Laugavegur Day 2 – Landmannalaugar to Altavatn
I should have put my down jacket on when we ate dinner last night. We sat under a glass awning, protected from the wind and if we just had a dinner and then retired to our tent I would have been fine. But we sat there for a long time, jabbering with fellow hikers and my body soaked the chill of the Icelandic highlands like a sponge soaks up water and once the cold bit me, there was no easy cure. I shivered in my sleeping bag long into the night. One moment I was cozy and warm and ready to drift to sleep, but just a moment later I felt like I was standing in the middle of the frozen dinner isle in our grocery store.
I’m little surprised to be awake at 5:30 a.m., not barely conscious, but wide awake, ready for the adventure ahead of us. Perhaps it’s the unusual amount of daylight at this early hour that tricks my mind into thinking it is time to get up. There was no darkness during the night. Daylight faded into a twilight and just when you’d expect for the night to take over, the sun rose again and now its warm light filtered by the silnylon walls of our tent promises a good day.
Two hours later we are on our way. The trail takes us straight uphill through the amazing lava field of Laugahraun.There are so many shapes and colors and textures here. To the right is Sudarnamur, straight ahead is Haalda, which at 3572 ft (1089 m) stands as the highest mountain in this area. Closer by ravines of lively colors fill the view. Tiny flowers burst from dirt patches among the volcanic rock. Otherwise vegetation is non present.
The scenery changes when we enter flatter area above the lava field. It goes from the dark tones of the rhyolite to bright red stripes as we skirt under the slope of Brennisteinsalda. The trail leads us to the very active fumarole we visited yesterday. It fumes just as eagerly today and again we stop here for a while to enjoy the show. For the next 10 minutes or so we are on a familiar trail. We expect the uphill and a snow bridge over a stream with a deep opening gaping at us where somebody post holed.
Atop the hillside there is an intersection. Yesterday we took the green trail to the top of Brennisteinsalda. Today we continue on the more leveled red trail towards Hrafntinnusker.
Word “alive” describes this area accurately. All the hissing, bubbling, gurgling, and steaming. Some of the geothermal activity takes place further in the hills and we only can see the steam rising to the sky while other happens right under our feet.
The amount of snow lingering around is surprising. We are told Iceland experienced regular snowfall this winter; however the temperatures were unusually low now in the summertime and it’s likely some of the snow will not have a chance to melt out this year at all. And so we cross snow patches and snow bridges on a trail that should be brown and red and green and eventually we walk on a snowfield that stretches long way in either direction we look. Trail is broken through the expanse and navigation is not an issue but the softness of the snow hinders our progress a little.
Hrafntinnusker comes to view at 12:30 p.m. The hut has a ground floor with a loft. On the ground floor there is cooking room and dormitory. The loft includes sleeping bag accommodation with mattresses. Outside there are tall wind walls for those who came here to camp. The campsites are melted out but there is snow all around. Wind kisses it and then skims over the sites. They look cold, uninviting nearly. It’s not hard to make a decision to push onto the next hut which sits on a shore of lake Altavatn another 8 miles down the trail.
To get there we have to cross another snow field. It doesn’t look like long ways before we are to reach solid ground but perspective can be deceiving. It takes us quite a while to make our way across.
Our speed increases after we leave the snow behind. There is a short uphill and afterwards we cruise down a ridge with amazing views to either side. Down bellow is a flat meadow for which we are aiming. At the end of the ridge the trail drops down steeply. The tread is not the best, gravel slips under our feet and at spots the dirt is loose also. We’re back to a very slow pace. In a way this descend is much more exhausting then the uphill we conquered in the morning.
Our first water crossing awaits us at the bottom. The water is cold but not freezing cold. It reaches just below our knees in the middle of the stream where the current is strongest but mostly it only passes around our ankles or slightly above them. It’s refreshing.
There are no more obstacles between us and the hut now. We are separated only by a 2 mile stroll through the meadow during which the views of cony peaks all dressed in green and steeper more rugged mountain in the distance keep us a company.