Iceland Day 2: Landmannalaugar – the central highlands of Iceland

Photo of Iceland Day 2: Landmannalaugar – the central highlands of Iceland by nidhi patnaik

The complex pronunciation of it’s name is as complex as the turmoil of emotions it created within me. Hard to imagine that a place could be so powerful that it could create an immense thunder and roar of happiness, delight, fear, joy within me strong enough to give goosebumps only with it’s visual appearance which is far beyond the way ‘beautiful’ can ever mean.

We were staying in an Airbnb near Reykjavik which is around 209 kms from Landmannalaugar. The long drive is treacherous due to the gravel roads in the mountainous terrain. But, like it is commonly said ‘no gain without pain’, is a phrase especially made after a place like this.

We first stocked up with food from Bonus in Reykjavik which is the cheapest grocery store in Iceland. The fresh strawberries and peanuts turned out to be great and much needed munching companion during the long drive as there are no food outlets and restaurants on the way or in Landmannalaugar. The easiest and the most popular route is through F208 North.

There are also 2 other routes which are known to be quite scenic but are challenging due to river crossings. Since we were not comfortable with river crossings, we opted for the one without them.

Another important thing is to ensure a filled gas tank because of no gas stations near and in Landmannalaugar. There are a few on the way which can be helpful in getting a full tank keeping in the mind the return journey as well.

We were already familiar with the unusual scenery of lava fields and mountains by now, but we were taken in for a surprise soon. After we left the city and the towns behind, the F- roads started to come into picture.

The nerve wrecking gravel roads in the mountainous terrain do give a tough time but as soon as we looked around, the landscape was entirely different and something else.

The highlands left us bewildered by presenting some jaw dropping martian landscapes with mountains covered with ash. With every turn of the winding roads in the mountains, there was a surprise awaiting especially when we saw a huge lake appearing from nowhere amidst the mountains.

The green-brown mountains pecked with bits of snow in between looked like an artwork designed by someone to create something extraordinary. It was hard to believe that a rugged terrain was so perfectly painted by nature. Lost in the extraordinary gallery of artistic paintings of another planet, we were also struggling to drive through the narrow gravel roads between the mountains.

The treacherous long drive through the volcanic desert did make us think once about returning but the dramatic landscapes kept inviting us further to explore this unknown land of mysterious landscapes. Now, I know why a 4X4 is a must here. We came across a couple walking along the road gesturing for a lift. They were from France and were travelling to Landmannalaugar like us.

Soon the the unpaved, uneven road was narrow enough only for one vehicle to pass. There were vehicles returning from the other side, so it was important to keep an eye on them. It was a pleasure to see people waiting for the one’s coming from the other side and greeting with a thumbs up to thank each other. It is not something I see often in my country, so the gesture did light me up with delight.

The drive was bumpy enough to shake my hand while holding the phone to capture the surroundings. As we were going up into the highlands, the mountains covered with green moss looked surreal. I have never seen so many shades of green and browns mixed together to create such a scenic landscape which certainly didn’t look like from our planet Earth. The sun rays falling was lightning everything up from sparkling lakes to golden mountains.

The sheer enormity of these highlands were blowing up our minds with excitement and fear at the same time. We were thrilled to be here but I also felt a slight bit of fear cringing on to me as the feeling of being in a place which didn’t look like Earth wasn’t something I had in my mind before coming here. All my emotions finally took a backseat when we reached our destination. It was quite windy and cold outside. We layered ourselves with waterproof jackets, caps and gloves.

Laugahraun/Laugahringur circle loop ( ~5 kms) at Landmannalaugar

We were finally at the campsite from where the exciting trails began. Since we were here only for a day and we had only a couple of hours before commencing the return journey, we opted for a short trek. We did the Laugahringur loop which is a part of the bigger Laugavegur trail. The Laugahringur loop is 5 kms long and fairly easy. We bought a map from the information centre which was well marked and helpful in understanding the hike route.

We took the path from the visitor centre and followed towards the lava fields. The dark green lava fields appeared interesting here in the rocky terrain. Once I looked around, the immense feeling of being in another planet crept into me again. The campsite looked breathtaking from here with colourful rugged mountains in the background. I fail to understand that how could something like this exist naturally, on it’s own without any human intervention.

The miracles of nature were beyond my comprehension. The rugged mountains and the lava fields with mosses was not my idea of a conventional beautiful landscape. This kind of unique landscape born from millions of volcanic eruptions and a product of unique volcanic system breaks the usual perception of beauty set in our minds.

