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MY ICELAND: Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar is a totally remote area in the southern highlands, far from any human habitation. As far as I know it is accessible only via two roads [unless you hike there, of course]. One goes past the power plants just north of the area and is accessible by regular vehicle [although the road is unpaved and a bit rough]. The other route – the one we took – is accessible only by 4WD vehicles, mostly because you have to cross a handful of rivers.

As I mentioned in the last post, I had never been to Landmannalaugar, even though it is one of Iceland’s most popular highland destinations. I had seen loads of pictures, of course, and talked to people who had gone there, and everyone always gushed about THE COLOURS. Looking at the pictures I thought, sure, the colours are OK … but, you know, not THAT spectacular.

I would soon change my mind.

We headed out on Thursday morning and drove up past Hekla – Iceland’s most active [and famous] volcano. The further we got from the verdant southern lowlands, the more sandy and positively desert-like the area became. For a long stretch all you had was black sand with the occasional tuft of straws, interspersed with some lava.

Oh, and the occasional crater.

Crater

Once we had turned onto the road leading inland to Landmannalaugar, the scenery gradually changed and became progressively more … otherworldly. Whereas the previous stretch had been mostly black and gray, suddenly the mountains were covered in this incredible shade of green. Not grass – moss.

Highlands

If you look closely at the above pic, you’ll see a gaping wound on the hillside – tire tracks, from where some jerk decided to go offroad and tear up the landscape. It will take that moss a couple hundred years to grow back. This is why offroad driving in Iceland IS TOTALLY FORBIDDEN.

BTW, did I mention the otherworldly aspect?

Otherworldly

After driving for almost an hour through endless variations of the above, we came to a beautiful placid lake, where the landscape once again began to change.

Mirror

Now the green moss mountains started to give way to rhyolite and sulphur moutains, which is what Landmannalaugar is renowned for.

Looking into Landmannalaugar

If you look closely in the above pic, you can see the service centre where there is a mountain hut for lodging, showers and the like [click here to enlarge].

There is also a natural geothermal pool that people like to soak in. We didn’t join them – simply because we only stopped a short while. However, if we ever spend a night there or do some serious hiking, you can definitely count me in.

Soaking in Landmannalaugar

Seriously, I did not think I would be as impressed with the area as I was – and I now TOTALLY understand what people mean when they talk about THE COLOURS. They were absolutely spectacular in an understated sort of way – not just the multi-coloured mountains, but also the black sands and the delicious green of those mossy mountains.

I’ll have to tell you about our waterfall adventures in a separate post. In the meantime, the full set of pictures is here. Remember you can choose the slideshow option.

MILD BUT DRIZZLY
It has actually been a very nice day. Calm and mild with the occasional light shower. Temps around the 12°C mark [54F]. The sun came up at 6.26 and set at 8.23 pm.

[This post is filed under the MY ICELAND category.]

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  • andrea September 7, 2009, 11:56 pm

    Oh my. I think I may need to come and visit with my camera and paints. Can I stay with you and get you to point me in the direction of a 4WD rental place on my way to Landmannalaugar? 🙂

  • Jessica September 8, 2009, 12:30 am

    You should enter the “placid lake” photo in a contest. (Doesn’t Morganblaðið have an annual photo contest? ) I’m absolutely blown away by the stillness of the lake — where is the infamous highlands wind?

  • Baldvin Jónsson September 8, 2009, 12:56 am

    Mógilshöfðinn lengi verið eitt af mínum uppáhalds fjöllum – finnst hann alltaf vera einhvern veginn eins og gamall hershöfðingi eða hundur, sem er búinn að þurfa að fara í gegnum margar lífsins orrustur.
    Flott hjá þér.
    Nú er bara að skella sér með okkur jeppavitleysingjunum í almennilega vetrarferð þarna upp úr líka 🙂

  • Paul H September 8, 2009, 1:05 am

    I would love to see Landmannalaugar firsthand.
    I watched Bruce Percy’s video podcast of his photos from Iceland, which include it (over at brucepercy.com if anyone is interested).
    I was in tears watching that particular podcast, as I felt a strong connection with what Bruce is doing (adventure photography), alongside the love of Iceland. It was the moment I knew I really wanted to photograph Iceland as well as someone like Bruce does.
    I have to admit to being a bit jealous seeing tweets mentioning a visit to the place.
    Someday…
    Vicariously will suffice for now, thank you!

  • Eric Swanson September 8, 2009, 2:19 am

    Excellent pictures!

  • Don in Seattle September 8, 2009, 2:20 am

    On Aug 31, Alda said:
    “I’m off to play hermit in a remote corner of the island, a.k.a. to work and – most importantly – THINK, with no distractions.”

    I sense you were decidedly distracted by the natural beauty that is Iceland.

    I am glad that you had a good time, as I felt that you were a bit depressed about the future of Iceland when you left, what with Icesave and Magma Energy and all.

    Thanks for the great commentary on all you did during a bit of down time, and sharing that with all of us on IWR. The pictures are fantastic!

    Alda, please consider writing a book of your experiences in your homeland. I just finished ” Ripples from Iceland” by Amalia Lindal and I think what you could offer along those lines would be spectacular.

    Again, as always, thanks for all you do in making IWR a daily “must read” for me and so many others.

    Thanks, Don

  • PhilippeP September 8, 2009, 6:04 am

    That pool at night is definitively one of the highlight of my 2008 Iceland vacations …

  • Ljósmynd DE September 8, 2009, 6:57 am

    This is really a magic place. I am impressed by the beautiful mirror lake (Frostastaðavatn), it must have been very calm.

    One might add, that even it is possible to reach Landmannalaugar without 4WD, the rental car companies don’t allow this. And the road down from Hrauneyjar is pretty pothole infested.

