Sunday, July 12, 2009

Álftavatn --> Landmannalaugar (25 km/15.5 miles)

Photos: (1) View of Álftavatn from above; (2) The scenery begins to change; (3) Typical mountains of the Landmannalaugar area; (4) Endless mushy snow fields; (5) Lost in the fog of the hot springs; (6) At the top, close to Landmannalaugar

It’s a clear blue sky again in the morning when we leave at 9am. Immediately my heel hurts so badly I can hardly take a step. It’s not rubbing, and it’s not a blister, it’s something inside the Achilles tendon somewhere. It’s been acting up for a few days now, and although I’m good at ignoring pain, this time I cannot take one more step without finding a solution. I carry some extra padding to put under my hip belt or shoulders if the straps are rubbing, so I use some of this to put into my shoe. I put it underneath the heel to change the position of my foot as I walk, and it takes three attempts before I find just the right position, and when I do, it really does the job. I’m able to walk just fine now, although I’m afraid of taking off my shoes for crossing rivers and not finding the right position again. I also walk slow at first, worried about the padding shifting position, but as the day progresses, I gain confidence that it will hold up.

We soon come across a larger river, but we can hop across with our shoes on, although we watch others changing into their wading sandals as we pass. The trail starts off quickly with very steep inclines that are hard on the knees, but pay off with spectacular panoramas. Not a cloud in the sky allows us endless, vast views. I’m very slow on the inclines and Henning is way ahead of me, but that’s ok. I take lots of pictures along the way. Lots of hikers without poles pass by in the other direction, going downhill. I cannot imagine doing this steep stretch without poles, either uphill or downhill. One lady is nearly panicking, as she slips and slides most of the way downhill. At the end of the inclines, we stop for a longer rest, just watching the people pass us by. So far I have avoided the Laugavegur because of the vast amount of people rumored to travel this route every year. But I have to admit that I didn’t feel bothered by it, especially after hiking in such remote areas the last few days. On the contrary, I was pleased at the amount of people getting such wonderful exercise and appreciating the outdoors. Throughout the hike, I’ve also noticed a much larger number of Icelanders outdoors than usual, which is particularly pleasing to note.

As we near Hrafntinnusker, the terrain changes. We’re quite high up and have to cross endless snow fields that are quite mushy from the heat. The mountains are starting to resemble the sandy trademarks of Landmannalaugar already. Once the hut Hrafntinnusker is visible off in the distance, we begin to see obsidian dotting the landscape. The pieces get larger the closer we get to the hut. This is nothing compared to the pieces I saw near Strútur or two years ago on my hike to Landmannahellir. It’s simply amazing – the size of the black chunks that glitter in the sunlight. Luckily it’s a sunny day, or it wouldn’t be nearly as spectacular. We reach the hut Hrafntinnusker at 3 pm and take a long rest in the sun, a warm meal included. If at all possible, we’d like to continue to Landmannalaugar since we lost a day by staying at Strúttslaug. Besides, I’m not keen on spending the night in a tent at over 1000 m unless necessary. The weather is just too good right now, and we should take advantage of it.

We’re ready to go after a good meal and head on the trail to Landmannalaugar at 6 pm. I’m a bit worried that my feet, and especially my heel, won’t hold up so our speed is brisk and we only take a few short photo stops. The route begins through endless snowfields again, and soon afterwards we pass a few hot springs. Soon I begin to recognize things, so we must be almost there. We arrive in Landmannalaugar at 10 pm, thoroughly exhausted, but the wardens are still active and we’re able to pay the ISK 900 fee per person/tent. After pitching our tents, fetching our bags that we left behind, and a quick meal, I fall into a deep sleep at around midnight.

The first and longest leg of our hike is over, it’s been 130 kilometers (81 miles) so far, my feet are numb and blistered but it feels good and I think Henning and I are both a bit proud of our feat/feet.