September 8 - September 11, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

Laugavegur Hiking Day #2 (out of 4) -- Hraftntinnusker to Alftavatn, Sept. 9, 2016

Hiking Day #2: Hrafntinnusker to Alftavatn.  September 9, 2016
12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) with 490 net meters (about 1608 feet) of elevation loss (but lots of ups and downs!)

Everyone in our room was up by the end of quiet hours (7am) and wanting to leave as soon as possible.  This had nothing to do with the hut, which was lovely and cozy, and everything to do with the fact that the sky was clear and we all wanted to take advantage of the break in the weather.  The girls and I got out ahead of everyone else and began walking.  It was cold, but the snow from the previous day had melted and the way forward was clear.  We followed the path, marked with thin wooden markers topped with yellow paint, away from the hut...though for at least a mile, we could still see the hut clearly behind us across a hilly and icy landscape.

We were kind of lucky with the weather -- the rain did pick up again while we walked, but it never became all that heavy and our layers kept us mostly dry and warm.


The way forward

Looking back from where we had come.

There were many ups and downs across and through little ravines.  Some of the ravines had rotting snowbridges which had held hikers in July and probably early August, but which certainly wouldn't hold a hiker now.  We were able to traverse around the unstable bridges easily enough.  One wouldn't want to fall into any of the little streams that run through some of the ravines, because one would not know whether or not the water was freezing cold or almost boiling hot.  We passed one hiker coming in the other direction who got her foot wet in water that she assumed would be cold but was actually hot enough to burn.

Looking back after going up and down many little ravines
After many ups and downs, we finally climbed up to a plateau-like area (very windy!) and walked...

We soon saw this gorgeous view in the distance -- absolutely stunning!

We got closer and closer...our next hut, Alftavatn, was down there in the valley...

The path led down a steep and scree-filled area...

Alex takes a selfie
...once in the valley, we walked along a small river, crossed it (sometimes a hiker needs to remove her boots for this crossing, but on this day, in spite of all the recent rain, we didn't), and headed toward the hut (seen in the distance in the photo below).

The hut was situated on a beautiful lake -- the scenery was outstanding and I don't know why we don't have a photo showing the immediate landscape.  Oh well.

The hut at Alftavatn has a unique set-up.  There is a main sleeping area upstairs with lots of mattresses, and there are individual rooms on the first floor that surround the common kitchen area.  The warden gave us a room for four people, and we never had a fourth person join us, so we essentially had a private room right next to the kitchen area.  This was nice, but there were no places to hang clothing in this room and there are no radiators in the private rooms.  Therefore, if you have wet clothing (we didn't, except for our puffies...which were only damp and not completely soaked), you will have to jostle for space in front of the small electric heaters which warm the common kitchen area.

After unpacking our backpacks for the evening, we ate in the common area.  We were almost the only ones there so far...we had gotten ahead of the other hikers who were on their way.  I write "almost" because there was one fellow there waiting for a ride back to Reykjavik.  He told us he had not brought the right kind of clothing for the hike and, after everything he had got completely soaked the day before, he felt like he should abort this trek and head back to the city.  He was an amiable young man from Australia and, as other hikers began arriving, we had an enjoyable conversation that ranged from the Laugavegur Trek to American politics to schooling systems in various continents.  Other hikers joined us in our discussions until a couple of hours had gone by and the place was nearly full.  It was fun, sitting there with the Australian fellow and, eventually, the Indian couple, the two young American men, and the couple from the Netherlands.

After a while, the girls and I found the hut's Uno cards and retreated to our room.

A tour group arrived while we were playing cards and had a happy, but noisy, dinner.  The individuals of that group were from all over the world; they had each joined an Icelandic touring company to do the Laugavegur Trek guided.  Their guiding company transported their belongings from hut to hut for them; they only carried small daypacks while actually hiking.  The thru-hiker snob in me looks down on that...unless you have a physical ailment which prevents you from carrying your own things, you should do the whole backpacking thing properly if you are claiming to thru-hike....that's part of the whole thru-hiking experience, to carry everything you need on your own back.  Yes, I know, Hike Your Own Hike and all of that.  I fully admit that my attitude is holier-than-thou.  My snobbery aside, they all seemed like lovely people, and one of that crew helped me look for our passports the next day when I temporarily believed those documents to be lost (more on that in the next post).

