An Adventure Through Iceland’s Laugavegur Trail

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Editors Note: Kelly Rappe is one of six awardees from the 2018 Trail Run Adventure Grant presented by Trail Sisters, CamelBak and Under Armour.


 

Iceland has become a very popular destination for Americans. It is very much a hot spot because it’s so conveniently located in between the USA and Europe; in addition to how amazing it is. I noticed countless friends making trips to Iceland and wanted to experience the most traveled backpacking trail in Iceland by running it. I wanted to do the Laugavegur trail, starting in Landmannalaugar and finishing in Thorsmork.

This is a 55km route with plenty of water sources along the way and many, many backpackers along the route. To reach Landmannalaugar I either needed to rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle or take a shuttle up to the start. The rental cars were super expensive (like 1,000 dollars for a weekend) and the shuttle limited my start time. I could either take a shuttle up and camp the night before (having to leave the tent and sleeping bag there, not following Leave No Trace Principles) or take the shuttle the day of and start the run late. I decided to take the day of shuttle and planned on starting at 11am. Luckily there is plenty of daylight in Iceland and it wasn’t going to get dark until 11:30pm.

Kelly at the start of the run.

I was very nervous before I set out for my run because I donated bone marrow a month beforehand and wasn’t able to put in as much training as I really needed. I was worried that I would break a leg and be in the middle of nowhere with nobody to help me. Luckily, my fellow trail sister Jamie Schofield was there to answer my Facebook phone call from Iceland. She told me I would be fine and I can do it regardless of the training. We all need trail sisters like Jamie to help us get to the start line.

July 26th 5:40am: I woke up and slept successfully for 12 hours. I was worried because I arrived in Iceland the day before and jet lag always causes problems. I quickly packed my bag (last minute adjustments) and ate my oatmeal in the hostel I was staying at. Reykjavik City Hostel was absolutely amazing! They were kind, courteous, and super perfect for getting to Landmannalaugar (where the start of my run began).

6:30am: I waited outside for my shuttle. My nerves vanished overnight. I knew I could do this adventure. It wouldn’t be easy, but easy isn’t my jam.

6:40am: I boarded the shuttle bus to the start of the run. This bus trip took over 4 hours but the bus was very comfortable (I had the entire back row to myself). I was able to conk in and out of sleep.

9:00am: We stopped at a bakery for 20 minutes. I was able to grab an Icelandic bread pastry, orange juice, and a Skyr (Iceland’s high protein yogurt). I ate the bread and drank the orange juice too quickly. Then, I proceeded to feel nauseous for the rest of the drive.

12:00pm: We finally arrived in Landmannalaugar, we were an hour late. I quickly rushed off the bus, went to the restroom and was on my way. (After the obligatory starting photos).

The first 3 or so miles were fabulous, filled with colorful mountains, sweeping views and lots of thermal activity. It was all uphill, which was ideal for me. I like to get the uphill out of the way first when I have the most energy. It was lightly raining and windy, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

After this wonderful start, I hit the snow. This snow probably went on for about 5 or 6 miles, but it slowed me down quite a bit. I was out of practice with my cadence and snow. It was like slippery sand.

I summited the highest point of the run. The view of the valley below cannot be justified through photos. Try to picture a lush green valley with a beautiful lake below. The trail down to the lake was very muddy and wet. At one point descending the mountain trail was so steep I had to get on my butt (luckily covered in rain pants) and slide down the trail. I wasn’t going to risk getting a sprained ankle. Who needs a slip and slide when you have mud and a steep downhill trail?

Approaching the summit.

As I descended the mountain, the sun broke through for a little bit. I proceeded to sing and laugh until it started to get really windy, pouring rain, and foggy. I just wanted to get to the next checkpoint as soon as possible to warm up for a little bit. I encountered 2 river crossings that required me to roll up my pants, take off my shoes and socks, and wear my Luna sandals. Each river crossing took 30 minutes including taking off clothes and putting them back on. The glacial rivers were very cold, but I just took them as middle of run ice baths.

Vista views through the fog.

The next hut was super close, so my goal was to get there as quickly as possible to make up the time the snow and river crossings took. Little did I know, I would be crossing 3 rivers before hitting the next hut. 3 river crossings in 3.8km was very frustrating. I wanted to just run across the river with my shoes and socks on and my pants down, but it was so windy and rainy I didn’t want to get too cold.

Beautiful ice cold rivers!

Then, I hit the land of Mars. The trail turned into black sand and I felt like I was on a lava moon. I did not see anybody for the next couple of hours which made the fog, rain, and wind eerie. This was when I wished someone was beside me. I wish I could share my thoughts with someone, anyone.

Mars-like landscape.

I have no photo proof of reaching the next hut, and all I remember is that I cried. I cried because I knew I was going to finish. I cried because I was so happy and proud of myself, and I cried because I was just plain spoiled with all the beauty around me. I only had 15km left of the trail and the daylight was running out quickly. I had a headlamp in case I needed it, but trail running alone, at night was not my idea of fun.

Then, came many more glacier views.

Glacial views and runoff.

Finally, I hit almost 10 km left. That’s 6 miles. I could walk the rest and be completely fine.

The next 6 miles flew by. I started singing to myself (a common coping strategy I use when I’m tired) and I finally made it to my haven. At the finish line (there was no actual finish line because I was doing it solo) was a warm meal and a tent with a mattress inside. YES A MATTRESS! I had a mattress all to myself after running 35 miles. There was even a heater, which was a relief because the change of clothes I brought were soaked from all the rain.

Finally, a mattress! Time to kick up the feet!

I am so grateful I got to experience this amazing trail. I learned so much about myself.

  1. I can do anything.
  2. Make my own sunshine in the worst of weather.
  3. I can do an ultra after donating bone marrow.
  4. Lean on fellow trail sisters when you lack confidence.

Happy Trails to all those Trail Sisters out there. I hope to see you out in the Las Vegas Deserts!

 


Editors Note: Kelly Rappe is one of six awardees from the 2018 Trail Run Adventure Grant presented by Trail Sisters, CamelBak and Under Armour.

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Kelly Rappe

Kelly Rappe

I’m a trail runner that has been raised on trails from a very young age. When I was in high school, it was normal to run on trails as training for track. Since then I have run in college and then throughout the Peace Corps. Now you can find me on the trails in Las Vegas embracing the desert. When I am not running, I am teaching in a second grade classroom with at risk students.

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