Global Adventure - Backpack Hut to Hut Between Icefields, Peaks and Fjords in Remote Eastern Iceland

Trip

Global Adventure - Backpack Hut to Hut Between Icefields, Peaks and Fjords in Remote Eastern Iceland

Backpack along two gorgeous trails in unspoiled eastern Iceland, off the main tourist track! First we’ll hike 5 days, 35 miles and 6900 feet of gain on the Víknaslóðir trail system which traverses deserted islets, beaches and fjords between isolated fishing villages, abandoned farmhouses, and comfortable hiker huts. Flanking the coast are mountains in all shapes and sizes, and in colors from black volcanic sand to fluorescent green of moss, to stark black basalt and orange-yellow mountain ridges. Then after a resupply day we’ll hit the trails in the Lónsöræfi mountains east of the huge Vatnajökull glacier, and hike 4 days, 29 miles and about 3900 feet of gain through deep, rugged rhyolite canyons with their kaleidoscope of colors, as well as lush sheltered valleys with waterfalls and a good chance of spotting reindeer. Because of the time of year, the chance of rain will be somewhat higher but in exchange we’ll have plenty of dark-sky nights to give us a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights! We’ll stay in small but comfortable hiker huts on our trail days, provide and carry our own trail food, and carry a backpack with all of our overnight gear except tents and cooking gear. NOTE: THE MEMBER FEE SHOWN IS FOR THE 50% DEPOSIT ONLY. See trip price detail in the leader’s notes for more specifics! PERMISSION REQUESTS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED UNTIL REGISTRATION OPENS.

  • Thu, Aug 29, 2024 — Sun, Sep 8, 2024
  • Global Adventures Committee
  • Backpacking, Global Adventures
  • Adults
  • Strenuous
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 76.1 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 11,597 ft
  • High Point Elevation: 3,000 ft
  • Pace: 1.5-2 mph

Participants are asked to arrive in Egilsstadir, Iceland no later than the afternoon of August 29, 2024.  International flights connect through Reykjavik’s Keflavik international airport KEF, but require that you transfer to the domestic airport RKV for the leg to Egilstadir.  If time allows it is also possible (and recommended!) to arrive in KEF and then rent a vehicle to drive the northern ring road to Egilsstadir.  (This would involve about 8.5 total hours of driving, with lots of sights to see – you might want 3-4 days to do this trip!)  Extra days exploring Reykjavik are also very worthwhile.  {Air travel and extra lodging days and transport before or after the main itinerary are not included in the trip price.}

The trip will end with a hotel night in Hofn, Iceland, right on the southern ring road, on Sunday September 8, 2024.  Then you are responsible for getting yourself back home via Keflavik International Airport starting on Monday the 9th.  Hofn has a small airport that runs two flights a day M-W-F and one flight a day on Th and Sun, offered by Eagle Air.  A vehicle can also be rented in Hofn to drive the ring road to Reykjavik (there’s about 5 ¾ hours of driving, but you will want at least 2 days to see the sights along the way if possible!).

All international and domestic flights and any sightseeing arrangements are the responsibility of the participant to arrange, but the trip leader is happy to assist with planning and recommendations!

Itinerary Highlights:   

The tiny island nation of Iceland is defined by incredible natural diversity and unique beauty, as well as kind welcoming people.  The country has become a mecca for trekkers but the vast majority of people come to the country to trek across the volcanic highlands in south central Iceland.  This adventure gets off the tourist track with view-rich dayhikes to waterfalls and vast basalt canyons, and two unique and spectacular 4-day treks in the country’s east and southeast:   the Víknaslóðir Trail and the the Lónsöræfi Trail – plus plenty of dark-sky nights to give us a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights!  

East Iceland Adventure Map.jpg

This adventure will begin in Egilsstadir, the largest town in east Iceland (at a little over 2200 people!).  We’ll have our arrival day and evening (Aug 29) to relax at our hostel, sleep off our jetlag, and wander around town.  The next morning (Aug 30) we’ll head out early in a couple of rental vans to do a little hiking and sightseeing in the vicinity (possibilities are the stunning hike to the remote Stórurð lakes - 8.5 mi, 3050’ gain - or the 7 miles and 500’ gain hike to the Stuðlagil basalt cliffs and the Stuðlafoss waterfall nearby), returning to Egilsstadir in the afternoon to do any needed grocery shopping for the trip, to have a briefing with our guide Arnaud, and to go out for our group welcome dinner! 

