Thursday 13 August saw Jo Cheung, Dee Sehdeva and me sprinting through Manchester Airport trying to catch our flight to Reykjavik. The sprint was caused by the extraordinary lengthy queue at the Easyjet checkin, not due to any tardiness on our part. No duty free, no breakfast. A shocking start to our trip! Luckily bacon rolls were served on the flight.
We landed in Reykjavik to temperatures of 7 degrees and pouring rain. Oh, and it was a bit misty too – perfect Icelandic summer weather. Leaving our hefty bags at the bus station we took a walk round the rainy small city. Our hostel, Hlemma Square was prebooked, but was not available til 3pm, so we took advantage of coffee, cakes and WiFi in a lovely cafe (thanks to Dee). Settling into the hostel we packed our rucksacks ready for our exciting trek, and made the acquaintance of Kaspar, with whom we were destined to share much of our trip. His first suggestion of taking the bus to the bus station the next morning was greeted with scorn (Jo), and delight (Sue).
Day One started well with the bus taking us to the bus station on time, and off we set for Landmannalauger. A four hour bus trip started on tarmac roads, then spent two hours bouncing along muddy, rocky tracks and crossing rivers the direct route. Did I mention the rain? Bucketing it down is an understatement. The forecast was horrendous, and the reality worse. Upon arrival at Landmannalauger we were advised that noone was able to start the trek due to the adverse weather, with blizzards and white-out conditions on the approach to the first hut. Best mate Kaspar was lucky to bag a space in the hut at the starting point. We three were dispatched on a three hour bus trip to Selfoss, the nearest civilisation. The friendly bus driver rang a hostel there and secured us a posh three bedded bedroom. Very disappointed, but feeling we had no choice but to heed the advice given by the authorities. One blessing was that I had purchased hiking passes, so we had no additional bus fares to find. We sat in the spacious hostel kitchen eating our rehydrated meals whilst all around us delicious food was being prepared. At least our packs were now a bit lighter.
Day Two felt like déjà-vu. On the bus for three and a half hours, more muddy tracks and deeper wider rivers. The bus delivered us to the Altavatn hut, so to alleviate our guilt at not having walked there we set off for a couple of hours of mooching off in the general direction from whence we should have come. To our surprise we met Kaspar coming to camp at the hut. He confirmed that conditions on the path from Landmannalauger were very difficult. Naturally it was raining, so we returned to the hut where fortified with hot chocolate (more lightening of the load), I settled to read my very thin paperback. Jo and Dee, being made of sterner stuff, and having no paperback went off out into the drizzle. They found a small peak to ascend, and returned happier, but wetter as the torrents had descended. Early to bed, we were excited to actually start our walk the next day.
Day Three dawned very wet, but not deterred we set off at a cracking pace to find our first river crossing. After watching the party in front to see exactly which items of clothing we needed to remove, it was down to our underwear, boots tied onto our sacs. Iceland has many geo-thermal waters – this was not one of them. It was freezing. A quick dry off, and off to find the next, much wider, and if possible, even colder river. Just in case you were wondering, it was stair rods at this point. We decided to find different words to identify each type of rain, drizzle, mizzle, tinkling, pouring, spitting, spotting – I’m sure you get the picture. The terrain was now a lava desert, very flat with interesting rock formations and mossy mountains whose emerald colour contrasted with the black dust underfoot. Route-finding was no problem as the track was way-marked by small wooden posts. After 4 hours 45 minutes I arrived at Emstrur huts (I had run ahead to ensure the following walkers who were gaining on us DID NOT PASS US). We were feeling very pleased with ourselves to have beaten the guide time of 6/7 hours. It boded well for the following day, which was a double.
The small hut was rather reminiscent of our own dear hut as kitchen, large dining table and bunks were all contained within one small room. Once settled in we strolled up to view a deep canyon as the rain had ceased. This proved to be a temporary improvement in the weather.
We were joined in the hut by two rather hunky Americans (ask Jo for details), an adventurous young Dutch lady, and a party of English tourists. Luckily for us, the remaining 5 guests did not show so we all benefited from a double bunk each.
Day Four was our big day, a total of 30K, descent of 600 metres then ascent of 1000 metres. It could have been divided into two sections, but I felt Jo and Dee needed a challenge. After a false start at 8.30 (I had left my sandals in the hut) we set off on a clearly visible path. IT WAS NOT RAINING. We were rewarded by an early sighting of the Myrdalsjokull glacier in the distance. River crossings over bridges, chains to assist us in descending rock faces, and a gentle meandering path led down to a much greener valley. No real vegetation was to be seen until we had crossed our final river. In spite of the warnings, this crossing was our easiest yet – no need to remove our trousers.
The sun came out, and stayed with us for the next two hours while we descended to Porsmork. Having kept up our pace of yesterday we had time for a quick stop at a small shop to treat ourselves to fizzy pop to top up our energy levels. It was at this point that I confessed to Dee that we had a bit of an uphill to go to reach the hut, well 1000 metres isn’t really a lot, only the height of Snowdon. The first part of the trail was a regular tourist jaunt so we felt a bit overburdened by our rucksacks and poles. It didn’t help to hear a tourist guide comment “they’ve got a long way to go” as we passed a large group. It began to rain, the temperature dropped and suddenly the tourists were all behind us. Ahead was the route up the Fimmvorouhals pass, it only went one way – up. Chain festooned rocks and steep snowy slopes led up to white-out conditions across a soft snow field. Where were those helpful wooden posts when you needed them? I confess to feeling a little anxious at this point. Footsteps were going in three different directions.
We had followed the wooden posts to the area where the remains of the 2010 eruption of Eyjafallajokull had created new craters and the youngest mountains in Iceland. We were in the steps of Julia Bradbury. Gut instinct suggested that we needed to be ascending the slope to our left and I was delighted to find a post confirming this. Icelandic maps are not like our trusted OS maps, so whilst we were in possession of map and compass, it was still not easy. It was getting later and my thoughts were becoming more pessimistic regarding finding the hut. I had a shelter, and we all had sleeping bags so...
Finally after another hour trudging across soft snow I spotted the hut, described as squalid in the guide book. To us it was a palace. “You are crazy” was the guardian’s response when she heard where we had set out from. A friendly voice shouted from the dormitory, it was our young friend Kaspar who had decided to extend his walk after listening to our plans. Success, we’d done it.
Day Five was an easy stroll down, following an amazing river with waterfalls along the way. We reached the end of our trek at Skogarfoss, a real tourist trap with restaurants and bars. Big smiles, big burgers then a three hour bus trip back to Reykjavik.
Unfortunately there were casualties – my aged Salomon boots – but in spite of this it was an amazing trip with fantastic scenery and a real sense of achievement at the end.