Landmannalaugar had been on my list for a long time. It’s featured in so many hiking articles that it is hard to pass up. Months ago, I had put our names on the waiting list for the backcountry hut. Our alternative plan was to camp or to completely skip this detour. After all, it will mean driving on an F-road—for “fjalla,” mountain. Anticipating these types of roads, I had already reserved a 4×4 vehicle, but the thought of crossing two streams on the way to this hut made me think twice. Maybe we should just go elsewhere instead. Then, a few weeks ago, Ferðafélag Íslands emails me, telling me that we are now off the waiting list. Immediately, I respond and pay for our stay. There’s no turning back.
Just before turning onto F208, we come across The Highland Center Hrauneyjar, the last restaurant before entering wilderness. We brave the wind and step inside. It’s a shoes-off place, but they also provide shoe covers. Their veggie burger is surprisingly good.
Preparing to Drive in the Streams
After the pavement ends, the washboard dirt road into the Fjallabak Nature Reserve winds between power poles and boulders the size of softballs and basketballs. We dodge all of them. Just before reaching our destination, we see the stream we are supposed to cross. The car ahead of us makes it, and we follow. We make it. Thinking that it’s over, I see then next stream to cross. It’s deeper. Taking a deep breath, we forge ahead. Out the other side and our car dripping wet, we’re now in Landmannalaugar!
The warden at the check-in counter gives us blue wristbands. These are only for those staying in the hut. She tells us that the pots and pans and dinnerware are available for us to use. The only restriction is that we aren’t allowed to bring food into the sleeping area.
The hike from the car to the hut seems like a quarter mile. In the hut, we go into our assigned Room 1, which is a communal bunk-style room holding about 30 campers. We pick out four spots, wipe them down, and spread our stuff out to claim the spaces. Since the forecast is for more wind and rain the next day, the warden had advised us to do our loop hike today instead of tomorrow.
We head up the trail from behind the hut. Soon, we top a ridge overlooking the valley with the campers and the rhyolite mountains beyond. We wind through the vast Laugahraun lava field. Ahead is the colorful mountain Brennisteinsalda. Nearing its base, we pass through a large meadow. From here, the trail turns upward, bringing us to the mountain’s steaming base. We ask several parties going the other way, “Does this loop back to exit at Landmannalaugar?” When the first group told us they were simply turning around because they don’t know of the loop trail, we thought they just didn’t know. Now, this second group is doing an out-and-back. We’re spooked. My memory is pretty confident that this indeed connects back, the thought of carrying our asleep kids up the next elevation gain with a chance of getting lost steers us about-face. Backtracking, we reach the hut.
Staying at the Hut
The hut’s kitchen is bustling. There’s a large group of French tourists with their guide and cook. We find ourselves a corner, make dinner using provided pots and pans, and enjoy a simple salad with red curry over sticky rice.
We get in line at the showers. Just in time before the wardens close up the counter, someone tells me that we need to buy shower passes. I get three; sequentially, we can have fifteen minutes of hot water. Then, we tuck in for the night. With so many people we are so afraid of our kids screaming and keeping the entire hut awake. At one point, someone coughs, startling Jayden. Thankfully, he quickly calms.
Early in the morning, there is a flurry of activity like a flock of ravens stirring before taking flight. One by one they leave, many with hiking destinations far away. We strike up a conversation with one couple. They had done the loop around Brennisteinsalda—the longer version behind the mountain. I want to see the other side of the loop, so I set out and head south over a small ridge and into a rocky expanse. More colorful mountains clothed in green and gray rise up. Where a small stream emerges, I find trail markers. I follow them into a wide slot where the ground is clothed with green mineral dust. The colorful mountain peers down. I can see where the path would have connect in yesterday’s hike. Retracing my steps, I return to the hut to have breakfast with Yan and the kids.
Everything goes into our single large duffle bag. Despite having had worrisome thoughts about river crossings and being stranded here, we ford the two streams uneventfully. Near the end of the rocks and boulder F road, we stop for pictures of Sigoldufoss. Soon, we’re driving on paved roads and getting gas at Selfoss.
Skipping Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi to avoid tourist swarms, we arrive early at Welcome Hotel Lambafell. About a week prior, I had received an email with instructions from the hotel. We let ourselves in, find the key locker, turn our combination, and take our key. In this spacious room, we relax a bit before heading out along the southern coast.