Laugavegur trek - part 2 and Fimmvörðuháls
by Paul Webster » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:18 pm
Date walked: 14/08/20176 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
The rains were very heavy overnight, but light in the morning and we got the tent packed up without getting soaked. The trek was now of completely different character, running across a barren lava field though with the isolated sharp peaks known as Inselbergs all around. A wide river was crossed using a bridge, but the second river required a wade - more than knee deep and very cold!
It soon brightened up a little, however, giving atmospheric views of this new volcanic world. There was another river, but easy to cross this time.
Occasionally there were glimpses to some of Iceland's ice-caps in the distance.
The trail then descended to the hut / camping area at Botnar/Emstur - the end of the third stage for many Laugavegur walks - but a very bleak and unforgiving spot.
Beyond the hut the trail led down grey ash gullies and eventually descended a brief steeper bit (with a fairly uselessly placed chain alongside) to reach a deep ravine with a gushing cataract through it - but thankfully a bridge above. On the far side the trail swung left along an easy ledge - again with chains but not actually needed.
The walk now headed through the floor of a valley (above the gorge), eventually climbing and coming near the rim of the now much deeper gorge.
A distant building could be seen at one point as the route crossed some red vegetation with a steep peak (known as unicorn peak) beyond.
After some more gentle climbs and descends to the river Þröngá. This looked much smaller and shallower than the river photographed early in this report. However, as we neared it became apparent from others crossing it that it suddenly becomes a very deep channel at certain points. The water was full of debris so you couldn't see anything - but warnings came from the expletives and splashes of other trekkers suddenly going deep. The current was very strong too, so a slightly unnerving experience. No pictures of the actual crossing as it began raining heavily at this point.
On the far side the route climbs into yet another new landscape - the woods of Þórsmörk (Thor's Forest). The trail lay over a wooded ridge before descending to a beautifully situated camping ground and hut.
We were very weary at this point after two consecutive days of around 28km each, but the comfy tent pitch on grass felt like a luxury. Later on the weather cleared a little to reveal more of the amazing landscapes around Þórsmörk - where a wide glacial river plain is flanked by forests, steep-sided gorges and peaks and finally the great ice caps of Mýrdalsjökull (with the active Katla volcano beneath) and Eyjafjallajökull. Warning signs said what to do if Katla erupted - which it apparently does every 50 years and may be overdue. What I took from these was to hope it didn't erupt.
Next morning was overcast but the clouds were quite high and the rain holding off, so we decided to continue the trek with the Fimmvörðuháls. The glacial river is crossed using two big bridges on massive wheels.
The overcast conditions masked a little what was obviously a stunning setting - can only imagine how beautiful this would be in sunshine.
Eventually the trail begins to climb very steeply up the flank of a ridge divided from the main mountain mass by a deep ravine. Once on top of the ridge it narrows to a fine arete - known as the Kattarhyggir or Cat's Spine. I'd been worried by this in advance, but although the drops on each side are pretty big and the ridge is narrow, it didn't cause any real difficulties. It ended with a cable but not really needed.
The weather was now not great, and after the ridge broadened there was a long, steep ascent to a flat, stony plateau. After crossing the plateau the path descends briefly but steeply to a narrow neck with deep ravines on either side.
Once across the dip the route climbs a steep eroded slope connecting the plateau to the higher mountain slopes beyond. At a craggy section (pictured below) the path swings right above where the hikers are and traverses the steep and loose slope, 'protected' by a cable - this bit is known as Heljarkambur or Hell's Mohawk. I was very nervous approaching this bit which is on loose gravel, and more so once on it as most of the poles supporting the chains are very loose and in some cases completely pulled out. After traversing above the drop the route climbs to the safer slopes above.
A long, long ascent up volcanic gravel followed. By now the weather was robbing us of distant views.
Higher up the landscape has changed greatly following the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull which wrecked air travel across Europe back in 2010. The route crosses some new lava flows and passes two brand new peaks called Magni and Modi, which can be ascended by short detours. It's strange to think of being on peaks formed only in 2010! The peaks were too hot to walk on for the first couple of years and steamed for several years after that, but seemed inactive now.
