Hiking Laugavegur

Wow. Unearthed this 3.5-year-old draft from the dusty back hallways of my computer. Read on for one of the best hikes of my entire life…—

In mid-September [of 2008], just slightly off-season, I spent a couple days hiking Laugavegurinn (translates something like “the warm pools way” or “the hot springs route”) in south-central Iceland. I started at Landmannalaugar and hiked south to Þórsmörk. Immensely helpful in planning my hike, which I sandwiched between some tourist days, were Andrew Skurka’s Iceland page, Jonathan Ley’s Iceland photos and advice, and Ferðafélag Íslands, a group that maintains some of the very nice huts along the way.

The weather wasn’t very extreme, but it did change frequently, like every half-hour or so. Temperatures were mostly in the mid-40s to high 50s F (5-10C). Low-hanging clouds mostly–just a few hours of genuine, full sunshine. No terrible rainstorms, but the occasional rain changed to sun changed to mist change to light rain change to fog, etc. Heavy winds were common, as there was no tree cover until the last 30 minutes of my hike.

I’ve got the full set of photos on the Laugavegur available on Flickr, but here are some highlights:

First morning out, looking back at the hut at Landmannalaugar:
Landmannalaugar valley

A short walk over a lava field and into the hills beyond:
First morning of hiking

Unfortunately fog and high winds were the norm on the way to Hrafntinnusker, where the trail skirts a volcanic crater at about 3000 feet. This is where I had repeated moments of being lost and found, lost and found. And when I stopped to take a break with no shelter from the wind, my hands froze. Lesson learned:
Limited visibility

I made it over the crest of the volcano and back down, then stopped and warmed up at Höskuldsskáli hut for an hour or so. The old season’s snow had melted, and the new snow hadn’t yet arrived. So the next stretch was up and down and up and down a series of small creek valleys.
Little waterfalls

Here’s a look back where I came from. The hut is a speck about 1/3 of the way in from the right edge of the image:
Rhyolite hills

Then uphill again, where thankfully the weather was fair enough to see those famous rhyolite hills:
The money shot

Next was a steep drop down to Álftavatn, where I spent the night:
End of the first day

The second morning featured several very cold river crossings. Bláfjallakvísl was easily the widest, deepest and coldest I’ve ever crossed on foot. Just over knee-deep at the worst, and really swift. NOT fun. VERY stressful. I had to run for about 10 minutes afterward to warm my frozen legs again.
Bláfjallakvísl

I was glad that the Nyrðri Emstruá had a bridge!
Nyrðri Emstruá

The most of the rest of the day was mostly flat, going through some very cool volcanic wastelands. Only a few little plants could eke out a living there:
A little life

I finished the second day in the early afternoon at Emstrur/Botnar hut, so I spent a few hours trail running and exploring the surroundings, like the Markarfljótsgljúfur. The Markar river canyon is about 500 feet/180m at the deepest point.
Farewell to Markarfljótsgljúfur

The third day was the warmest and best weather, the only day I got to wear shorts. The trail snaked down to cross the river at the bottom of the Syðri-Emstruá canyon (Entujökull glacier in the background), then bent back to head towards the right side of this photo:
Syðri-Emstruá canyon

A walk in the lovely Sandar, a glacial wash, and then up the basalt cliffs in the distance:
Short walk in Sandar

Up and over the basalt cliffs, it goes on to the Almenningar plateau:
Doing what I do

One last break to reflect on the trip before the last major river crossing…
Thinking it over

…and then into the more lush environs of Þórsmörk Reserve:
Lush

And lastly, I took a quick jaunt up Valahnúkur while waiting for the bus back to Reykjavik.
On Valahnúkur

I highly recommend this trail if you happen to be nearby. I’d gladly do it again.

At twilight nature becomes a wonderfully suggestive effect, and is not without loveliness, though perhaps its chief use is to illustrate quotations from the poets.

The Zanskar Trek, I: Darcha to Padum

I just finished reading Chris Willett’s journals from the Indian Himalaya that I tumbled a while ago.

The purity of the alpine is not a reassuring quality. It is a fearful one, one that does not invite a person to linger or lounge. It is an abode that is best visited and not one to be domesticated, the living room of everything that is not the village, everything that is outside the bounds of settled, civil life.

But it is a place that one calls to some of us, bringing us to the hostile place to breathe the air and feel the sterility. It is a place, like the floor of Death Valley or, presumably, the ice floes of the Antarctic, that amplifies human existence. One does not feel insignificant in such places. Rather, one feels a sense of importance for no other reason that being alive.

It is not an importance born and cultivated to be ego satisfying or one that inspires arrogance. No, it is a sense that to be alive is an important quality and that to be alive is better than to be dead. Barren, lifeless places teach us this better than anything written, drawn, or recorded. And, besides, the alpine is a beautiful place to visit in fine weather.

The Zanskar Trek, I: Darcha to Padum

Trekking in the Indian Trans-Himalaya. Chris Willett’s journals from a July-August trip to Ladakh and Zanskar, India. I still agree with my claim that he has pretty much the best hiking journal on the internet when you consider the double-whammy of writing and photography. Usually pretty unvarnished. Sometimes travel is damn hard.

It was here that Tibetans fled when the Chinese liberated their country, and it was here that I was told Tibetan culture was still intact. Desert peaks leading to handing glaciers soared above irrigated valleys, with monasteries carved into the sides of mountains and an outdoor paradise, this was the objective for the summer. But as always seems to happen, my time was more an experience within myself, an experience that helped to bring clarity to my own life at a time of transition. I will not be back.

Via mhsteger, a few of Sydney Smith’s prescriptions for low spirits, from a February, 1820 letter to Lady Georgiana Morpeth:

6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.

7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.

11th. Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.

14th. Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.

15th. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.

17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.

18th. Keep good blazing fires.