Personally, I prefer sitting down to standing up, and lying down to sitting, so you can imagine where hiking rests on my list of favourite things to do. However, after four summers in Iceland, I had run out of excuses as to why I could not join some friends on a multi-day trekking tour through the Highlands.
Don’t get me wrong; I adore the Icelandic Highlands; I’d been to Landmannalaugar on several occasions, although admittedly, I spent far longer in the hot springs than I had on the trails. I’d even taken a seven-hour-long trek along the Fimmvörðuháls Pass in my early years as a guide, in which I spent about six hours longer on my feet than I had since I was a teenager.
Both experiences I found incredibly inspiring, particularly the latter, having an opportunity to witness the path of ruin that had been left the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. But spending multiple days out in the nature, far from my home comforts and with no clear means of escape should I want to, was something that honestly had little appeal to me.
- See also: Hiking in Iceland
Working at Guide to Iceland, I could at least tell my pushy, outdoorsy buddies that I was in the best position to choose which excursion we took. With some mumbling, dishonest preamble about the best discounts and insider information, I set out to plan our trip and settled on a four-day hike along the country’s most famous trekking route, the Laugavegur Trail from Landmannalaugar to Þórmörk.
I’d love to say I booked it because I was desperate to see the incredible sites advertised for each day, but in truth, it bested the others because it was one of the shortest options, and didn’t require any camping.
As I went through the booking process, part of me prayed that some hidden cost or extra complication would throw a damp cloth over the plans; tragically at the time, but incredibly thankfully in hindsight, the process could not have been quicker or smoother.
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Within five minutes I had committed myself to a multi-day trek in the remote wilderness of Iceland, in which I would be parted from my closest friends, Netflix and Instagram.
Now, of course, I could not be happier with my decision.
I have never had an experience like hiking through the Highlands before, falling asleep and waking up under the midnight sun, in a blissfully deafening silence. Of course, each day I had to endure some degree of my arch-nemesis, physical activity, but with the unbelievable vistas around me and our steady pace, I was too overwhelmed to focus on any breathlessness, to distracted to worry about stitches.
I thought that by seeing major attractions such as those around the Ring-Road, I had already appreciated the dramatic beauty of Iceland’s features; the trip taught me I had barely scraped the surface. Writing for Guide to Iceland, I have often described places as seeming as if they were drawn from fantasy, but here, I would have barely blinked if Brienne of Tarth came galloping over to our group, asking if we had seen a red-haired runaway by the name of Sansa Stark.
As a traveller who’d rather be out of pocket and comfortable in a hotel than roughing it with a bit more coin to spare in a hostel, I found the huts en route more than satisfactory: simple, yes, but cosy, and more than enough for a few days. I did not yearn for my home comforts one iota; far from missing my nightly episode of The Good Place, I found myself grateful to be as far from modern technology as possible, thrilled to be reconnected to nature.
The group I was travelling with made the experience all the more enjoyable; aside from my friends who were well-versed with the route, there were people from around the world sharing my sense of wonder at the majesty of Iceland's landscapes. Then, of course, was our guide, whose enthusiasm for the trip (which she must have taken dozens of times already) was as genuine as it was infectious.
Though each day of the journey had its unique landscapes and features, the highlight for me was undoubtedly the black-sand-desert of Mælifellssandur. Its haunting beauty was unreal; it felt like we were walking on a different planet, or Earth in its earliest years, when life was only just starting to bloom. I'd seen pictures of the green mountain of Stórasúla rising from the surroundings before, but none quite captured its vividness in such stark surroundings.
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Second to that were the glacier views. Iceland's glaciers are one of my favourite features of the country, and the only hiking opportunities I had leaped at before this trek had been on their surfaces. On my previous day trip through the Fimmvörðuháls Pass, I had achieved incredibly, awe-inspiring views of the ice caps, and of course, on excursions up the Sólheimajökull glacial tongue and into the ice caves beneath Vatnajökull, I had experienced them first-hand. To see them creep ever closer, however, like sentinels over our journey, was a different experience altogether.
Of course, knowing the glaciers in question, Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull, sit on explosive volcanoes always makes them that much more impressive. This was particularly the case considering the hike took us through landscapes shaped by their lava and ash.
The four days of July I spent in the Highlands were some of the best I had experienced in Iceland and something that I needed to share with friends who, like I had been, were too caught up in their modern lives to consider such an adventure. After some essay-length Facebook messages, a bombardment of photographs, and some Nancy Grace-like investigation of their poor excuses out, I managed to convince a group of my UK friends to join me on a similar trip in 2019.
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During my browse of the Guide to Iceland website this time around, I found myself much more ambitious; I knew I would love this three-day hike through the area around Fimmvörðuháls, but after my experience, I wanted longer in the landscapes. This five-day adventure, meanwhile, seemed to meet my desires and fit the group I was travelling with, who were as apprehensive as I had been.
With some mumbling, dishonest preamble about the best discounts and insider information, however, I ended up booking this week-long trek all the way to Skógar from Landmannalaugar. I'm now checking off the days until June (as if anyone needs an extra reason to be counting down to summer in Iceland), giddily getting one thing from the 'What to Bring' list ready a week in anticipation of the next adventure.
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