Actually, day 2 of the trip was our first hiking day along the Laugavegur trek. According to our itinerary, we had to go from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker for 12km, then have a lunch at the Hrafntinnusker hut, and finally take a second hike from Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn (another 15km).
After the breakfast, our guide informed us that we needed to pack a lunch and carry it with us. We packed a couple of sandwiches each, a small container of trek mix, and water. Overall, the food that Extreme Iceland provided was pretty good and in more than sufficient quantities.
Three members of our hiking party decided to skip the first day of hiking because they did not have suitable clothes and, more importantly, suitable shoes. So they were going to the Álftavatn hut directly on a super jeep.
As soon as I stepped outside the hut I knew that today was not going to be good for photography. The rain was so heavy that I even put on a rain cover on my photo backpack, which I have never done before. The first couple of miles were bearable. We passed the geothermal areas from the previous day’s walk, but the rain prevented me from admiring the views.
Around one third of the way, we had a first brief stop. The rain was not as bad and I was able to take a couple of pictures. The guide encouraged me to make the group stop more often for pictures. Well, it turned out that was the last time I took pictures during this hike.
At the halfway point, the weather deteriorated very rapidly. We were mostly walking on snow now. The rain became hail and the wind became gale. The gale, we later found out, was about 20 m/s, which does not sound too bad, but in fact it was so strong that at times it lifted me from the ground. Alex was able to pull out his iPhone and take a couple of snapshots.
After that and through the rest of the way, it was just pure hell. Hail and gale prevented me from looking up or ahead, so my field of view was about 2 feet ahead. When I tried to look up, the hail pelleted my face mercilessly, so I kept my head down. The wind for the most part blew sideways, which was uncomfortable and slowed us down, but at one point it changed direction and was blowing straight into our faces. I was going up a snow hill at the time. I was making a step up and immediately the wind blew me down. Everyone else was ahead of me already, so by the time I realized that I was in trouble nobody was around. I decided to take a break, I felt that I needed to gain some strength in order to be able to continue. I looked up and did not see Alex or the guide, they were already at the top, but I saw Dave (an Irish guy from our hiking group). He went down to ask me if everything was fine. Obviously, it did not look like everything was fine, so he gave me a hand and also made snow steps for me with his boots so I could climb up. At the top, the guide gave me some paste that was supposed to increase my strength, and we continued. I was tired but warm and dry inside, which was not the case with other members of the group. One person was all wet and started to freeze. The guide was concerned, so we had to move quickly. Dave and Alex were giving me hands and helping me get up snowy hills. As one snow field ended another began, and eventually I lost track of time and distance. At one point, the guide suddenly made a 90-degree turn. I thought that we finally got lost because, honestly, I saw no paths. (Dave, as it turned out later, went along a string of cairns, but that was not the path to the hut, which was basically unmarked in the snow.) However, in a situation like this you just have to trust someone. So I trusted that the local guide knew where to go. And he did. After that last snow stretch, he stopped at a pole (or something) at the top of the hill, and happily pointed down the other side. When we caught up with him and looked down where he was pointing, we saw the Hrafntinnusker hut. That was a huge relief. Thankfully, we had to go down the hill, not up. We practically ran to it.
At the hut, everybody took off their wet clothes, or some of their wet clothes (because some were soaked through). Me and Alex were OK. My photo equipment was OK, too. However, Alex’s backpack was completely soaked, so he made himself busy by drying out paper money.
We ate our packed lunches, and the guide told us that we could rest for an hour or so and move on to get to the Álftavatn hut, where we would spend the night. The prospect of going anywhere, though, or even putting my wet coat back on, did not excite me at all. All I wanted was to get warm and relax. Thankfully, Ed, another Irish guy in our group, made an executive decision. After going to the restroom (which was located outside, so he had to go around the hut to get there), he came back saying that the weather was still pretty bad and he was concerned that some members of our party might not be able to make another 15 km in such weather and in totally wet clothes. Those 15 km, mind you, included another 6-7 km of the snow fields. The guide and Dave were not happy, but the rest supported Ed’s opinion. The guide went to call the office to arrange our stay at the hut. Unfortunately, there was no Internet or satellite signal at the hut, so he had to hike up the hill somewhere to be able to make a call. The hut wardens had some sort of a walkie-talkie device for emergencies but we could not use it obviously, and we could not let our families know that we were OK. The guide returned in half an hour and informed us that he would have to make the other members of our group, who went directly to Álftavatn, go back here with food and all our things. But, yes, we could stay in the hut. That should have been all of the excitement that we got for that day, but after a couple of hours, the wardens told us that our jeep fell through a snow bridge on its way here and now was stuck with the passengers and all our things.
Thankfully, the hut had another super jeep and our guide with the jeep driver went to the rescue. The problem they faced was that they first had to find the stuck jeep, which was problematic in this weather.
Long story short, it took the two jeep drivers and the guide 4 hours to dig out the jeep, and finally around 11 PM, about 10 hours after we got to the hut, the rescued jeep also arrived and, oh miracle, the weather improved so much that we could finally go outside and enjoy the sunset. And what a sunset it was!
From the picture above, it is clear why we had no internet. The satellite dish was covered. 🙁
For dinner that day we had a traditional Icelandic lamb soup. It was thick and delicious, more like a stew than a soup. My favorite meal in the whole trip.
Hrafntinnusker hut is not the most comfortable hut on the Laugavegur trek: there is no hot water, no showers, not even water flushing toilets (which really stinks in both figurative and literal ways)… but the views from the hut are just spectacular.