Explore the Heart of the Highlands – Guided by Claire Thiolière

A trip led by Claire Thiolière and driven by a Fjallabak diver-guide

Shaped by the antagonism of ice and fire, the South Highlands of Fjallabak offer landscapes like no other. Nature, here in delirium, combines harmoniously contradictory landscapes with an art of paradox. Green meadows, lava fields, pristine glaciers, black sand beaches, blue iceberg lagoons, basalt fortresses, crystalline waterfalls, powerful rivers, volcanoes pretending to sleep, flooded bogs, fumaroles in the shape of rainbows flood succeed and renew endlessly. While the ocean in front of so many wonders, is not left out and spreads its power and its immensity, launching its rolls and its millions of pelagic birds to conquer this land that was supposed to stay at the bottom of the abyss.

Iceland is the only place where you walk “at the bottom“ of the Atlantic Ocean.

This great journey of exploration represents a zigzag “almost” full of active volcanic ridge. It takes place in the heart of the strangest and wildest landscapes of the volcanic highlands of Öræfi South, crossing the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that emerges here in Iceland, between Mt Hekla volcano to the west and the western edge of the Vatnajökull ice cap to the east, crossing from one side of the caldera Torfajökull / Hrafntinnusker, along the northeast edge of Myrdalsjökull up Eldgjá then back along the jade waters of the mysterious lake Langisjór.


The team behind this project:

Claire Thiolière, 60,  native of Chamonix, at the foot of the Mont Blanc. Claire is from a family of mountain guides and photographers. She traveled extensively throughout Africa, Europe and America and returned to France where she received a Master’s degree in geography and Geo-morphology. She is a certified guide who has been leading people throughout the Alps and beyond for more than thirty years. An avid hiker and skier, Claire’s enthusiasm for discovering and sharing new wilderness is apparent to all who travel with her. <clairethioliere@orange.fr> tel. (+33) (0)6 82 55 63 87

Matthildur Filippusdóttir Patay AKA Matta”, 34, head of the office. She is the one you should talk to when planning your trip to Iceland, she takes care of all the details that make the difference between a good and a really great trip! She is Philippe's right hand and she works very hard. She has two little boys and she takes them to the mountains as often as she can. <matta@fjallabak.is> tel. (+354) 824 3072

Philippe Patay Petursson, “Filippus“, 66, founder of Fjallabak and adopted Icelander. He has been traveling and leading trekkings all over the world. Philippe was the first to organize regular trek and ski expeditions in Iceland in the early 1970’s. He is a member of the Guide Association of Iceland. An experienced, passionate ornithologist, photographer, mountaineer and world traveler. His love and enthusiasm for the Icelandic wilderness, is shared by his wife and children, all of whom now work in this family run company.<philippe@fjallabak.is>


  • 696.000 ISK based on 6 participants
  • 638.000 ISK based on 7 participants
  • 620.000 ISK based on 8 participants
  • 580.000 ISK based on 9 participants
  • 560.000 ISK based on 10 participants
  • 540.000 ISK based on 11 participants
  • 520.000 ISK based on 12-14 participants

The price below is based on the participation of 10 participants.
Booking fee is 30% of the price

Price / Estimated
To change the indicative price in your prefered currency, choose it from the available list in the upper right-hand corner of this page.
Conversion rates are from the Icelandic National Bank

Day 1 - Aug 20:  Reykjavik - Mt Hekla 
100 km / 60 miles on road - 40 km / 24 miles on tracks - hike 2-4 hours – ca.8 km / 5 miles - Farm Hotel Leirubakki near Mount Hekla

Your guide will pick you up between 8:00 and 8:30 AM at your Reykjavik accommodation. (Please let us know in advance the name and address of your hotel in Reykjavik). Hiking clothes, duffel bag and day pack ready for trekking. The trip begins. Approx. 3 hours transfer on the road to the trail head and on the way the first briefing on the trip. The majestic Hekla volcano rises above a grassy plain and marks the entrance to the high volcanic lands. It is probably Iceland’s most famous (or infamous!) and active volcano. Hike starts early afternoon crossing grassland.

You can arrive in Iceland on the morning of the 20th by a night flight from the US. In this case we will make a detour to take you to the airport or we will tell you how to reach us.

