11 -day backpacking trip from Skógar to Áfangagil via Landmannalaugar
After our first introduction to Iceland in 2010, we couldn’t wait to go back to Iceland again. Our plane lands around three o’clock in the afternoon. This means we have to stay one night in Reykjavik because the last bus to Skógar leaves the BSÍ terminal in Reykjavik at 3pm. We stay at the AR Guesthouse, it’s a fifteen-minute walk from BSÍ. We had chosen for a guesthouse instead of a camping because the bus to Skógar leaves at 9am. We slept well, so that’s a good start. This is unfortunate for a short time. When we arrive in BSÍ there appears to be no food package ready for us. We had arranged these food packages with a Dutch travel company specialized in Iceland. I try to call the travel company but it’s Sunday today so I can’t reach them. The staff of BSÍ try to help us but they also can’t find any information about the food packages. They tell us to take the bus to Skógar and hopefully, there will be a food package ready for us at the camping in Skógar. We don’t trust the organisation of the food packages anymore. So during the first bus stop, we buy us some food to be sure. And good that we did this. Around 12.15 the bus arrives in Skogar, there is no food package at the camping. After a while, I get the travel company on the line. They promise us that in Þórsmörk there will be a package for us. Finally around 03:30 pm we can start our backpacking trip.
Day 1: Skógar – near Hornfellsnípa
Walking hours: 2h30
Photo moments: 1h
Altitude: 550m ascent, 0m descent
The trail starts at the waterfall Skógafoss, we follow the staircase up to the right of the waterfall. After a short, steep climb the path will be ascent more evenly. We pass some beautiful waterfalls. Then we follow the river uphill. At around 06.30 pm we set up the tent. It’s now just a kilometre walk to the bridge over the river Skógá. Tomorrow we ascent 550 meters and then the descent to Þórsmork begins.
Day 2: Near Hornfellsnípa – Þórsmork
Walking hours: 8h
Photo moments: 4h
Altitude: 550m ascent, 850m descent
We start with a small breakfast. We have not much food left at the moment. After our breakfast, we start to hike. After a while, there are some beautiful waterfalls. We take a small break to take some pictures. After a short time, we cross the river Skógá with the footbridge. Two years after the eruption of the Eyjafjalljökull there is still a thick pack of volcanic ash. We pass some beautiful waterfalls after a while we walk into the fog. Since then we have a limited view of about 25 meters. The navigation is more difficult. We barely see the marks. We use our GPS to find the emergency hut Baldvinsskáli. A Czech couple follows us to the hut. They were lost. They have no map, compass or GPS. They are happy that they met us. After a while, the fog disappears and we walk towards the Fimmvörðuháls pass, this is located between the Eyjafjalljökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers.
By the recent eruption of the Eyjafjalljökull in 2010, there is a new lava field formed near the Fimmvörðuháls pass. The route goes right through this lava field. From here begins the descent to Þórsmork. Here we have a nice view of the Mýrdalsjökull. Soon we get Þórsmork in sight. When we are in Þórsmork, we have to cross the Króssa with a bridge. After we crossed the river we don’t need to ford any more rivers today, all tributaries of the Króssa are dry. Moments later we arrive at the Langidalur hut. Our food package is not delivered so I try to reach our travel company but they don’t pick up the telephone because of the late hour. So we buy some food for one evening in the shop at the hut. They don’t have much but we’re not going to sleep hungry anyway.
Day 3: Þórsmork – Sandar area
Walking hours: 7h
Photo moments: 2h30
Altitude: 700m ascent, 550m descent
In the morning we get up early and we hike to the top of the Valahnúkur without our heavy backpacks, we did it in about one hour up and down. Then we load our backpacks partially but we still have to wait for our food packages. The bus comes around 1 pm in Langidalur, in the meantime they let us know that usually the food packages are deposited in Húsadalur. So I call the tour company and they confirm this. We leave Langidalur and around 1pm we are in Húsadalur. Our food package is already there waiting for us. Finally, everything seems to come fine.
Around 2 pm, we finally start walking to Emstrur. Moments later we wade through the river Þrónga, this is as good as dry. After we crossed the river, we walk through the volcanic desert of Almenningar. On the left is the Markarfjót canyon and on the right is the Mýrdalsjökull. It’s a grey landscape opposite this morning. Moments later we get the Markarfjót canyon for the first time in sight. After a while the route bends in the direction of the Sandar area, now we get a spectacular view of the Markarfjót canyon. At the Sandar area, we go searching for a place to set up our tent. We are tired because we couldn’t start earlier in Þórsmork.
