Iceland 2021 – Landmannalaugar Trail Hike

Landmannalaugar Trail has been a dream of mine for years, and was the main reason for my 2021 trip to Iceland. The trail is 55km long and starts in Landmannalaugar and ending in Thorsmork. The trail typically is completed in 4 days, however I completed it in 2 days. I was actually going to tack on the Thorsmork to Skogar hike called the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, however the weather deteriorated to the point where my safety was compromised so I pulled the plug early, more on that later.

My first day started early at 530am, as I had to catch a 630am bus to Landmannalaugar. I woke up, had a quick sandwich that I had bought the previous day and stored in my fridge, grabbed some coffee from the downstairs lobby, and caught a scooter to the Reykjavik Bus Terminal. At the terminal I grabbed my hiking bag and waited for the bus that I had pre-booked. It’s important to note that you should book the Highland Bus (Reykjavik Excursions) well in advance, as these seats can fill up days or weeks in advance since this hike is so popular. I paid about $60 CDN for a return trip.

The bus was on time and took about 4 hours, with a 45 minute break halfway along the journey at Hella (Kjarval Verslun) for a bathroom break, where you could also buy coffee and baked goods. I picked up a coffee and used the bathroom. The bus arrived in Landmannalaugar early at about 10:45am (scheduled time was 11:15am). Upon arrival I cooked one of my dehydrated meals for lunch with my JetBoil stove and talked with this lovely couple from Toulouse, France.

The hike starts off with a moderately steep bunch of switchbacks. Don’t forget to look back at the Landmannalaugar hut and campsite! After the switchback you head straight through a lava field from an eruption that occurred in 1477 from the Brennisteinsalda volcano. This area is one of the most unique areas I’ve seen because there’s a combination of regular basalt lava blended with numerous shining black obsidian rocks.

After passing through the lava field you’re presented with a breathtaking view of a field and the magnificent Vondugil (Bad Ravines) valley. The surrounding colourful rhyolite mountains are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and look like something out of a painting.

The trail continues climbing elevation towards the Brennisteinsalda volcano. You can see all sorts of steam coming from the mountainside, and tons of small sulfur rocks and hot springs. This part of the hike is a bit strenuous so make sure to take your time while enjoying the views.

The hike continues in a general upwards direction towards Hrafntinnusker Hut, with ever changing geography, most of which looks like its something from an imaginary painting.

Below you’ll see a picture of me at the highest point of the hike. From here on in the geography changes significantly and I start to run into some snow. Yes that’s right… snow in August!

The snow continues for quite some time, until I emerge on another geothermally active area, before continuing onto another snowy area. In this snowy area there was a memorial for a young person named Ido Keinan, who passed away in a blizzard in June 27th 2004. It’s a somber reminder that no matter what time of the year you’re in that you should be prepared for anything. This hit home later on in this hike when the weather deteriorated significantly to the point where I wasn’t able to maintain my body heat. I decided to pull the plug, but more on that later on.

This is probably a good time to mention that there is generally cellphone coverage on more than 50% of the hike with atleast 3G coverage, and sometimes LTE. There’s a few cellphone towers along the way, and some unique solutions at some of the remote huts, which include CB radio’s and repeaters.

I eventually descended towards Hrafntinnusker Hut, the first hut of the hike after Landmannalaugar. I filled up my water bottles with fresh water here, and was able to use the washroom. Something to note on the hiking trail is that most huts have an outhouse which you can use for free, or you can use proper toilets for about $4 CDN. The outhouses were generally acceptable, so I had no issue using them, however there was not hut warden to check the usage of the toilets at Hrafntinnusker Hut, so you might be able to use the nice toilets for free there.

The trail starts to lose some significant elevation after Hrafntinnusker Hut, and the geography changes again to rolling hills with even more snow, before turning back into mountains with some more elevation gain. Make sure to take tons of photos, as this was again another amazing part of the hike.

As the trail continues towards Alfavatn hut the geography changes again, but this time becomes much greener. The green mossy areas show up wherever there is water runoff from geothermally active areas. Apparently the sulfur and other minerals is very desired by the moss.

The descent towards Alfavatn hut is very steep, and while I’m not a huge proponent of poles, I would recommend them in this scenario.

Eventually you’ll come across your first river crossing, which conveniently has a rope in place, which I suspect is required earlier on in the season, however I didn’t really need to use it in late August. I always recommend water shoes as it make river crossings much more enjoyable than stepping on sharp rocks.