Everyone in the hut went to bed well before the beginning of quiet hours (10pm - 7am).  Unfortunately, most of us were woken up the next morning at 4am by a large group of campers who came in to use the hut's kitchen and didn't even try to be quiet.  More on that in the next post.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hiking Day #1: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker. September 8, 2016

Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker.  7.5 miles (12 km) with around 1542 net feet (470 meters) of elevation gain.

We rose as soon as quiet hours ended -- 7am.  I wanted to get us out the door and going, since, usually, if there's going to be bad weather, it happens in the afternoon.  That is not a hard and fast rule, just a general way of things as far as our hiking experience goes.  We therefore were the first in our room to get up.  I tried very hard to quietly move our things downstairs to pack so as not to disturb those who wanted to sleep in, but I think I made a bit of noise anyway.  Oh well, quiet hours were technically over and I was as conscientious as I could be without forcing myself to sleep in with everyone else.

It was already raining when we got out the door.  We ate breakfast at the outdoor, but covered tables...a French woman who had been camping asked if we could share the table.  I said yes, but when her friend joined us, the two spread their things all over the place and acted as though they were doing us the favor of allowing to be there with them even though we were there first.  The girls and I shrugged off their rudeness and, after we finished eating at our own pace, stayed under the roof with them as we packed and got ready to go.

Cold rain doesn't bother us as long as we're dressed for it...which we were.  The rain does prevent us from taking as many photos as we'd like, but we did the best we could without risking the well-being of our iPhones/cameras.

Here we are, just outside the hut at the start of the trail.

The trail goes up the little hill behind the girls in the above picture, then it crosses lava fields on a fairly flat path.  There are many little intersecting trails up there, all tiny dayhikes one can make if one were to hang about Landmannalauger for a day or two.  Stick to the more obvious path, the one with the stick marker with the red top, and you'll be on the right trail.  Eventually, as you curve to the left and make your way out of the lava fields, the path will look like this -- almost wheelchair accessible.

You'll go down a bit and pass this pretty little pool on your left...

Then you'll go up a bit, and then flat again...

...and then into this cool notch area that has volcanic vents everywhere (the steam in the photos below is coming from specific vents)...

Right after that little valley, you start to really climb.  Still, if you're used to mountain hiking, then the climb will feel fairly short and minimal.  Take a care NOT to stick your face or hand over any of those volcanic don't want to risk an injury from an unpredictable mini-eruption of water or rock.

Once you do a bit of climbing, you find yourself on top of a plateau.  On a clear day, I imagine the whole area is stunningly gorgeous...we thought it beautiful as it was, and we did have views enough, but the constant rain made it difficult for us to adequately capture what we were seeing.

I have to also say that at times the rain poured...and yet, we were hot.  We were wearing far more layers than we are used to when we mountain climb, so we deliberately left our hoods down most of the time so our heads would get wet and we could cool off.  We had plenty of dry clothing in plastic bags in our packs, and our down layers were keeping us quite warm, so we never felt chilled.  If I were to do this day over again, I would have packed our down coats and done the hike in fewer layers of clothes (but still waterproof).  The temperatures and weather were like a late fall, rainy mountain hiking day in NH, and we were dressed for Denali.

Once past the first plateau, you cross a second one...this one is foggy and I can see how it would be easy to wander off course during a snow storm if one didn't keep one's calm.  There are markers there, but they are very narrow...wooden sticks, basically, with some faded red and yellow paint on the top.  Our visibility was good enough, so we never had a problem.  We had enough gear with us to stop and safely spend the night right on the trail in the event of zero visibility, but we never even came close to that.

Eventually, the trail descends a tiny bit and one is greeted with snow/ice patches.  We walked over several of those...

There's a spot, perhaps twenty minutes (can't remember exactly) walking distance from Hrafntinnusker, where a large cairn pays tribute to a young man who died of exposure walking the Laugavegar July.  I can see people having problems on this trek in adverse weather.  One could say we had adverse weather on this day.  It rained most of the time -- at times, it poured -- it was cold, and the wind kicked up.  We had the gear and experience to handle it -- for us, it was nothing we hadn't encountered many, many times before -- but for a new hiker, or a hiker without the right clothing, this kind of weather can be deadly.

