Backpacking the Fimmvörðuháls
When Josh and I backpacked the Laugavegur from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork this past summer, we had the option of adding on 30 bonus kilometers! We decided to tack on the Fimmvörðuháls, the trail that connects Thorsmork out to Skógar, for another long day in the Highlands.
The Fimmvörðuháls is a special little hike because you get to travel between the Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers (or jökull, in Icelandic). You travel through a few very different environments, from a glacial valley, to the Morinsheiði plateau, to the rocky glacial moraine and then to lush waterfalls.
We started off in Thorsmork at the Volcano Huts. To get to the Fimmvörðuháls, we had to backtrack a bit up the hill to the Langidalur hut. (Book this hut if you can. The views are incredible.) There, we crossed the Krossa glacial river via seasonal bridges.
We walked past the Básar Hut, and the trail began to rapidly ascend. This was the most elevation we’d gained all trip! Soon, we were overlooking the valley that we’d entered the day prior. It was breathtaking.
We traversed across a ridge. After climbing in the Sierra the last few summers, the exposure was no big deal. The most hairy part was protected with a rope to hold onto.
Finally, we reached a wide and flat plateau. We could see both glaciers we were traveling through. The last bits of trail going onto the moraine were a complete slog. The trail ascended straight uphill on loose sand. It was a thigh burner.
Suddenly, we were on the glacial moraine with black, rocky gravel under our feet. Everywhere, as far as the eye could see, was black and white. Here, the Fimmvörðuháls split off with multiple signs and use trails. One of the trails led to the Fimmvörðuskáli hut, operated by Utivist. The other, continued onward to Skógar.
The trail rolled up and down on the moraine and was relatively easy to follow. However, if we had inclement weather, map and compass skills would have been necessary to not lose the trail.
At the end of the glacial moraine, we reached the Baldvinsskáli hut, a Ferdafelag Islands hut. This hut had no running water, some picnic tables and an outhouse. It was quite windy so we only stopped for a quick snack. Soon, we were following the gravel road on the last leg of the trail.
Here, the trail gradually descends next to the river Skógá. The trail takes you past many, and I mean many, waterfalls. We stopped at a few to snap photos and ooh and ahh. At this point, we were just trying to get to Skógar to try to catch our bus out.
We got extremely lucky with good weather. There was nary a cloud in site and the temperatures were actually fairly warm, even on the moraine. If weather was bad, I would have skipped heading to Skógar.
If I did it again, I would stay an extra night in Thorsmork. We missed out on the LavaSPA at the Volcano Huts. We missed out on some day hikes, but most of all, our legs needed a bit of a break before the final push to Skógar. The leg wobble was real on the way down. We were both pretty exhausted on the way out and didn’t really appreciate the millions of waterfalls we were passing. We just wanted to be done, and we wanted to try to catch an earlier bus back to Reyjkavik.
Alternately, folks can also backpack this from Skógar to Thorsmork, which is also a popular option. However, this option means you are hiking slowly uphill almost the entire way, instead of gaining a ton of elevation in the beginning. If you’ve got the time, this is an awesome way to beat the crowds at Skógafoss.
There is an option to break the 30km up by stopping at the Fimmvörðuskáli hut, which more or less is the halfway point on the Fimmvörðuháls. This hut does not have drinking water, so plan accordingly.
To get back to Reykjavik, we caught a Reykjavik Excursions bus out at 9PM. The earlier option was at 4:30PM, and we’d missed it by a hair. We ended up grabbing food inside one of the hotels in Skógar to kill time and read at the bus stop.
Gear list for the Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls
Hers: Arc’teryx Kea 45 Pack (similar here), Arc’teryx Beta SL Hybrid Jacket, Arc’teryx Atom LT Jacket, Arc’teryx Atom SL Jacket, Icebreaker Tech T Lite, Norrøna bitihorn lightweight zip off pants, Salewa Multi Track GTX trail runners, Outdoor Research Petra sweatpants, Western Mountaineering Summerlite bag, Snowpeak spork
His: Osprey pack, Fjallraven Keb Eco Shell Jacket, Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie, Avalanche Outdoor Supply shirt, Mountain Hardwear AC Henley shirt, Prana Stretch Zion pants, Therm-a-Rest Questar sleeping bag