Day 2 - Aug 21:  Mt Hekla farmland
16 km / 10 miles on tracks - hike 4-5 hours – ca.15 km / 9 miles - Farm Hotel Leirubakki near Mount Hekla

The few little farms of the area have had to move many times over the centuries as eruptions have engulfed them. However, much of the countryside is now verdant with some former lava flows covered in green moss and arctic birch. Green moss, « bonsai » arctic birch grove along with the pure water springs, creates the feeling, perhaps, of a real Japanese garden. In August on this day, we can take a little longer as the berry and mushroom picking gets in the way of our passage.

Day 3 -  Aug 22: The Black Raven Reefs
1 hour driving on track -  hike 6-7 hours – ca.18 km (11 miles) – Alt. 590 > 785 m (1940 > 2575 feet)- Hut at Hungurfit

Slow climb to the colorful caldera of Hrafntinnusker (or Torfajökull). The metaphor “Black raven reefs” is a perfect example of the natural poetry of the old Icelandic language. (Hrafntinnusker: Hrafn for raven, tinna for black and sker for reefs) A big loop to explore the incredible caldera. More obvious are the amazing rhyolite mountains, formed in incredible bands of pink, brown, green, yellow, blue, purple, black, white, orange and red and glittering with innumerable black, glass-like obsidian lava… Walking among countless bubbling, steaming hot springs, we cross this pearl of the interior, famous for its incredible natural beauty

Day 4 -  Aug 23: Hike Ljósártungur – Drive on Mælifellssandur
2 hours driving on track - hike 5-6 hours – ca.14km (9 miles) – Alt. 785 to 550 m (2575 to 1800 feet) - Hut at Strútur

One can admire here the alignment of mountain ranges, all perfectly parallel and aligned in the same direction: the direction of the mid-Atlantic ridge that crosses Iceland from North to Southenjoying a spectacular view of three major icecaps : Mýrdalsjökull, Eyjafjallajökull and Tíndafjallajökull. Following the course of the Markarfljót canyon, we descend south through hills of rolling grassland, crossing clear streams. At the end of the walk, aboard our vehicle we cross the sand of Mælifellssandur. In the middle of this strange black flatness stands the solitary cone of Mælifell, covered in fluorescent green-coloured moss. We are able to explore the extraordinary landscapes between the southern flank of the Torfajökull caldera and the mighty dome of the Mýrdalsjökull icecap. Beneath this huge sheet of ice lies Katla, another of Iceland’s angriest volcanoes. She last erupted in 1918 and is long overdue for another eruption. 

Day 5 -  Aug 24: Strútslaug - Lake Hólmsárlón
1.30 hours driving on track - hike 6-7 hours – ca. 19 km (12 miles) – Alt. 563 to 563 m (1850 to 1850 feet) - Country Inn Glacier View at Hrifunes

Proceed to the shores of the long and narrow Hólmsárlón Lake. Of course, we cannot resist taking a bath in Strútslaug, a nearby, natural hot spring pool.We reach the place nicknamed the red bottoms. The waterfalls at the end of the turquoise coloured lake plunging into the red crater, is a sight to behold. The vehicle is waiting on the eastern part of the Mælifelssandur. From there we cross breathtaking landscape and slowly we gain the pastures of the Skaftá district, bordering the Skaftá river and the enormous lava fields of Laki.

Day 6 -  Aug 25: Skaftá – South Coast
Driving 80 km / 31 miles on tracks - hike 3-5 hours – ca.12 km / 7 miles – Country Inn Glacier View at Hrifunes

We cross the ridge of Eldgjá, the longest eruptive fissure on earth, today covered by moss and crossed by a clear stream. As large as the Laki eruption was, it was exceeded by Iceland's A.D. 934-940 Eldgjá eruption, which occurred in the same mountainous region. During the six years that this eruption was active, lava erupted from several vents along a discontinuous 75-km-long (47-mile-long) fissure system and buried more than 781 square km (302 square miles) of southern Iceland. Fortunately, huge eruptions like those at Eldgjá and Laki are very unusual; otherwise, life as we know it would probably not be. Though the hazards posed by lava flows and volcanic gas here on the “Big” Island are understandably important to us, they are still tiny in comparison to what our big planet is capable of.

