Iceland – origins of the world
11 days - hiking with lightweight pack – 16 to 26/08/2018
Explore Iceland: Lying on the edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s stark, violent terrain moulded by fire and ice is among the most spectacular landscapes in the world. Untamed nature reminds us once again, and even more robustly, of its absolute power here. Its landscapes are sometimes bizarre, crystalline and lunar, sometimes green and peaceful, ceaselessly reshaped by volcanoes and tectonic forces, from deserts of black ash to tranquil pastures, to mountain ranges of petrified lava, solfataras, fumaroles and geysers erupting from just beneath the earth...
This is a land of startling contrasts. Great antagonistic forces, volcanic fire and the ice of huge mountain glacier caps, united to form this scenery of birth and rebirth. The Icelandic mountains are kaleidoscopic; turn around and the environment has changed. You are elsewhere, still here and yet incredibly elsewhere.
Iceland is a joy for photographers. It is said that Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film ‘Quest for Fire’ could have been filmed in these landscapes from the dawn of time had the Icelanders not refused entry to the elephants!
A landscape is not a country, but a representation of a country waiting to be inhabited by dreams.
Tour of the Hekla volcano: This trek brings together the strange and spectacular landscapes of the great volcanic rift valleys with those of the Arctic tundra. Down the centuries the Hekla volcano has disgorged striking lava flows and has poured out millions of tonnes of black scoria and white pumice over the surrounding areas. Miniscule in comparison, we pass near the Hekla volcano, which in the Middle Ages was thought to be the gates to hell. In reality, we travel across the active rift valley of the Iceland Highlands. The route follows the most well hidden and spectacular sections of the volcanic rift valley.
The Tour of Hekla offers a palette of extraordinary contrasts, from the black of the ash to the turquoise blue of the lakes and rivers, and the green pastures of the Landmannahellir and southwestern Hekla. Then there are the pastel hues of the acid rocks of the Landmannalaugar region, the traverse of the Torfajökull caldera, and the multi-coloured tones of the Hrafntinnusker, one of the largest obsidian mountains in the world and the largest geothermal zone in Europe, with its multitudes of gushing solfataras and boiling basins of acid and sulphur.
A private jeep with trailer will transport our luggage, cooking equipment and food during the trek.
We spend an average of six hours walking per day carrying a lightweight pack. The isolation here is total and the terrain varied, so it is extremely important that everyone is as well equipped as possible. We spend the nights in huts with and without guardians, and shepherd huts (and possibly one night in tents owing to poor accommodation options) in the heart of the most beautiful areas of this incredible place. We haven’t forgotten the fine food, and salmon, cod, trout and leg of lamb are all on the menu.
This trip has been specially devised for those looking to immerse themselves wholeheartedly into this wild environment and explore landscapes that have never been seen, or perhaps even imagined, before.
Day 1: Flight to Reykjavik. Transfer from airport to the city centre. First experience of the most northerly capital in the world. Night in comfortable guesthouse in the centre of Reykjavik, near the cathedral. We have views of the Snaefellsjökull volcano, which lies off the coast of the bay and featured in Jules Verne’s book ‘Voyage to the centre of the Earth’.
Day 2: Transfer along the South Atlantic coast. Short stop at our depot in the village of Hella, where we load our food and equipment into the trailer of the assistance jeep. From Hella we head into the Highlands. After an hour’s drive along tracks we start our hike towards the tiny Hekla farms to the southwest of the volcano. These farms have been moved numerous times down the centuries and the locals cannot always agree on the location of their grand-parents’ farm before it was engulfed in lava. There is a bucolic and run down atmosphere, brimming with the charm of this strange countryside. Despite the nearby volcano the landscape here is verdant and some of the former lava flows are covered in moss and clumps of Arctic birch, barely taller and as old as ancient ‘bonsai’ trees, which together with the limpid springs that gush from the rocky chaos create true Japanese gardens. The landscape becomes more lunar in appearance as we near our first Highland accommodation, the Rjupnavellir hut, located on the banks of the Rangá, a resurgence river.
