Smelly journey across the rainbow mountains

Smelly journey across the rainbow mountains

When we saw our friend’s photos of rainbow mountains, we instantly knew this will be a cornerstone of our Icelandic adventure. And so we planned the rest of the journey with a view to reach the hike at the end of our holiday when it should be suitable to get to the area and to complete the hike.


Few practicalities

It’s called Laugavegur and it’s one of the most popular multiday hikes in Iceland. It’s 55km long and you can start in Landmannalaugar or Porsmork where you can get with special buses or 4WD car. The providers of bus service are Trex, Reykjavik Excursions or Sterna. In general it’s accessible mid June to mid September. We started on 22nd June and the road to Landmannalaugar opened only two days ago. There are 4 huts on the way managed by Ferðafélags Íslands where you can book a bed in advance (well in advance actually as they sell like hot cakes) and are ridiculously expensive for the quality of accommodation they offer (bunk beds in a room full of people). Therefore people, take the tent (again :)). You need a good one that will survive crazy Icelandic weather, good warm sleeping bag and a mate with the same sleeping bag so you can zip them together to produce some body heat. You will always find space around the huts to put it up and you don’t have to worry when you change plans last minute. Camping is allowed only in designated areas around the huts as it’s a protected national park and we respected that and didn’t try to camp elsewhere. For camping you pay 1600 ISK pre person and you have access to the toilets, bathroom and there’s drinking water on site. Though, this is the last of the problems in Iceland. Pack your best gear (yes, we mean goretex and stuff) because even in the middle of summer, you can have snow, crazy rain or windstorm. For river crossing, take your sandals with tight straps around your ankles and ideally from rubber so they dry quickly.



Enough of this now, let’s get to the funny stuff.



Day 1- 12km


We wake up in Selfoss where we hitchhiked to yesterday. We have about 60 minutes to pack ourselves and the tent and catch the bus to Landmannalaugar. We are still not sure if we get there today. Very self-confident macho guy in the camping told us that the road is still closed and we should come out with a plan B if we don’t get there. With small expectations we left to the petrol station where the bus stop was. Thankfully, the bus was there, ready to take us on board. It takes about 4 hours to get from Selfoss to Landmannalaugar, at least half of which is F road, unsealed bumpy type of road. Finally we are there.



All around there are colours. Fantastic colours of the rhyolite mountains are already taking our breath away and there’s more to come. Quick check with the warden about the snow on the way and off we go before the crazy little flies eat us alive. They don’t bite but try to get to all possible holes and openings on your face.



The route is still very snowy but snow is quite firm and holds well underneath. Soon the annoying flies are away and we are walking between the smelly steam puffers = thermal vents .




Crowds of people also start thinning as most of them are turning back to Landmannalaugar to catch the evening bus. We are alone, only from time to time we see little silhouttes of other trekkers on the opposite hill.





We walk through colourful landscape that’s forcing you to take pictures constantly. For more than an hour we are crossing large snow field.


We finally got to the hill above the first mountain hut. It’s covered in lava glass and in certain light conditions without snow it’s supposed to shine golden. When we arrive to the hut, there’s 3 metre circle without snow around it  where people are putting up their tents. The rest of the landscape around us is covered in snow. This night will be chilly. We quickly go on to the cooking as we are starving. Tonight the dinner of the day is moroccan couscous with fresh tomatoes. Mostly people around us are unpacking special dried expedition food but we don’t believe in this overpriced crap. There will be special post later about what you can prepare on the camping stove. The first hut is called Hrafntinnusker and has luxurious dry toilets :). The night is surprisingly ok and we woke up in the beautiful sunny morning.


Day 2 – 28km

After classic overnight oats breakfast we pack everything and head towards Alftavatn.


For that we have to cross another large snow field, but because the weather is so nice, it’s more fun than yesterday. Following a steep climb we reach a place with such a view, that we have to sit down and take a break there.


We continue and in 15 minutes we see Alftavatn lake for the first time. There’s a very steep descent initially till we get to the valley. The landscape down there is so different. Greener, wider, more water. We drink from one of the streams with our LifeStraw but I’m sure in Iceland you don’t really need it. Around 1pm we reach the lake.  


The hut here is so civilised, that it even has flushing toilets and showers. We decide that it’s too early to put up a tent here and after a discussion with hut warden we are leaving to the next hut on the way – Emstrur. There should be at least two rivers requiring crossing, one of them with a strong current. Soon we reach the first one. Change to the sandals, tie the hiking boots onto the backpack, take trekking poles and off we go!


It’s only about mid-calf deep but it’s FREEZING! In the end we have to run as the pain is excruciating – at least we thought so at that point not knowing what’s about to come. Safely on the other end, drying the feet, quickly into woolen socks and hiking boots. Still feels weird when we try to walk then. As if the feet weren’t ours. We meet American couple who gives us advice about the following crossing – you have to go upstream about 100 metres where the river is wider and not to wade where the cars are crossing or you end up with water up to the neck. We reach a small hut Hvanngil that is abandoned probably because it’s too early into the season.


After Hvanngil we enter huge lava field that will accompany us for hours and hours. It feels like being on Mars or so (as if I ever was on Mars). We are in Katla geopark.

Katla geopark

And in few moments we reach the most difficult river to wade at that time – Blafjallakvisl. Tom goes first with his backpack to check the terrain


and then he comes back for me, to help me fight the current. Now the trully excruciating pain comes – but we are safely at the other side. 

The black lava field is neverending.


We walk and walk against strong wind in the open area, there’s nobody else. Finally we meet a couple of hikers heading opposite direction. Till now the day was beatifully sunny, suddently the fog comes and makes the end of 28 km walk quite depressing. We can’t wait to see the hut. Finally there it is – Emstrur hut. It’s 8.30 pm and till we get to the “bed”, it’s almost midnight. You wouldn’t notice though, so much light outside.

Day 3 – 16km

We start the morning with the short walk to the Markarfljótsgljúfur canyon nearby.


The views are incredible even in cloudy weather.


Then we quickly pack as we want to catch the bus from Porsmork and we head towards the last bit of the journey. To be honest, it can become quite boring at times. After seeing rainbow mountains, walking through the lava fields and wading the rivers, this is quite flat walk through a long valley but maybe I’m too picky (and tired also).


The first bit – canyon Syðri – Emstruá is beautiful, with a bridge, that could make some people quite sick, as you can see gushing river underneath your feet.


About 40 minutes before Porsmork we have to ford Prongá but that’s very easy at that time, if you choose the widest point, it’s only mid-calf deep. The landscape is very different here, birch forrest and flowers, especially lupins are like an awakening from space adventure.


We end up our trip in Langidalur, one of the huts in Porsmork and decide to change our plans to rush to Reykjavik, but that’s another story.



Follow Luba Lapsanska:

Older woman, 33 years old, experienced. She stopped being a doctor and started being a traveller. She likes animals more than people because they don't lie. She also likes looking at the the world through the viewfinder of her camera.

2 Responses

  1. […] No extra words needed, more words here. […]

  2. […] country but with the recent extreme growth of tourism is changing. We definitely can recommend Laugavegur hike and camping at the chalets there for a fee. Also the low number of people who do something else […]

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