A sizzling, steamy hike in a chilly nation

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Beginning out on Iceland’s hottest multi-day climbing route there’s an expectation of vibrant landscapes and geothermal drama this nation is legendary for, but none of our group anticipates the cohesive nature of Laugavegur.

“The climate within the mountains is a little bit bit shitty right now,” says Ingibjorg Gudjonsdottir after introductions across the circle at Reykjavik’s central bus station.

For 4 full days this veteran information, of small stature and commanding presence, will lead 13 of us, a a mixture of solo travellers, siblings, pals and {couples} aged 21 and upwards from six completely different international locations. The eldest is a New Yorker in her late sixties known as Tui. Our driver, Thor Helgason, is a quiet sheep farmer and longstanding good friend of Ingibjorg’s who transports our baggage and meals between distant huts. It is early September and the final hike of the season.

Laugavegur, which means “the recent spring path”, begins at Landmannalaugar in Iceland’s south highlands the place it is 10 levels and drizzling once we arrive. Superb circumstances for a dip in a thermal creek. This seems to be an actual ice-breaker for strangers about to set off alongside one another, share each meal, sleep in shut proximity and cross rivers collectively of their underpants.

Iceland is a Nordic nation that hangs like a pendant on the Arctic Circle. It is about one and a half occasions the dimensions of Tasmania with the inhabitants a bit greater than Newcastle. Regardless of nationwide tourism exploding after Eyjafjallajokull erupted in 2010 – grounding planes throughout Europe and twisting tongues internationally – few of Iceland’s 330,000 residents have felt the necessity to style themselves a false facade for guests.

Like volcanoes, the extreme heat is just not at all times exteriorly obvious.

Positioned between Greenland and Norway, the place the North Atlantic meets the Arctic Ocean, the island was settled from the late eighth century by Celtic monks and pagan Norse individuals. An remoted inhabitants within the tens of hundreds in some way survived the volcanic exercise, sub-Arctic local weather, inherent dangers of seafaring and bubonic plague. Previous Norse lettering and spelling have additionally survived, which means Icelanders right now can learn the sagas etched on historical calfskin.

Our journey on foot begins up the aspect of a volcano that hasn’t erupted for a minimum of half a millennium. That is a really very long time by Icelandic requirements; since 1900 there have been greater than 50 remoted eruptions from the island’s 30 energetic techniques. For Icelanders, volcanoes are part of life.

After Grimsvotn erupted beneath its glacier again in 1996, Ingibjorg and her husband raced in direction of the south of Iceland for the spectacle of gigantic high-and-dry icebergs scattered throughout the sand deltas of Skeithararsandur. Grimsvotn erupted once more in 2011. Icecap-covered Eyjafjallajokull, seen from Laugavegur, has been going off often because the final Ice Age.

From Landmannalaugar we stroll among the many ghostly our bodies of sulphuric steam levitating above the lava subject. White floor in a single space warns of a dangerously skinny crust. A threadbare rug of fluorescent inexperienced moss carpets a volcanic-black ridge. The naked soil of one other slope is rust-coloured.

There will not be a tree to see for days. And even then, Ingibjorg explains, “we are saying that for those who get misplaced in an Icelandic forest, arise”. That afternoon we huddle collectively below our information’s light-weight orange tarp for a communal steam tub over a small opening to a sizzling spring then stroll throughout an uncovered plateau into icy wind and stinging rain.

Though Iceland’s local weather is comparatively delicate for its latitude and the route’s highest level is barely 1059 metres, one other chilling reminder of the unpredictability of its climate stands only one kilometre shy of Hrafntinnusker Hut: a memorial plaque to a 25-year-old Israeli vacationer. Ido Keinan was inexperienced and alone when he perished on that spot throughout a midsummer storm in 2004.

Once we arrive at Hrafntinnusker, the hut’s mud room is already heaving with saturated wet-weather gear. Our group has its personal area, already reserved, with bunkbeds for everybody and a protracted central desk. Thor is already there with our baggage and recent salmon. Ingibjorg, who’s a wizard of a cook dinner, recruits a few of us to assist her put together conventional fish soup.

Outdoors, different hikers pitch tents within the swirling mist. After Ingibjorg has coerced us into third and fourth helpings she suggests we provide campers the remaining soup. It is nonetheless mild, however some individuals are already of their tents whereas others huddle at a three-sided cooking shelter. The creamy broth is most appreciated by a pair standing side-by-side at their campsite as if posing for {a photograph} no person’s taking. One in every of them is holding up a semi-depleted bottle of absinthe they usually confess to failing all three makes an attempt to arrange dinner. Once I step again into the dry heat of the hut I expertise precise pleasure.

