Note: This is part five of a series on my experience hiking the Laugavegur Trail in the summer of 2017. You can see the other posts in the series here. Enjoy!
Sometime after midnight we were woken by a “knock” on our tent. A baby-faced figure in a red coat explained in broken English that he was a member of a mountain rescue team and they were looking for a lost hiker. He showed us a picture (a rare case where Facebook actually provides substantive value) of a woman, but neither Lindsay nor I recognized her. Aside from the snow bridges coming down from Hrafntinnusker, there weren’t really any sections of the trail where I felt concerned for our safety, but this unexpected wake-up call served as a sobering reminder that the same things that make the Icelandic highlands so special – the isolation and harshness – are also the things that make them dangerous.
This point was reinforced yet again about 60 seconds into our final hiking day when we came across a sign just outside the campsite. The sign warned that we were entering a region of land that would turn into a giant floodplain should the volcano (Katla) that’s sitting underneath the gigantic glacier (Mýrdalsjökull) you’ve seen in many of my pictures should erupt. Navigating a mixture of lava and glacier melt didn’t sound too appealing, so we read the sign carefully and took some pictures so we’d know what to do should an eruption take place.
Note: In 1918, a minor Katla eruption caused a river of glacier melt that, when it reached the ocean ~30 kilometers away was 3 kilometers wide. Yikes.
Fortunately, Katla didn’t erupt and our hike into Þórsmörk (meaning “Thor’s Woods”) was uneventful. We had foggy weather and some of the least interesting sceneries of the hike, but it still felt great to get back into a part of the world with bushes and trees. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been on a day hike – much less a multi-day backpacking trip – where I didn’t see trees until coming to Iceland.
After crossing our final river and slogging our way through Þórsmörk for the final few kilometers we reached the ritzy (ok, relatively ritzy) Volcano Huts. We enjoyed the luxury of sitting (ok, slumping) in chairs and drank some hard-earned beers. 🙂
This trip was such a special one. I feel like I’ve been away from the restorative powers of nature for too long, and while four days in the wilderness isn’t a cure-all, it was enough to remind me that I need to lose myself out there more often. It took me 27 years to do this hike the first time, but you’ll notice that I labeled this trip “Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail 2017” – I’ll be back to hike this trail again, and I can guarantee it’ll be before another 27 years pass!