Iceland!

laugavegur, lava
Landmannalaugar Landscape : Prints Available

Lingering snow fills pockets of the rolling Laughraun Lava Field that last erupted around 1477. This particular scene was the initial attraction to visit Iceland and trek Laugevegur, Iceland’s most famous trek and a beautiful study in contrasts. 

Ten or twelve years ago, we studied photos of a trek in Iceland, colors of the rhyolite lavascape with rising steam and small trekkers moving through this otherworldly land staring back at us. That was the beginning of our growing fascination with Iceland; it just took us awhile getting around to making the journey. After exhaustive planning (all by Marla), an easy seven hour flight to Reykjavik, and half a dozen bus rides, we were dropped off by the bus equivalent of a monster truck at Landmannalugar, the start of the infamous Laugevegur trek; the landscape draped with thick clouds, land dotted with colorful tents at this launching, and finishing point. As we set up our green Nemo tent, others were gathering giant rocks to stabilize their tent setup, standard practice to prep for an Icelandic storm. Later on in the trip, we would see the logic of the gathering of boulders to hold down a 5 pound nylon structure with thin aluminum beams. Soaking in the Landmannalaugar hot springs, a cool stream fed by a scalding geothermal spring, seeking that perfect balance of hot and cold, yin and yang, suddenly immersed in this alien landscape, all the little travel details drifting away, we would be on the Laugevegur trek in the morning.

pojfog

Moving through the lava field en-route to Hrafntinnusker, a steady wind blowing sideways rain, we followed the well-cairned route non-stop to the hut/camp, draped in pewter clouds.

nemohraf

Camp one at Hrafntinnusker is on a mountaintop, but Laugevegur didn’t reveal her beauty right away.The camp rings of obsidian stone help buffer high winds that are common in the Icelandic Highlands.

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Marla crosses a small stream on day two, a trek from Hraftinnuskercamp to Alfvatn. The stubborn cloud ceiling began to lift.

laugahraun, laugevegur
Trekking Laugevegur : Prints Available

A pair of trekkers ascend a steep slope in the Laugahraun lava field on the Laugevegur trek. The backdrop of steam from geothermal fumaroles and snowfields is a good example of the contrasts along this multi-day trek, the most famous trek in Iceland. 

laugevegur, glacier
Laugevegur Contrast : Prints Available

Low clouds lift to reveal a contrast of lava field and glacier on the second day of the Laugevegur trek. The glacier wraps Herfsdinger and trekkers cross the glacier’s tongue – a trekker is on the trail crossing ice in the middle right of the frame. This Laughraun lava field last erupted around 1477. 

landmannalaugar, laugevegur
Alfvatn Landscape : Prints Available

A rugged volcanic landscape surrounds Alfvatn, a lake on the Laugevegur Trek andour campsite after a tough day on the trail. The scene was made more surreal after climbing from the tawny landscape of the Laugahraun lava field, when fifty shades of green were revealed with our goal for the day in view. 

reflection, alfvatn
Alfvatn Reflection : Prints Available

Volcanoes are reflected in early morning light along the shore of Alfvatn, a beautiful lake on the Landmannalaugar Trek. 

Laugevegur, sea campion
Black Desert Bloom : Prints Available

The Laugevegur trek in Iceland’s Highlands travels through a black rock desert where sea campion blooms in colorful contrast to the surrounding black landscape. 

By day three on the Laugevegur Trek, we’d found a rhythm, a pair of trekkers part of the daily pulse on the popular trek. A practiced routine of home-prepared backpacking meals, setting up camp, sleeping off jet lag, and moving nomadically, a dot on the map both daily goal and compass as excitement built for surprises that await. Everything is new. We had read about the canyon near Emstrur camp when a fellow trekker told us how cool it is, worth the walk over there. With camp set up after a 12 mile day, trekkers piling in to the crossroads camp, we took our evening walk over to “M” Canyon, Icelandic names are just too long for more than the first letter. M, and its rich colors blew our minds.

Markarfljotsgljufur, Eyjafjnallajokull
Markarfljotsgljufur Canyon : Prints Available

The magnificent Markarfljotsgljufur Canyon is just a kilometer or so from the bustling Emstrur hut and camping area on the Laugevegur trek. Beautiful colors of layered lava and moss and Markarfljot River winding through vertical canyon walls – an extraordinary place for a side trip. The Markarfljot is a glacial river that runs 100 kilometers to the Atlantic, with headwaters on the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjnallajokull Glaciers near Hekla Volcano. 

We would finish the Laugevegur trek at Porsmork the next day, lounging on soft grass, gorging on potato chips from the little camp store, the trek a blur. Ahead, two weeks with no set agenda, a few more bus trips, Reykjavik, a rental car, driving the 800 mile highway one that encircles the country, a couple more backpacking trips…

reynisdrangar, sea stacks
Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks : Prints Available

Basalt Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks rise from the sea just off the coastal Village of Vik. Icelandic legend tells the story of trolls dragging a three masted ship to land and failing – they turned to needles of stone at daybreak. 