We reached one long expanse of flat snow/ice which gently curved to the left...we walked on that for quite a while, and then came to a small black hill.  We stepped off the ice and onto the hill...and then the snowfall started.  It went from gentle and downward to fast and sideways in about ten seconds.  We turned to the left, following the path, and saw a solar panel contraption right ahead of us.  We were to learn that a solar panel contraption along the trail meant a hut was nearby...sure enough, after a right turn and a tiny ascent, we looked down and saw Hrafntinnusker a bit below us.  The snow picked up to a mini-blizzard as we made our way to the hut.  As soon as we stepped up to the platform which housed the hut, the wind picked up again and almost knocked us over.  Sage managed to get a few pictures...

As you can see, visibility was not exactly the best.

We made our way to the other side of the hut, looking for the main door.  The door kind of blended into the side of the building.  We pulled on it and immediately found another door to open.  Once we opened that one, we got in and found ourselves in a heated "mud room" of sorts.  Wet clothes were hanging everywhere and boots and gloves were lined up on racks.  We were told to take off everything that was wet, hang it all somewhere, and then come inside the main area.

We were trying to get everything off when a woman called out for a doctor.  The girls and I turned around to look, and there was a man lying half inside the hut, where we had just stepped inside, and half outside the hut.  He had passed out immediately upon entering.  The girls and I stripped off our outer layers as fast as we could and got inside so the hut warden could have room to help this fellow.

Turns out the fellow, a nice Englishman, had camped by the hut the night before and was just coming inside to take a break from the weather.  He had gotten hypothermic without realizing it, and the blast of heat that encompassed him upon entering the hut, combined with his delicate physical situation, had knocked the consciousness right out of him.  The warden, a tall woman who was kind and jovial the entire evening, had him sit in the heated "mud room" area with a blanket on him.  She brought him warm sweetened tea and spoke with him until he was talking coherently (though shivering terribly).  The man's friend, who had had no idea his partner was feeling bad at all...the passing out came as a surprise to him...stayed with him constantly.  Eventually, the man felt well enough to take off his outer layers and come all the way inside the hut, where he sat in a different area with the blanket on him and ate.  I offered him some sugary biscuits, which he accepted gratefully, and his speech and conversation skills returned to normal after an hour or so of folks keeping him warm and fed.  He ended up staying the night in our room and was totally fine the rest of the night.  The girls and I spoke with him later -- he was a nice fellow who didn't realize he was feeling bad at all until he found himself face down in the entrance of the hut with a bunch of people standing over him.

Right after the girls and I entered, while the warden was taking care of the hypothermic fellow, we claimed our bunks in our assigned room and changed clothing.  We were completely soaked to the skin, in spite of our waterproof everything.  I attribute that to being hot when we started out...we must have been sweating something fierce.  We changed completely and hung our inner layers over a radiator.  Sage found some Uno cards, and we ate chocolate and played cards until other people started coming into the room.

The first couple who entered were from the Netherlands, and they were named Dasja and Lars.  They were kind, cheery people, and we'd end up seeing them at every hut along our trek.  They were happy when they arrived, but just as soaked as we had been.  We turned while they changed, and then we continued playing cards.

The next couple to arrive were from India.  We saw them too at every hut from then until our finish, and I enjoyed speaking with them many, many times, but unfortunately I never wrote down their names!  If you ever happen to read this, kind couple from India, please contact me.  I enjoyed meeting you and speaking with you both over the course of our thru-hike.  Anyway, the lady from India was chilled when she arrived, so she and her husband changed (everyone turned away again out of respect for privacy), then she got into her sleeping bag and stayed there for a while to warm up.

The next to enter were Brandon and Alex, the American young men we'd met the evening before.  By this time, it was snowing hard outside.  We looked out the windows and saw the ground covered in a half inch of snow.  We were so glad we had arrived when we did!  Seems we'd just missed the worst of the mini-blizzard.

The English fellow who had hypothermic issues claimed a bunk next, as did his hiking companion.  We were then full in our small room.  Everyone was cordial, and we had tables in our room on which to eat and play cards, so the evening was spent filling our stomachs, playing cards, and talking to everyone.  The only time anyone was less than snug and warm was when someone had to use the bathroom...the toilets are in the same building but you have to go outside to get to the entrance door.  Every time I went outside to use the bathroom, I felt bad for the people trying to camp...the weather was just plain awful, with sideways snow and blowing wind and cold temperatures.