Day 3: We commence our hike following the turbulent course of the Rangá, which we cross via a bridge. We climb up Hekla’s northwestern buttresses to reach a plateau. We are now in the heart of vast fields of ash and lava - we are on the moon! The black of the surroundings is so dark that it becomes like the blue of a crow’s plumage. We are mere tiny figures as we make our way through this crystalline world, across an infinite plain of scoria bordering the western flank of the volcano, where most of the flows from the recent eruptions were disgorged. The Sauðafellsvatn lake appears like an oasis. The traverse of a lava flow, which poured forth during the 1970 Hekla eruption, signals our arrival in the pastures of the turf-topped Afangagil shepherd huts. The pink clusters of thrift, or armeria plants, and campions, and patches of wild thyme perfume the air in the sun’s heat. Night in traditional shepherd’s huts and a picturebook example of the Icelandic environment.
Day 4: We walk along the Valanuka massif, plunging into the impressive fault created by the Valagjá eruption, with the easy crossing of a handsome ford, and traversing a lava flow dating from 1913. Silvery lichens and green velvet mosses have recolonized the lava fields. Making our way up towards a red volcanic mouth, issuing from the nearby Hekla volcano system, reminds us of the sheer size of the lava flow we have just crossed. We continue on towards the Saudleysuvath lake, a gem nestling among the jagged terrain. We reach the tranquillity of the Landmannahellir pastures, which lie next to the magnificent fish-filled Löðmundarvath lake. Night in the Landmannahellir hut.
Day 5: The traverse of the Kringla plain, the Klukugil gorges and the ridges overlooking them, along the shores of the Hofdavath lake brings us to the rhyolite massifs and their shimmering multiple pastel hues, from blue to pink to every shade of ochre imaginable. We encounter our first solfataras as we approach Landmannalaugar and its river of hot water that springs from the foot of a lava flow (37ºC – divine!). We are at the northern edge of the Torfajökull caldera, the ‘muddy glacier’, around 20 kilometres in diameter. We jump onto the local 4x4 excursion bus and return to Landmannahellir to avoid the crowds that quite understandably flock to the formidable and unmissable Landmannalaugar.
Day 6: We walk round Hekla via its eastern side. As we approach the Torfajökull caldera we are treated to more geothermal phenomena. We finish our day in the wilds following the Markarfljót river, and another hot spring for your delectation. Night in the heart of nowhere in the Dalakofi hut, above the Markarfljót river.
Day 7: We enter the immense Torfajökull caldera and the Hrafntinnusker plateau, one of the biggest obsidian mountains in the world and the largest geothermally active area in Europe. Hrafntinnusker means ‘crow black reef’: obsidian (hrafn – crow) (tinna – deep black) reefs or shelves (sker). This is a great example of the ancient natural metaphorical poetry of the Icelandic language. We follow a circular route through the shimmering pastel hues of the rhyolite massifs and the obsidian flow from the Hrafntinnusker caldera. There is an incredible palette of pastel hues here, from blue to pink to every possible shade of ochre. Innumerable fumaroles, pools of sulphurous mud, glassy obsidian flows, marshes, crystalline lakes and immaculate snowcaps lie one after another as far as the eye can see. And still no trails. This landscape is absolutely OUTSTANDING and UNFORGETTABLE. We leave via the eastern side of the Torfajökull caldera across a jagged lava flow. This is the longest day of the trip but it is stunning.
Day 8: Heading due south we follow the craggy buttresses of the lofty volcanic citadel of Laufafell to the Laufavath lake and its area of pseudo-craters. We continue southeast towards the Skyggnisvath lake. We have a real feeling of exploration and freedom in these great wild spaces! We follow the terrain to reach the new Hungufit hut, which lies on an immense verdant plain.
Day 9: The Tindfjöll range appears as a huge mountainous mass crowned with a multitude of small peaks (from where it gets its name) between which spreads a branched glacier. This mountain must have been the largest volcano in the island and the experts think that it was over 3000m high. It collapsed in a great cataclysm around 6000 years ago. Today the hotspot has moved towards Hekla and its small neighbour Eyjafjallajökull, about which we heard so much in spring 2011. We move through a pleasant Alpine-looking valley that takes us to Krókur (the ‘hook’) next to the Markarfljót canyon, which here in the interior is not yet the powerful glacial river we know from the coast, and is loaded with striking turquoise-coloured particles of acid rock, in striking contrast with the dense black of the cliffs through which it flows. We explore the maze of pretty valleys and deep gorges that sink into the mountain. It would be no surprise if we were to see elves here. In any case, they are certainly watching us! The handsome terrain leads us to Hungufit.