Then on the morning of Aug 31 we’ll start the remote Víknaslóðir Trail or “Trail of the Inlets” in Seyðisfjörður on a long narrow fjord surrounded by majestic mountains.  We’ll climb to Hjálmárdalsheiði (Hall Pass) with increasing views of the mountaintops of the southern fjords, following the old path that used to be the main thoroughfare between the inland farmlands and the Seyðisfjörður harbor and trading post.  Finally we’ll descend to Loðmundarfjörður and settle into the cozy hut of the same name, at the bottom of the valley.  Approx 9 miles, 1970 ft gain and loss.  This hut has close road access.

On day 2 of our Víknaslóðir trek we hike in the verdant valley of Loðmundarfjörður fiord, home to close to a hundred people at the turn of the 20th century due to rich farmlands and accessible fishing grounds but now mostly abandoned.  We’ll cross the massive Loðmundarskriður rockslide from thousands of years ago which burst from the adjacent mountains with such power that pearlstone (perlite) was formed from the heat and pressure. We end the day in the narrow valley leading to the hut at Húsavík.  If weather permits we’ll take an evening walk down to the beach.  Approx. 9 miles, 2000’ gain and loss.  This hut has close road access.

Day 3 of our Víknaslóðir trek is spectacular.  On this day we’ll hike over a set of quintessential Icelandic mountains in their black, orange, yellow and lime green colors. If weather permits we will climb the mountain Hvítserkur for panoramic views before descending to the hikers hut in Breiðavík inlet backed by peaks and fronted with views of the tossing waves of the North Atlantic.   Approx. 8 miles, 1650’ gain, 1800’ loss.

On day 4, we’ll head back up into the valley, over the magnificent pass of Súluskarð and the low pass of Kjólsvíkurvarp, surrounded by the kaleidoscope colors of the adjacent hills and peaks, and traverse along the coastal highlands, passing the secluded bay of Brúnuvík.  We end this day at the Borgarfjörður eystri (estuary) and the little village of Bakkagerði where our lodging (Blabjorg Resort) is located.  Borgarfjörður eystri is considered a spiritual place by the locals, and is known for folklore and stories of the Hidden People, and the strength of Vættir, the spirits of the land.   Approx. 9 miles, 1320’ gain and loss.  After dinner we’ll be free to wander around the village, and soak in Blabjorg Resort’s spa with a view of the estuary!  (Or try a seaweed or microbrew bath – really!!!).

The next morning, September 4 we head back to Egilsstadir to do a supply run for our second trek, do a hike if time allows (check out Hengifoss as one of the possibilities!) and end at Laugarfell hostel (our night’s lodging) under Mt Snaefell, with time to soak in its hot springs!

First thing on September 5th we take a 5-mile hike on the Waterfall Circle trail from Laugarfell to restart our hiking ‘engines’ (participants can choose to rest at the hut), before driving~ 2 hrs  to the start of the the Lónsöræfi trek on the western flank of Vatnajökull, the largest icefield in Iceland and the second largest in area in Europe.  The trek begins in the broad Eyjabakkar wetlands east of Mt. Snæfell, and follows Eyjabakkar and the banks of the glacier river Jökulsá through most of the day.  (This area is one of the main breeding areas on the planet for the pink footed goose, and their southbound migration takes place from mid-September to early October).   We then turn east towards Geldingafell mountain at the edge of the great Vatnajökull glacier,  and the lush vegetation of the riverbanks gives way to the rough areas shaped by the receding glacier.  In this area the reindeer roam freely, though they’re shy and we may only see them from a distance.  We spend the night at the hut Geldingafell.  This first day will be ~14.5 miles with the optional 4.5 mile dayhike and the 9.5 miles to the hut.  This hut has close road access.

On Sept 6th we hike over the mountain of Geldingafell for excellent views over the Vatnajökull glacier, its outlet glaciers and their aqua-blue lagoons. We traverse high above the valley of Vesturdalur before descending down to lake Kollumúlavatn and its population of pintail ducks. This night’s hut, Egilssel, is on the shore of the lake.  Approx. 9.5 miles, 980’ gain, 1640’ loss.

