Part 3 of the Landmannalaugar / laugavegur trail
The first part of today’s route takes you up and over Brattháls ridge, a narrow mountain range overlooking Álftavatn on the left, and down into Hvanngil ravine, a soft hilly landscape bordered in the distance by dramatic snow capped peaks.
It’s a relatively easy hike, flattening out after the first initial climb, but the scenery is as usual, magnificent. Black dirt, misted with a fine green moss, ripples into soft slopes and a frosty wind, swirling, twirling down into the valley, lashes everything in it’s path.
What I thought’d happen
What actually happened
For miles and miles.
The first river crossing
Continuing on you will reach your first river crossing of the day, Bratthalskvisl. This is a wide but fairly shallow river, reaching to mid-calf level. You’ll need to take off your gear but there’s nothing to be concerned about other than freezing your ass off. But by now you’ll be impervious to the cold anyway. Did I mention it’s summer?
Walk onwards, up, down and around charred hills until you reach the huts at Hvanngil, a small campsite surrounded by strange lava formations. There are two huts you can stay overnight in here, but it is a poor alternative to Alftavatn. I don’t recommend it.
Tramp onwards, until you reach Kaldaklofskvísl, a river so powerful it looks to have ripped the ground apart in two edge-upturned rocky pieces. It’s a striking image against the surrounding scenic nothingness.
Patter across the wooden bridge and continue on. And on. And on. Across the black desert, furnished only by a bare dirt road and a dapple of moss, yellowed in the distance. Through the howling wind, barrelling across the barren plain, whipping through your skin. Keep walking. And walking.
Soon you will reach Bláfjallakvisl, the deepest river crossing on the trek. From a distance it looks simple to wade across, it’s not too wide and only thigh to waist height deep. But the current is surprisingly strong. And the temperature almost freezing. We padded up and down the banks for a few moments deciding at which point to enter. I started to panic a little. We didn’t read the guide for this trek. I HAD NO IDEA I’D BE PLUNGING TO MY DEATH.
We took off our shoes, hiked up our pants and waded through the water. I’m really glad I didn’t attempt this alone. I headed for the narrowest point of the river, which I now know deserves a swift slap for stupidity. Who knew the current is strongest at the narrowest point? I mean I learned fucking quadratics in school for god’s sake and nobody ever thought to teach me how to cross a river? WHAT ARE WE TEACHING PEOPLE.
Once we found the best point to cross it wasn’t so bad. That is, if you discount the terribly sharp river stones that tore through my soft human feet. Even the cold, completely numbing our bodies, couldn’t relieve us of that torture. The gushing current didn’t help either. Every step was elephantal, heavy, excruciatingly bruising. There’s no way to tread lightly when you’re resisting the full force of water.
Me crossing the river
More beautiful nothingness
After this it’s a long trek over a dusty volcanic desert. The landscape is completely flat, seamlessly dead. A hostile wind tears across the floor blowing ash into little twirls and pushing and pulling your body.
Walk. Walk. Walk.
It’s endless. And mesmerising. It feels like something out of Star Wars. The desert is endless in every direction. The cold wind unrelenting. Lips chapped and hands crumpled into cold dry fists, power on until you reach Nyrðri Emstruá, a ravenous river thundering down a waterfall into Earth’s gaping jaws. The water is a churning brown mess, rushing, tumbling, swirling. The river is fierce and wild, roaring down the snarling, jagged mouth. It’s a stark comparison to the dreamlike surroundings. It’s unforgettable example of Mother Nature’s might.
A little secret
After trudging for hours upon end across this bare nothingness, we started to wonder where the hell the campsite at Emstrur was. By our calculations we should have reached it a few hours beforehand. I felt as though I was beginning to hallucinate, imagining it behind each hill, running to the top only to find more grey desolate sameness.
It turns out we took the long route, but it’s lucky we did. Right before reaching the campsite, and still in the dark about where it was, we saw something silvery atop one of the larger hills. Set upon such a dusty ashen backdrop, it looked like a space explorer traversing Mars.
We decided to climb up to it in the hopes it would be a satellite dish, and that would mean a signal, and that would mean the camp had to be close by. Turns out it was. Just over the side of the hill in fact. But more importantly is that this is how I found the best view I have and will ever see in my entire life. I’m not exaggerating, and I know I’ve got another 50 years but my opinion is not premature. I can’t imagine anything more breathtaking. It even had a fucking rainbow for god’s sake. AS IF IT WASN’T WONDERFUL ENOUGH.
So, if you want to see views like this find the hill with the satellite dish. Climb to the top and just fucking die a little inside.
What I learned today:
- Don’t pee into the wind
- The world is more beautiful than you can ever imagine