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I have ~18 days to hike across Iceland during August. I'm a good hiker (last summer I spent 40 days across the Alps) and I'll be alone. I'm looking for advices for my itinerary (southbound).

I'll have a GPS and I looooove going off-road (wilder == better), but with the glaciers and the rivers I can't go without preparing well my path. If possible, I'd like to avoid the most dangerous rivers (wide or with strong stream).

For the northern part, I'll probably follow this track (Asbyrgi - Nyidalur).

Then I'd love to go see the Kerlingarfjoll massif (so hiking in the south of the Hofsjökull glacier), then going south to Sveinsgil and Landmannalaugar. Finally, I could follow the Landmannalaugar trek to go to the coast.

With a map: enter image description here In red the part I'm not sure if feasible

But I don't know if it's possible (not to dangerous) to do Nyidalur - Kerlingarfjoll - Landmannalaugar. Is it the case?

Are there some detours I should do? And finally, is this globally a good itinerary?

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    See also The Great Outdoors. – gerrit Jul 5 '16 at 13:15
  • Coooooool ! so cool – Fattie Jul 5 '16 at 14:08
  • Hey what's the distance in KM ? – Fattie Jul 5 '16 at 14:15
  • @JoeBlow I plotted a very crude approximation using five straight lines on the distance measuring tool on Google maps. It looks like somewhere in the region of 400-450km. – David Richerby Jul 5 '16 at 17:37
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Your planned itinerary is too ambitious. You might make it, but might is not enough. Considering the uncertainty of hiking off-trail in unknown terrain, you need to have a plan that allows shortening/escaping if your route fails.

I did my first trek in Iceland last year, in Lónsöræfi. I have previous hiking experience in the Alps, Swedish Lapland (Sarek, Abisko-Kebnekaise, Nordkalottleden), northern Norway (Rago, Hinnøya, Senja, Sørøya, Narvik mountains), Canadian Rockies (Jasper National Park). My most difficult hike was in Iceland. A trail on an Icelandic topographic map is not always a trail; it might just be a route, which might mean no more than a cairn every couple of km. A route may cross deep, wild rivers and may require scrambling along steep scree with raging rivers below. During a one-week hike, I saw zero other humans in a week of hiking. Such a lonesome hike I've rarely seen even even in remote off-trail hiking in Swedish Lapland.

Considering that Iceland is very different from the Alps or Scandinavia and you are not experienced with it, you should choose an itinerary that is less ambitious and more flexible. I expect some parts of Iceland are easier than Lónsöræfi, and if you hike on fjallvegur you can make more distance, of course. So maybe you can do it, but maybe is not good enough. Choose an itinerary you can shorten or lengthen based on your progress, get familiar with the landscape, and then decide if you can attempt the coast-to-coast hike another year.

Hnappadalsá in Lónsöræfi

Hnappadalsá in Lónsöræfi, 20 September 2015. This river was hard to cross, and would have been out of the question without my wading staff.

See also advice on Outdoors SE for rivers.

In any case, whatever you do, DO NOT SET OFF WITHOUT A SATELLITE PHONE or at least a PLB. Renting a satellite phone for 2–3 weeks shouldn't cost more than in the order of ~£100, a reasonable addition to the budget of what will surely be a spectacular vacation. PLBs are cheaper, but may be harder to find.

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    @Shan-x Me too, however river-crossings are risky and time-consuming. You don't want to meet a river you can't cross 14 days into your trek. Finding a mountain road is not a guarantee either, for some mountain roads may be inaccessible to any kind of vehicle when crossed by a river too deep or fast. Let me find a photo of Hnappadalsa in Lónsöræfi that I had to cross. You can find my full Lonsöræfi album here. – gerrit Jul 5 '16 at 13:32
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    @Shan-x You can rent a satellite phone for £5/day. Three weeks will be £110. Not bad for something that will save your life if you are in trouble. If you can't afford it, rent a PLB; it's cheaper, but harder to find and less good for it only helps you if you activate it and you can't communicate. – gerrit Jul 5 '16 at 13:38
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    @Shan-x While not hiking I did spend a weekend in the back blocks of Bolivia and during that time rented a sat phone. The price was pretty reasonable and much cheaper than buying. – Peter M Jul 5 '16 at 13:38
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    @JoeBlow Even with four weeks available it is problematic — I don't think it's feasible to carry four weeks worth of food. Two weeks is fine, three weeks is pushing it. There's no form of habitation or opportunity to resupply in interior Iceland. – gerrit Jul 5 '16 at 14:13
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    @Shan-x I have answered. The Alps are mostly very easy to hike in, with trails, bridges, signposts, huts everywhere. If you do 30 km/day in the Alps, then 25 km/day in Iceland is overambitious. But if you are convinced of yourself, go ahead, but then I'm not sure why you're asking for advice. – gerrit Jul 5 '16 at 22:31
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I never answered my own question here. Having done the thru-hike accross Iceland, I guess that now I'm qualified to make a response. The answer from @gerrit was imho overly pessimistic, so here is its counterpart.

I hiked the red itinerary here:

enter image description here

Here is the GPX track. I made a few blog posts about it on my personnal website (french).

I hiked the 420km in 13 days, with the first 3 days much shorter (~25km/day max) and the 3 last around 25km/day (I was on the Laugavegur, so I was sleeping near the huts). In the middle, I went up to 50km/day, because hiking on the desert is quite easy as the sand was often compact. It was mostly off-road tracks, but I often went off-track for up to 2 days.

For someone used to hike in the Alps (or other mountains), hiking in Iceland is mostly easier because of the lesser elevation. My thru-hike had a total elevation of 7500m, corresponding to a 4 days hike in the Alps for me. The difficulties were very localised, but could be very tiresome (I remember crossing 2km of lava field in almost 2h).

The main hazards were:

  • weather: I had 2 days with winds up to 130km/h. I had a few hours with a fog so dense I couldn't see 10m ahead. Without GPS I would still be there.

  • river crossing: definitely the most dangerous. As I was alone, I had to really be sure before crossing. If a big river was ahead, I had to make sure to cross it the earlier in the morning possible, because the rivers are stronger the afternoon.

  • solitude: yeah, being all alone in the desert isn't so easy.

  • ground: some lava fields were very tiresome, difficult and dangerous (easy to hurt a leg). Other time, the sand wasn't compact so it was also tiresome.

The safety gear I took:

  • a satellite beacon to call for emergencies: I didn't use it (fortunaly). I could/should have use the Gen Spot 3 (can send beacon by e-mail to family and friends), but the mobile network wasn't so bad so it was ok.

  • a phone : as I said, I could send a message or make a call almost everyday, so it was sufficient.

  • a GPS : so handy. When the weather is good, you can probably (and I'm not even sure) do without, but when the clouds kick in, it would be foolish to be there without a GPS. I had a Garmin eTrex 20.

  • trekking poles: absolutely needed for river crossing.

  • a good (homemade) tent: there is no shelter from the wind in the desert...

That being said, if your are prepared enough (good physical condition, knowing how to use your gear), I think that hiking in Iceland is not so difficult. But it's not for everyone either :)

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