Dose of Awesome # 268

With the music turned up, we concluded our day on Sólheimajökull glacier with a two hour drive back to the city of Reykjavik. Upon being dropped off at Hlemmur Square, we all went our separate ways, for the first time since the start of the trek, to do our respective things. I chose a solo walk around the city, a quiet dinner, and a bit of souvenir shopping.

Walking from the restaurant along Laugavegur (the main shopping street), I saw a familiar face. As we passed, we each did a double-take, followed by a loud, dramatic greeting as we realized we knew each other. It was Krisha, a woman with whom I’d trekked in the Dolomites in Italy last summer. She was in Reykjavik and beginning the Laugavegur trek the following morning. What are the odds?

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Krisha and I in the Dolomites last year.

The following morning, Krisha and I had breakfast together before she departed for her first day of the trek, and I met my group for our last. It was so nice to catch up, despite how little time we had together.

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Gulli picked us up at 10:00 am for a short drive to the town of Hveragerði, where we spent the morning and afternoon hiking in the Hellisheiði mountain range and soaking in the volcanic water running from Hellisheiði. It felt amazing on our tired, aching muscles.

Refreshed and smelling like sulfur, we ate our last picnic-style lunch together in the field at the foot of the mountain before driving back to Reykjavik, where I spent the rest of the afternoon souvenir shopping and eating Icelandic ice cream with Vlad, the Polish-Torontonian member of our group.

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I topped off my last day in Iceland with a farewell dinner with the group at Þrír Frakkar Hjá Úlfari – the restaurant where I tried my first fermented shark, smoked puffin breast, and fin whale. Several courses and lots of laughs later, I walked the quiet streets of Reykjavik back to Hlemmur Square to finish packing and rest up for my early flight back to Montréal.

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Dose of Awesome # 267

We woke up in the morning at Básar and packed up our camp one last time. We were finished the Laugavegur trail, and were on our way to do different things.

Surrounded by mountains of gear, we stood watching the bus slowly bumping over the lava and splash through streams as it approached us. The bus took us a scenic hour’s drive to a nearby town where we met up with Ævar, who would drive us the rest of the way in a private jeep, and help guide us on a walk on Sólheimajökull glacier.

At the foot of the glacier, we strapped on helmets, harnesses and crampons and set out with our ice axes on a slow and informative walk through the icy landscape. Caves, crevices and beautiful ice formations spread out around us as far as the eye could see.

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After some time, Gulli and Ævar scouted around for a good crevice to set up ropes and show us some basics of ice climbing. We each got to try. I have to say, they made it look so easy.

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I lowered myself down into the crevice, and posed for a photo that made it look like I knew I was doing. Then I began the not-so-graceful scramble back up. Though I had no trouble with the ice axes, the biggest challenge for me was kicking the teeth of my crampons into the ice well enough to hold me up without using every last ounce of upper body strength. My biggest fear was losing all grip, smashing my face into the icy side of the crevice, and pulling Gulli down into the dark and ice-watery depths. Fortunately that didn’t happen.

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After each of us had tried our hand at ice climbing, we continued our walk and eventually concluded at the same place we’d started, where we removed our gear and enjoyed a quick lunch at Sólheimajökull Café before a 2 hour drive back to Reykjavik (with a stop at Skógafoss).

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Though our adventure was not over, we would finish our second-last day with dinner in a restaurant and relatively luxurious sleep at Hlemmur Square hostel.

Dose of Awesome # 265

Upon sitting down to write this post, I realized I’d mistakenly posted today’s photos along with yesterday’s. I didn’t take any photos at Emstrur, as I was so wrapped up in the luxury of a hot shower, a warm and cozy dinner tent and a good book. Also, for the sake of conserving my dwindling camera battery, I thought it smart to be a bit more selective of what I do photograph.

We packed up our camp and set out for Þórsmörk on what was supposed to be a fairly flat 19 kilometer hike into Básar. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to enjoy a day full of satisfying inclines.

We were faced with descents a bit steeper and lengthier than the days before, and after awhile, I, for the first time since arriving in Iceland, was starting to feel the pain of a foot I’d fractured a month before. However, some tape and an ice cold river crossing did the trick.

We’d witnessed a change of scenery again, as we’d entered moss, birchwood and shrub-covered terrain. Along the way, I’d discovered the world’s most beautiful washroom.

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Though it did sprinkle a bit in the afternoon, we were able to get through the entire day sans rain gear. We were even able to enjoy a lengthy lunch and nap on a plateau overlooking the canyon.

It was a day completely lacking any concept of time. Not once did I wonder what was happening outside of what immediately surrounded me. It was nice to be completely disconnected and satisfied with the moment.

Básar, beneath two majestic glaciers, became my next favourite camping spot, after Àlftavatn.

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Dose of Awesome # 264

You’d think that hiking an entire day through dark terrain, covered in black sand, under black clouds would be depressing. It was beautiful, in an ominous way.

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Craving a bit of quiet and solitude to go with the scenery, I stopped for a few extra photography breaks for the sake of falling just far enough behind the group that I could hike at a good pace, but keep my solitude for awhile. It was a good day for thinking.

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The weather held out until lunch. We quickly ate our lunch standing up, then hiked in the rain the rest of the way to Emstrur – where we would camp for the evening. It was a light, but persistent rain, but it went perfectly with my surroundings.