Krafla, geothermal
Krafla Geothermal : Prints Available

Iceland’s largest power plant at the Krafla Volcano site, produces GWh of electricity per hour. The country is run almost entirely on geothermal-generated electricity and hydro power. Iceland takes full advantage of so many volcanoes by using geothermal energy for 87% of hot water and heat in public buildings. 

skoga river, viking
Skogafoss Plunge : Prints Available

Skogafoss waterfall on the Skoga River plunges 60 meters (200 feet) over cliffs that once formed the coastline in south Iceland. One of Iceland’s largest waterfalls is also the place of a legend where the first Viking settler Prasi Porolfsson buried a treasure chest in a cave behind the waterfall. 

basalt, dettifoss
Basalt Art : Prints Available

Basalt columns are arranged at all angles in the Vesturdalur area on the Dettifoss to Asbyrgi trek along the Jokulsa a Fjollum (river). Art in stone is everywhere you look in Iceland, an island country formed entirely of lava. 

godafoss, christianity
Godafoss : Prints Available

Godafoss is a waterfall on the river Skjálfandafljót, which runs through a 7,000 year old lava field in northeast Iceland farmland. When Iceland converted from Heathendom (old custom) to Christianity, the local chieftain tossed his deities/heathen gods into the falls; and according to legend, how Godafoss got its name. 

kirkjufell, grundafjordur
Kirjufell Sunrise : Prints Available

Kirkjufell, or ‘Church Mountain’ helps protect the coastal village Grundarfjordur from storms by jutting into the sea. The mountain is wrapped by beaches, a beach trail, and has bird and fish fossils on the summit – guide suggested – people have died climbing the mountain. The waterfall and mountain are one of Iceland’s most-photographed scenes, yet on this cool morning I had the place to myself. 

pojrope

Marla descends Asbyrgi Cliffs on a short via ferrata section with fixed rope, stairs and steps. We had trekked from Dettifoss to Asbyrgi along the River Fjollum, this descent adding spice to the finish.

lava, snaefellsjokull
Lava Patterns : Prints Available

Ancient patterns give clues of how lava flowed into beautiful lava formations around 1,800 years ago. This lava formation  is near the namesake Snaefellsjokull Ice Cap in west Iceland on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. 

climate change, snaefellsjokull
Snaefellsjokull Climate : Prints Available

The Snaefellsjokull Ice Cap, namesake of the national park is melting rapidly. Here, Marla stands on lava moraine where the glacier may have reached in the last year. Inspiration for the 1864 Jules Vernes classic ‘Journey To The Center Of The Earth‘, the icecap will likely disappear in our lifetimes, a casualty of anthropogenic climate change that is occurring globally.  

There comes a point on each journey that gives pause, maybe a moment to better understand how some of the pieces fit together, our place in the world, perhaps epiphanic. Crossing Snaefellsjokull National Park on a rutted, lava rock studded road led to the edge of the namesake icecap, moraine fingers advancing where ice was not long ago. We knew the numbers, the icecap shrunk from 12 square kilometers to 9 in a decade; but seeing is something altogether different, an icecap so significant that the park has jokull (glacier) in the name as Icelanders wonder if they’ll still call it Snaefellsjokull when the ice is gone. We changed our plans when Marla said “we have to go up there”. I agreed and we climbed steadily, seeking the highest patch of lava moraine next to the ice, inspecting a crevasse. Studying the ice in silence while watching a snow machine carrying tourists climb slowly up the glacier, we looked into the face of anthropogenic climate change – not always easy to see because the story is written in vanishing ice.

reykjavik, harbor
Reykjavik Harbor : Prints Available

Colorful boats reflect in Reykjavik Harbor in Iceland’s capital city. Iceland is home to 350,000 people, about 200,000 of which live in the Reykjavik area. Established in 874 AD, Reykjavik became a trading town in 1786 that continues to grow today. Reykjavik is one of the safest, greenest, and cleanest cities in the world. Roughly 1.7 million tourists visit Reykjavik, as they disperse throughout Iceland.  

Clean, green, stunningly beautiful Iceland is at once everything familiar and unknown. Iceland’s not particularly hard to get to, the flavor of the month (for tourism) nowadays as one bus driver described it, yet you can still get off the beaten path. It’s expensive by any measure, but why not? Iceland is a rock between the Greenland and North Atlantic Seas with a very short season for tourism, and growing vegetables for that matter. Soaking in the Blue Lagoon, one of the attendants from the U.S. told us “Iceland never really leaves you. You’ll get home and won’t be able to stop thinking of Iceland. You’ll come back, buy a home, and spend at least part of the year here in Iceland.” We started planning the next trip to Iceland before we left for home.