hours to cover, and we had pretty decent weather. It was a little chilly up high in the vicinity of the Hrafntinnusker hut, but warmed backup once we got out of the fog and started dropping down into the Alftavatn region. Below you can find our GPS track, and a selection of photos from the day.
Landmannalaugar to Alftavatn Hiking Route – Google Earth (.kml)
Here is the elevation profile of the Laugavegur from Landmannalaugar to Alftavatn. The first part up to the Hrafntinnusker Hut is where most of the elevation gain happens. After that things are pretty much downhill to Thorsmork.
Finally getting going… The kitchens in the huts open at 7am each day, and after a nice breakfast we kicked off our journey by hiking past a thermal river on our way out of the Landmannalaugar valley on our way to Alftavatn.
The hike starts with some climbing. The first part of the trail climbs up and traverses through the Laugahraun lava field. It’s pretty rad terrain and you can definitely see why so many Icelanders believe in elves. Around every corner there are nooks and crannies where they could be hiding!
Eventually you exit the Laugahraun lava field and find yourself at the bottom of some beautiful rhyolite mountains surrounded by mossy/grassy fields. The climbing is just beginning, but for the next little bit the going is pretty easy.
Up, up, and away! This first stretch between Landmannalaugar and Hrafntinnusker will take you past many different geothermal zones.
There are many beautiful vantage points along the trail. Here you can see Eric, Justin, and John taking a break with Blahnjukur (the mountain we climbed yesterday) in the background. The colors on the first part of this trail really have to be seen to be believed. It really is stunning terrain!
This is just a slightly different view of the previous image. Here you can see the Laugahraun lava field that we hiked through earlier, and the valley floor where Landmannalaugar is located.
There’s just no escaping the uphill on this first bit. That said, don’t let the fact that you have to climb discourage you. There really isn’t that much climbing and it’s never overly steep. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Beautiful isn’t it. This could be you!
Eventually as you gain elevation you will start to encounter snow. We were visiting in early September which is pretty late in the season. This is kind of the ideal time to hike. This is when the snow is at it’s lowest point, and is also early enough that you shouldn’t encounter or receive much, or any new snow.
Despite this being the time of season with the least snow, you will encounter quite a few short persistent snow fields. They are all very safe, and there’s no need for any special equipment.
Up high you find quite a few hot rivers cutting through the landscape. Adjacent to these hot streams the moss grows lush and green! It’s so green it makes you wonder if what you’re looking at is real. Who knew dayglo was a natural color!
As beautiful as this segment is, there are some long monotonous sections. These areas could be difficult and even dangerous should visibility be poor and you lost the trail. Fortunately, the trail is well trodden and very well marked.
This is the last snowfield before the Hrafntinnusker hut. As you can see the weather started to move in on us and visibility started to wane. Just previously there was a trailside memorial to a hiker who died after losing the trail due to low visibility. The spot was probably less than 0.5 miles from hut… Scary!
Can you imagine if the visibility was worse and there was a layer of fresh snow covering up the trail?
Eventually we broke out of the clouds and what do you know… the Hrafntinnusker hut was in sight! This was our halfway point for the day, and where we stopped for lunch. This is also the high point of the trail, and theoretically from here it’s all downhill to Thorsmork. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple and there is still quite a bit of uphill ahead.
Lunch stop. This spot was mostly out of the wind, but it definitely got chilly after a while. The temps in Iceland are never overly cold, but they’re also never overly warm. Add some moisture and a lot of wind and things can get uncomfortable quickly. Keep this in mind and prepare accordingly.
A quick shot of Eric on the trail post lunch. At this point we were just over halfway into our day, the wind had picked up, and it was wet. The hiking on the Laugavegur is not difficult or technical. It’s the weather that is challenging. It’s constantly changing, and always windy.
More snow. The first few kilometers after the Hrafntinnusker hut look downhill on the trail profile. However, you find yourself constantly navigating dips in the trail. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. It goes on like this for a while. Fortunately, the downs are longer than the ups. But, it eventually starts to get old.
Be sure to look around while you’re hiking. We spotted this snow cave and had to go take a look.
There’s a reason I came back to hike the Laugavegur again. It’s just incredible.
Eventually, the trail starts descending for real and you find yourself headed down into a lush green landscape that looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.
Before the hut at Alftavatn you’ll encounter the first stream crossing. The last time we were here the Grashagakvísl river was slightly higher and we were unable to find a suitable place to cross without taking off our shoes. This last time things worked out a little nicer and we found a convenient spot to cross by hopping from rock to rock. This isn’t the only river crossing, and a pair of trekking poles make things much easier.
After crossing the Grashagakvísl river, you’ve still got some walking to do, but it’s pretty flat. In a short time the Alftavatn hut will come into view, and you’re home free. This was our final destination of the day.
After checking in we settled into our rooms, made some dinner, then took a stroll around the lake. The Alftavatn hut is quite nice. It’s a smaller than the hut at Landmannalaugar, but is still well appointed. Again there are cooking stations, pots, pans, cups, bowls, spoons, forks, etc…