When Sarah and I decided to return to Iceland I was excited about the prospect of hiking more of this stunning country. We knew where we wanted to go and we knew where we wanted to hike.
Sarah, in particular was keen to hike the 25 km trail from Skogar to Thorsmork. Considered one of the best day hikes in Iceland, I was easily sold. This particular trail is part of a 3-5 day hike that could take you all the way to Landmannalaugar, with only a week in Iceland, we opted for the one day hike, and what a day it turned out to be!
Our chosen hike would take us from the picturesque coast at Skogar, climb steadily past a series of spectacular waterfalls and eventually take us past the snow-covered volcano, Eyjafjallajokull (the one that a erupted a couple of years ago) before continuing down into the valley to Thorsmork, sounds easy right?!
We overnighted in a concrete shelter close to Skogar and it was from here we tried to get some much needed sleep before our big hike. We made ourselves some sandwiches that consisted of salami and potato salad (carbs inside carbs, standard hiking grub!) and in a slight panic that we were going to starve on the volcano we packed into some pasta too!
The trail kicks off with a bang at the stunning Skogar waterfall and then instantly you are embarking up steep steps to the beginning of the trail. We were at the stairs for about 6.30 and we bumped into an old fella from somewhere in Europe who we saw the day before talking about the route. It wasn’t long before he overtook us and we were on our own. The scenery was awesome and the hiking was pretty easy, there were a few hairy scrambles along rocks next to raging rivers and waterfalls, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We saw a little a bit of snow and we were so excited that we jumped in the snow and took a picture “quick take a picture and make it look like we were hiking through snow” were the words that came out of our mouths, little did we know what was around the corner!
The snow kept on coming thick and fast and before we knew it we were hiking through snowy fields and it was so magical. This was hands down some of the most spectacular scenery my eyes had ever seen. It wasn’t long before we were joined by more hikers, this time in the form of a lovely Canadian couple who were hiking in trainers – their feet must have been frozen but they powered ahead like walking through knee deep snow was nothing at all.
Luckily we had sunglasses as the snow was blinding, but despite the blazing sunshine it was cold and I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to hike through this terrain if the weather was awful. The trails in Iceland are easy to follow, even in the never ending snow. You simply follow the coloured poles and trail of footprints and walking poles. The snow was hard to walk in, as much as you tried to keep your balance the windy conditions meant you were stumbling through the snow like a drunk child. After what felt like years the emergency hut was in sight and this is where we would spend 20 minutes refuelling and reuntiting ourselves with the old fella. The hut was a little wooden shed with a few tables, a stove and mattresses for people to sleep on if they get stranded out in the mountains. As much as we could have stayed there we needed to press on.
For the next three hours it was just Sarah, me, the old fella in the distance and endless rolling peaks of snowy, beautiful scenery. It’s weird on a hike like this, neither one of us was expecting it to be this challenging, one minute we were so happy to be somewhere this incredible, the next I was cursing why we could be so stupid as to not check the trail conditions and when this was ever going to end. We didn’t have a map so we had no idea how far we had come or how far we had to go, but we eventually reached a sign that pointed us in the right direction but still gave us no idea of how far we had to go.
Eventually we reached a ridge with a huge, steep downhill section and we saw a group of people at the bottom so we started our decent, I had never wished I had a snowboard more so than I did at the moment, our wet, soggy feet and the blustering wind made it quite hard to walk down hill. Three French girls ran straight past us and all I could do was plonk myself on my arse, thinking how do they have all that energy still. Once they got to the bottom they looked back at Sarah and I and started whistling at us, I had no idea why until about five seconds after when all of a sudden the wind picked up and we were hit with a hail storm. I could barely stand, the pain of the hail was awful, I could see Sarah at the bottom so I just pegged it, no longer caring about my aching, soggy feet. As soon as I hit the bottom the hail stones resided but the wind was relentless and I was practically crawling along an icy sheet. I could see a group of guys hiding behind a boulder and I headed straight for it as quick as I could. Sarah eventually joined me.
This was a nightmare and the guys came up to us to see if we were okay. Sarah had lost her favourite hat and one of the lovely guys who was from Portland, Oregon donated his hat to her, which was extremely sweet of him. He then noticed that I didn’t have any gloves (another realisation of how under prepared we were for this hike), he proceeded to take off his own gloves and give them to me, his friend and I told him not to be silly, they were heading where we had just come from and I knew he had a long way to go through the snow. Sarah and I continued on in the footsteps of the French girls and I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was Portland guy handing me his gloves telling me I wouldn’t get past the next bit without them. His kindness actually made me a little teary eyed, well it was either that or the fear of what was ahead.
Just a few meters ahead was a short ridge with terrifying drops down the valley on either side and just thinking about it whilst writing this, makes me feel sick. I have never been so scared in my whole life and I dropped to my knees put the gloves on and started crawling, trying so hard to focus on Sarah in front and not look down. I got about half way across and my hands were red raw and they were hurting so bad. I shouted across to Sarah “seriously, if I die here please tell my family I love them” – this was no joke, I was terrified. I eventually made it to the end and I just sat down, with my hands between my legs and had a little cry. Eventually we got our shit together and plodded on, trying to put that horrible 10 minutes behind us. Portland was right, I couldn’t have done it without those gloves, so thanks, you’re a ledge!
Further on up the trail we bumped into the old fella again and he came over to us and said “wow, you girls actually made it. This is tough”. For the next few hours we were slowly making our way down into the valley and we were just hoping and wishing the snow would end soon. A few more scary, icy ridges and we finally left the snow behind, stripped off all our layers and hiked down into the valley. This wasn’t the end of the near death experiences though. I was ahead of Sarah and I suddenly heard a rustling and I turned round to see Sarah falling down the cliff, I screamed at her to grab on to something and eventually she did and we dragged her back up to the path. This day hike was turning into a proper adventure and I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.
Down in the valley we passed the French girls and as we passed we nodded at each other in recognition that we were all pretty awesome. We were staying in the Volcano Huts and yet again us being so unprepared we had no idea where it was. We had been hiking for about eight hours already and it turned out the Volcano Huts were in the next valley over and were another two hours away. By this point we had no food or water and we were knackered to say the least. Our one saving grace is that it does not get dark in Iceland in the summer and despite us rocking up at the Volcano Hut at around 8.30pm it was still light.
We ended our day with a cold beer and a big ole’ bowl of soup. This was a day of mixed emotions and despite being terrified at numerous points during the day, it was one of the best days I’ve had and I witnessed even more of Iceland’s beauty. We later found out that this was the most snow that had been on the trail at that time of year in over 20 years, and we rocked it like the hiking legends we are, with the odd mountain meltdown.
Iceland is a country of extremes and we were not really that prepared for what lay ahead, luckily for us we had sunshine the entire way, had the weather been any different, god knows what would have happened!
If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, check out my recent Iceland post which’ll hopefully inspire you to go and discover this amazing country.