Explore the Heart of the Highlands

A trip led by Claire Thiolière and Arnaud Guerin, driven by Philippe Patay Fjallabak

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

Arnaud Guérin, 40, is a French geologist and volcanologist. He is the author of many illustrated books on his native Normandy, but also, among other things, on New Zealand and Iceland. Iceland where he has guided many journeys created with the Fjallabak family in the last 20 years. He also collaborated with Claire Thiolière in the Alps and often guided Americans in Normandy. http://www.arnaudguerin.com

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>



The price below is based on the participation of 8-9 participants.
If the group is less than 8 participants the price will be increased by 10% for 6 and 7 participants.
If the group exceeds 8 participants, the following reductions will apply:
-5% for 10 participants
-8% for 11 participants
-10% for 12 participants

Good news! The government that wanted to raise VAT from 11% to 24% lost the elections and therefore normally the VAT remains at 11% in 2018
Your group has reached 12 participants and therefore 10% discount on the price of the trip is applied.

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 12:  Reykjavik - Mt Hekla 
165 km / 68 miles on road - 40 km / 24 miles on tracks - Hike 3-4 hours – ca.10 km / 6 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 by late morning crossing grassland.

You can arrive in Iceland on the morning of the 12th 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 13:  Mt Hekla 
Hike 4-5 hours – ca.15 km / 9 miles - Farm Hotel 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 14: Lakes of Veiðivötn 
140 km / 86 miles round trip on tracks - hike 2-3 hours – ca.10 km / 6 miles – Farm Hotel near Mount Hekla
In the middle of a vast expanse of black sand and on the horizon interrupted by several parallel chains of small volcanic cones equally black, stretches a chain of small crater lakes. These are the Veiðivötn, the fishing lakes. Their brilliance and colours of innumerable shades of blue and the narrow fluorescent green band vegetation which borders it makes so much contrast in the black velvet desert that surrounds them. The lakes are connected by clear streams or small waterfalls. The only humans that we could encounter in the area are fisherman planted in the water that we will try to avoid disturbing. The magnificent giant trout in the area is an almost endemic species, impressive as it exceeds the salmon in size and weight. On each lake nestles a bird called the Great Northern Diver who occasionally makes a powerful and nostalgic sound. (listen and watch on YouTube: Great Northern Diver - Huard in Quebec - Gavia immer)

Day 4 -  Aug 15:  Landmannalaugar - North Fjallabak
80 km / 49 miles on tracks - hike 4-5 hours – ca.12 km / 7 miles - Farm Hotel near Mount Hekla
We cross the river of Western Rangá, then we hike the last series of hills made from palagonite rock (sub-glacially formed) that protects the last fragments of burned countryside. On the far side, we arrive onto a moon-like surface at the foot of the Mount Hekla and cross a stretch of perfectly flat volcanic slag. The black surroundings, so dark that they resemble the blue color of a crow’s feathers. Slowly, we move in a completely mineral world of infinite slag plain along the eastern flank of the volcano, which was formed from the latest eruptions.

Some lava fields we cross are less than six years old, some are beginning to be buried under the black slag, sometimes in beige colors because the Hekla erupts also acid. Silver lichen and green velvet moss have settled on the lava flows.
We leave “the Gateway to Hell” (as Hekla was known in the middle ages) and the landscape begins to soften; the green colors of the mosses slowly dominates the black lava fields that have rained on the land with each eruption. Mount Loðmundur, a flat-topped volcanic monolith that erupted during the Ice Age is surrounded by marshland and rich pasture that reflects in the beautiful lake of Loðmundarvatn. Landmannahellir has been for ages and it is still used now by the shepherds as a base when catching thousand sheep in fall after having been grassing free the whole summer. We are in a legendary place with thousand stories to tell. From there we walk through the shimmering colours of rhyolite magma that lead to the notorious Landmannalaugar Valley. Incredible range of pastel colors, from blue to pink through all shades of ochre’s. Then we drive the track of Fjallabak North to Eldgjá crossing many rivers.

Day 5 -  Aug 16: The Black Raven Reefs
5-6 hours – ca.14km (9 miles) – Alt. 590 > 785 m (1940 > 2575 feet)- Hut at Dalakofi
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 6 -  Aug 17: Hike Ljósártungur – Drive on Mælifellssandur
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 7 -  Aug 18: Strútslaug - Lake Hólmsárlón
6-7 hours – ca. 19 km (12 miles) – Alt. 563 to 563 m (1850 to 1850 feet) - Hut at Strutur
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.

Day 8 -  Aug 19: Skaftá – South Coast
80 km / 31 miles on tracks - hike 3-5 hours – ca.12 km / 7 miles – Country Inn Glacier View at Hrifunes
We reach the place nicknamed the red baptismal fountain. 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. 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 9 -  Aug 20: South Coast – Vik-I-Myrdal
200 km / 124 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 in Vík  í Mýrdal. We explore on the basalt cliffs among exuberant angelica. Another night at the beautiful Glacier View.

Day 10 -  Aug 21:  To Reykjavik
100 km / 62 miles on road - hike 3-4 hours – ca. 8-10 km / 4-6 miles – Hotel Odinsve downtown Reykjavik

Day 11 -  Aug 22:  Reykjavik – Departure
100 km / 62 miles on road – Keflavik international airport

About Day 10, If you plan to extend your stay in Reykjavik beyond August 23rd. 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.

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 7 nights in Hotels and Inns: The first 4 nights from August 12th to 16th we stay in a nice farmhouse at the foot of the Mount Hekla volcano in twin rooms with shared facilities. Possibly quadruple rooms if the group exceeds 8 participants. The nights of the 19th to the 21st, we stay in a pleasant Inn, in double/twin rooms with private facilities.
The last night, August 21st, we stay in a nice little hotel in the center of Reykjavik.

Accommodation 3 nights in Mountain huts: in sleeping bag (your own) in two comfortable remote mountain huts August 16th to 19th: 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 online 192.000 ISK (approx.1655 EUR or 1810 USD)
  • 50% Second online payment 320.000 ISK before  June 12, 2018 (approx.2760 EUR or 3020 USD) We will send you an automatic reminder at the beginning of June 2018
  • 20% Paid to your guides in Iceland upon arrival (approx.1100 EUR or 1200 USD)

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.

No image