A Chance to Bond on a Perilous Hiking Trail in Iceland

Landmannalaugar is a remote outpost in southern Iceland. This is the start of the Laugavegur Trail, a 34-mile trek through an astounding diversity of terrain — all of Middle-earth (minus the orcs) — plus, according to the guidebook, there is a shack, somewhere in the middle, that serves beer. The plan usually is to do it in four days and to stay in huts along the way.

You find yourself on the Icelandic equivalent of a Greyhound, cruising down the highway, when the bus driver makes a sharp right turn, onto a vast expanse of black sand, fringed by distant mountains. And you just kept going. The bus approaches a narrow river and plows into the current. It briefly appears as if you’re in a boat, surrounded by water.

The trail is well marked, the warden explains, with poles every hundred yards or so. And there are plenty of other hikers. The only dicey area is the first mountain pass, just before the hut at Hrafntinnusker, where you would spend our first night. Snow and fog sometimes obscure visibility here. “You can always turn around or dial 112 on your cellphone in an emergency,” he says. Several years back, a young Israeli died on this very pass, in a freak summer blizzard; and he wasn’t the only one to perish. “We usually have one death every two years,” another warden said.

You climb up a series of gentle slopes through a vaguely lunar landscape. (It is readily apparent why, in the 1960s, astronauts trained in Iceland for their visit to the moon.) You soon gaze down into Vondugil, the so-called Wicked Valley — a place that shepherds historically avoided because of its evil spirits — and which seems aptly named, as it lays shrouded in a gloomy mist.

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