Project Description

At twenty kilometers south of Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk valley (Thorsmork or “Forest of Thor”) is a must-do for hikers. It is a small mountain range in southern Iceland, located sheltered from the wind at the foot of Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull glaciers. The area has a mild climate and strong sunlight during summer months which is definitely the best time to get there, among large forests of birch trees with strange shadows.

Please note however that the access to the region is for 4WD only, as crossing small streams and making your way through rocky roads are part of the program. Avoid going there if you’re driving a standard car or give it a go… At your own risks!

Amazing contrast between lunar landscapes and lush hills

Let’s hit the road again! From Reykjavik, we pass next to the town of Hellisheiði towards Selfoss, then along the south coast to Hvolsvollur, where we take a short break. From there, we go towards Basar, and make a stop at the foot of the famous 60 meters high waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, behind which we can even walk! Beware of the strong Icelandic wind though, as the water then takes any direction when it blows and if you are in the small cavity behind the fall, you’re assured to take a good cold shower!

Our journey then continues towards the interior of the main attraction of the day, Þórsmörk. We stop at Lónið, which was once a beautiful glacial lake on which descended Gigjökull glacier from Eyjafjallajökull. This lake disappeared during the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 as ice water spilled down from the glacier due to the melting of the ice during the volcanic eruption. Instead of a beautiful little lake, we can see today many remnants left after the huge flood, a real lunar landscape!

On the way aboard our 4WD vehicle, we cross some rivers formed by melt of ice, but these can change rapidly from an innocent stream into a raging torrent. Our driver and guide informs us that some days, crossing rivers here can be quite difficult if not impossible, but today is a beautiful sunny day, so we no reason to be worry! Once again, be careful if you rent a car and visit the area: Thorsmork is only accessible by 4WD and I advise you not to get there with a regular car because roads are very rocky and you have to cross several streams.

A little later, we stop at Basar refuge to enjoy the spectacular scenery with its multitude of small ravines and valleys covered with small birch trees. Many hiking trails are available here and everyone can find at least one which is suitable. We spot a small path which goes up on a nearby hill offering a panoramic view. As we have a good amount of time to enjoy the area, we start our hike on a small dirt road. Here, nature dominates everything and the landscape from the top of the hill is breathtaking! The omnipresent green color is comforting and welcoming, especially after having seen earlier desolate plains without any tree or grass. After a few photos, we go back towards our starting point and we set to one of the tables in the picnic area to eat the sandwiches we prepared the day before.

Our guide meets us and then sit down with us. We then discuss a quite uncommon subject:  elves, trolls and other mythical creatures. It is worth clarifying that today, one Icelandic on two affirms the existence of the huldufólk, the “hidden people”, the name given to the elves. Some even claim to see them or talk to them. They live in rocks and hills and have a reputation for being beautiful, slim, small like children, clever, mischievous, benevolent or indifferent to men.

In fact, they are the hidden children of Adam and Eve. Legend says that God visited Adam and Eve, but she had not finished washing all her children. So she tried to hid those who were dirty and only showed the “clean” ones to God. However, God was not fooled and decreed that since it was so, the children she hid from Him will remain forever hidden to the eyes of men. That is why the elves are invisible, unless they wish to show themselves. They live in parallel to our world and get only rarely involved in humain business.

The rest of our group join us and we then continue our quite interesting discussion about the elves. Our guide tells us that in the 70’s, a road was being built in the suburbs of Reykjavik. It was then necessary to destroy a rocky hill to free the access. A seer then contacted the authorities and specified that the hill was inhabited by elves and should not be destroyed, but he was not taken seriously. However, after various and curious incidents, material disappearance and sudden breakdowns of machinery, his words were finally taken into account and the road layout was altered to bypass the hill. Since then and before each constructions, Icelandic rely on seers or soothsayers to identify the rocks that may be “inhabited” by the elves to avoid any incident.

We are then told to pay attention to Icelandic gardens during our trip in the country, and if we notice the presence of some stones piled in a corner, it is most likely a home for elves. When building a new house, the tradition is to offer a small place to the spirits that inhabited the places before to stay on good terms with them and ensure their benevolence.

On the way back to Reykjavik, we head into the groove of Stakkholtsgjá. During the trip, our guide tells us about trolls, another mystical creature in Icelandic folklore. They are mean, cruel, infinitely ugly, strong and stocky, but quite stupid. They live in caves and feed on human flesh or cattle. These are the equivalent of our ogres. When a female troll captures a man, it is not always to eat him. He can be enslaved and if he has not managed to escape within two years, he turns forever into a troll.

Their weaknesses are drinking and sunlight. As soon as the sun rises, if the troll has not returned to his cave, he turn forever to stone. A folk tale tells how a man managed to escape a group of trolls by offering them beer to drink all night long. They completely forgot any sense of time and were petrified for eternity when dawn came.

Once at Stakkholtsgjá, we go again for a good walk of about a hour. As and when we progress, we cross a small river, admire the tall walls and finally reach the end of the gorge. Our reward is a magnificent waterfall almost hidden by the surrounding darkness. The path to get there is quite chaotic! We observe the high cliffs and imagine that perhaps elves are living there! Unless they are trolls surprised by sunlight and forever petrified… So many possibilities! After our walk, we retrace our steps back, and then take the road one last time to Reykjavik. It was again a beautiful sunny day, where we learned a lot of things about elves and trolls, a very interesting and informative topic on Icelandic culture.