Europe, Hiking, Hot Springs, Iceland

Heidi and Kubo Do Iceland: Day 3 – Landmannalaugar

Iceland Day 3 – September 3, 2018

aka The Day of My Dreams

It’s really hard for me to put into words Landmannalaugar and the highlands of Iceland. Even now that its been four months since I was there, I still can’t figure out how to express how that little corner of the world felt to me, or if I can even figure out if it was all real and not a dream.  All I know is I’m so so so so so happy I was able to squeeze in a day there on this trip, and I know I must go back to spend extended time in the highlands.  It’s really hard for me to admit that any place is more beautiful than Medicine Bow Peak is (the mountain peak mere miles from where I grew up), but without doubt Landmannalaugar takes the crown.

Some of my first internet searches for “cycling in Iceland,” my original plan for a trip to the country thanks to Walter Mitty riding the shore bike inspiring me, brought up incredible photos of the highlands.  Therefore, it was natural that my initial plans for Iceland was a highlands mountain bike tour.  Slowly this plan evolved and changed to the point I didn’t even touch a bicycle while in Iceland, but the desire to witness the absolutely crazy landscape of the highlands remained.  Our camper van, “Carl,” was two wheel drive, and we wouldn’t be able to drive any of the “F-Roads,” which are for four wheel drive only vehicles and are the only road type in and out of the interior, highlands area of Iceland.  So a day trip was planned and tickets purchased for a Trex bus to take us in.  We’d have about eight hours to hike, explore, and soak it all in (literally and figuratively, thanks to the natural hot pot!).

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The Trex 4×4 bus picking us up at the Árhús campground in Hella.

I purposely picked our campsite for nights 2 and 3 to be the Árhús campground in Hella as it was a stop for the Trex bus running into Landmannalaugar, which sits inside the Fjallabak Nature Reserve.  This made it super convenient both before and after the trip, as we could just leave Carl parked into his camp spot, and walk about a minute.  No worries about Carl left in a big parking lot all day, or having to drive after an exhausting adventure!  Our pick up time was promptly at 7:45am (I must admit, I was shocked the buses didn’t run on “Icelandic Time” like Icelandair did!), and we were on our way!  The bus stopped to pick up more passengers at the gas station in Hella, and then another campground on Route 26.  Before I knew it, we turned off onto F225, which is also called Landmannaleið.

I watched as the landscape turned into something I couldn’t even dream of.  Desolate, barren volcanic wastelands, moss covered hills, untamed glacial rivers.  To the east-ish, one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, Hekla, rises confidently over the skyline.  I was glued to the window, head swiveling back and forth with my camera, trying to take it all in.  Sometimes out my window on the left side of the bus was a volcanic wasteland, while out the window on the right was neon green contrasting with the snow and glaciers of Hekla.  I simply did not know where to look, I definitely need eyes all around my head!

Iceland Hekla volcano
Hekla, which last erupted in 2000, rises above the barren volcanic landscape of the highlands.
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The views on F225 on the way to Landmannalaugar were almost too much for my brain to handle!
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This time Hekla contrasts against the neon green landscape. Hekla means “short hooded cloak,” and is named as such because the summit is usually hidden by clouds.

The drive into Landmannalaugar was a treat, needless to say.  Scenery aside, the skills of our driver were impressive, considering he was driving a massive bus on merely a dirt path that was barely wide enough for a single car.  I must admit, I’d much rather have been driving myself, as the road seemed so fun!

Couple of river crossings and a turn onto F208, and the rhyolite, “painted” mountains of Landmannalaugar came into view.  No, it really wasn’t photoshop, I realized.  This is real life.  All the research, the photos, etc, were telling the truth behind this unreal landscape!  I busted out of that bus as soon as I could breathe in that incredibly crisp Icelandic air and see Landmannlaugar without a pane of glass in the way.

Mount Bláhnjúkur, Landmannalaugar, Iceland
Mount Bláhnjúkur as seen from the Landmannalaugar base area.

After a toilet break and some quick photos of the maps, we set out on the Laugavegur trail up to the Laugahraun lava field, hoping we could find our way (the map isn’t too highly detailed).  I had planned for Kubo and I to hike to the summits of Mount Brennisteinsalda and Mount Bláhnjúkur, but wasn’t sure if we would be okay on time.  It was easy to tell from the base area that the hiking trails up these volcanos were STEEP, and it might be slow going.  Not to mention the fact we were stopping every 15 seconds to take photos!!!

Laugahraun lava field, Landmannalaugar, Iceland
Breathtaking views as we crested the trail in the Laugahraun lava field
Landmannalaugar, Iceland
The sheep even live in the highlands. I swear there’s no place these critters won’t live!

We hooked up with a solo guy that was originally from Boston who was hiking with a mission.  He was kind enough to stop to explain to us on the map where we should go and what trail would go where.  He had tried hiking just a week prior, but the highlands were inaccessible due to a snow blizzard!  I’m telling you, Iceland weather is cray cray!  We really lucked out with the weather on our Landmannalaugar day.  Though it remained overcast, it never rained and the wind was pretty much calm!  We power walked with him to the base of the Brennisteinsalda trail, and wished him well as he scurried on his way, hoping to nab a few summits before his early bus departed.

