The Iceland Traverse

I have long pinned my thoughts and hopes on Iceland. Located just a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, far away from both Europe and America, the island is a place of extremes.

Winds from the Arctic Ocean clash with the warm Atlantic air, making the weather totally unpredictable; volcanic rocks lay in the centre of the country very much like a desert, roads and paths are few, and you are better off travelling by a 4WD vehicle rather than on foot. And yet, I have been attracted to the harsh landscape and the solitude you are bound to experience if you venture into the heart of the country.

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How to hike in Iceland?
When you are heading from the east to the west, it takes hundreds of miles to get from one hostel or road to another, so there is no way you could travel light. You need to get used to carrying a backpack with your tent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, and 6 to 10 days’ worth of food.

It is no use looking up to the sky or asking Icelanders for weather forecasts. The weather is simply unpredictable here. The wind will change its direction several times a day, and any such change can bring a sunburst or a shower. Or both. I had to accept the capricious weather and bear the scorching sun that could just as well disappear behind the clouds heavy with rain in just a quarter of an hour. Or the other way round.

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There are no straight and easy routes there. Even the trails frequented by four-wheel-drive vehicles were occasionally covered in basalt dust that would make your feet sink, or with rocks that would make you twist your ankle.

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The biggest obstacles are the freezing cold ice rivers you need to wade through. With a heavy backpack and boots swinging round my neck, I fought against the current and sharp rocks in the riverbed time and time again. Two rivers in the centre of the country were in full spate and I was unable to wade through them; it took me two days to get away from the dangerous stretches where water would have swept me away in a split second. A lesson in humility I have learnt from the island’s harsh nature.

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And what did I get in return? Regardless of the weather, I got to see breath-taking views and experienced emptiness than cannot be compared to anything in Poland. In such a place, you had better enjoy being alone, because hikers are a rare occurrence on Iceland’s trails. If you are lucky, you can meet some of them in one of the few tourist hostels scattered across the mainland, away from civilization. Once you get to a hostel, you can always count on a warm stove, a friendly chat with rangers and other tourists, and a hot bath that will wash all the dust and fatigue away.

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One of the most amazing moments during the four-week hike? The moment the rain clouds over the Laugafell hostel opened up, and I jumped into the local hot spring. The pool tiled with stone was supplied with hot water coming right from the ground. As the wind brought even more clouds and rain, I took my time enjoying a warm soak.

Łukasz Supergan – a traveller, photographer, and journalist. A two-time winner of the Kolosy award in the category “Feat of the year.” His solo traverse of the Zagros Mountains was shortlisted for the National Geographic Traveler awards.