Innovative Fitness Takes on the Land of Fire and Ice
Iceland boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in the world with its contrasting landscapes of barren volcanic mountains, lush green valleys, and icy blue glacier fields. The Laugavegur Trail, which is one of Iceland’s most famous hiking routes, stretches over almost 60km from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, highlighting the ever-changing Icelandic terrain.
Our group of ten adventurers from Innovative Fitness Abbotsford started out on the trail with just as much variety in our group as in the landscape. With a sense of energy and enthusiasm across the board, Laura (that’s me – 27), Jackson (22), Leah (25), Dean (45), Jacky (45), Chris (46), Lorraine (52), Brent (53 ), Joy (67), and Ken (67) set out with our fearless guide Saga.
An Icelandic native, Saga brought her own calming energy to the group by reassuring and constantly encouraging. She instilled within us the Icelandic mantra of, “Don’t worry, everything will always work out,” and our favourite Icelandic saying: “No Stress.”
Day 1: Just a little bit UP…
We camped in Landmannalaugar, a geothermal hot spot, where we were able to soak our muscles in the natural hot springs snuggled up close to the mountains. The next morning we set out on our longest day: a 24km trek through the mountains. We began our journey in the lava fields of Laugahraun with bizarre lava sculptures guiding the trail.
Shortly after, we began our first ascent to the plateau of Brennisteinsalda which yielded our first glimpse of the barren and mountainous landscape. Our trek continued into the Icelandic highland desert after a 900m ascent which our guide referred to as “just a little bit up”.
We hiked for several hours through rolling hills of snow and steaming rivers until we reached the Reykjafjöll area of mountains and glaciers with scenery that rendered us completely speechless. After 7 hours of uphill grinding, we reached the lookout into the valley where our destination lay at the shore of Lake Álftavatn.
With a steep descent filled with loose rock and shale ahead of us, a faster option presented itself. Sliding down the mountain on a remaining snowfield, we made record time down into the valley where we were greeted with lush green fields and babbling brooks where we filled our bottles with glacier cold water. We followed the stream all the way to our camping spot on the bank of the lake for a deserving night’s sleep.
Day 2 : Just a little bit WET….
Our second day began with a very cold river crossing. The small river Bratthálskvísl, made up for its shortcomings in size with its icy cold temperature, ensuring that we were all wide awake. The trail meandered through rolling hills and an old shepherd’s hut.
This was our flattest day of hiking, but was strategically offset by the intensity of our second river crossing. Thigh high ice cold waters with a challenging current pushed us out of our comfort zones. But, through team work, encouragement, and a little extra adrenaline, we managed to cross the Icelandic river leaving us breathless on the banks. After refuelling we carried on through 15km of dark gravel desert until reaching the black volcanic sand trails leading down to our camping spot for the night. After setting up camp, there was an optional 1.5 hour hike to view the 200m deep, breathtakingly majestic Markarfjlótsgljúfur canyon.
Day 3: Just a little bit LONGER…
On the third morning we began with hiking down into the canyon itself with a little help from some ropes to get down to the bridge crossing the Syri Emstruá river. As we came out of the canyon, we had a sweeping view of the river, the canyon, the mountains, and glaciers; we were overcome with emotion as we realized the absolute grandeur of where we stood.
With another 15km of challenging descents, we entered into the Þórsmörk valley where we started to see vegetation return—namely the iconic moss covering the rolling hills and mountains. We lunched in a fairy alcove where Saga enlightened us with Icelandic tails of fairies and elves.
As we began our last few kilometres of the Laugavegur Trail, we came upon one last river that reached out to the ocean sprawled before us. With cold toes, tired legs, and warm hearts, we finished our three day trek into the Básar campsite. Surrounded by birch and juniper trees and carpeted by flowers and grasses, our campsite, next to the glacier river, offered spectacular views of the nearby glaciers. On the summer solstice, we ended the evening with a feast of leg of lamb and with 62 km of trail behind us.
Day 4: Just a little bit DOWN….
As an optional day hike, we decided to do a 6 hour hike into the Þórsmörk mountain ranges. Beginning with a straight uphill climb through the trees, we scrambled up the trail like mountain goats, at one point clinging to a rock face.
Emerging from the trees we came out to a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. With the glaciers as their artists, the mountain crags and peaks have formed intricate patterns both beautiful and treacherous. We traversed alongside the mountains for another 3 hours with knee wobbling depths below us until we began our decent back into the lush valleys and rivers.
This hike encompassed the whole picture of Iceland and what it meant to us; the beauty, the power and the ruggedness of not only its land but its people as well. As we hiked that day with snow and loose rock on the trail and hundreds of feet below us, we were humbled as an Icelandic family with a child no older than 5 years of age bouncing on the shoulders of his father made their way along the delicate trail. These people instill in their children a sense of fearlessness and, at the same time, a respect for their mountains and rivers, and a focus on being adventurous and active as a way of life. We were all individually challenged along the trail physically, emotionally, and even spiritually, but, through adversity, we all came out re-invented as people with an enthusiasm for our own mantra: “What If You Could?”
Laura Robinson, B. Kin.
Innovative Fitness Abbotsford
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