We all had a good night of sleep.  By mutual and unspoken consensus, everyone in our room went to sleep by 9pm.  You could hear the storm continue to rage outside out windows.  We were warm in our sleeping bags though, and the hut felt safe and cozy.  It was a good evening.

Tomorrow -- Hrafntinnusker to Alftavatn

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pre-Hike -- from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar. September 7, 2016

Note -- the photos on this blog were taken by Sage, Alex, and me. 

Drive from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar
September 7, 2016

It was an easy walk to the BSI bus terminal (the main terminal in Reykjavik) from our hotel.  Actually, if you're staying in the city's center, probably any hotel is within an easy half hour walk to BSI.  We arrived at the station in plenty of time to take our Reykjavik Excursions bus to Landmannalaugar.

Many Laugavegur trekkers take the bus to Landmannalaugar and then begin their hike straightaway.  I can see why people might want to do that, since Landmannalaugar is crowded and touristy, but we were glad to spend the night at the hut before starting our trek...even if there was a giant group that drank and sang at the top of their lungs until midnight (bring earplugs...I repeat, BRING EARPLUGS).  It was nice to have an afternoon of exploring the immediate area after spending three hours on a bus.

The ride to Landmannalaugar was an adventure unto itself.  The first part was routine enough; the large, comfortable bus (with supposedly free wifi though I never got a signal) zoomed along the main paved road for perhaps two hours (can't remember exactly how long) until it was time to turn onto the narrow, dirt, rutted road that led us to our destination.

That little narrow dirt road was...interesting.  This is the part when all three of us stopped our dozing and paid attention to our surroundings.  At one point, the driver pulled off the side of the road and said we should take photos, since it was a rare beautiful day.  We dutifully did as he suggested.

Five minutes later, we were back on the bus and heading toward a more exciting part of our journey -- a narrow, dirt, rutted road that precariously went up and over several large hills with no guardrails.  At the top of one of these hills, the driver turned the bus around and backed up right to the side of the hill...I had a mini heart attack since it seemed the driver had decided to end it all and take us with him...but then he threw on the brake and told us to get out and take more photos.  We did.

Not long after experiencing this exciting bit of road,  we arrived at Landmannalaugar.

Landmannalaugar has a main hut building (no one is allowed in except folks with reservations), an info/warden's area, a warden's hut, a large bathroom/shower building, many tenting areas, a covered eating area, a few large trash and recycling bins, a wooded walkway, and a natural hot spring.  This is a popular destination for day visitors and campers, not to mention people beginning their Laugavegur trek, so the crowds are thick and the atmosphere is less than tranquil.  Still, there is a lot of space outside of the hut area in which to wander about.    We enjoyed the immediate surroundings for a bit before going in to claim our sleeping area.

Sign for our trek!  Exciting!
 Our sleeping area consisted of two rows of side-to-side mattresses.  If you stay here, you are going to get very familiar with your roommates.

Before going to sleep, we sampled the hot springs.

The hot water was wonderful.  The temperature varied from lukewarm to boiling depending on where you were.  One could move around and settle in to wherever felt best.

One thing about the hot spring area though -- there is one platform where people leave their clothes and/or change.  Since this is Europe, public nudity is not frowned upon.  Once you're in the hot springs,  if you don't want to look up and accidentally see someone drying all their parts in detail (really digging in there and/or letting every single intimate bit fly in the breeze), then make sure you and/or your kids are sitting with your back to the platform.

We were glad we'd eaten dinner early since the kitchen was packed from 6pm onward (the crowd of drunk and singing people).  Sage found a deck of cards and brought them into the sleeping area; we played games in our little corner while other people came in and claimed their own bits of mattress.  The room was completely full by the end of the evening.  The girls and I went to bed fairly early...around 9 or so...there were two American guys across from us who also went to bed early.  I think the five of us were still experiencing a tiny bit of jet lag.  The two American guys were named Brandon and Alex -- they would become part of our hiking bubble and we'd see them at every hut for the rest of our journey.  They were nice fellows, and we were happy to get to know them a bit.

Tomorrow -- Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker, during which we experience all kinds of exciting weather and some beautiful views.