We had heard and read several times that Iceland’s weather is highly unpredictable but we live in Colorado where you can start a hike in sunny 80 degree weather and be met with snow and ice or torrential rain 2hrs later, but soon enough the sun will be back in full force to pick you back up. We joke that in Colorado one can ski, hike and golf in the same day! Let me just say, Iceland is a different beast. Unpredictable Icelandic weather brings heavy winds, sudden fog, rain, and sleet in the middle of summer and this weather can hang around for days not hours. We ran into this first hand in Þórsmörk. We were a little over halfway through the 75km trail from Landmannalaugar to Skogar, and had already traversed mountains and battled wind and ice through majestic lava fields. However with a 24km climb over steep mountains and volcanos left to go, heavy rail and high winds moved in to derail our journey. We’d already bunkered down in a tent for a day and the park rangers were not optimistic that the weather was going to clear any time soon. They warned us that the trails are steep and slippery in places and high winds and sleet make the top virtually impassable. Not the best of news! We waited for another few hours before deciding that we’d just go for it. The plan was to take all our gear just in case we made it over the top and could continue onward. So with full rain gear and full packs we set off up across the river crossing to the Fimmvörðuháls trail.
Landmannalaugar to Fimmvörðuháls Trail:
Fimmvörðuháls trail connects with the Landmannalaugar trail in Þórsmörk (Langidular hut: end point for Landmannalaugar). From Þórsmörk, you can walk about 24 kms (15 miles) to Skógar on the Fimmvörðuháls trail. The trail takes you over the pass between two ice caps that consists of volcanos, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Fun Fact: Eyjafjallajökull erupted in April 2010 which halted all the air traffic over Europe. So, yes, you get very close to that bad boy. The diverse terrain from insane number of waterfalls to volcanic fields and glaciers to canyons and green valleys is what makes this trail challenging and breathtaking at the same time.
Time: If you are a hiking beast, you can finish the hike in 7-9 hours. Or you can split your hike in 2 days by staying overnight at the top of the pass in one of the two mountain huts. I recommend booking the huts well in advance. None were available when we were there. The other options is to do a day trip to the top of the pass and come back the same way to Þórsmörk. We had to take this option unintentionally as you will find out soon below….
Fimmvörðuháls Trail: Trip Summary
If you are in Þórsmörk, the trail starts from Básar campground. Básar campground is on the other side of the river bed from Langidalur campsite. The trail starts in a beautiful green valley carved out by glaciers for millions of years. The first few kms of the hike includes a lot of steep elevation gain. You continue climbing up with the beautiful views of Thorsmork valley behind you and the view of glaciers ahead of you.
The hike quickly climbs up to a flat, moon like surface with a lot of rocks and small gravel. From here, you could see the steep climb over the snowy fields. I was a little scared as I could see some weather coming in but we wanted to push a little further to see if we could make it to one of the huts on the pass. Someone told us they don’t really deny hikers shelter, so we were sort of banking on that given no beds were available.
Walking over that steep hill covered in snow was the hardest part of the entire hike, as I felt that if I lost my footing over the snow, I would literally slip and slide down the mountain for easily 40-50 meters. We managed to push through amid my fear-stricken senses, and came face to face with the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Even at the peak of summer, the ground was covered in a few inches of fresh powder and we could barely see footprints or the trail markers. We continued walking in the direction we thought the trail was leading us in but we soon lost our way.
Dan decided to climb on top of one of the volcanoes to see if he could see any sign of the trail. A few minutes later he came down and said the trail wasn’t visible anywhere. We decided to turn around as the wind and snow started to come in and we didn’t want to be caught in white-out conditions going back down the snowy, icy hill. Note to other hikers: bring a detailed, waterproof trial map anywhere you are in Iceland. We made the mistake of bringing a less than useful one, obviously not drawn to scale.
Although, our mission of making it to the mountain hut or all the way to Skogar was unsuccessful, we still had a full day of hiking and we got to explore the incredible landscape of Iceland in the beautiful valley of Thorsmork. So, if you want a challenging but shorter trek, I highly recommend hiking this trail to the pass and back, you won’t regret it!
Although, we didn’t hike all the way to Skogar, we did end up driving there and hiking parts of this trail from the other side. If you love waterfalls, you won’t be disappointed by the insane number of waterfalls in Skogar!
Note: There is a shop at the Langidular campsite in Thorsmork that sells beer and potato chips. It is a little pricey but when you eat camping food and your shoes and socks are soaked for multiple days, you will kill to eat anything that does not resemble mush. It is also a great place to meet fellow travelers and engage in interesting conversations while you are waiting for the weather to subside.
Trail Map: Hiking Map from Nordic Travel