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And so begins our day of hiking straight up hill! Photos never do steepness any justice. Just trust me on this. It was straight uphill. Both ways.

Hiking trails in Iceland tend to go straight up the mountain, and the trail to the summit of Brennisteinsalda was no different!  Mount Brennisteinsalda, whose name means “sulfur wave,” is an active volcano that tops out at 2,805 feet in elevation.  It last erupted in 1961.    We started slogging up the steep trail, but stopped a lot for photo opportunities and to look at all the beauty before us.

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Even though I have photos of me in this unreal landscape, I still sometimes don’t believe I was actually there! Here’s me slogging up the stupidly steep trail to the summit of Brennisteinsalda.  The only saving grace, aside from the views to distract me, was that this is at a very low altitude for me and there was plenty of oxygen to fuel the climb.
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Landmannalaugar views while climbing up Brennisteinsalda
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View of Mount Bláhnjúkur from Brennisteinsalda

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Another view of Mount Bláhnjúkur, which seemed impossibly far away at this point. As much as we wanted to summit, it, we knew we’d be cramming on time. Oh well, next trip!

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Mysterious crop circle type things!
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Not our first summit photo together, but perhaps the coolest! Mount Brennisteinsalda – 2805 feet – active volcano. Check!

Respecting the fact that we didn’t want to rush to get a summit of Mount Bláhnjúkur under our belts, we decided to descend back down the Laugavegur trail to the base area from the summit of Mount Brennisteinsalda.  But first we ate some burritos and took photos!

Coming down the Laugavegur trail we saw the expanse of the Laugahraun lave fields in front of us, along with numerous geothermic features and mossy lava.  There is definitely a lot of variety and things to see in the Laugahraun!

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Mountain bikers tackling the Laugavegur trail, which was my original plan wayyyy back in 2014 when I started with my crazy idea of going to Iceland. I might’ve been a little bit jealous, though I realize how much of the scenery I would’ve missed if I had been on a mountain bike. Hiking allows one to slow down and look around a whole lot more, and be able to take photos to capture it all so you can remind yourself it was real!
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The ground is always steaming in Iceland!
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Laugahraun lava field, rhyolite mountains, and the Landmannalaugar base camp wayyyy off in the distance.
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I put my face on a lot of moss in Iceland, starting mere hours after getting off the plane. There was something so calming about it! I took every chance to do it when I could!

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Hey, I was just on top of that mountain!!
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We started making this silly face the first day of our trip, and it became a “thing.” I like to say, Landmannalaugar made us go OOOOOOOOOHHHHH AHHHHHHHHHH
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Landmannalaugar base area, which includes a campground, toilet and shower facilities, headquarters for search and research, tent for eating and cooking, and a few old buses that form the only store in the area.
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Cotton grass.

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After getting back down to the base, we still had a few hours to kill.  We finished off some more burritos and snacks, and then changed into our swimsuits so we could relax in the natural hot springs.  I think we’d end up soaking for two hours or so!  The water temperature varied depending on how close you were to the inlet.  We chatted for a little while with an American couple on their honeymoon, swapping trip stories, tales of trying to pronounce Icelandic place names (“you know that ‘d’ with the slash through it?”) and what not.  I learned it’s rather easy to make “single serving friends” on this trip, which added to the fun.

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The Landmannalaugar hot springs. Probably one of the world’s most beautiful hot springs, and so relaxing after hours of hiking straight uphill.   Landmannalaugar actually means “people’s pools.”
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Here’s us making our silly face sitting in amazing geothermal heated water in the interior of Iceland.
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Such an awful view from the hot springs 😉

Sadly enough, it was soon time to depart and get ready for the bus trip back to Hella.  We changed back into dry clothes, and walked a short lap around the base area before claiming our seats on the bus.  Kubo wanted to sit in the seats right behind the driver, but the assistant, who was rather grumpy and unimpressed with being alive (and not amused that I mispronounced Hella), told us no.  Kubo decided to be persistent, and went to befriend the driver, who agreed to let us sit in those forward-most seats.  We had a front row view for the river crossings and F208 that stretched before us!

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Our driver safely navigating through one of the river crossings as we left Landmannalaugar
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Awesome views continuing on our drive out of Landmannalaugar on F208
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Moonscapes and moss on F208
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F208
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I’m a thousand miles from nowhere
Time don’t matter to me
‘Cause I’m a thousand miles from nowhere
And there’s no place I want to be                                                                                                                  Route 26. I really don’t have words for this photo. I see it, and I feel all sorts of emotions inside of me, and how much I long to return and stand alongside this lonely road and just take it all in.

We popped out of F208 onto F26, which turns into Route 26, and slowly reemerged into the real world.  Mr. Grumpy Bus Assistant didn’t want to do a drop off at the Hella campground (even though that’s what our tickets said…), but the driver decided not to listen to him and dropped a whole slew of us off there, and we bid goodbye to the highlands Trex bus and walked back to Carl at our campsite.  Proud of my newfound shower skills from Day 1, I enjoyed a hot shower to freshen up and then we crashed early from exhaustion.

Until next time, Landmannalaugar!  You definitely hold a giant piece of my heart!

Follow along on our entire 19 day Iceland road trip adventure!  Click here for a comprehensive itinerary, with links to each day’s adventure.

 

 

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