Landmannalaugar isn’t so much a place. It’s more of a rip in the space-time continuum.
Consider its summer: It’s hard to tell 3 a.m. from 3 p.m. It can wrap you in the warmth of geothermal vents, chill you with wind, hose you down with rain – all in the span of 30 minutes. You can hike for hours without seeing a solitary living creature. It can even dispatch a lethal blizzard – yes, even in June.
Night doesn’t fall. The often-overcast skies will keep you in a permanent state of twilight. The terrain and scenery changes drastically from mile to mile. The colors of the rhyolite mountains will make you want to get your eyes checked.
In June of 2010, I arrived at Landmannalaugar with my wife. We read about it in guidebooks and blogs. Nothing even remotely prepared us for this place. Oh, we had the equipment we needed. But the scenery! You can look at these photos all you want, and you will still not believe your eyes when you get off the bus from Reykjavik.
There just is no other place like this.
Here’s what to expect on this amazing, one-of-a-kind, 12-kilometer trip from Landmannalauger to the Hrafntinnusker camp site.
This is where the bus drops you off. You’ll find bathrooms, a lodge, showers and the warden’s hut. It’s all immaculate and functional.
This lava flow crops up from out of nowhere, and it’s the first obstacle you’ll climb. It’s a pretty short climb, but steep.
You’ll see plenty of people on the lava flow. And you’ll think the lava flow with its cover of moss looks lifeless. Just you wait. You’ll soon learn what lifeless and barren really look like.
You’ll see the fumaroles near the slope from the moment you get on top of the lava flow. This is about two miles into the hike. This was the last place we saw people for quite awhile.
I’ve never seen anything like this before. These snowbanks are almost like miniature glaciers. They’re covered in volcanic ashfall. Most of the time, they’re still pristine and white.
This beige plain was, in many ways, the hardest part of the trip. It started with a slipper jaunt around an explosion crater. That led to a steep, slippery climb up to the plain. Once on the plain, the trail meandered and seemed to turn just to keep the wind blowing into your face. And it never seemed to end. There was no life up there aside from Sarah and me.
After trekking about two miles over a lifeless plain past a bunch of these crazy mini-glaciers, you’ll descend into a river valley with fumaroles. It’s nice and warm on the ground! This is the first place we run into people since we passed the last fumaroles about two hours earlier.
Everywhere I look, I see these snowbanks. Where there’s not snow, there’s huge hunks of obsidian. Off in the distance, Dr. Seuss-colored mountains and steam gushing out of the ground.
Low-lying clouds add to the mysterious look. A few yards earlier, we passed a monument to a dead hiker. He was killed in a freak summer blizzard. We’re only about a mile from the hut.
Here’s the obsidian. There are massive amounts of it. I don’t know if it fell from the sky as part of an explosive eruption, or if there was some flow that passed over this area before breaking into chunks.
Several times, I sank into the snow nearly to my knee. It made for slow going, carefully picking each spot and checking its stability.
I am good and ready to hang out at a campsite. It’s been a long 12K!
To the campsite at last! The people we caught up to stayed in the hut … and get this: They had some shuttle service carry their gear. Cheaters! I have to admit, I was shocked that cars could get here. But this wasn’t just a car – it was a totally tricked-out off-road shuttle. They even had to deflate the tires for traction to get here. Must’ve been a scary ride! And yes, that is an outhouse. Look closely and you’ll see little rings made from rocks. Those are obsidian chunks formed into rings. You pitch your tent in the ring for a little relief from the wind.