There isn’t any magic system for constructing a cohesive group however the mixture of personalities, Ingibjorg’s management, the bodily achievements of the primary day and a comfortable hut to name residence for the evening bond the group like cooled lava. As does the rice wine the couple from South Korea insist on sharing round each night.

The subsequent morning the clouds begin to elevate and the panorama opens up. Views from Laugavegur are like one thing from an exquisitely illustrated youngsters’s ebook – each freshly turned web page so completely different to the final. Our elongated shadows observe us throughout snowfields like silver monsters, we gaze down into lush valleys which might be undoubtedly enchanted and traverse dusty volcanic plains that could possibly be the floor of one other planet. Makes an attempt to pronounce the Icelandic names for these locations make us sound like we’re nonetheless studying to speak.

Each hut is a welcome sight. Alftavatn, on the second evening, has a number of buildings together with a little bit restaurant bar and a bathe block I line up at after a plunge within the frigid lake. Earlier than sundown, a few of us climb a close-by hill to see Myrdalsjokull – the glacier protecting a volcano named Katla.

The tales of witches and trolls Ingibjorg tells, together with these about cranky Katla and her magic operating trousers, do not appear in any respect far-fetched on Laugavegur. And we’re rewarded for believing: Katla slumbers and the climate fairies stay on our aspect. At Alftavatn we lie in our sleeping baggage on the boardwalk below the clear evening sky scanning for northern lights. The subsequent day, after a picnic lunch, all of us sprawl out on the grass within the sunshine.

Ingibjorg usually leads us off-piste to keep away from different climbing teams or scale back river crossings, but typically there is no various however to ford. On the financial institution of Brattakvisl, all of us strip down on the underside half to underwear so our trousers keep dry. We type a pack in strains of three and 4. The brothers are hand-in-hand, pals are arm-in-arm, the remainder of us hyperlink elbows and clasp fingers and Ingibjorg will get a agency maintain on Tui. On our information’s command we stroll ahead, as one, by means of the deep rush of freezing water.

THE DETAILS

FLY

Qantas (and airline companions) flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Reykjavik (Iceland) by way of cities resembling Singapore, London and Helsinki. See qantas.com

STAY

Lodge Eyja Guldsmeden is a 65-room eco-hotel in a transformed workplace block inside strolling distance of central Reykjavik. From $255 for a double room. See hoteleyja.is

EAT

Strive Saegreifinn for recent seafood dishes, like lobster soup and fish-on-a-stick, in an off-the-cuff traditional-style restaurant that will not breaking the financial institution. See fb.com/saegreifinn.seabaron

TOUR

UTracks, presents an intensive assortment of guided and self-guided strolling and biking journeys of various lengths. The five-day hut-based Laugavegur Path Guided Stroll, from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork (55 kilometres), has departures till mid-September from $3490 an individual. See utracks.com

MORE

traveller.com.au/iceland 

inspiredbyiceland.com 

Elspeth Callender travelled as a visitor of UTracks.

FIVE MORE OUTDOOR SUMMER ACTIVITIES IN ICELAND

CYCLE THE REYKJAVIK COAST

Spend a shiny night pedalling the coast round Reykjavik. This comparatively flat 18-kilometre guided bicycle journey takes in lighthouses, chook sanctuaries and thermal seashores. See icelandbike.com 

HIKE MOUNT ESJA

Reykjavik’s skyline is dominated by a 914-metre flat-topped vary. You possibly can hike it independently or be part of a half-day guided tour that features sizzling springs and beer tasting. See getyourguide.com 

SWIM AT HOFSOS

For a fraction of the price of Blue Lagoon, head to this out of doors geothermal public pool with a view for some sub-Arctic laps or only a scenic splash. See fb.com/sundlauginhofsosi/ 

KAYAK GLACIER LAGOON

This full daytrip from Reykjavik to the South Coast can have you kayaking between icebergs, taking within the glacier of Solheimajokul and strolling behind the falling waters of 65-metre Seljalandsfoss. See mountainguides.is 

GO BACK IN TIME

Be part of a two-day Genuine Iceland tour at Obyggdasetur Islands – Wilderness Centre in Egilsstadir. Keep in a single day in a standard turf home to expertise how Icelanders as soon as lived. See wilderness.is 



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