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Þórsmörk – The Valley of the Gods

Þórsmörk

I just got home from a fantastic super jeep tour to Þórsmörk (Thor’s Forest), a wonderful wilderness between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull (famous for its 2010 eruption) and Tindfjallajökull. I had never been there before, but I knew two things from its reputation: a) it’s one of the most beautiful places in Iceland, and b) the weather is always nice there. In the summer, it is a hiking paradise but I didn’t have a clue what to expect on a snowy winter’s day.

I was picked up in the morning by a monstrous vehicle, operated by Mountaineers of Iceland, and my tour guide, Kiddi. To begin with, we drove out to Gígjökull, a glacier tongue of Eyjafjallajökull, and got to know all about the drastic changes in the landscape that happened during the eruption in 2010. Before the eruption, there was a glacier lagoon there, but when the eruption started, the ice started to melt and the lagoon got bigger and bigger until it washed away in a huge flood. The area, where the lagoon used to be, is now a 30 meter deep pile of volcanic material on which we were standing.  Apparently, there is evidence on the other side of the valley of where the flood hit the hills with all its power. The white fog and the snow made the surroundings look mystical. This was a dramatic experience and a great way to get the day going.

Our next stop was at Básar, where there are facilities for hikers that are used in the summer. We did a little hike up a hill to enjoy the view from above. It was a small hill, but steep and the snow was deep so we only walked up for about five minutes. As we stood in the middle of the slope, we heard a rumble in the distant mountains. At first we thought it was an avalanche but we heard this noise a few times during the day and it turns out they were probably thunder, which almost never occur in Iceland. It was snowing heavily, but it was warm and incredibly still. Absolutely perfect.

On the way back out of Þórsmörk, we hiked a few hundred meters into the beautiful Stakkholtsgjá Canyon. The sides of the canyon are dramatic, dark and steep. There were icicles everywhere on the steep cliffs surrounding us so of course I broke one off to have a refreshing bite of ice. I couldn’t resist the urge to lay down in the snow and make a snow angel, which was probably erased in seconds by the continuing snowfall and hail.

Now the driving itself was a cool experience, since the roads up to Þórsmörk are impassable for normal vehicles. It was a bumpy ride and we lost the tracks several times as we crossed streams and puddles. It was extreme and fun, and I never felt unsafe in the jeep.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall was the last stop on the itinerary. Seljalandsfoss was magical and powerful as ever. The drizzle from the waterfall froze on the grass, making strange mushroom shapes of ice all over the hills around it. There was a food wagon in the parking lot selling sandwiches and coffee, and some great hjónabandssæla (‘happy marriage’ cake, you should try it, it will give you a happy marriage, or at least make you forget your bad one momentarily). They are closing soon due to the wintery weather that’s finally here, and they reopen in the early spring.

A short surprise stop at Urriðafoss Waterfall was added to the tour. Urriðafoss is amazing, but it is threatened by the national power company’s plans of putting up a hydroelectric power plant, thus flooding the area.

Overall I had a great day today. Great wintery weather, beautiful landscapes and friendly fellow-tourists. Our guide, Kiddi, was knowledgeable and funny. He really seemed to know what he was doing, and to me it is very important to be able to trust your driver when you’re in harsh conditions. Þórsmörk is a true gem of Icelandic nature and I can’t wait to explore it in summer, spring and autumn too!

Þórsmörk