    There is a third road to Landmannalaugar from southeast (Fjallabaksleið nyrðri), which allows to continue the trip via Eldgjá back to the ring road.

    It’s really worth doing some hiking in the area. The wellknown (but overcrowded) Laugavegur is only one option among many others. And only those, who know about the beauty of the area, would be able to value the loss, if some energy company intended to build another power plant there.

  • idunn September 8, 2009, 7:22 am

    The geothermal pool looks fantastic.

    I did see the tire tracks in the one photo, although first thought was of the severe erosion evident in these mountains.

    ps. Unrelated. Love the occasional pictures of cats that appear in the picture window. Although in expression they all seem to be highly perturbed.

  • Chris September 8, 2009, 9:10 am

    I can really understand that you are amazed. I have been there three times now, and although I know what I will see, I am amazed every time. And thats how all our visitors reacted, when they visited the area. Nice photos…

  • Col Matheson September 8, 2009, 12:55 pm

    Whilst your government may not be considering you for any”order of the albatross”or whatever…then perhaps the Icelandic Tourist Board could show their appreciation..(healthy donation, or an occasional gift certificate?) Excellent article and great views, well done.

  • Dumdad September 8, 2009, 4:16 pm

    What an amazing and gorgeous country you live in. One day I’ll visit….

  • alda September 8, 2009, 7:16 pm

    Thanks, everyone!

    Andrea – yes, and yes. 🙂

    Jessica – hm. An idea.

    Baldvin – ég væri alveg til í það, nema ég á því miður ekki jeppa. 🙁

    Don – as ever, thank you for your faith in me.
    And, as I’ve said before, the problem with writing a book is that you either have to find a publisher willing to pay you moneys while you’re writing it, or be independently wealthy. Alas, neither applies to me.

    Col – thank you! But I’m afraid the Iceland Tourist Board has no such intentions. I’ve tried to initiate collaboration with them on two occasions and they seem to have their heads up their …. er, elsewhere. I think they’re delighted to have someone like me do part of their work — for free.

  • Berglind September 8, 2009, 9:50 pm

    I’ve been there many times – but visualising the picturesque Landmannalaugar through your description and photos gave it still a new perspective. Now I feel remotely envious because I haven’t been there this summer. *dæs*

  • Col Matheson September 8, 2009, 11:27 pm

    Alda, I am really sorry to hear that. As others have observed,tourism is going to play such an immense part of Icelands future, so not to involve someone who has an ever increasing international voice is hard to understand.
    The fishing industry too will be of prime importance , as the worlds fish stocks are dwindling rapidly,and Iceland managed to conserve theirs just in time. I know what these stocks can sustain as I worked for years as close as twelve miles of the north west .It will have to be managed properly though.
    There was a really good article in the Herald magazine (Scotland) the other weekend, about Iceland. The writer,Chris Pech,concentrated more on the ordinary people and events rather than the Blue Lagoon etc.It featured the Dalvik fish festival,working farms, food,and such. What with direct flights from Glasgow and hotel prices in Reykjavik half of that here in Aberdeen ,it is bound to send you many visitors, as will this feature of yours.
    As Don said earlier, to those who have had one too many doomsday scenarios, and what with them selling the very energy ,( one knows it is just wrong) and are perhaps feeling down, here is what the Herald writer said about you….
    “I don’t know if it’s the size of the population, their common roots,or their intimate connection to their stark environment,but the result is a comfortable and proud people without bravado or pretension. They are just Icelanders. They are happy to be Icelanders, and happy to share their stories, their homes and their tables without any agenda.”

  • ME September 9, 2009, 12:10 am

    I agree that offroad driving is evil (I’ve seen bad examples of it), but if you’re talking about the tire tracks that go uphill on the right, that is an official (unnumbered) mountain rtack. Actually one of the most beautiful roads I know. It offers stunning views on the backcountry of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve (which is in fact a huge volcanic crater). After crossing the mountain it forks into two other tracks. One goes to the ice cave and mountain hut at Hrafntinnusker, the other to the mountain Laufafell, where it joins road F210.

  • Elizabeth September 9, 2009, 9:36 am

    Stunning photos, especially the one of the lake – that one must surely be a prize-winner.

  • Volkmar September 9, 2009, 8:52 pm

    Great photos of outstanding quality!

    BTW: I think it’s not necessary to worry about the “offroad jerk” too much. If he continues, the chances are good that he will end up in a volcano someday 🙂

  • Baldvin Jónsson September 11, 2009, 4:01 pm

    @ME
    Förin sem sjást þarna á myndinni liggja upp úr Dómadalnum syðst og eru hvorki tengd Krakatinda- eða Hrafntinnuskersleiðinni.
    Þetta eru aðeins för eftir utanvegaakstur – líklega a.m.k. 15 ára gömul. Er a.m.k. æði langt síðan að ég sá þau fyrst.

    @Alda – það er til nóg af jeppum. Bara spurning um að húkka sér far með einum slíkum 🙂

  • Glenn Petersen September 13, 2009, 12:58 pm

    Hi Alda

    Thank you for sharing the gorguous pictures from Iceland and Landmannalaugar. I have visited Iceland three times, but I have not been there – yet.

    My daughter has moved to Iceland to study at Listaháskóli in Reykjavik, and I have persuated her to hike with me from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk one summer before or after her summer holiday.

    Another place I have to visit someday, is Askja in the North.

    Kind regards
    Glenn Petersen, Denmark

  • rob September 15, 2009, 1:38 pm

    I love it up there, I was in fact up there on Wen 9th. This time i actually brought a bathing suit and went for a swim, the water was great on the tows after the hike up to the steam vent.