July 1, 2009
The alarm went off at 6:30 am, and we got up to do the final preparations. Everything for the Landmannalaugar trek went into the backpacks, and the rest went into the daypacks. We took everything downstairs, got the daypacks put into the hostel’s storage room, and checked out.
Then we put on our backpacks and walked across the town, past the Alþing and Tjörnin, over to the BSÍ bus station. This took about 30 minutes, so we arrived in plenty of time. After buying the tickets we sat and waited for the bus driver to open the door.
Our bus was a 60-passenger bus with two sets of double wheels at the back. We pulled out of the bus station on time at 8:30 am and rolled off towards the ring road. We sat near the front, so we got good views along the route. Unfortunately for the first part of the journey we were in the mist, with very poor visibility. Our first stop was a ten-minute break at Selfoss, then we were off again. We finally turned onto the F225, one of Iceland’s notorious “F” roads, which would eventually get us to the hut.
The clouds had now lifted, so our views were very good. At one point we could see Hekla, which was covered with snow. There was no hint that Hekla was one of Iceland’s most destructive volcanoes. The road was a one-lane dirt road, but it really wasn’t much different from the road by Dettifoss. It was harder for two vehicles to pass each other, but everybody yielded the right-of-way to the bus. We were beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about the “F” roads until we reached the first ford. But our bus was quite high and the ford appeared to be only about a foot deep, so we had no difficulty. At one of the fords the driver stopped on a small island so we could get out and take pictures. Of course it was handy that the driver had his camera with him too; he probably stopped for himself as well as for us.
The views along the route were spectacular, with tall snowy mountains and lava flows. At one place we had to stop to allow about fifty Icelandic ponies to run by. Luckily they came past our side of the bus, so we could photograph them. At Landmannahellir we stopped at a little cluster of houses so the driver could hand a newspaper to a man waiting at the side of the road.
Finally, after the third and deepest ford, we arrived at Landmannalaugar. The area is a gravel plain surrounded by multi-coloured hills. Before we got off the bus the warden came on board to explain some of the rules. The first thing we did was to sign in and get our room and bed assignments. Luckily for us we got beds 1 through 4, which turned out to be actual mattresses on a raised bed in one of the darker corners. We laid out some stuff to claim ownership, then went back downstairs.
Ours wasn’t the only bus arriving at Landmannalaugar; there were several. And dozens of private cars, too. With the buses and the dozens of tents pitched there, it looked as if the circus had come to town.
We ate our lunch, then Christine decided to make up spaghetti sauce for dinner. So the two of us set out for an afternoon hike, while Neil stayed behind. We didn’t want to duplicate the route we would be taking tomorrow, so we looked on the map and chose a different trail which appeared to go around a loop behind the hut. We started out up a ridge to the west off the site, expecting to find another trail leading back down to gravel flats. But we kept climbing steeply up a series of ridges. This was not exactly where we thought we were going – in fact it was a piece of very bad map reading. But the views from the top of the ridge were very good, and we could see exactly where we were, so we weren’t lost.
Now that we had located ourselves on the map, we could tell that we should have been able to carry on along the ridge and then descend to the valley below. But we couldn’t actually see the trail, and we couldn’t tell whether river crossings would be involved, and there were heavy grey clouds coming in, so we backtracked the way we had come.
Once we got back to the hut it was still fairly early, and the grey clouds had lifted, so we decided after all to follow the trail towards Hrafntinnusker, which would take us past the thermal area. It was a lovely walk, weaving our way through the lava flow. On the far side we turned left towards the Brennisteinsalda. This mountain was the thermal area, with its steam vents and varied coloured rocks. Some of the steam vents could be heard from a considerable distance, and it was amazing to see all the different colours.
We were just stopping to have a snack when we heard yoo-hooing from the hill above us. It was Christine, who was on the next level up with Neil. Originally we had decided not to climb any higher, but we headed up to meet them. We discussed possible return paths, then the two of us decided to go down by a different route across the lava flow and they decided to go via the base of Bláhnúkur.
We were amazed by the variety of shapes and forms of the basalt and obsidian rocks as we walked beside a fast-flowing creek. The valley was narrow here, and just when we thought we had seen every possible colour of rock, we rounded a corner and saw a wall of green rock! At one place the dust from the green rock had covered a snow patch, so it was a deep forest green.
Soon Neil and Christine caught up with us at the hut. Dinner was spaghetti, as planned, with a sauce consisting of all kinds of things. It went down very well. The kitchen was a very noisy place with all different nationalities preparing dinner.
Just down from the hut, there was a place where hot water from a spring runs down into a cooler stream. So after dinner we (amazingly) put on our bathing suits and went over there. It wasn’t really all that hot, mostly because a large group of Czechs was occupying the warmest places, but we still stayed in for about ten minutes. The coldest part of the business was drying ourselves while standing in the wind on the dock. But at least we can now say we bathed in a natural hot spring.