After we got back to Reykjavik by the long-distance bus, we took a cab to the car rental agency to get our reserved 4-wheel drive SUV. Renting a car in Iceland is vastly different from other places. Other than a few major highways, such as the Ring Road which goes around the island, most of the roads are not pathed outside cities and towns. The gravel roads are designated by an F and a number. These F-roads are off-limit to rental cars unless they are high-clearance 4WD vehicles. Some F-roads cross streams and SUV with higher clearance are required for these river crossings. In addition to gravels on F-roads, the frequent strong winds kicking up the volcanic dusts (they are sharp) can easily sand-blast your vehicles. There are posters in the rental agency warning people to hold on the car doors when opening them lest running the risk of snapping the doors by the strong winds. Therefore a full insurance coverage for your rental is recommended.
We have trouble getting into reverse backing out of the parking space in the rental office. But somehow we managed doing so without knowing exactly how we did it. After driving several hours all the way to Landmannalaugar, we found that we could not replicate the reverse operation when we arrived. We looked up the car manual in the glove compartment. It was no help because, to our big surprise, the manual is in some language that we don't know. Ee think it is in Czech (definitely not Icelandic). Why Czech? After playing with the stick shift for 15 minutes, we finally figured out that we have to pull the stick UP (not sideways, not push down) to engage the reverse.
Landmannalaugar is located in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Highlands of Iceland. It has a mountain hut with showers, but you have to bring our own sleeping bags, food and cookwares. Because of that, we chose to stay in the Hrauneyjar Highland Center outside the Reserve, which provides food and accommodation.
Getting in and out of Landmannalaugar is complicated. You need to have a 4WD to drive on the gravel road F26. Just before getting to the hut, you need to cross a stream. But you can choose to park before the crossing. After your visit, you could choose to keep going forward on F208 which meets the Ring Road further east along the coast. But this route crosses several major streams and is not recommended. So instead, we drove back the same way to meet the Ring Road in Selfoss.
We drove southeast along the Ring Road (Route 1) in pounding rain and gusty wind. After Selfoss, we turned inland on F26 towards Landmannalaugar. F26 goes through a desolate bleak landscape - few vegetation, lots of lava. We were in the middle of nowhere, no cars, no villages and no cell phone service. We felt a sense of forboding. We drove by a huge hydroelectric dam. The dark desolate setting with the dam made us feel like we were in a SciFi movie - some aliens are going to jump out to get us.
It is sunny the next day – perfect for a hike, if you are dressed warmly. We did a day hike, a round trip of 8 miles or so with good elevation gain, maybe 2500 to 3000 ft. Sally wore rain pants over her hiking pants and felt very comfortable, protected from the wind which is steady and strong whenever we cross a saddle. We reached the highest point marked by a pillar with brass compass directions on top. It was a long way down, and one steep part has slippery mud. We had forgotten our hiking poles, darn!
When leaving the park, we picked up a hitchhiker, a young Frenchman who has just completed the famed 75-km Skogar to Landmannalaugar hike, . He grinned a huge grin. “I AM VIKING!!” he declared. He told us a little about himself – single, loves to travel, once quit his job (dispatcher for long-distance trucking/delivery) to spend 8 months in New Zealand. But someday he would like to have children – with a Frenchwoman, of course, because they are so beautiful. On his 3-day hike (which turned into 4 days because of the storm and gale the day before) he had to cross 5 rivers. The way to cross a river is to take off your boots and fasten to your pack. But one guy had lost his boots and was finishing the hike in bare feet!! And the night of the gale, he heard that 7 tents had been blown away. Now that is an adventure.