When you are on the road, anything can happen. Especially in Iceland, land of mythical trolls and fairies. With Erla Thordis, the CEO of Fjallhalla Adventures and adventure guide who has conquered 52 mountains in a single year, we were in the best possible hands to hike from Úlfljótsvatn, near Thingvellir, to the hot springs of Laugardalur, a roughly 22km route with an elevation of 760m.
We started out on a well-trodden, earthy road from the Úlfljótsvatn scout centre. As friendly hikers do, we were chatting amongst ourselves to the rhythm of Erla’s hiking poles striking the ground. Without warning, as we kept our eyes on the winding tongue of the road reaching to the horizon, Erla disappeared into the thinly-leaved brambles to our right.
“I was here before the grass grew so tall,” Erla laughed as we made our way to follow her on a path of our own creation. From this point on, we knew our adventure was to take on the most wonderfully unexpected turns. Indeed, we wandered through the hillsides between lavender-scented fields, discovering blueberries shyly hiding beneath flower-leaves, making our way through the soft, delicate texture of Icelandic moss that our feet sunk into.
Like most of Iceland, the hike from Úlfljótsvatn to Reykjadalur takes the explorer through an immense variety of landscapes: from the lush green flora, one walks straight unto rocky paths, only to stumble upon tufts of moss before one falls into spiked and thorny shrubbery. This path in particular takes the hiker through a series of smaller peaks, each one higher than the next, overlooking the Úlfjljótsvatn lake (or ugly wolf lake). One can also spot the majestic Hekla with its snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance.
It is because of this variety in nature that hiking in Iceland is such a unique experience: within five minutes, you get to experience an endless change in the terrain. It is also for this reason that it is important to have some hiking experience before going out on an adventure and to have a guide at your side, such as Erla, who knows how to safely adapt to each new situation that presents itself. Although we were lucky with the weather during our hike, having been forecast rain only to enjoy a sunny trek throughout the entire day, it is crucial to note that weather conditions tend to change rapidly.
It was when we reached the third summit of our hike that we could overlook the smoke coming from the hot springs to our right, the crystalline blue of the lakes to our left and mount Hekla in the distance just behind us. We stayed here for a bit, watching the interplay between the undulating light and dark across the mountaintops, as though we were watching the sea lapping at the raven shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. The vastness of the nature surrounding us was enough to enchant our breaths away, but it was perhaps not until we began our steep descent into the valley below that the true wonder of our adventure struck us. With its green carpet at our feet, the beige and black mountains embraced us as we walked along the lavender-strewn entrance of the valley and into the heart of the hot springs. Smoke billowed to our left from the mountainside with a cool stream trickling to our left, the water’s edge framed by a constellation of yellow flowers. Thankfully, our hike was yet far from over and we got to cherish our final ascent overlooking the beauty of the valley we had wandered into.
From our hearty chatting and exchange of stories, our voices died down as we approached our destination. Our group dispersed, most of us walking at our own pace once we entered the final descent to the hot springs.
With blistered feet planted into 40°C water, I thanked Erla for inviting us along on this hike with its extraordinary display of nature’s untouched beauty. Once you go out and about, you quickly come to realise it is true that in Iceland, you can always expect the unexpected.