Finally you can see Alfavatn hut in the distance. This is usually where most people stop for the night, howver I opted to go a bit further to Hvangill, a much small hut, just a few kilometres away. The reason for my choice, was to make a 4 kilometer shorter day on the second day. It’ll turn out that I was very glad I made that decision the following morning, but more on that later. I stopped for dinner in Alfavatn to have a dehydrated meal for dinner, and I purchased a beer at the “bar” there for about $10 CDN. I felt it was a worthy reward for a days hard work.

Continuing on from Alfavatn there’s a few river crossings, luckily the first few are small enough that there are some wooden bridges to cross, so you don’t have to take off your boots.

About 4 kilometers of minor elevation gain and descent you’ll emerge on Hvangill hut and campsite. The campsites all have stacked rocks around them to block wind. I was thankful for this as the following morning I was woken up around 5am by howling wind. When I arrived at Hvangill I paid the warden $5 CDN to use the shower, and $20 CDN for the camping fee, setup my tent, had a shower, and went to bed.

I struggled throughout the evening to maintain warmth, as I wasn’t prepared for 0° C weather. The weather should have been 8-17° C however a weather front rolled in and caught me by surprised. I wore 4 shirts, and two pairs of pants, and still wasn’t warm enough. I eventually fell asleep and was woken up at 5am by an intense wind. I peered out of my tent and was greeted by some heavy fog. Visibility was probably about 300 metres.

I got ready, packed up my tent and started my journey towards Thorsmork. At this point in time I had decided that I will terminate my hike in Thorsmork, rather than continuing along to Skogar, as the weather was forecasted to get worse throughout the day. The day started out with a large river crossing over a bridge, followed shortly by a significant river crossing without a bridge. The current was fairly strong, so I can’t even imagine what it would have been a month or two prior.

Following the river crossing I walked plenty kilometers over a lava field, before descending into the next camp called Emstrur, where I ate lunch quickly before continuing on. The visibility at Emstrur was less than 100 metres.

The hike after Emstrur started to get geographically interesting with much more green being present as I descended towards Thorsmork. At times the visibility improved, but in general it was quite poor, and quite cold. There were quite a few river crossings that had to be navigated, but most didn’t require me to take my shoes off.

About 4 kilometres away the geography changed again significantly to what resembled farmland, and I saw the occasional sheep. In fact I even scared a sheep that was grazing.

Finally I arrived in Thorsmork, where I caught a 3:15pm bus back to Reykjavik. On the bus ride I met a really nice guy Kyle, his sister named Kaitlynn, and their friend Courtney, who are all from the Boston area. It made for a very enjoyable bus ride back. The buses have to drive through rivers up to 1 metre deep, so they’re specially equipped Mercedes Benz high clearance vehicles, with locking differentials. You can checkout my YouTube video of a river crossing here.

After arriving back in Reykjavik I checked into “Room With a View” hotel, a self service hotel. It’s kind of like an Airbnb place. It was very well appointed for about $200/night. I’ll be here the next two nights.

After checking in I went and picked up my other bag from the Reykjavik Bus Terminal storage lockers, dropped it off at my hotel, and went for dinner at Lebourski Bar next door. I had a Donni Burger and a beer. While I was there a guy spun the wheel on the wall and won ten free beers, which he shared with his friends at the bar.

After dinner I had a shower and got ready for bed. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series.

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Iceland 2021 – Krysuivik Geothermal Loop & Fagradalsfjall Volcano Eruption

Today marks the second day of my trip. I slept pretty well and wasn’t really suffering from too much jet lag. I did wakeup at about 2am for a brief period of time before going back to bed.

For breakfast I attempted to go to a few bakeries however it was too early and they didn’t have anything besides donuts available, so I went to Subway. First stop of the day was Krysuivik Geothermal Loop, about an hours drive away. Along the way I decided to stop by the side of the road to take some drone shots of the volcanic scenery around me to realize that my memory card had failed… but don’t worry I had a second one… sitting in my work laptop back at the hotel. I drove all the way back to the hotel, picked up the second card and tried again. By now it was already nearly noon! In the distance on this drone shot you can see Fagradalsfjall Volcano’s smoke from it’s ongoing eruption. I’ll be hiking that later today.

Krysuivik Geothermal Loop is a 7.7 kilometer loop in Southwest Iceland the features a lake, and a geothermally active area. It is situated above Seltun, a very colourful Geothermal area below that I had a chance to visit with my father in 2014 when we went to Iceland. The hike starts off right away up a fairly steep hill, gaining 314 metres. Make sure to look backwards so you can see Seltun.

After the large climb you slightly descend to Amarvatn Lake, a very colourful lake, which I suspect is a volcanic crater lake due to the way it looks, however I can’t mind much information on it. A volcanic crate lake is a lake in a crater that was formed from explosive activity or collapse during a volcanic eruption. Dad an I visited one such lake in 2014, called Kerið.