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Fifteen kilometers and two river crossings later, we arrived at Emstrur and set up our tents just as the rain cleared up and the sun came out. While some enjoyed a walk to the Markarfjlótsgljúfur canyon, I took the opportunity to shower and enjoy more solitude with tea and a book (which I’d bought at the Boston airport but hadn’t had much time to read since arriving in Iceland).

We topped off our evening with a delicious dinner of barbequed lamb steaks, salad and soup, and stories of Iceland’s 13 Santa Clauses.

Dose of Awesome # 263

We woke up at the crack of dawn (5:30 am) in the chilly morning. It was to be our first day on the Laugavegur trail. With unfavorable weather in the forecast for later in the afternoon, we wanted to pack up our camp and get an early start on our 24 km day of hiking, so as to avoid the rain.

The day’s hike was a challenging one (just the way I like it) filled with plenty of incline, endless soft snow, our first river crossing. We ate lunch at a hut overlooking Brennisteinsalda mountain after 4 hours of trudging uphill in the snow.

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Then, we continued on for another 4.5 hours over rolling terrain. With tan, peach and pink mountains, vivid green and black rolling hills contrasted by white snow all around, today’s hike was just as colorful as yesterday’s.

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Luckily for us, though angry clouds started to form around noon, the sun continued to shine, and we managed to escape the rain until later in the afternoon. It rained just enough to keep us thankful for the previous several hours of hiking in the sunshine. After successfully completing our first river crossing, we arrived at Álftavatn lake to a tent full of coffee and snacks, which we enjoyed while Gulli cooked us tomato soup, cod with creamy pepper sauce, rice and salad for dinner.

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It was another late night of laughs and good stories in the dinner tent, as Gulli told us about winter in Iceland and in his hometown.

Just as the clouds parted over the lake, I crawled into my tent with a view of the pyramid mountain. It would be our only night camping at Álftavatn, but I think this was my favorite camping spot of the whole trip.

Dose of Awesome # 262

We kicked off our trek with a 14 km day of hiking in the mountains around Landmannalaugar to Ljótipollur crater. This was described as the “warm up” or “half” day, but it was anything but – though not overly challenging, it was a long day of hiking.

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Though Ljótipollur translates roughly to “ugly pond”, the calm, green lake surrounded by bright red terrain was actually very beautiful – and with the backdrop of intense green mountains accentuated by snow, it was breathtaking. Being our halfway point, we stopped and enjoyed lunch overlooking the lake.

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Though the day’s hike was described to be fairly flat, we started off with a surprising incline out of the camp. But since my favorite kind of hiking is hiking inclines, I’d not a single complaint. And to make things more amazing, very time I turned around, the mountains and the colours were different. I’d never seen such diverse landscape on any other hike, in any other country.

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We made it back to the camp just in time to avoid a massive rain and hail storm. Warm and dry in the dinner tent, we shared more stories as Gulli prepared traditional Icelandic meat soup for our dinner. Luckily our tents withstood the elements, and our belongings remained completely dry.

After several hours of laughs and conversation, we zipped into our sleeping bags for one last night at Landmannalaugar before continuing on the 55 kilometer Laugavegur trail.

Dose of Awesome # 261

I had one more day in Reykjavik before joining a group of trekkers and a guide with whom I’d share my next 10 days in Iceland. Coincidentally, I was in Reykjavik at the same time as my friend Nancy, who taught in Tasiujaq with me in 2010. Having not seen each other in almost 5 years, we had lots to catch up on over lunch at Café Lokí, coffee (and, conveniently, laundry) at the Laundromat Café, and a little afternoon of shopping.

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That evening, I headed back to the lobby of Hlemmur Square to meet the group I’d be trekking with, and to go over the details of the trek. Gulli was to be our guide (from the West Fjords of Iceland), and our group consisted of Vlad (from Mississauga but originally from Poland), Ardelle and Jennifer (mother and daughter from Alberta), Steve and Eva (couple from British Columbia), John (from Scotland), Ted (from California), Beth and Loraine (friends from Florida), Bek (from Australia), and Gokchen and Mustafa (from Turkey).

We were to begin our trek from Landmannalaugar. In the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the highlands of Iceland, Landmannalaugar is at the northern end of the Laugavegur trail. But first, we had to get there.

Maximizing our opportunity, we broke up our commute from Reykjavik with a stop at each point of Iceland’s famous Golden Circle.

First, we went to Þingvellir National Park for a tour of AlÞingi, which served as the site of Icelandic parliament at Þingvellir from 930 until 1798. It is also where you can see the cracks that result from the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian plates. Þingvellir is notable for its unusual tectonic and volcanic environment in a rift valley.

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Next, we went to Iceland’s famous Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”), located in the canyon of the Hvíta river.

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We finished the Golden Circle with a trip to the geothermal area of Haukadalur – home of Strokkur and Geysir. While the bigger Geysir erupts very rarely, Strokkur erupts every 5 to 10 minutes, giving us the opportunity to catch 15-20 (sometimes 40) meter high eruptions.

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We arrived at Landmannalaugar with plenty of time to set up our tents, take in the scenery, and enjoy our first of many meals together full of laughs and great stories.

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