#IcelandTrek: Skógar to Thórsmörk
An epic journey pushing your mind, body, and soul to the limit
What most people do in two days, we planned to conquer in just one. The trek from Skógar to Thórsmörk is not for the lighthearted. A 26km trek, with an elevation gain of over 1,000m, but the numbers come nowhere close to representing the extreme difficulty this trek presents. Throughout the entire journey, we embarked upon relentless ascents and descents, amidst harsh and ever changing conditions. With heavy 65L & 80L packs on our backs filled with food, camping equipment, and supplies, we began our journey.
We started the hike at the base of Skogafoss. Immediately, we had to climb a staircase a few hundred steps high. At the top of Skogafoss, we crossed a ladder to get over a fence, leading us to lush green hills as far as the eye could see. Throughout this first section, we hiked past at least 25 fosses (waterfalls), each unique in its own right, yet all as beautiful as the last. We coined it Foss City. Wild sheep grazed on the grass, walking right beside us, as we shared the land with them for the morning. With a landscape so blue and green, we could not have imagined what was in store next.
At the end of the first section, we came upon a rickety bridge. The bridge was 4 planks wide, with a railing on only one side, 20ft above an angry river, and a deadly foss not too far downstream. This was the first taste of what we were about to encounter. On the other side of the bridge was a wide open, rock and sand filled path, surrounded by two giant mountains. The geography around us created the perfect environment for a wind funnel. The winds were powerful, with gusts up to 100km/hr. Like a leaf in the wind, our bodies were thrown with each step we took. In order to travel in a straight line we had to walk diagonally and concede that the wind would push us off course — all while keeping our heads down to protect ourselves from being blinded by the blowing sand. Proper equipment was crucial to cross this pass without injury. This environment lasted for 10km, all uphill.
We saw a hut in the distance, providing us with a much needed dose of hope and optimism. Entering the hut was like what I imagine entering the doors to heaven would feel like. A beautiful wood structure, providing protection from the wind, with tables to rest at and room for a lucky few to sleep upstairs. We were welcomed by the hut warden, a bubbly Icelandic woman in a classic Icelandic wool sweater. Starving, we devoured our lunch. It had been 6hrs since we last ate a meal. PB&J sandwiches and hard boiled eggs have never tasted so good.
The Balduinsskali hut is where most people hiking Skógar to Thórsmörk spend the night, and hike the second half the following day. Not us. Reenergized, we geared back up, and got ready to tackle the second leg of the journey.
Ahead of us was the Fimmvörðuháls glacier pass. Rolling hills of icy white glaciers lay ahead, as far as the eye could see. With both poles acting as additional limbs, we began to cross the slippery, snowy pass. The second pass was a steep, 45 degree angled ascent entirely covered in ice. Massive frozen rocks loomed at the base. Just one misstep meant a big tumble to the rocky bottom. We used our poles to stab the ice, providing crucial stability, and took each step slowly. A successful ascent led to a deep sigh of relief and a celebratory photo shoot. At this point, the thrashing winds suddenly stopped. Our packs felt twice as light our minds able to think, our legs lifted of a huge burden.
In 2010 the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, creating the Magdi and Módi craters. With only 6 years since the last eruption, we got to experience the fresh aftermath of a massive volcanic activity. We trekked through lava rocks, surrounded by tall volcanos of the same colour. Each valley and shadow was covered in snow, providing a beautiful contrast of sharp, shiny whites and opaque blacks & reds.
As we completed the Fimmvörðuháls glacier pass, we entered the final section of our journey — the Thórsmörk valley. A sense of relief and accomplishment began to sink in, but the trail was not done throwing obstacles in our way.
The Thórsmörk valley makes you feel small. Sprawling mountains covered in vibrant green moss and vegetation, with the valley of thousands of feet below. No photo can truly capture its grandness.
We descended into the valley down steep and slippery switchbacks. Hiking poles were essential. At the bottom of the switchbacks we crossed through precarious cables down a crumbling mountain, leading to a razor thin pass with giant drops on both sides. After crossing a long, flat plateau, we were close to the valley. After everything we had already gone through, the remaining ropes and slippery slopes to descend were a treat. Near the end of the descent, we spotted a guy in the bushes picking wild blueberries. He invited us to enjoy some of his fresh pickings.
We arrived at the Básar campground in the Thórsmörk Valley at 730pm. A sense of pride and accomplishment filled our souls. We threw our packs to the ground, built our tent for the night, and rushed to the dining area to cook an epic feast. A hot dinner was devoured and ice cold whiskey was drank as we celebrated of what we had just conquered.
The next morning, we took a bus out of the Thórsmörk valley. This was no ordinary bus ride. It started out bumpy, driving over some rough terrain, but we quickly came to a river — the only way forward was to go through it. Without hesitation, the driver floored the gas and went right through the flowing river. Eyes darted around the bus, each person thinking the same thing. But in Iceland, this is business as usual. A few more rivers and some questionable terrain later, we were on a real road, on our way back.
The journey from Skógar to Thórsmörk takes the cake for the most challenging trek we’ve both embarked on. Our bodies and minds were pushed to their limits. But with resilience and determination, the magic of Iceland can be uncovered.
26km, 1km elevation gain, 9.5 hours. A truly defining life experience.
- Phil Jacobson & Philip Kuperhause
If you enjoyed this post, please give it a ❤!