Day 7 -  Aug 26: South Coast – Vik-I-Myrdal
000 km / 62 miles  on road - hike 3-4 hours – ca.8-10 km / 4-6 miles  - Country Inn Glacier View at Hrifunes

Hiking along the black sand beaches and the grassy headlands of Hjörleifshöfdi . We explore on the basalt cliffs among exuberant angelica. Another night at the beautiful Glacier View.

Day 8 -  Aug 27:  To Reykjavik
200 km / 120 miles on road  – ca. 8-10 km / 4-6 miles – Guesthouse Sunna in Reykjavik

Drive along the coast to Reykjavik - Just near  Vík  í Mýrdal we stop at the promontory of Dyrholey to admire the immense black sand shore and see if we can't meet some funny puffins.

Day 9 -  Aug 28:  Reykjavik – Departure
Transfert on your own to Keflavik international airport by taxi or by shuttle (Flybys)

About Day 9, If you plan to extend your stay in Reykjavik beyond August 19th We will deduct the price of the last night, so that you can book the accommodation of your choice and so that you don't have to move from "our" hotel to yours. Or we can find an hotel for you.

Your contacts:
Claire Thiolière in France <clairethioliere@orange.fr> tel. (+33) (0)6 82 55 63 87
Matthildur Filippusdottir Patay (Matta) in Iceland <matta@fjallabak.is> tel. (+354) 824 3072

Itinerary and security: the day by day program can be modified or even reversed. However, these changes are rather rare for reasons of safety due to natural phenomena: volcanism, early or late snowfall, bad weather, flooding rivers, exceptionally unfavorable weather ... The guide knows the terrain well and is sole master in interpreting the whims of all-powerful nature on this volcanic earth under these high latitudes, and to make the necessary decisions. 

Accommodation 5 nights in Hotels (2) and Inns (3): The first 2 nights from August 20 to 22 we stay in a nice farm hotel at the foot of the Mount Hekla volcano in twin or single rooms  The 3 nights from 24 to 27, we stay in a pleasant Inn, in double/twin rooms with private facilities.
The last night, August 27, we stay in a nice little guesthouse in the center of Reykjavik. (you can choose to upgrade this last nice accommodation to a fancier hotel : please ask matta@fjallabak.is for information and extra cost)

Accommodation 2 nights in Mountain huts: in sleeping bag (your own) in two comfortable remote mountain huts August 22nd to 24th: Bunks with comfortable mattresses. Running water and kitchen in the shelter, but the toilets and sinks are usually outside, a few yards away in a small building. Warm hot paying showers are available outside the hut. If you want more privacy during the night, we offer you the possibility of sleeping in tents that we provide, please notify us in advance.

Electricity: take enough batteries for your camera even if the second hut has an electric generator (220V-Europeen adapter).

Food: We pride ourselves for having the best cuisine in the highlands! Breakfast is Scandinavian style, with muesli, breads, jams, smoked fish, charcuterie and cheese. The picnics are a variety of sandwiches, smoked meats and fish, excellent local cheeses, green salad, tomatoes and cucumbers. Dinners, varied and often excellent, include fish and lamb dishes, served with pasta, rice or potatoes, vegetables and a green salad.
However, vegans will have to supplement their luggage even though we can accommodate their needs.
For conviviality, but without obligation, you can bring with you a specialty of your country as well as a good bottle of alcohol.

Food, special diets: It is essential that vegetarians specify what is banned from their menu, such as those suffering from food allergies (lactose, gluten, etc.). It is important that you advise us of your special food requirements at the time of booking. If the list is long or there is danger with certain allergies, please send us the details by mail to these two addresses <matta@fjallabak.is> and <lager@fjallabak.is> so that the team of our warehouse/storage can take this into account in the preparation of the food. Your guide will be aware of your plan, but it does not necessarily mean that he is a specialist in that matter, so it's up to you to tell him about it at the beginning of the journey when preparing the first meal! It is also up to you to control at each meal what suits you.

A 4x4 vehicle carries luggage and the food supplies between the two huts. Our carbon impact is low as this vehicle drives less than 250 km for this trip.

Preparation of the trip and notes: The level of walking is moderate to sustained. You only carry a light bag containing what you need for the day. This adventure does not present any serious difficulty for people in good physical shape having at least some experience of long walks in the mountains. An experienced guide leads the trek. This trek passes through totally desert areas. Most of the walking is off-trail, with ever-changing terrain conditions. Therefore, sturdy hiking shoes that fit well your feet are a must. Most days involve river crossing, so it is essential not to forget your sandals. See our kits list for more information. You hike 4-7 hours per day, on average, but it can be longer, depending on the weather, the average level of the group. The maximum altitude does not rise more than 1000m. The change of altitude for most days does not exceed 300 m.

