August 8 Reykjavik to Landmannalauger by bus, to Hrafntinnusker on foot (12 km)
Up early for walk to the bus station and a four hour ride to the trail head of the Laugatvegur Trek. The landscape was unsurprisingly similar to parts of New Zealand’s North Island, both the product of recent volcanic activity. The American and Eurasian plates are tearing the island apart at a rate of 5 centimeters per year, so there are many earthquakes, hot springs in everyone’s back yards (it is how they heat), and regular eruptions blanketing the landscape with lava rocks and fine dark sand. In the uplands the primary plants are mosses. Trees are small and scarce. Arrival at Landmannalauger quickly disabused me of the notion this would be like hiking New Zealand unless it were the Tongariro crossing where the crowds tend to overwhelm the experience. Landmannalauger was a tent city full of trekkers preparing for the trail or relaxing in the hot volcanic pools after completion. As it was already noon and I had at least 12 km over Mount Brennisteinalda before camping, I headed straight out. Still suffering from the effects of illness, I hoped to leave the circus behind. The path was full of Laugavegur trampers but also day hikers and families up to see Brennisteinalda, the island’s most colorful mountain. It was jaw-dropping, on one flank were slides of different colored gravels forming a rainbow pattern. I had purchased a low-resolution topo map at the information center which I completely misread and, like a rookie trekker, after summiting I followed a path off the back side of the mountain to the valley floor only to discover I was heading in exactly the wrong direction, so I had to climb it again–a really rusty long-distance hiker. It is hard to write of the landscape as it was unlike any I’ve ever seen–color, texture, pattern–and luckily the light was perfect. Some fields were covered with broken rocks that looked like obsidian, black glass shining in the Arctic sun. After my initial mistake, the trail was easy to follow, packed as it was like the Camino de Santiago. Before long I found myself at Hrafntinnusker, a campsite the trekkers call the windy place. The tent sites were surrounded by low stacked stone circles to help cut the wind. There are huts with tent sites every 12-15 km along the trail where expedition companies do a thriving business ferrying luggage and cooking food for wealthy slack-packers. Life down in the tent sites was a little more spartan. Since it was a fairly short trek and you cannot fly with fuel and since I had shipped my Jetboil home, I opted for cold food– trail mix, chorizo, and crackers. By late afternoon my tent was up, half a chorizo was eaten, and I found myself napping in my sleeping bag out of the cold wind. Soon the circles filled up and, lucky me, I found myself next to some loud Americans. I still don’t understand the need for so much volume, often seems like children begging for attention. There was no waiting for dark as it stays light very late (and gets light very early), so I soon drifted off, listening to the light ticking of minute raindrops on my tent. Lying there I was reminded how much I enjoyed the simple pleasure good equipment offers. A good Zpack tent and a great sleeping bag were the definition of real comfort putting in stark contrast the last six weeks in an apartment with a big bed, bathroom, kitchen, etc. It is amazing how soft you can get in such a short time living like that.
T. Hugh Crawford