My eye was drawn by this strange volcanic pudding formation (that is not the technical term) below Modi...
The walk now continued across extensive snowfields. It was very hard to say where the highest part of the pass was, as the route crossed many snowy ridges and gravel slopes. The route currently marked by poles actually passes well to the east of the Fimmvörðuháls hut.
At one point the route - marked by poles bent double by the winter snows - descended a steeper snow slope, which for the lower half was more like sheet glacier ice. This wasn't mentioned in any of our guidebooks - and could only really be passed by shuffling and very carefully sliding.
Looking back at the icy bit.
After another descent and rise another tiny hut was reached. From here a rough landrover track is followed for a time. The landscape on this side of the pass is far less dramatic, with gentle, stony slopes - though the stones make hard going underfoot on the track.
Eventually the path leaves the track and follows the Skogar river for the remaining 10km or so of the descent. The river has 20-odd waterfalls - most of them extremely spectacular - and runs through some dramatic gorges in places.
After a certain number of even such magnificent falls, you still start to get very tired.
We came back up this last part of the walk the next day for another look - and to get sunnier photos - so the following shots were actually taken the next morning.
Eventually the lip of the great Skogafoss is reached - with a viewing platform and hordes and hordes of people!
527 steps rammed with trippers lead down to the foot of the falls - and a campsite just beyond. We set up camp here and got a bus back to Reyjavik the following afternoon. A satifying end to a very memorable trek.
by Mal Grey » Tue Aug 29, 2017 10:16 pm
Despite having visited bits of this region when young, I had never really looked at the route of the Laugavegur trek, and I hadn't realised it went all the way down to Skogarfoss. You've re-awakened my longing to return, though I'm a little nervous of the number of people there seem to be these days!
The Icelandic landscape is utterly bonkers, and like nowhere else.
by Alteknacker » Tue Aug 29, 2017 10:54 pm
It looks like the route can be followed reasonably easily using a map and guide book???
by Paul Webster » Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:47 am
Yes, I think it's the busiest trek route in Iceland and there were plenty of people - though Landmannalaugar was by far the busiest spot. On the other hand it's easy to see why it is so popular. We really wanted a route that included geothermal areas for our first visit to Iceland.
We seemed to avoid most people with early starts and breaking up the sections differently, which meant it never felt really too busy apart from one or two spots (the descent before Altvatn comes to mind). After the trek we drove round the Golden Circle in a hire car and the sites on that were absolutely thronged with crowds of people!
I had never really looked at the route of the Laugavegur trek, and I hadn't realised it went all the way down to Skogarfoss.
The Laugavagur ends at Þórsmörk, but the Fimmvörðuháls to Skogafoss is an obvious extension (and is often done as a day walk too).
It looks like the route can be followed reasonably easily using a map and guide book???
It's actually pretty well marked and obvious much of the way in clear conditions, though it would be much tougher if the mists came down at crucial points - losing the route on some sections would be serious! The map we had was 1:100k which isn't the greatest scale but we had a gpx track on phone as back up too, though never needed to turn it on.
by litljortindan » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:38 pm
Particularly interesting to see what lies beyond Skogafoss as I remember standing at the top of the falls and seeing the path beyond and wondering about continuing along it for a while but decided instead to climb a wee hill at Vik as I had no real idea of what lay ahead what with having no walking route information, albeit I seem to remember there is a notice board there at the top of the falls. I did manage to buy a walking book at the airport but only on the way home.
by jimandandrea » Thu Sep 14, 2017 4:45 pm
This goes beyond next level and impressive beyond words. I blew up some of the pictures just to get my head round it! You really went for it and must have been so chuffed with your trip. I know the weather could have been better in this last section but even then added to the trip especially to lie on your mat in the end in that place reflecting on a trip well done. 10/10 + a wow thrown in for good measure! Excellent.
by johnkaysleftleg » Mon Sep 18, 2017 9:25 am
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