The trail continues around in a big loop, as you can see from above. It offers beautiful views of the mountainous area surrounding it. Along the way I came to the geothermal area, before continuing the loop around the lake.

After completing the hike it was time to grab some lunch. I remember from my 2014 trip with my dad that there was a restaurant called Papa’s that serves delicious pizza in the nearby town of Grindavik. I drove about half an hour to Papa’s, and wow it didn’t disappoint. I had a pizza called Papa’s Surprise, which consisted of pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, jalapenos, garlic, cream cheese, and black pepper. You could even see the volcano erupting from Grindavik!

After having lunch it was time to visit the Fagradalsfjall Volcano eruption (also known as Geldingadalsgos), which has been ongoing since March 19th 2021 at about 9:40pm. This was one of two primary reasons for me to visit Iceland, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. There’s a few dedicated places to park your car for 1000 ISK ($10 CDN). The 3km one-way hike to the volcano takes about 45 minutes and is flat for 2/3 of the way, before entering a series of switchbacks. The view was certainly overwhelming, and was nothing like what I had imagined in my head. You can also view a video I took of the volcano on my YouTube channel here. You’ll also notice that there was a helicopter there, because you can pay some companies to drop you right off at the base of the volcano!

After visiting the volcano I was going to visit the Blue Lagoon, however when I arrived I found out that the tickets were sold out for the day. I booked a 9am ticket for the next day. It was time to drive back to Reykjavik for dinner, about an hour away. I had some beef soup at 101 Reykjavik Street Food, which was recommended to me on one of the travel series I watched a while back. While the presentation wasn’t the best, the soup was delicious, and the beef was so tender.

After dinner I walked around for a bit and took some pictures of one of my favourite churches in the entire world, Hallgrimskirkja. The church is one of Reykjavik’s best-known landmarks, and is the tallest church in Iceland, standing 74.5 metres (244 feet) tall. The church took 41 years to build; starting in 1945, and completed in 1986. The church is a mixture of different architectural styles but is predominantly that of expressionist neo-gothic. I can definitely see some brutalism and art deco mixed in there as well. During it’s construction it was criticized for being too old-fashioned and a blend of too many different architecture types. Inside the church there is a large pipe organ built by German organ builder Johannes Klais from Bonn. There are 5275 pipes arranged in 102 ranks and 72 stop, and they weight approximately 25 tons!

I continued exploring around downtown Reykjavik for a bit before heading back to my hotel to go to bed. Be sure to check back soon for the next installment in my Iceland series. In the next installment I explore the Blue Lagoon, see some waterfalls, see Iceland’s fourth largest glacier, the town of Vik, the basalt formations at Reynisfjara Beach, and hike to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck.

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Chile – Day 7 – Calama & Alto Loa National Reserve

Today we woke up at 7:00am and had some delicious complementary breakfast, probably the best we had on the trip to date. We checked out of the hotel and started a 3 hour drive towards Alto Loa National Reserve. On the way to the reserve we stopped at Lasana and visited some prehistoric ruins that overlooked the valley. The ruins date back to the 12th century. On our way back to walking to the car we noticed a young local girl trying to break into our rental car. I hit the panic button and she casually backed away but still sat on a wall near the car. When I approached the car to get in she still stayed there. C had to go to the washroom so she went and the girl followed her in there. When C was coming back to the car the girl was talking to her loudly in Spanish demanding Pesos. C got in the car and I backed out and started to drive off when we noticed the girl get on her phone. About two minutes down the road there was a woman (probably the girls mother) who was on the phone and standing in the middle of the road demanding that we pull over. I drove around her quite quickly and sped off into the distance. We deduced that they were trying to either steal from tourists or demand compensation for the “free” ruins.

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We continued our journey towards Alto Loa was created 14 years ago in 2005 and is Chile’s largest reserve. The park is full of mountains, hills, flamingo’s, and guanacos (llama’s). An interesting fact about Guanacos is that they can live in some of the most hostile environments on earth, some living in areas where it has not rained for over 50 years. fog that condenses to water droplets on cacti and lichens that cling to the cacti. The lichens soak it up like a sponge, which are then eaten by the Guanacos.

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We checked into our hotel; Geotel Calama and were welcomed with a pisco sour and mango sour as welcome drinks, which were delicious and quite strong. The hotel was well appointed and even had a small kitchen so that we could prepare and cook food. After checking in we went to the nearby Lider (Walmart) to get food for dinner and for tomorrow. Dinner was simple; we made mushroom soup. After dinner I still wasn’t feeling great so I had a bath and listened to podcasts. After my bath it was time to go to bed. The bed ended up being extremely terrible for a brand new hotel… it felt like a broken mattress that transferred movement very easily.

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