In Iceland they call it Þórsmörk, most visitors call it Thórsmörk, and those who are bad with languages, like myself, call it Thor’s Valley. It’s the incredible spot the Outdoors Magic team visited last September to shoot the product review videos for this year’s Winter Outdoor 100, our guide to the season’s latest and greatest pieces of outdoor kit.
We wanted a location that would help to demonstrate the capability of the gear we were profiling; somewhere with harsh terrain, unpredictable weather, but also with the kind of beauty that stays long on the mind. And Thor’s Valley really delivered.
After arriving late at Reykjavik airport, we had a 120km drive with our guide Pálmi to get to the start of the valley, located on the southern tip of Iceland, then it was another 20km in the darkness along a narrow dirt track. We were faced with a river crossing almost immediately after leaving the main road and, despite being in one of the biggest 4x4s I’ve ever laid eyes on, the rushing water ahead seemed far too big a challenge. But Pálmi, without hesitation, stepped on the accelerator and ploughed straight through.
“Will there be any more of those," I asked him. His chuckling told me all I needed to know.
Thórsmörk: Northern Lights, Canyons and Infamous Volcanoes
The next morning, waking up in one of the bunkbed-filled wood cabins at Útivist which is a sort of outpost for hikers, I was able to finally see the mountains that we had driven into the night before.
On either side of us were green and black jagged ridges and crown-like peaks leaning over a valley floor that was completely flat and several miles wide. A loud, white river cut through it. I could also just about see the glacier cresting over the eastern horizon. This was Eyjafjallajökull. It covers the top of that volcano that erupted back in 2010, halting 107,000 flights in Europe. Remember that?
Over the four days of our trip we wandered to various parts of the valley to film our product review videos for Bridgedale, Nikwax, 1000 Mile, Granger’s, Fjallraven, OEX and Hanwag. Now, the landscape was breathtaking at every turn, but there were two locations in particular that stood out.
The first was Stakkholtsgjá, a narrow canyon that slices right into the mountain for 2km.
We followed a river up it, between the black, 100m-high cliffs until we reached the end, a dark cavern where a long waterfall fell from a narrow gap of light above.
The second spot was the very base of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. Here, the white ice and the black volcanic rock and sand create an incredible contrast. It’s unfortunately receding quickly and our guide was staggered by how far back it had gone since his last visit which had only been less than a month before.
And the Northern Lights! Each night, whether at our cabin, at camp, or at the valley’s solitary pub, they came into full view. I’d seen them before on a trip to Lapland, just a milky wisp that might as well have been a cloud, but on this trip they really were vibrant, green and dancing across the night sky.
Thórsmörk: Visiting the Valley
Throughout our stay in the valley, we occasionally spotted hikers reaching the end of their journey along the Laugavegur Trail, Iceland’s most popular route. They would have been walking for four or five days from Landmannalaugar 55km away to the north.
We also saw tiny silhouettes walking on the ridgeline high above. There’s apparently a trail that follows a horseshoe-shaped route right along the tops.
We were too busy filming so I wasn’t able to get up there. So I’ve made a pact with myself.
Despite the challenging drive up the dirt track to get here, there are actually a couple of buses that link up Útivist and Reykjavik. (You should see these things, they’re like school buses on tractor wheels). So reaching the valley is more straightforward than you'd think. And while these connections mean it can get fairly busy with hikers, it’s not hard to get off-the-beaten track in such a place as Iceland.
So my pact is that next summer I’m going to be jump on a cheap flight to Reykjavik, then onto one of the big buses to Thórsmörk, and I’ll spend a few days wandering and wild camping in this otherworldly place.