The next morning, September 7th, we circling the lake to the impressive Tröllakrókar cliffs and Tröllakrókahnaus, a striking outcrop of columnar basalt.   We’ll follow the cliffs’ edge for broad views, before gradually descending from deep black basalt into the purple, pink, orange and lime green colors of the rhyolite hills into the valley of the glacial river Jökulsá í Lóni.  On this night we stay at the hut Mulaskali.  Approx. 7.5 miles, 650’ gain, 1450’ loss.  The Mulaskali hut is approx. 1.7 miles from a road.

Our final day on the Lónsöræfi trek, September 8th, begins with a crossing of Jökulsá í Lóni on a footbridge before climbing for more broad views, then making our way south along the river valley to the old Eskifell farmstead and a final crossing of the river on a footbridge.  Approx. 7 miles, 820’ gain, 950’ loss.  We’ll meet our van here and transfer to the coastal town of Höfn where we’ll enjoy a shower in our private rooms and a tasty farewell dinner.  The next morning, September 9th, we’re free to take our chosen transportation on to Reykjavik and home, or to other explorations in the area.

To ensure that we stay on planned and safe routes, avoid local hazards, and provide the group the greatest possible cultural and historical context along the way, an experienced local outfitter[1] and experienced local English-speaking guide Arnaud will be with us throughout (many Global Adventurers will remember Arnaud who has guided us on two past off-the-beaten-track treks, in central Patagonia and in the Icelandic Highlands!  I’ve never had a better guide and I know you’ll very much enjoy him!).  We’ll have a spacious 4wd van to transport us to and from the trails and hikes.  

Hiking days will range from a 3-mile hike with 830 feet of gain and loss to the longest day with 14.5 miles and >1400 feet of gain and loss.  The route is often off-trail on steep pumice, rocky moraine and grassy slopes, and we will often be wading cold braided rivers.   While the crossings aren’t dangerous, they can be cold, and we’ll spend a lot of time in our water shoes with wet feet.

Because Iceland is known for its unpredictable and sometimes cold and wet weather, our itinerary could change without notice - if your Mountaineers leader and the guide determine that conditions have become unsafe, we will turn around or find a different route forward.  But we’re booked into comfortable (though basic) huts for all of our nights on the trail, so we’ll never be too far from shelter.  Huts may or may not have indoor toilets or showers.  Huts may be shared with as many as 20 other people outside our group, though I expect fewer this time of year.

[1] Ferðakompaníið - the Icelandic Travel Company, http://www.ferdakompaniid.com/About-us/, an experienced local tour operator that specializes in custom adventure tours in Iceland!

Activity Audience:  Adults

Time of Year:   On this Iceland adventure we’re going in late August to early September.  Though the weather can be a bit more changeable this time of year, we’ve chosen this time in order for participants to experience the Northern Lights from our remote huts!

Lodging:   We will spend 5 nights in well-appointed hotels or hostels in town, with included breakfast (some of these will have bunk rooms with shared bath), and 6 nights in remote huts that have bunk space for around 30 people, cooking facilities, and mostly outside toilet facilities (some have showers and hot water!)  We will need to carry our sleeping bags and our hiking and overnight clothing as well as our eating utensils, but won’t need to cary a tent, stoves or gas.

Food:   Breakfasts will be included at our hotels and hostels, and a welcome and a farewell dinner will be provided showcasing tasty local specialties.  Generally it is possible to support vegetarian, vegan and gluten free diets with advance notice.  On our trail days we will provide and carry our own food for breakfasts, lunches and dinners (3 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 3 dinners for the first trek and the same for the second trek).  You can bring some favorite foods in with you (with some limitations on items you can bring into the country) but we’ll also be stopping at the well-stocked grocery store in Egilsstadir to shop for food the day before each of our two treks.  Our guide is famous for the fabulous appetizers that he makes in the huts!  Detailed assistance with food planning will be provided by the trip leader.

Leader’s Experience:   Cheryl Talbert is the chair of the Foothills Branch Backpacking committee and co-chair of the Global Adventures committee.  She has led many Mountaineers hikes and many Mountaineers and private backpacks, treks and cultural trips around the U.S. west and worldwide (this will be her 42nd Global Adventure lead).  She organized and led a Mountaineers adventure with Arnaud in the Icelandic Highlands in 2021. ( cascadehiker12@gmail.com)

Strenuousness or Difficulty rating:   This itinerary is rated strenuous and challenging, mostly because of sometimes very rugged conditions including steep moraine and boulder field ascents and descents, swift water crossings, often difficult weather and remoteness.   Helicopter rescue is available all over Iceland, and drivers can reach us at some of the huts if someone needs to exit early.

