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Summer transients: the Fjallabak community

by Katie Featherstone

Picture above: Lingering snow patches amid the erosional landscapes at Landmannalaugar in late June (photo © Katie Featherstone).


Four hours drive east of Reykjavík, the Fjallabak nature reserve is home to no one, but lies deep in the hearts of many. Here in the hills of Iceland, the seasonal transients arrive in June, helping prepare the simple accommodation to welcome summer hikers. Katie Featherstome describes a season at Hrafntinnusker, a remote mountain hut on the hiking trail known as the Laugavegur.

I busy myself making coffee, as the volunteers of the search and rescue team pile into the lobby of the warden’s hut. This is Hrafntinnusker, a remote mountain hut on the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland’s hill country.

The volunteers pass the shoehorn around as they tug off their boots, and they peel themselves out of the top layer of their uniform — blue and red, the colours of the Icelandic flag, and well designed to protect them in a blizzard. I catch scraps of their conversation, discussing the conditions on the route. Wet snow around the back of the mountain had made it slow going, even for their monstrous super-jeeps.

Each week of the summer, a different search and rescue team positions itself twelve kilometres away at Landmannalaugar, a spot which in highseason can even be reached on a direct bus from Reykjavík. The rescue volunteers spend that week on call, ready with their big jeeps, their radios and other kit to respond to the numerous, inevitable misfortunes of the season.

As mountain hut wardens, we rely on these dedicated volunteers to find missing hikers, and to come to assist us when the hut’s first-aid kit isn’t sufficient to help someone on their way. On this particular occasion, the visiting squad from Landmannalaugar have come up to Hrafntinnusker just for fun or, as it will be recorded in their official log: “a reconnaissance mission to test out the route.”

I ask Eyþór, a volunteer in his early twenties who’s currently donning a thick, hand-knitted lopapeysa, why he chooses to spend his holidays working here with the search and rescue teams.

“Big cars,” he half jokes. Then, after a pause, he adds with genuine sincerity: “It’s interesting to work with people with different experiences and from varied fields of work, to see how we can combine our strengths to reach a common goal.”

The man who manages the team of wardens at the huts is Stefán, and he also happens to be a member of a search and rescue squad. That is fairly typical of how things work in the Highlands. Many people have multiple roles.

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