Iceland's secret hike, The Laugavegur
Blog Words : Alastair Humphreys | 09 November

Iceland's secret hike, The Laugavegur

This four-day trek takes in the best of Iceland and finishes in green woodland at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland's now-famous volcano

The Laugavegur is one of the great hikes of the world yet is little known outside Iceland. It is a four-day trek that begins in a lava field, crosses rainbow mountains, passes bubbling pools and  glacial ice, crosses a black ash desert, and finishes in green woodland at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull, the now-famous volcano.

My trek began, as all great journeys should, wallowing in a hot spring beneath the midnight sun. The pool lay at the foot of a labyrinth of jagged lava that long ago oozed slowly down the flanks of the volcano above me.

Relaxed and clean I wound through the lava towards clouds of stinking sulphurous steam gushing from cracks in the hot earth. Getting into my stride now, I climbed steadily up to a pass striped with an extraordinary range of colours.

Over the crest was a hole in the rocks, a spring boiling like a cauldron and gushing down the hillside. Tearing myself away from bubbling springs and bright blue pools I crossed a dark plain shimmering with obsidian, a black volcanic glass. The view was magnificent with a glacier to the north, and mountains all around.

Face to face with Eyjafjallajökull

Post-porridge, the second day began crossing small valleys and snow bridges in warm sunshine. Below lay a vista straight out of a Lord of the Rings film. Volcano cones stretched across a green plain slashed through with shining streams. On the southern horizon was grey and grubby Eyjafjallajökull, a cloud still streaming slowly from its crater.

Day three was completely different again. It began with one of the route’s three memorable, cold river crossings. Ahead, whirlwinds of dust and ash swirled across the spartan black landscape. The magnificent desolation of rocks and sand resembled a lunar landscape. I could understand why NASA trained the Apollo astronauts here.

The Markarfljót river races through an impressive canyon. From the rim of the canyon you can look down to the rapids far below you, or southwards down the valley towards the oasis of _órsmörk (pronounced “Thorsmork”), the end of the trek.

After four days of wilderness _órsmörk’s birch trees and flowers smell so sweet after the sterile mountains and plains. They makes for one final surprising twist on this most enchanting of treks, one that rates as high as any I have done in the world, and a real highlight of Iceland.