Day 4: Sandar area – near Stórasúla
Walking hours: 6h
Photo moments: 2h
Altitude: 750m ascent, 450m descent
We cross the glacial river Fremri-Emstrué via the bridge. Then there follows immediately a steep climb, this is complicated by many descending hikers. Moments later we see the Botnar hut. We walk to a viewpoint over the Markarfjót canyon. It is about an hour walk from the path to Álftavatn. Moments later we are back on course to Álftavatn. The path goes here through a grey lava desert with some beautiful mountains around us. Moments later we wade through a river. This one is just too deep to go through with the shoes on.
After wading through the river it’s mostly flat, after a while we pass a big glacial river with a bridge. After the bridge, it’s still a long time hiking through a lava desert. It’s also pretty hot today our feet are burning in the hiking boots. We are therefore pleased that we have to wade through a river just before Hvanngil. Right after this, we take the bridge over Kaldaklofskvísl. A few minutes later, we arrive in Hvanngil. Normally there was a food package delivered for us. But there is no bus in Hvanngil today so normally it will be delivered tomorrow. We decide to wait for the package in Álftavatn. The bus passes there first before it drives further to Hvanngil. We walk fifteen minutes further and then we start searching for a place to set up the tent.
Day 5: Near Stórasúla – Hrafntinnusker
Walking hours: 4h30
Photo moments: 1h30
Altitude: 740m ascent, 270m descent
Today we woke up later than usual. The bus arrives at 1 pm in Álftavatn. We walk in an hour to Àlftavatn. Along the way, we have to wade through a river. We have to wait 2 hours for the bus arrives. We are glad to see that the bus has our food package. It’s a very large package so we figure out what we will take with us. A Flemish group of young hikers get the rest. Around 01:30 pm we leave Àlftavatn. We pack our backpack and then we start our hike to Landmannalaugar. Thirty minutes later we need to wade through a river. We need to take off our shoes because the water comes above our knees. After this, there follows a steep climb to the top of the Jökulgil. I pause a few times to make some panoramas.
From now on we get a nice view of the rhyolite mountains where Landmanalaugar and the environment are known for. The rhyolite mountains are very colourful yellow, red, brown and grey-green. Occasionally we smell a rotten egg odour coming from sulphur fumes. It’s best to hold your breath as you pass these vapours. The path goes up and down over the rhyolite hills, there is still a lot of ash after 2 years. This makes the end of the day very exhausting. When we arrive in Hrafntinnusker, we are happy to see that there is still a stone wall free to set up our tent behind. An hour later the last couple of today arrives at Hrafntinnusker, they have to build their own wall. You need this wall because there are strong winds in all directions. Otherwise, the wind will blow the whole night under your tent. We quickly eat something and then we go to sleep. It blows here terribly and it is cold outside, moments later we are surrounded by fog. You can not call this pitch really cosy.
Day 6: Hrafntinnusker – Landmannalaugar
Walking hours: 4h
Photo moments: 2h30
Altitude: 350m ascent, 800m descent
In the morning we make a short walk to an area with normally many fumaroles. But by the drought, there are unfortunately just a few fumaroles. After the short walk, we hike further to Landmannalaugar. We pass the noisy fumarole Stórihver.
Moments later we see the Bláhnúkur in the distance. This is popular day hike for day-trippers in Landmannalaugar. It is here a lot busier than the previous days. After a while, we get the lava field Laugahraun in sight. The path goes through the lava field to come out at the campsite of Landmannalaugar. The campsite is located just behind this lava field. It’s here very busy, there are many jeeps and large groups. We will stay now three nights in Landmannalaugar for making some day trips.
Day 7: Day hike Frostastaðavatn – Ljótipollur
Walking hours: 1h30
Photo moments: 2h
Altitude: 300m ascent, 350m descent
Today we walk to the lake Frostastaðavatn and the crater lake Ljótipollur. A lot of people told us that it’s a beautiful day hike. The first part of the hike we follow about 1.5km the main road. Then we follow the path at the left to Frostastaðavatn. After about 2km we take a short pause to make some pictures of the lake. The view from here is beautiful!
Moments later, we cross the road from here there is a path along the mountain Norðurámur towards the Lake Ljótipollur. You get a nice view of the Norðurámur when you walk to crater edge up. Once we are on the edge of the crater we get a nice view of the crater lake Ljótipollur.
