A travel story by Kain Mellowship
With so many attractions accessible by car, it’s easy to see why so many excited visitors flock to the south coast of Iceland as their first stop. With majestic waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, the black sandy beaches of Vík, and glaciers galore, you can really get a taste of everything that makes Iceland so unique in a relatively short stretch of road. I wanted to break up this routine, tour-bus itinerary and experience the true beauty and power that the south coast has to offer. The Fimmvörðuháls hike was the perfect way to do this.
Possibly the most well-known hiking trail in Iceland, and one of my most memorable experiences, the Fimmvörðuháls hiking trail offers waterfalls, glaciers and lava fields allowing you to witness first-hand why Iceland is justifiably known as “The land of fire and ice.” It’s almost like stepping back in time to a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth….untouched and as raw as it gets. Remember back in 2010 when millions of travellers were left stranded as flights were cancelled and the airspace of many European countries closed? Yeah, that was due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, whose volcanic ash created the highest level of air travel disruption since the Second World War. A section of the hike weaves around and over the rough lava fields created by Eyjafjallajökull during that famous eruption.
The trail can be done in two ways; Skógafoss to Thórsmörk or Thórsmörk to Skógafoss, and it’s up to you which of the two locations you choose to begin and end your trek. I chose to park my car at Skógafoss and start the hike from there. It’s worth noting that getting to Thórsmörk by road is not a simple task. It’s only accessible to heavy duty, 4×4 vehicles with a lot of clearance due to the multiple river crossings and extremely rough track conditions. But don’t panic: there are specialised bus services available.
The hike can generally be done in 7-10 hours depending on multiple factors, including fitness level, weather conditions, food/water/photo breaks,
or, split up over a more relaxing two days with an overnight stay in the volcano huts.
Feeling confident, and with clear blue skies overhead I decided to make it a one day trek.
The first section of the hike runs parallel to Skóga river, and it’s numerous waterfalls, each having it’s own unique characteristics and beauty. It’s relatively easy and a good warm-up for the rest of the trail.
After about 8km’s you’ll come to a bridge where I would recommend you fill your water bottles, as this is the last point in the hike where you can safely access fresh drinking water. The trail deviates from the vegetation and liveliness of the Skóga river in exchange for the dark, lifeless rocky pass between Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Here, the track starts to get a little more difficult with the addition of snow as you start to reach the highest point. During this point of my hike, I experienced about 90 minutes of intense fog and heavy rain, which seems to be pretty standard for this section. So make sure you pack your wet weather gear.
You’ll eventually arrive at the newly formed lava fields created in 2010, as well as the craters Magni and Móði. Make sure you read the informational plaque explaining the formation of the craters.
The most challenging point comes after this with some quite steep, gravel faces to cautiously make your way down. Some sections have ropes and chains to assist you, and it’s best to just take this section slowly and safely as many people, including myself, had problems keeping their grip on the loose gravel. The views at this point of the valley down to Thórsmörk are insane! I was expecting to suddenly see a pterodactyl fly past me. It really is some of the most untouched and prehistoric landscapes I’ve ever experienced.
From then on the decent into Thórsmörk is relatively quick and simple, and it’ll be over before you know it. Take your time and enjoy this last section.
When I finished my hike I had a few hours to wait until the next bus was leaving so, I decided to rest my weary body on a nice patch of grass. Just as I took my boots off, I spotted a family packing their car to leave. I wondered if I could save a bus fare and a 2-hour wait for the bus by hitching a ride with them. I quickly raced over and asked if they had space for an exhausted hiker, and, 5 minutes later, I was cruising along with my newly adopted French family back to Skógafoss. Thanks, guys!!!