Laugavegur Day 3 – Altavatn to Emstrur (Botnar)

Morning at Altavatn

Morning at Altavatn

Distance: 9.5 miles

Altavatn is a busy place. The camping area in front of the hut overlooks the lake. It’s a large area that can easily hold 100 tents. People come until late into the night. People leave early. Even now at 6:30 a.m. the place is buzzing with life as campers are getting ready to hit the trail. Those heading towards Hrafntinnusker are bracing themselves for the climb while those continuing toward Botnar, like us, have an easy day ahead.

The trail start with a brief uphill. It is neither long nor too steep but it warms us up which is a good thing because the sun is losing the battle with overcast sky today and as a result the day is rather chilly.

After the uphill there is a traverse at a base of jaggedly ridge. We get the same views we enjoyed yesterday while dropping onto the Altavath plateau but today the features are much closer.

Packed and nearly ready to head out for the day.

Packed and nearly ready to head out for the day.

Altavatn area is green, the ground is covered with grass and green vegetation thrives on the slopes as well. I wish the weather was more pleasant. Side trail leads to the top of the ridge. The view of the lake must be awesome. But with the temperature as low as it is I have little desire to climb on a wind scoured ridgeline. Instead we continue slightly downhill dropping to a river we will have to wade.

The river is wide but it’s running low. The water hardly reaches above our ankles. It’s an easy crossing even though the water is quite cold.

Leaving Altavatn behind. This hill ended up being the climb of the day.

Leaving Altavatn behind. This hill ended up being the climb of the day.

3 miles from Altavatn we arrive at Hvanngil. There are two huts here, the older one is from mid 60’s  and was built for sheepherders. The newer one is for tourist and was built in 1995. As Álftavatn and Hvanngil are not too far apart, Hvanngil can be used as an alternate accommodation along the Laugavegur Trek. The hut accommodates 60 people. Camping area is rather small but very interesting as it is placed inside an old lava field.

The greenery we enjoyed during the first part of the day recedes. From Hvanngil on there is a large lava field around us, dark volcanic rock and soft fine ash that stirs when we walk through it.

There are not many bridges along this trek. If there is one, there is a good reason for it. Kaldaklofskvísl, river encountered shortly after leaving Hvanngil is one of the bridged rivers. We can hear its roar long before we can see it. The strength of the water gushing through the channel can make one dizzy. It’s a beautiful sight, an unleashed power of nature, but I’m glad we don’t have to wade this one.

Dropping to the first river crossing.

Dropping to the first river crossing.

Still another river has to be waded. At the first glance the crossing looks daunting too. The river is wide and deep. It has a fast flow. I step into the stream with hesitation, making short steps towards the stronger current mid stream. By the time I reach it, my confidence is back up. This is where the water is deepest, reaching to my upper thigh but the current is manageable and the rocks under my feet do not slip. This is one really nice thing I noticed about Iceland. Rock here are sharp and have plenty of traction.

The rest of the day is as uneventful as a day in hiker’s life can go. There are no more intimidating rivers to wade, no strenuous climbs to conquer, no dangerous animal encounters. The path in front of us is wide and flat and easy to walk on. We’re making good time, effortlessly, just by putting one leg in front of another while soaking up the gorgeous scenery around us. Tough life, I’ll tell you.

First flat area we had to cross. Still lots of green.

Still lots of green.

Emstrur immediately strikes a chord with me. The accommodation consists of 3 huts, each has a capacity of 20 people, and camping area on a terraced grassy slope behind the huts. The ground is soft and comfortable and from our tent we can see wildflowers and bees tending to them. Small creek rushes by few feet from the campground singing is a lullaby. It’s so relaxing.

“You should not miss the opportunity to see the Markarfjotsgljufur Gorge,” we are told by the warden. The gorge was formed by catastrophic flooding about 2500 years ago. It’s approximately 500 feet deep and it’s walls carry the most amazing layers or reds and greens. In the distance there are mountains and glaciers.There is a lot to like about Emstrur and the area that surrounds it.

Remnant of recent rain

Remnant of recent rain

Fun river crossing

Fun river crossing

Not much vegetation here. The brown stage of the day.

The brown stage of the day.

By this time we stopped counting the waterfalls we saw along the way.

By this time we stopped counting the waterfalls we saw along the way.

Once again the colors changes. The black ground was so unique.

Once again the colors changes. The black ground was so unique.

Last flat area before Emstrur

Last flat area before Emstrur

First view of the Botnar huts. We would never guess there was little green oasis in the shallow canyon behind it.

First view of the Botnar huts. We would never guess there was little green oasis in the shallow canyon behind it.

It paid off to come early. We had enough time in the afternoon to visit this colorful canyon about 20 minutes walking distance from Emstrur.

It paid off to come early. We had enough time in the afternoon to visit this colorful canyon about 20 minutes walking distance from Emstrur.

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