Many backpackers stack Iceland’s two most famous hikes back to back. You might as well add that extra bit of challenge and really squeeze all the sights in for your visit. If you are starting this hike after completing the Laugavegur, make sure you look for this sign, and then the footbridges upon arriving into Thorsmork. They are put here for your safety so use them when navigating across the river. There is a reason the buses look like monster trucks, so do not cross the river unless it’s on a bridge.
This hike is about 15 miles if you start from Basar. It can be done in a day, and frankly I wouldn’t do it in two. The halfway point is the coldest point with few amenities. The hut at Basar has the cheapest Snickers bars out of all the huts if you’re looking for another treat. Basar is also the quietest and most beautiful campground. This is your last water source until Skogar!
Iceland expects you to assess your own risk. I would never do this hike alone again. Especially not with a backpacking pack. I got lucky with good weather. If it had been raining, I would have turned around and hopped on a bus back to Skogar. I took no photos of what I speak of. I’m sure others more daring have. There a plenty of times where the path is over uneven rock no wider than a foot with a drop off with a bottom I never saw. There were places where there was a heavy metal chain bolted into the side of the mountain, so that you could hug the mountain during the many narrow sections with. Some bolts had come out of the mountain. (I did this late season, so it’s possible they reset these every year.) Seeing that is a little unnerving. I prayed the whole time that I wouldn’t be holding on as another got ripped out. It’s also reported in some guidebooks that if someone was coming from the opposite direction and took hold of the chain, they’d be able to knock you off. This all happens in the very first part leaving Basar. Become an early riser so that the chance of people completing the hike from the other direction are slim. Remember what is easy for some, is not for others. I am very clumsy. I consider this section high risk.
Not only is it risky, but it is steep. Real steep. But the higher you climb, the more you can look over the valley. It’s worth all the breaks.
You’ll also be staring at Utigonguhodi as you climb. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it.
After the last of the chain link hiking it will start to level out. You’ll get that desolate feeling as you realize you’re in between two massive glaciers. (You will also get cell service here, maybe because you are out of the valley? I have t-mobile and that piggy backed for free with a local service through Iceland.) The coolest part of this hike is next. Walking on the fresh rocks from the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010. There are two cones that you can veer off trail for a scramble. Magni (Strong) and Modi (Angry). I dropped the heavy overnight pack to do this. Other hikers also dropped their pack near mine. I really enjoy the trust with complete strangers to not rummage and steal your pack while exploring. But who would want to carry an extra 40 pounds?
This is still not the halfway point. You’re a couple miles from the halfway hut. There is a pit toilet, but no trash collection. So pack it out. Also no water supply! It is known to be very windy here with hikers using the hut as a shield. The trail then follows a service road. It is very rocky and grey with nothing to look at for miles. I actually got sad on this stretch. The surroundings and constantly tripping over the uneven service road made me miserable and question why I was even doing this. Lots of life pondering questions come up since there is nothing beautiful to distract you. Eventually beauty resurfaces and more green will pop up around you. This builds the anticipation to the many waterfalls you are about to see. How many? I didn’t count. I didn’t even try. It’s overwhelming. So much so that I didn’t take a single photo of Skogafoss.
Skogar has two restaurants that are used to ripe hikers. They will ask you to drop your pack off at the entrance. Don’t worry, no one takes your stuff. The advantages of having a smelly, heavy pack. Nobody wants it but you. You get to sit in the time out corner with all the other smelly hikers you saw along the way. I was actually glad to be seated away from the fresh tourists.
There will be more than backpackers camping with you there if you choose to stay the night. It is very busy. It was also the only place I could not drink the water. It tasted sulfuric. Drink up at the restaurant or buy water. It took a while for that taste to be washed out of my nalgene. There are multiple trash bins as well as a receptacle for gas canisters.
For all the hard work it takes to complete this hike, it is worth it. There is nothing else in the world like it.