Jumping up and down, we cross rivers on our fourwheel drive jeep, the majestic Mýrdalsjökull glacier on the right, the sublime Eyjafjallajökull right in front of us and the sun showing off with perfect autumn morning light. We drove through Þórsmörk on our way to hike the volcano.
Taking the first steps towards the mountaintop, we learned about the two phases of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption last year. The second phase was the one everyone will remember for a long time, the one that produced the huge ash cloud and created the highest level of air travel disruption since World War II. The first eruption on the other hand wasn’t that interesting to the rest of the world. It formed a huge fissure with several craters in the middle of the two glaciers Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull. This ridge is called Fimmvörðuháls, and is exactly the place we were heading to.
OUT OF BREATH
Walking the first fifteen minutes, it was already clear that this trip would not be like a stroll in the park. The narrow paths with steep slopes to both sides are likely to cause vertigo. Having to get over about 1.000 metres of difference in altitude, we were already out of breath after a little while walking up the strong ascent. But after a while, we got in the groove and were able to enjoy the amazing nature around us: glacier to both sides, a river below us, moss covered mountains, caves made of lava from earlier eruptions and shrubs in autumnal colours from yellow to red.
After two hours and a lot of sweating and puffing, we arrived at a plateau and had a well-earned lunch looking at the huge cooled-down lava flow meandering down the mountain. The guide pointed up to a black peak up there somewhere in the distance and said this is the crater we need to get to. The next hour of pushing us up the mountain was hard. Our legs felt heavy and we were intimidated by the steep ascent ahead.
When we took the last bend and suddenly stood in front of the crater, the challenging climb was totally worth it, and the tired legs forgotten. I wasn’t aware that we were actually allowed to walk ON the lava, but indeed there is a marked trail on the cooled lava flow. We found ourselves in the middle of a devil’s kitchen: steam everywhere and below us in one crack we actually saw red glowing lava. And all of this with the sublime glaciers in the background. It’s ice and fire, the two strongest forces of nature combined in one spot.
On top of the crater it felt a little bit like being at the Costa Brava in summer: It was quite warm, and quite ‘crowded’. Which is to say: we met other people. Until then, it had just been us, five hikers from five different European countries. Up there in the warm Spanish-like breeze, we met some Icelanders. One had brought sausages he cooked by holding them over the glowing lava. When someone shouted: ‘It smells like burning tire’, everyone checked their soles, but it was the plastic bottom of a photographer’s tripod that was melting…
SOMETHING TO REMEMBER
After this sociable intermezzo we summoned enough courage to walk up the next crater, balancing our way across very narrow paths. Then it was time to go down again. The first stage was mostly going down through black sand-like ashes; it felt a little bit like going down a sand dune by the ocean. And then it was just walking, walking, walking down the same way we went up before. Every one of us was silently enjoying the nature around and watching their steps on our fast way down. After about two hours of descent in the late afternoon sun, we found ourselves at the car again. Tired but happy, after almost seven hours of intense hiking.
This twelve hour trip—about five hours of driving and seven hours of hiking—is provided by Adventures. is. The trip, including guide and a small lunch, costs 30.990 ISK. You can hike up Fimmvörðuháls on your own also, but having to cross rivers with a car and then walk on a dangerous fire spitting volcano we strongly recommend you to go up there with a guide.