The Magic of Iceland: The Volcanic Highlands

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Almost there!

This is the thirteenth story in our series on the Magic of Iceland.

FINALLY, AFTER MILES and miles of driving through Iceland’s interior, on bumpy F roads passable only by four-wheel drive vehicles and over land unsuitable for everyday life, Nora and I arrived at Landmannalaugar, the valley surrounded by multicolored volcanic mountains.

It had been almost 24 hours since we eschewed taking the northbound F208 route from the Ring Road in the south because of warnings of numerous river crossings. Now we were able to confirm what we had been told again and again.

Yes, a river DOES run through it!

Did we want to start our Landmannalaugar expedition by making a crossing in our Ford Escape? It looked doable. Two trucks had just made the splashy venture with relative ease. We decided not to as there was still room in the parking area on our side of the river. A makeshift bridge allowed us to cross without wading into the water.



Getting ready to tackle Landmannalaugar, with Mount Blahnukur dead ahead

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From the Laugahraun lava field

Nora and I wanted our last full day in Iceland to be a memorable one but making a river crossing didn’t have to be a part of it. Landmannalaugar’s surreal landscape made the struggle to reach it all the more worthwhile.

Mount Blahnukur was in the distance, staring us in the face. The Laugahraun lava field, which is said to have formed in the year 1477, crept up to the Landmannalaugar welcome huts and a campsite. To our right was a geothermal spring emanating steam as people were indulgently soaking in it.

The welcome area essentially served as a staging area for many multi-day hiking excursions. We were limited to the single day variety, which was OK too. Our options included climbing to the top of Mount Blahnukur (which I wanted to do), navigating the scenic Graenagil trail through Laugahraun OR hiking the first leg of the Laugavegur trail, which would bring us to the foot of Mount Brennisteinsalda (which translates in English as “sulphur wave”). From there, all options were possible. No matter the route, we were looking at a minimum four-hour afternoon of hiking in the region’s exquisitely colorful surroundings. We had hopes of visiting the historic farmhouse Stong and Haifoss, a highly acclaimed but difficult-to-reach waterfall in the nearby highlands, so time was of the essence.



On the trail up Mount Blahnukur, with a great view of the massive Laugahraun lava field

“Just a little bit further,” I said to myself. “Just a little bit more.”


The Blahnukur trail

My words didn’t have to be exact to the lyrics of the Grateful Dead song, “The Wheel” for me to think of it. Nora and I had enjoyed a beautiful afternoon hiking in the volcanic highlands but the Landmannalaugar part of our day was coming to a close. I was preoccupied with putting myself in position to take the best possible picture from the trail going up Mount Blahnukur. I had originally hoped to reach the summit but now I was looking for the best way to finish up. I looked down at my phone as I trudged forward. It was 4:15.

Nora had returned to the welcome huts. I knew she wanted to make sure we had enough time to see Stong and Haifoss — not to mention the Blue Lagoon — so I had to cut my hike short.

The narrow track on the crest of the mountain was part of the reason Nora chose not to go with me. Being fatigued after hiking all afternoon through Laugahraun and around it, I knew what she meant, but I still wanted to get a little higher. This was going to be my farewell portrait photo from Landmannalaugar. I trudged on a little more before I turned around away from the mountain trail to face the greater valley. I looked at my phone. It was 4:19. This was it. I soaked in the view for a few minutes before I took a series of photos. It knew it was time to go.



Water, water everywhere. Next stop? Graenagil

Earlier, Nora and I had enjoyed our time on the Laugavegur trail, which some people were navigating as a part of a multi-day excursion to Porsmork. Our day was mostly spent hiking through the lava fields and on other terrain in and around Landmannalaugar.


Nora on a mission

The smell of sulphur was very strong in the vicinity of  Brennisteinsalda, an active volcano which was one of our hiking options. Deciding against climbing Brennisteinsalda, we hiked down into a valley which we were told would bring us to another trail that would take us up the far side of Mount Blahnukur. From there we could climb to the top and make our descent down the trail that would bring us back toward the welcome center. That sounded great! But numerous mountain streams were running heavy through the valley. We couldn’t find a suitable place to cross!

We opted for the very scenic Graenagil trail, which wove through the Laugahraun lava field. It was hardly a consolation prize and didn’t disappoint. It was challenging and offered spectacular views of the greater valley.



From the Graenagil trail on the Laugahraun lava field

As I made my descent on Mount Blahnukur, the views continued to dazzle, even from only halfway up. I stopped for a minute to chart the path Nora and I had taken through Laugahraun only an hour or two earlier.

I wanted to spend more time but I knew I couldn’t. Landmannalaugar had lived up to its hype and beyond, but there was still more to see and do. We were literally in the homestretch of our Icelandic odyssey, in our final hours of exploring all the “Land of Fire and Ice” had to offer, and there wasn’t a minute to spare.

Check out the entire Magic of Iceland series right here (Click on each link):

Part 1-Overview, Part 2-The Golden Circle, Part 3-LatrabjargPart 4-Midnight Sun DrivePart 5-Westfjords and IsafjordurPart 6-Fire and the MountainsPart 7-Date Night at HverfellPart 8-Surreal SaturdayPart 9-Beyond Fire and IcePart 10Taking the 939Part 11-Lost in SkaftafellPart 12-F208 Dilemma, Part 13-Volcanic HighlandsPart 14-Homestretch to Remember

More Magic of Iceland:  1. Jokulsarlon – Glacier Lagoon,  2. Kirkjubaejarklaustur,


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