Distance covered: 27 miles
Today there’s two distinct sections: first I need to finish the Laugavegur, a mostly downhill affaire to the coastal valley of Thorsmork. Then, the steepest, longest climb of the trip to go over the Fimmvorduhals pass and down to trip end in Skogar. The potential for trouble lies in this second half with a pass above 1000 metres and a stormy forecast.
I have a good reason to wake up early and start hiking quick. This way I also guarantee a solitary and quiet time to near Thorsmork as southbounders will be well behind me and northbounders most likely not showing up until I’m almost there. The day is only partially cloudy and mostly calm.
Down to Thorsmork
I have a very enjoyable and peaceful trip down to Thorsmork. Some great views of Myrdalsjokull on the way.
It’s also nice and interesting to see how the vegetation returns as the trail gets gradually lower. Eventually, stunted birch make a come back, I hadn’t seen any since Myvatn in days 4-5.
I can feel the sea at the very far end of the scene. I can’t see it yet but there’s this infinite blue tint at the mouth of this valley, looking west. The trail won’t take me over there though, it crosses the mountains in less optimal, more scenic route. I can roughly locate the pass over which I’ll need to cross to reach the Atlantic. It’s a narrow gap in between Myrdals and Eyafjallajokull. That’s Fimmvorduhals pass.
The Laugavegur leaves the valley floor to shortcut over lesser hills. It was dark and rainy when I hiked this section back in Y2K. I remember a tricky river crossing that was the only hairy moment of the whole trip back then. I’m surprised that no advice was posted in the huts about this ford while it was for that other stream that eventually didn’t turn too bad yesterday. I remember a powerful, raging glacial river here and I remember other backpackers linking arms for a safe crossing.
Maybe it was the rainy weather back then but today it’s a minor, heavily braided, quiet stream where I happily wet my shoes and feet.
The final push to Thorsmork gets tiring. I’ve devoted to hike non-stop and take my mid-day break there. Thorsmork was the glorious end of my hike in Y2K. It’s a lush, deep valley flanked by high peaks and easily accessible on a dirt road for vehicles with enough clearance to ford the river. I remember fondly my arrival there on a very rainy day, feasting on the small shop and staying at the cosy, nearly empty hut. Today I’m finishing the job and hiking on over Fimmvorduhals. The connecting trail takes me to the other end of Thorsmork so my memories will have no refresh.
I stop for lunch by the green grass of the Langidalur hut as the sky gets cloudier and a few drops fall. It’s difficult to forecast anything from here though, unlike for the rest of the trip I’m in a deep valley and I don’t see much of the sky.
I say my goodbyes to Thorsmork as I resume the hiking. Info panels and trail markers show the way to Fimmvorduhals, it’s clearly a popular trail in the area. This gives me confidence that it’ll be very passable despite the altitude even in bad weather, if that eventually happens.
This is the final stretch, the very last miles of my trip but I’m not thinking of that. The hike across Fimmvorduhals is truly spectacular and it draws my full attention. I start the climb among quite some traffic, a mix of late starters climbing up and day hikers coming down. The lush vegetation of the valley floor soon gives way to grass or nothing. There’s breathtaking views of Thorsmork as I get higher.
The terrain feels oddly familiar, maybe for the first time in the whole trip. It’s a mountain trail in a steady climb from near sea level to 700 metres where the trail reaches a flat, hanging plateau. This is a spectacular place with incredible views over the icecaps, particularly Myrdalsjokull closing the scene to the southeast. It’s got cloudier but the sun still shines at times.
The climb resumes at the opposite end of the plateau, at the very edge of the ice. You can clearly see the scars on the mountainside from the ice melt. The climb gets steep over loose terrain. It’s getting cold.
Eventually, the slope eases into the pass area. It’s the time for a last look back to the north and down to the valleys. I can recognize the Alftavatn area hills and appreciate the size of it all. It’s also time for a weather check as it starts to get breezier and darker. Rain might be incoming but it’s not imminent yet. I say one last goodbye and head for the pass.