Limit:   Maximum of 12, including the leader.  If this maximum is not met, it is possible that a modest surcharge may be necessary at final payment for the trip to go.

Participant Requirements:    Must be a current Mountaineers member with an up-to-date waiver on file. This outing includes strenuous hiking on rugged terrain (including some steep moraine and scree slopes) for multiple successive days without such amenities as showers or laundry.  The weather can change suddenly to high winds, hail, fog or heavy rain.  For these reasons, participants need to be in excellent condition with good balance and confidence traveling on rough trail with a pack, and with the experience and willingness to pack appropriately and to deal with some discomfort, cold and inclement weather for extended periods.  Recent experience with multi-day strenuous backpacking, scrambling or hiking, plus a positive attitude and a demonstrated ability to get along well with groups under demanding conditions, will be very important.  Finally, participants must support an expedition-team approach where we stay together on the trail and make decisions for mutual support – before applying please review this Objectives, Expectations and Style document and be ready to support it.   NOTE:  Your leader makes most of the arrangements and provides logistics support during the trip, but is NOT a tour guide!  As a Mountaineers group we will operate as interdependent, capable travelers making our way together and helping one another succeed and be safe.  You must have the ability to navigate on trails with a map and compass.

Covid-19 Requirements:  Participants must be fully vaccinated to participate in the trip, which includes any boosters available up to the time of travel.  In addition, participants are expected to practice conservative covid behavior before and during transit to the trip including masking and avoiding crowded indoor spaces whenever possible; to self-test the day before traveling to Iceland[2]; and to carry covid self-tests on the trip and use them at any time when they experience a symptom commonly related to covid.  Any positive test will mean that the participant will need to leave the group and quarantine at their own expense for at least 5 days (or longer if not symptom free, per CDC guidelines) before flying home.

Required and Recommended Travel Insurance:  Participants are required to carry international medical and evacuation insurance at their own expense, and it is also recommended to carry trip cancellation insurance though this is not required.  Cancel for Any Reason insurance provides the option for partial reimbursement of trip expenses for cancellation reasons beyond medical ones – but must be purchased within 14 days of your first trip payment (which would be your deposit).  If you choose to carry Trip Cancellation insurance, be sure that a positive Covid test would be counted as an approved reason to cancel, and find out what documentation would be required.

[2] We ask that participants cancel if any positive covid self-test result is obtained before the trip.  Follow the procedures outlined by your travel insurer to demonstrate the positive result for purposes of a trip cancellation insurance claim.

Trip Price Detail:   $3900, including all lodging, transportation and guides as well as your breakfasts and two dinners in town.  Your airfare (up to $1800 with international and domestic flights; could be less), travel insurance ($75-350), trail meals (~$15-25/day) and guide and driver tips (~$10-15/day) are not included.  (Prices are very expensive in Iceland, particularly for our custom itinerary, guide and all of our private transportation in specialized 4x4 vehicles in this remote area with few local service providers.  View it as an investment in experiencing a one-of-a-kind backcountry adventure in a place where few people visit!)

Registration Instructions:   First please complete and submit the application form below which will automatically be sent to the leader.   After the leader’s approval, go to the trip listing and click the REGISTER button to pay the 50% deposit and hold your space on the roster (contact the leader or Mountaineers Member Services to set up online payment if you do not want to do the extension). Registration will close on March 1, 2024 or whenever the roster fills. A place on the roster can only be held with payment of the deposit. The due date for the balance of the trip payment will be announced later.

Application     Trip Agreement     Release

Supplemental Information

Cancellation Policy:   If you cancel for any reason, you may receive a refund less non-recoverable expenses (mostly outfitter cancellation fees) and a $100 administrative fee up to a month before the trip departs, after which you will not be eligible for any refund.       If someone takes your place on the roster and makes the trip payment, your cancellation fees may be waived other than the $100 admin fee.                            

Route/Place

Backpack Hut to Hut Between Icefields, Peaks and Fjords in Remote Eastern Iceland


Roster
Required Equipment

Required Equipment

After receiving your deposit, the leader will send out a series of letters or emails providing information to help participants succeed on the trip, including recommended and required gear, recommended maps and guidebooks.

 

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