An Iceland Expedition (part 7) : Hiking Þórsmörk and the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, walking from Þórsmörk to Skógar

Day Hike Þórsmörk
Day 31 : Þórsmörk – Yellow/Red Circular Route – Þórsmörk (12.7 km / 7.9 mi)

Fimmvörðuháls
Day 32 : Þórsmörk – Skógar (32.1 km / 19.9 mi)

Hellismannaleið – Laugavegur – Fimmvörðuháls (see part 5 + 6)
Total walking days: 7
Total km: 138.7 km / 86.2 mi
Average km per day: 19.8 km / 12.3 mi
Overall total km : 906.7 km / 563.4 mi

Whenever I read about the valley of Þórsmörk, it was always described as a lush, green haven, alluding to some sort of unparalleled Icelandic beauty. When I was there, I camped at Langidalur, and it was indeed a nice spot, in the midst of trees and walking paths and next to the river Krossá, which meandered throughout the valley. It wasn’t the unrivalled paradise I had expected, but it was certainly unique and contrasted the treeless, volcanic landscapes found throughout the country.

I had arrived with a little bit of an injury after a (self(-ie)-induced) fall on the Laugavegur trail and sat in my tent all evening and morning debating whether to stay at Þórsmörk for the day, or keep on moving along the Fimmvörðuháls trail to Skógar.

My knee was stiff and painful, and it didn’t get much better overnight. I could certainly walk on it, but moving and bending wasn’t comfortable. It may ruin a long hike. I wasn’t even sure of the terrain on the upcoming trail.

Still, I felt an unrest and wanted to keep on moving. Go, go, go, my mind was telling me. I didn’t know I was that restless. Even though I had calculated in to stay put somewhere for the day, to enjoy the surroundings and do some day hikes, it took some mental exercise to decide that my injured knee might be a blessing in disguise.

I had already rushed through Landmannalaugar and the Laugavegur trail. Likewise, I knew I would do the Fimmvörðuháls trail in one day instead of the usual two. It had taken a long time to reach this area and I didn’t want to leave these trails behind just yet. Eventually I convinced myself to just relax, and opted to stay at Þórsmörk for the day to check out the nearby trails.

As I made my decision, I watched everyone I had seen hiking alongside of me the previous days leave. I felt like I was quietly saying goodbye to friends, even though I’d never even spoken to them.

Day Hike Þórsmörk : Tindfjöll Circle

I had decided to rest my knee but selected the longest day hike I could find, the Tindfjöll Circle. I followed the yellow route next to Krossá and then up the mountain, thoroughly enjoying the mild weather and slow hike through the trees. It was a relief after all that barren, empty land of the previous month.

The trail was surprisingly challenging at times, pulling myself up on tree branches and using roots as steps as they dug into the trail. It got me to some remarkable views over the valley and the river until the trail looped back to the other side of the Tindfjöll Mountains and I walked along a narrow trail carved into the steep side.

Around this time, my inner dialogue started to go from satisfaction to woe is me! I began to realise my easy day was slowly turning into something almost resembling a proper hiking day because I was progressing so slow, and suddenly I wished the trail would just hurry up and end. Still, I couldn’t help but make a slight detour and change to a red trail that continued at higher elevation rather than descend towards the Krossá river bank. It ended up being a good four hour hike. Perfect for the day.

Fimmvörðuháls

The following early morning displayed a mixture of clouds and sun, as if unsure what direction was best. Soon it settled on sun and heat, Iceland successfully mimicking a real summer.

I crossed the Krossá river using a variety of small bridges until I reached the other side of the valley. I passed a beautiful, simple campsite, and wished I had known about this place. I would’ve stayed there instead of busy Langidalur. The spots were small and hidden in between the trees. It was a flawless spot of nature.

The hike, officially about 22 km (I ended up hiking over 32, all in all) began with an ascend similar to the hike I’d done the day before. Steep paths hugged by abundant trees, looking out over the valley of Thor (Þórsmörk!)

A few hours later everything changed. I reached a plateau of black lava, and at once it was cold. Very cold. After the sunny start, I had to stop and change into all of my layers once again. Slowly I began to scramble up the mountain. I was glad I had stayed at Þórsmörk for a day so I wasn’t attempting this section with such a stiff knee.

I navigated a few tricky paths up the edges of rock, holding on to icy cold metal chains and ascends of snow so steep I was relieved I wasn’t going the other way, as I would definitely loose grip and fall. But more than anything, I really wished I had trekking poles.

As I manoeuvred between Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers, snow quickly increased and for over two hours I slogged through a white world, passing the newly formed craters Móði and Magni from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökulleruption, surrounded by a thick fog and extreme cold.

The snow was difficult to walk through in just my trail runners. Sometimes hard and icy, sometimes soft and thick. I was wet, and my progress was slow and eventually mildly frustrating, often postholing or making awkward sized steps in an attempt to follow old tracks. I was always unstable and had to be careful about placing every single step. The snow didn’t seem to want to end.

Eventually, I passed the Baldvinsskáli emergency hut and at once the road turned to gravel and the snow disappeared. I started to descend. Around me the fog lifted and the rocky landscape turned green. Slowly the cold dwindled.

Soon I began to see people hike in the opposite direction. They looked like day trippers. Outfits wholly inadequate to hike the ice cap all the way to Þórsmörk and no backpack in sight. I saw children and people in t-shirts. They clearly had no idea of the conditions further up on the trail.

I kept looking at my map and scouring the surroundings for a carpark. I couldn’t see anything. Where were they going? WHERE DID THESE PEOPLE COME FROM? What was this tourist attraction I had suddenly found myself part of? I wanted to be back on the trail again, back in the wild, off the grid, but this was it. Clearly, civilisation was near.

Not long after, the trail began to shoulder a river with endless waterfalls. By now, I had seen so many waterfalls that they all looked the same. Some big, some small. Water cascading. It didn’t feel very special anymore.

The trail got busier as I descended. People hiking up and down, taking pictures of the waterfalls. The further I got, the more families and children I saw. They looked so clean, like they had been taking daily showers. I walked behind a mother with young children and I could smell their shampoo lingering in the air behind them.

I reached Skógar after almost nine hours of hiking. It was teeming with tourists around the main waterfall, Skógafoss, and the campsite was right beside the carpark. It wasn’t until I got here that I realised people were hiking up to the glacier, just to see the snow, before coming back down again. That’s why all those people further up had been dressed so inappropriately.

I loathed the sudden crush of people, but after the long hikes, I had never longed for someone to talk to more. I sat in my tent and peeked through the netting, watching groups of friends huddle outside their tents and sharing food.

I had spent all those days walking these trails, walking to these trails and had walked on my own every day before that. But I had no one to talk to. No one to tell. At that moment I was painfully aware of how lonesome my journey was. I never felt more forlorn in my life.

Published by

Rosanne Luciana

A Dutch-born London-based hiker who has swapped an East Asian backpacking experience for the opportunity to truly immerse herself into nature, by quite simple, walking.

2 thoughts on “An Iceland Expedition (part 7) : Hiking Þórsmörk and the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, walking from Þórsmörk to Skógar

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