Day 10: Transfer to Reykjavik. Night in the same guesthouse as our first night.
Day 11: Morning flight home.
Depending on the conditions, your guide or mountain leader may have to change the programme.
Compagnie du Mont Blanc ‘extras’
- An expert guide with a love of the area, 23 years experience and 25 trips to Iceland.
- Small group of 9 to 12 people.
- We prepare our meals ourselves using high-quality local produce, including salmon, cod and leg of lamb...
The price for this trip was published in June 2013, in agreement with currency value, air fare prices, and logistic costs in Iceland at the time. Prices may need some adjustments depending on price and currency fluctuation when trip departs.
Ability level: Competent walker, carrying lightweight pack, with assistance vehicle. This trek should not present very many difficulties for competent walkers. Nonetheless, the route is 99% off-trail. The terrain, ford crossings, mixture of soft and sandy surfaces, and the at times capricious weather conditions can make the trek more physically arduous than one following paths. The trip involves nine successive days of trekking around the Hekla volcano.
Group: The group is made up of nine to a maximum of 12 people, led by a state accredited mountain leader, which allows for more comfortable conversation and a friendly atmosphere.
We do not accept group bookings for people under 18.
Accommodation: 2 nights in a comfortable guesthouse in Reykjavik and 8 nights in comfortable hut dormitories (WC and showers).
Equipment: A complete dossier including kit list and administrative formalities will be sent out after registration.
Flights: Your guide will be happy to advise you.
2018 dates: 16 to 26 August 2018
Meet: Roissy (Paris) or Keflavík airports
2018 Price: 2890€ per person (for group of 9-12 people)
The price for this trip was calculated on 18/11/17 based on exchange rates and costs known at the time and may be subject to change between now and the departure date.
- Accommodation in huts and comfortable Reykjavik guesthouse.
- Trek (guide, driver, 4x4, high-quality meals)
- All transport, in 4x4 vehicles (4x4 car & 4x4 bus)
- Payable showers in the huts (around 30€ per person)
- Group pharmacy & first aid kit
- Treats from France (dried meats, cheese, wine, etc)
- Satellite phone for safety reasons and for if you need to contact your loved ones
- The guide’s good humour
PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE
- Return flights to/from Reykjavik
- Dinner in Reykjavik. We can visit a typical fish restaurant (20-40€ depending on your appetite)
- Additional drinks (no bars on the route!)
- Any tips
- Anything not covered by the ‘price includes’ list
Reservation: by payment of 30% deposit made payable to the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix.
Insurance: Participants must have insurance with repatriation cover. We strongly recommend that this also include cancellation cover.
We offer cancellation cover at a cost of 2.75% of the total cost of the trip plus insurance including repatriation and search and rescue cover at a cost of 2.28% of the cost of the trip. Rescue and repatriation insurance are obligatory. You can take out personal cover but you must give us the name of your insurer, your contract number, 24hr emergency number and amount covered by your search and rescue cover.
Documentation:There shouldn’t be any problems at passport control and you only need a valid passport or ID card.
Vaccinations: No vaccinations required. Infectious diseases are virtually non-existent in Nordic countries.
Weather: The weather on the island is not as harsh as its geographical location might lead one to think. The island is simultaneously influenced by polar currents from Greenland and those from the Gulf Stream, which creates a cold oceanic climate, characterised by a narrow temperature range. Winters are mild but, on the other hand, the summers are cool.
The Icelandic skies are particularly changeable. Humidity and wind contribute to creating a cool feeling. The saying “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”, is good proof of the extremely unstable character of the weather here!
Period: Late August/early September marks the return of the first displays of the aurora borealis, the magnificent night-time spectacle. However, you have to be quite lucky - clear skies, no moon and intense solar activity - to catch it. Statistically the weather is more stable at this time of year and is colder but less rainy than the summer.
Food: The cooking is based on delicious, high-quality local organic produce. We enjoy substantial ‘Scandinavian’ breakfasts, and midday picnics based around Icelandic bread, Swedish crispbread, dried mutton and pork, smoked and pickled fish, excellent Icelandic cheese, fresh and dried (mostly dried) fruit, biscuits and hot drinks. The evening meals are generous and friendly, and are based on local specialities and produce, such as fish, leg of lamb, vegetables, rice, pasta, olive oil, salad and excellent dairy products including skyr with blueberries and súrmjolk.