Just above 1000 metres, Fimmvorduhals is low enough to avoid being covered by the ice looming above on both sides. It’s mid summer and there’s still plenty of snowfields. It’s a popular hiking area and the trails are clearly marked, snow or not. There’s many hikers around, either crossing the pass or climbing the nearby peaks.
I go past some odd rocks so sharp and convoluted that they look like brand new. It turns out they indeed are. An info panel explains how these rocks are here after the Eyafjallajokull eruptions of 2010. Many may remember how it covered a good part of western Europe’s sky in ash. It wasn’t until yesterday that I had realised that the icecap west of Fimmvorduhals was Eyafjall.
There’s even a baby crater, as cute as babies are:
The weather deteriorates quickly and by the time I go for the waterproofs low cloud covers the whole place and drizzle starts. As expected, this changes everything. The trail is still clearly visible on the ground but there are diverging trails and it’s not always clear which one goes where. Some junctions are signed, some aren’t. The fog still spares the surrounding peaks and buttes but those are not enough for the map’s resolution to show me where I exactly am. It is not a clean pass but a long, intricate passage. It should be fine because the trail is still easy to follow with plenty of markers and a good tread, both on dirt and snow.
A bit higher up the fog gets thicker and visibility goes down to meters. It’s wet and cold. I mean to get off the mountain, quick.
There are two huts on the south side of the pass, roughly one km apart. I aim for the lower hut which is right on my way. I just need to actually find my way across some more confusing junctions. I’m sure it’d be all evident with a clear view but the fog is now thick. I start climbing down, then I meet people climbing the opposite way that can confirm where they’re coming from. Only minutes later I’m somewhat relieved to see the outline of the Baldvinsskali hut:
It’s a small hut with the nicest warden in Iceland. I happily get in for a lunch break away from the now unwelcoming elements. There’s a host of other hikers in the same position. I take my time to eat and recover.
It’s now that I start thinking of trip’s end. From the hut there’s no further obstacles. It’s already facing south, it’s all downhill, on-trail and there’s even the option of using the dirt track that climbs from the ring road. No foul weather could get in the way. It’s only a few hours down the hill. I finish my lunch, say goodbye to the nicest warden in Iceland and start coming down.
I’m still in my waterproofs, it’s dark and foggy above, windy and drizzly all around but there’s light at the end of the tunnel: the cloud doesn’t reach any lower and down below it’s clear. The blue line in the distance is the North Atlantic:
I meet hikers climbing up. I take the waterproofs off and switch to windproofs (feel much more stylish). I look ahead, south, and I see what looks like the edge of the cloud, sunshine beyond. It’s gonna be a purely enjoyable grand finale.
Iceland is waterfall central and it’s famous for it, including some of the most scenic falls imaginable. One of them –Skogafoss– is at the very end of this hike. What I didn’t know beforehand was that there’s an endless series of spectacular falls along the same stream that holds Skogafoss. It’s one after the other, clean steps, tens of meters high where the water falls curtain-like and powerful. Thick-curtain-like. Here’s just a tiny selection:
The trail follows the cascading Skoga river closely so you don’t miss a single fall. As I come down, grass returns. Then clouds retreat and there’s even some mild sunshine. The sea is now a powerful presence in the background.
It should be an easy stroll but by this time I’m getting tired. It’s the very final push though and I keep on. The biggest fall of all is coming up as evidenced by the tourist traffic ahead and the void behind that stretch of river. That’s how I get to the top of Skogafoss.
I’m quite blind to the tourist armageddon. I’m so tired that I even find difficult to pause and admire the beauty of the most elegant of Iceland waterfalls, but I do. I quickly come down the metal staircase to the bottom of the abyss. In an unexpected lull, I manage to get one pic of the majestic waterfall with no people in it:
Skogafoss is beautiful and it’s symbolic. It’s the end/beginning of many adventures on Fimmvorduhals, the Laugavegur and beyond. Mine ends here.
It was intense and it’s left me in between satisfaction and relief. I’m glad I did it and I’m glad it’s over. I know I’ll miss those special times that only the outdoors provide, I’ll miss the challenge and the feeling of being simply alive, connected to the environment and to myself. Following this I’m ready to enjoy some responsibility-free time and I’m ready to enjoy the memories that will help see what comes next.