I always relate green fields and mountains with beautiful sceneries pleasing to the eye but now, I kept falling in love again and again with the surreal unusual green mosses in lava fields. It was as if the entire landscape was asking me to cross the boundaries I have set for myself to venture into the unknown. Going ahead, there was smoke coming out of the mountains which looked even more fascinating. Even though this place was filled with the pungent smell of sulphur smoke, that did not deter us from admiring the majestic grandeur of this place.

View from the car while driving towards the campsite of landmannalaugar

Photo of Laugahraun, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

The base camp at Landmannalaugar

Photo of Laugahraun, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

Laugahraun hike

Photo of Laugahraun, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

During the hike

Photo of Laugahraun, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

Exploring the rugged mountains

Photo of Laugahraun, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

The natural raw beauty

Photo of Laugahraun, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

The captivating lava mosses

Photo of Laugahraun, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

We climbed up to watch these stunning mountains

Photo of Laugahraun, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

The unreal smoky mountains of Landmannalaugar

Photo of Laugahraun, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

Link to the video: The smoky mountains

The sulphur smoke covering the rocks surrounded by lava fields, basalt rocks and the colourful rhyolite mountains were stunning as well as unearthly at the same time. Though short of time, we were enticed to go further up to check what was in store ahead. We continued through the lava fields towards Brennisteinsalda which is another mountain.

The path is a bit steep due to the lava rocks but a good pair of hiking shoes makes it easier because of the good grip. Standing up close in front of the golden mountains with pecks of snow and spectacular green moss over it appeared like watching natural design patterns. I was on cloud nine, or maybe cloud ten if such a work could exist in the dictionary.

Looking around, we could see the entire view of the the highlands with smoke coming out of the crown shaped mountains, lava fields and colorful rhyolite mountains. There was a lake in front at the bottom surrounded by these mighty mountains like a mother protecting her beautiful child.

Unfortunately, we could not go deeper into the highlands as it was time to return now.

The return trail was exciting as it was zig zagging right through the lava fields. I was highly impressed with the way trails had been marked as it was impossible without proper marking to follow the complex maze of lava rocks. The trail was soon following a stream from where we filled up our water bottles. The fresh water of the stream with a slight sweet taste was the best welcome drink offered by nature at her home to guests like us.

After getting charged up, we moved ahead to find another unusual grey blue mountain known as Blahnjukur which we realised was the blue peak mountain we had read about earlier. The names are quite complex and we met people like us trying to figure out the names of these mountains.

Finally, we were back at the visitor centre but it also started to drizzle. We were glad that we managed finishing the trail before the downpour began. We went back to the information centre counter to enquire the way towards our next stop.

There was a walking trail near the campsite to the crater lake but as we were running out of time, we decided to drive towards Ljotipollur. On the way back, we were again awe-struck by the magnificent lake Frostastadavatn with blue andd green water which made us stop this time to spend some time admiring the mountains and the lake.

The rain had gained momentum by now but that did not dampen our spirits to visit the next stopover. We drove further to find a signpost directing towards Ljotipollur. The gravel road led to a bumpy ride with very narrow path carved in between the mountains standing tall.

With no trace of any other vehicle, I felt apprehensive until we noticed a car parked at the end after which we had to hike up to the crater lake. It was raining as we started to climb up. Our water proof jackets were put to test now by the weather and they did exceptionally well by protecting us. The uphill hike was steep and I soon ran out of breath. As it was raining, I was eager to get to the top and return back as soon as possible.

The only two people here were the one’s with their car parked down and they were also returning back. We greeted them and asked about the crater lake. I was taken aback when one of them replied by saying that he can’t tell us how it was but it is going to be worth it. I realized what he meant when we reached the top and saw the red rim of the huge crater lake. He was right.

The beauty of this place was impossible to understand. It was perplexing and baffling. The huge glorious lake with the red crater rim surrounded by green lava mosses shining in the rain froze the moment and transported us into some other world which was far from real.

The vastness of such a unique crater lake left us bewildered. The state of excitement made us forget about the rain as we looked around with amazement to see the enormous lake Frostastadavatn and the mountains behind us.

Our level of happiness rose to ecstatic when we realized that we had this kind of an out worldly place, all by ourselves.

Click to view the video of Ljotipollur crater lake

Photo of Ljótipollur View Point, Iceland by nidhi patnaik
Photo of Ljótipollur View Point, Iceland by nidhi patnaik

The rain started hitting the surface harder and that awakened me to feel the reality striking back. We had to get back now as it was getting late and it was a long drive back to our airbnb in Reykjavik.

Back to Reykjavik

We were relieved once we crossed the F-roads and even the rain started to subside. The drive back was quite comfortable and relatively easy now after knowing what to expect from the highland roads. It took us around 3-4 hours to get back and it was almost midnight by the time we reached. We were dead tired but felt contented and happy with what we had accomplished today.

Link to the main blog: Hello Iceland