Over The Misty Mountains: Hiking The Famous Fimmvörðuháls Trail

Over The Misty Mountains: Hiking The Famous Fimmvörðuháls Trail

Christine Engel Snitkjær
Photos by
Bjarni Þór Hjaltason

The name of the river ‘Krossá’ sounds like ‘cross,’ as in the symbol that signifies Jesus Christ and which marks countless graves within the Christian community. Appropriately, this river is the graveyard of cars in the Þórsmörk region of Iceland. The cars go in and they never return.

Although I have not ‘crossed’ the ‘Krossá,’ I have a feeling that crossing any river with a car is a dangerous pastime. So when my friends Ásdis, Arnþór, and I come across a river in the middle of the road on our way to the campsite of Básar, I am certain we have taken a wrong turn somewhere. We cannot possibly be meant to enter the river. We’re only at the beginning of our camping and hiking adventure weekend in Þórsmörk and we are already lost, I think to myself.

Arnþór calls Ásdis’s father, who has already made it to the camp in another car with the rest of the family, and must know how to get there. “Yes,” he says, confirming that this is the right way.

The great krossing

As we cross the river, Arnþór and Ásdis exchange nervous remarks in Icelandic. Between utterances such as “hvað segir þú?!” and “rólegt!!” I hear the word “snakk,” interpreting this to mean that if we get stranded in the middle, at least we’ll have snacks. We make it across, but it turns out to be the first river crossing of many, and I’m glad we brought a 4×4.

After countless crossings and a shaky gravel road experience, Ásdis, Arnþór, and I arrive at Básar. Ásdis’ family have already set up their tents, and we’re left to enjoy the view of the misty mountains. We go to bed early—because the following day, we conquer Fimmvörðuháls.

Up and away

Fimmvörðuháls is the name of a hiking trail that winds up between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Clocking in at 23 kilometres, and filled with steep stretches as the trail climbs to its peak of 1000m, this is no Sunday stroll—as I’ll soon discover.

The next morning, we take the gravel road to the small village of Skógar (population: ca. 25) which marks the start of the Fimmvörðuháls trail. The grand waterfall of Skógafoss greets hikers as they climb past it and up into the foothills of the highlands.

As we commence the hike and move further and further away from civilisation, mist begins to cover the landscape in a mysterious white blanket. The lush, green hills become dim and the sound of waterfalls is the only indication that they exist—we can only faintly glimpse their foaming torrents.

Black ground

After several hours of ascent, the landscape begins to change. The green fields are replaced by grey fields of stones, and the small hills are replaced by open expanses. When the mist finally lifts, we see the famous Eyjafjallajökull glacier-volcano in the distance.

We continue our hike up toward the glaciers, the ground turning gradually into black lava stone. Patches of snow lie in stark contrast to the dark ground. “It’s like a cow,” Ásdis remarks, of the black and white pattern.

Stay on track

Scattered throughout the length of the hike, poles guide us in the right direction. “They were put up by a man whose daughter died on this hike,” Ásdis’ father explains. “She got lost in the fog. He wanted to make sure no one would ever get lost here again.”

As we hike down an unbelievably steep slope in slippery snow, I find it comforting to know that, at the least, the poles are telling us, “yes, this is the right way.”

The never-ending road

Toward the end of the hike, we have walked for ten hours—all the way from the green hills above Skógar to the lush forest of Básar, and back into Þórsmörk valley. I start wondering if I can remember a time in my life when I have not been walking. I feel like Frodo Baggins on my way to Mount Doom, where time stands still and the road goes on and on.

“As we hike down an unbelievably steep slope in slippery snow, I find it comforting to know that the poles are telling us, ‘yes, this is the right way.’”

When we finally see our camp on the horizon, covered in misty clouds, Ásdis happily exclaims, “it is SO good to see the end,” and I couldn’t agree more. Yet the spectacular views and the remarkable diversity of landscapes of this hike have been well worth the pain I currently feel in my feet. Fimmvörðuháls is a hike full of unexpected obstacles, steep mountainsides, and seemingly endless pathways. But it is also a hike of beauty, fun, and, above all else, adventure.

See Also: After Eyjafjallajökull: Hiking Fimmvörðuháls