Payment :

  • 30% Booking fee paid online
  • 50% Second online payment  We will send you an automatic reminder at the beginning of June 2018
  • 20% Paid to your guides in Iceland upon arrival

If you prefer to pay your booking fee and the second payment by bank transfers, please contact us.

You’ll need to bring comfortable and adequate clothing to protect you from cold and wet weather, such as polypropylene, capilene, or pile. Wool and wool/synthetic blends are also suitable - though wool, if wet, dries slowly compared to synthetic fabrics. We discourage the use of cotton in wet conditions it dries very slowly. When camping, tents are provided. You will be responsible for bringing your sleeping bag.

When layering, the innermost layer should be long underwear. The middle layer can be a synthetic turtleneck or wool shirt, and pants. The outermost layer must be a breathable waterproof jacket such as a good quality Gore-Tex wind/rain parka and over-pants.
For quantities for each item listed, use your own judgement, based on the expected weather conditions and overall packing/weight restrictions for your luggage.

  • Regular underwear. Synthetics are easier to wash and dry
  • Synthetic thermal underwear
  • Long-sleeved, synthetic or wool shirt
  • Short-sleeved synthetic or cotton/synthetic T-shirts
  • Medium-weight synthetic fleece sweater or jacket
  • Full-length pants, quick-drying synthetic fabric
  • Down jacket from mid-August to September (optional)
  • Hiking shorts, quick-drying synthetic fabric
  • Pile/fleece pants, ideal for around the camp
  • Sun & rain hat
  • Wool hat
  • Gloves (wool or pile)
  • Waterproofed shell gloves
  • Medium weight synthetic socks
  • Gore-Tex rain/wind parka
  • Gore-Tex rain/wind pants
  • Hiking boots, medium-weight, all leather, with padded ankle, good arch support, and a lug sole traction. Your hiking boots should be waterproof, well broken in, and suitable for rocky terrain or possibly snow.
  • Comfortables shoes to wear when not hiking (optional) Teva-type sandals for river crossing. Absolutely recommended! Gaiters. Highly recommended.

Travel Accessories

  • Comfortable sleeping bag +10°C to –10°C which can be opened all the way
  • Cotton sheet to cover the hut’s mattress
  • Pillow if you can’t sleep without one (optional)
  • Swimsuit and towel for hot spring bathing and swimming pool
  • 1-to-2 liters capacity unbreakable water bottle or thermos
  • Headlamp or small flashlight with spare batteries (essential from August onwards)
  • Swiss Army-type pocket knife (Must be kept in duffle bag, not in hand luggage, when flying !)
  • Sunglasses
  • Eye shades. Highly recommended from April to last July!
  • Wax ear plugs
  • Spare pair of prescription glasses, prescription sunglasses, or contact lenses (but not only lenses, as wind-blown dust can make them very uncomfortable)
  • Toiletry kit—soap, toothbrush, and so on.
  • Moisturizing lotion. (The air in Iceland is very dry)
  • Sunscreen and lip protection (The sun in Iceland is much more intense than you probably imagine)
  • Personal first aid kit

Optional Travel Accessories

  • Hiking poles. Highly recommended
  • Binoculars
  • Repair kit with needle, thread, and safety pins
  • Reading and writing material
  • Your favorite snack food such as raisins or chocolate
  • Protein supplements for vegetarian
  • Your own food reserves if you are vegan
  • 1 or 2 good bottles of wine or a bottle of something stronger
  • Netting hood in June and July *

There are no mosquitoes in Iceland (not yet), but in early summer midges swarms invade the banks of rivers and lakes in the lowlands like Lake Myvatn "Lake of gnats." With global warming now midges start to colonize certain areas of higher land with swamps vegetation. The outbreak period is short, but extremely difficult for the hiker. Gloves a long sleeve shirt and especially a safety netting hood that slips over your hat or cap can save you if you find yourself a day without wind in the midst of clouds of these very annoying critters. You will certainly not use it but in case... and that's not a huge investment.

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