We walk now back to the lake Frostastaðavatn. Charlotte suggests hitchhiking back to the campsite. It’s exactly the same path back. We are standing less than five minutes along the way and a French jeep stops for us. They are incredibly friendly and will sit on the back seat with four people for us. Charlotte and I take place at the passenger seat in the front. They ask us from where we are. When we say Belgium they ask immediately of we are from the Flemish or Walloon side. They speak perfect English, that’s surprises us because they are French. The driver and his wife live in Reykjavik since five years. When we are at the campsite, we thank them once more and go searching if our food package is delivered. And YES for the first time it’s on time. Today there is a disposable barbeque, a large piece of lamb and some other BBQ stuff in. That will taste good! After the dinner, we go relax in the hot springs. Fortunately, it is not too busy. After relaxing we go to sleep.
Day 8: Day hike Suðurnamur
Walking hours: 3h
Photo moments: 2h30
Altitude: 525m ascent, 500m descent
Today we walk to the top of the Suðurnamur. Again we follow the road a kilometre then there is a path to the left. We get a nice view over the Jöklgílskvísl. Moments later we are at one of the tops and we get a nice view of Landmannalaugar. Moments later we got a nice view of the Námskvísl and Laugahraun.
From now on we begin descending to Námskvísl. We pass an intersection where the path goes in three directions: Háalda, Landmannahellir and Landmannalaugar. Tomorrow we follow the path to Landmannahellir. Now we walk through a dry river back to the lava field Laugahraun. Here we have a beautiful view of Háalda.
After the hike, we pack our backpacks already as much as possible. We’re going to the hot springs to enjoy for the last time of the warm water. After relaxing in the hot springs we have a chat with some Dutch people of the travel company SNP. Tomorrow they drive to Askja with their group. They treat us a beer for all the food we give them. After the chat, we go to sleep.
Day 9: Landmannalaugar – Landmannahellir
Walking hours: 6h
Photo moments: 1h30
Altitude: 730m ascent, 750m descent
When we get up everyone is still sleeping on the campsite except the group of SNP. They have a long day ahead. We are the first hikers of today who leaves the campsite. Soon we are back at the intersection of Háalda-Landmannahellir. From now on we will probably see not that many hikers as the previous days. This route is not so popular as the Laugavegur. There is also no clear path as the previous days. We follow about an hour a few stone deserts, then there follows a short steep climb and right away a descent to the road F225.
Now we walk towards Lifrafjallavatn, we walk to the left of the Lake in the direction of Lifrarfjöll. Just before Lifrarfjöll we descent to the Lake Löðmundarvatn. We follow now a flock of sheep to the right of the Lake in the direction of Hellisfjall. We are now almost in Landmannahellir. The last part is a little ascending and then we descent to Landmannahellir.
This will be the loudest bivouac of the whole journey. We go to sleep around 9 am. An hour later there stops a truck with a group of Spaniards, after an hour they are also asleep. Finally, we can sleep further until 1am. Now there stop 2 French jeeps. We thought the Spaniards were already noisy but the French are still a degree worse. It will be therefore a short night.
Day 10: Landmannahellir – near Valahnúkar
Walking hours: 5h30
Photo moments: 2h
Altitude: 275m ascent, 400m descent
The first kilometres we walk through a stone desert, after this, it’s slightly ascending towards Herbjarnarfellsvatn. We descent now to a stone desert between the Herbjarnarfell and Hrafnabjörg. We follow now a path via Lambaskarð towards the lava field Lambafitjarhraun. The lava field is already a century old. It is completely covered with moss. As far as you can see to the North, there is the lava field. Just after the lava field we need to wade through the river Helliskvísl. We already had heard from some friends that they were in the water up to their hips. We can just jump over the river by using some stones.
Now we walk through a few stone deserts and then we pass the explosion crater Valagjá. We follow the path marked with white poles to the North of the Valahnuúkar. Here we find a green place to set up the tent. We are completely in the wind but the tent will hold it normally. We are just in the tent and then it starts raining for the first time this journey.
Day 11: Near Valahnúkar – Áfangagil
Walking hours: 2h
Photo moments: 15min
Altitude: 125m ascent, 250m descent
It has been raining all night long and in the morning it’s still raining. Today we walk to the hut of Áfangagil and then continue to the road F225, where the bus will pick us up. We still have to wait 2 hours in the rain before the bus is there.