Iceland is one of those lands that are still viewed as one of the most exotic places on earth, understandingly so due to its rough and still somehow untouched nature, unique landscapes, and natural phenomena such as geysers, volcanoes, massive cascades, or boiling springs. All these make the island extremely attractive to tourists and adventurers. It awakens a desire to finally live something extraordinary and have the experience of a lifetime. And that is exactly what my hiking group and I received, a tough experience many people would have rather abstained from – the ones I told the story so far would have done so.
I came back from Iceland as a different person simply because this land had put me in the situation of testing my limits and questioning my stamina. What was planned to be a normal hike along the Laugavengur hiking trail turned out to be an extreme physical and mental challenge for all of us. And that was because we experienced the strongest storm on the island that came down in the last seven years. We were caught right in the middle of it.
But let’s get to the beginning of it all. We arrived in Reykjavik on the evening of the 6th of July 2022. The weather was not bad, though due to the late hours, the cloudy sky, and the moist air it felt like the beginning of spring, rather than midsummer. No problem. As mountain people, we are used to rough weather conditions, and the 9 degrees Celsius were something normal to us.
The next day our journey began with the first day on the hiking trail that was characterized by higher elevations and breathtaking mountain views. Our group turned out to be very homogenous and we were keeping a very similar pace all along. It was a wonderful first hiking day, that is until the evening came. We were aware that a storm had been forecasted, but that was nothing that would scare us away from keeping going. We would just simply wait it out in our next destination – at least that was what we thought (important note at this point: we planned to stay in tents for the entire trail!) and move on.
One hour before arriving at the destination of the day, the storm began showing its first signs: a fierce wind started blowing out of nowhere, the sky turned gray, and the first fat raindrops reached us.
By the time I and a handful of other people from our group reached the shelter (a fully booked cabin) the wind was so strong that we could barely open the door. We arrived in the pre-room of the cabin (the place where people leave their stuff to dry) fully soaked and grateful for a piece of dry, windless place.
We barely had time to put down our backpacks as the rangers (a man and a woman) came in to let us know that we were not welcome at that place. They banned us from entering the empty kitchen and let us know that we were only tolerated there until all members of our group arrived. We were neither expecting five-star hotel hospitality nor jumps of joy for our presence, however, due to the weather conditions that in the meantime turned out to be extreme, we would have expected at least a little understanding or empathy.
Not to mention that the only other public place available for hikers was a restaurant that was closed for some reason (I believe due to lack of electricity), so there was absolutely no other shelter for us.
In the meantime, one of the organizers of our group started to put up one of the tents, but the storm was so wild that it became clear quite fast that tents were absolutely no option.
At that point, nobody knew where and how we would spend the night. It would have been hard enough to organize a place to sleep for two people, but we were a group of twelve people.
Due to the perseverance of the organizers, we were allowed to sleep on the kitchen floor until 7 a.m. to allow the guests of the house to use it for breakfast. We took the offer gratefully and paid not less than 100€/person (probably the same amount as the other more privileged guests of the cabin).
The next day the storm accompanied us throughout the whole hike: while we walked 15 Km, we crossed 3 heavy-streamed rivers barefoot, we waited for hours in a barn for it to stop, and while we were carrying our heavy backpacks and having deep back and feed ache.
The strong wind did not stop even for 10 seconds to give us a break and at one point during the evening I found myself cursing it and shouting my soul out in desperation. It was the most horrible weather I had ever hiked while having the most horrible physical pain and mental irritation. In those moments I had a very low opinion of myself thinking that I was too weak for what was going on. Only after I learned that we had survived the strongest storm that was registered in Iceland since 2015 and that many people collapsed during the day because of hyperthermia did my mindset shift. Knowing all this, I finally felt relieved and proud of myself for what I had accomplished together with my group.
The scenario that awaited us at the destination was very similar to the first evening: the hospitality of the rangers was reduced to the information that no cabin was available for us followed by a slammed door in our faces. It was the compassion of the fellow hikers who lived in the cabins that allowed us to again sleep on the floor of their kitchen, this time for free.
The remaining days of the hike took place in somewhat better weather conditions. The storm decided to leave; however, we only saw the sun on our final afternoon back in Reykjavik and we got soaking wet numerous times.
I am sure that the Laugavengur trail is nothing extraordinarily challenging for experienced hikers like us. We had hiked trails that were at least ten times harder, still, it was one of the most physically and mentally exhausting things that I had ever done until then. And that was due to a simple coincidence: a storm that happened exactly during our hike.