Our time in Thorsmork was so nice that we decided to head back into the interior of Iceland to visit Landmannalaugar, famous for its geothermal activity and spectacular rhyolite peaks. Unfortunately, it’s at the end of a road we weren’t allowed to drive our rental car on, so we left the car in Leirubakki, a tiny village at the end of the sealed road, and caught the bus for the very rough 90 minute journey through miles of lava fields and river crossings to Landmannalaugar. We guess the bus needs lots of maintenance doing that trip every day!
Arriving at lunchtime, we decided on a shorter walk for the first day, and headed for Ljotipollur, or “Ugly Pond”, a spectacular lake that occupies a brilliant red crater in the top of a mountain. The views on this walk are stunning, with the lake itself as a centre point, but also views out over huge braided rivers with volcanic cones all around and enormous lava flows, again in a mixture of grey ash and green moss.
We had lunch at the lake in the last of the sunshine, and then walked around the lake as the rain steadily worsened. On the return from the lake we climbed a couple of other nearby mountains, one of which, Northurnamur, provided interesting views over a huge old lava flow and the crater that produced it. The cracks in the lava surface follow the path the lava took, hinting at collapsed lava tubes below.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny (our only rain-free day of the trip), so we headed off to climb Skalli, the second highest peak in the vicinity. This took us into the rhyolite region, where the mountains are a lovely yellow brown, with soft ridges as they appear to be made entirely from loose fragments of rock. Skalli provided lovely views over the icecap of Torfajokull and an impressive range of snow covered volcanoes, Haskerthingur. From there we descended a knife-edge ridge very reminiscent of the badlands of Alberta to Hattver, a name on the map that appeared to have no distinguishing feature at all on the ground except that the trail ended there, in a broad braided river valley.
Sensing the opportunity for a little more adventure, we decided to continue up the valley towards a geothermal area we could see on a ridge a few kilometres away. We forded the river a couple of times and eventually found an easy-to-climb ridge that led us across a series of mossy ridges to the steam. From there we climbed up into a saddle between two mountains, and descended across a large snowfield to eventually (and somewhat to our relief) catch sight of Hoskuldsskali Hut perched on a rocky hillside on the other side of a plateau.
As we approached the hut we realised that the whole hillside was covered in shiny blocks of obsidian ejected from the mountain behind the hut, known as Obsidian Peak. We had lunch at the hut, and then joined the trail through the obsidian fields back to Landmannalaugur. This was a lovely walk, featuring a fascinating geothermal area with boiling pools, fumeroles, and a mysterious hole in the ground splashily spitting out boiling water! We then entered the rhyolite again before reaching the source of a massive lava flow, which poured down the side of the mountain before spreading out over a large flat area. The lava steams spectacularly in places, but the sheer volume produced is what’s most impressive – the flow ends at Landmannalaugar in a wall of lava that must be 30m tall.
On our final morning in Landmannalaugar we opted for a short walk close to the camp site as we didn’t want to miss our bus and the weather was very windy and occasionally wet. We climbed a long ridge looking out over the area, but the wind and cloud meant we didn’t really get to enjoy the views much. We then explored some small geothermal areas, one of which featured a lovely intermittent spring (or possibly small geyser). When we saw it first it was furiously bubbling and splashing water perhaps 20cm high, but a few minutes later when we returned it was completely dry. We watched it for a few more minutes and it bust back into life, producing a small waterfall where there had been no water at all moments before.
Sadly our time had run out and we had to head back to Landmannalaugar for the bus back to our car.