28 June 2006

In the land of the gods

Over the weekend I did the fimmvörðuháls hike into Þórsmörk, a place that many Icelanders say is the most beautiful place in the country. I went with a bunch of people from my work, so on Friday the office was full of rucksacks and stuffsacks, fleece and hiking boots.

After work, we drove to the beginning of the trail, some two hours away, then, laden with water bottles, hiking poles, and many layers, we started in on the 20something kilometer trek. The hike starts at the base of an enormous waterfall, then follows the river up to a plain of glacial till to the edge of a glacier's tongue. After crossing the glacier in several sections, the hike continues along some narrow ridges, across a plateau and down the other side. The final descent is through a surprisingly lush forest (for Iceland, so that means the trees are the height of a suburban hedge) and into the valley of Þórsmörk.

Since the hike was overnight (the popular way to do it this time of year), we got to see the sun set and then rise again, and the weather was absolutely perfect, so the scenery was at its dramatic best. The hike was challenging, but there is nothing quite like hiking in this country, a place where you can fill your waterbottle straight from the stream of water freshly melted from a glacier, mixed by waterfalls, and filtered through volcanic rock. Moments like watching the sun rise over the impossible shapes of the mountains here as the damp air breathing off a glacier cools your face is unforgettable. It was hard to belive I was there, listening to the silence of these huge open spaces, watching the light change in the sky, and thinking about how few people know this all is here.

After the hike, we camped for the rest of the weekend in Þórsmörk, a weekend that included all the usual Icelandic útihátið activities- barbecuing, drinking a lot, singing songs around a bonfire while wearing a lopapeysa (thanks to J for giving me one last week so I was suited properly!), and then spending the next day either sleeping or getting a sunburn. It was kind of a letdown after the amazing hike, but I did do some exploring and found that Þórsmörk is indeed worthy of the name. There are dozens of entrancing paths through the forest, and little tucked-away glades that are bursting with buttercups and columbines at this time of year. Part of the charm of the place also seems to be the inaccessibility, and once again I understood why Icelanders are so excited by enormous jacked-up trucks when we drove out the day after. Unless you hike in, the way to get out of Þórsmörk involves driving through a plain of glacial till that is rushing with braided streams that come straight off the many glacier tongues in the area. There are no bridges, so you have to drive straight through. Fun times if you're in a Land Cruiser, but not recommended with a Jetta.

Ship sighting: More cruise ships yesterday and today. They generally seem to only arrive for a day, coming in the morning and leaving around suppertime, and they still are so huge and surprising on the horizon that last night I actually choked on the water I was drinking in my attempt to point the ship Aida Blu out to J last night. It's the biggest one yet, and the tadpole-sperm thing on the side was big enough to see from the living-room window.

Earlier this evening I also learned that the ship I mentioned last time, Song of the Whale is going to be back in Reykjavík in August, and they're offering educational tours. I'm SO there.

9 comments:

cK said...

I've said it before, but it's worth saying: great photos in support of great writing. Thanks.
-cK

The Prima said...

yeah, the photos are stunning. that hike must have been worth it if only for the views ;-)

dtw said...

That's exactly the kind of views and trips I'm looking forward to.

Although I'm not much of a photographer myself, I think you have a pretty good eye for pictures. I especially love the "Almost to Þórsmörk" one. Maybe it's how the shadow is settling in the valley.

I'd also like to delight the fellow blog readers with some excellent shots from both the Icelandic scenery and wildlife.
Daniel Bergmann's stunning gallery.

ECS said...

thanks everyone! And to use your words, CK, I've said it before, but it's worth saying, it's REALLY not so hard to take amazing photos here. The landscape is huge, the light is amazing, and the scenery is so otherworldly that any photos of it are guaranteed to look astounding if you weren't there. To me they are just a slice of the memory, to which I add all the other sensations- tired muscles, the unencumbered wind blowing across the rocks, the taste of the glacial water, and the sound of feet crunching in a line on the snow. When(if) you see it for yourself, you'll see that these do NOT do it any justice.

ECS said...

I should also mention for the non-Icelandic readers that the area we were hiking in is called Goðaland, or land of the gods, and Þórsmörk is basically Thor's territory. Hence the title of the post.

dtw said...

I believe I can relate. Since I'm not a good photographer, I concider photos mostly as extensions of my memory. I've often refrained from taking photos of the most stunning/beautiful/romantic/inspiring moments of my life, because if I'm not confident that I can capture a part of the moment's essence, I rather just have the memory.

It might be a little disappointing for people if I try to depict some interesting wanderabout in a city which holds more people than my country, and tell them I didn't take a photo of the most interesting things since I was so fascinated. Most of them understand after I tell how I feel about photos, though. I also need to start using shorter sentences, reading this comment is giving me a headache...

And btw, I take it mörk means territory or land then? Because I'm familiar with the name, and at some point I thought mörk was the Icelandic word for forest. Then I resorted in Swedish, where mörk is an adjective for dark and mörker means darkness. I probably have to look into its etymology, but before I do that, I'll be content with "Thor's mark." That makes some sense for me now, but I'm probably wrong again. :)

I need to start studying a little Icelandic this fall.

ECS said...

DTW- I think we agree on photos! I have been quite a lot of places and taken remarkably few photos.. for example, the only flickr photo I uploaded of Italy was the textures of some bricks in a courtyard. I have some of the photos everyone takes, but if I REALLY wanted a picture of the colosseum, I can just do a google image search for it and get thousands of better ones.

As for mörk, it means forest or land, and from what I've seen of it, generally refers to a territory, like Heiðmörk near Reykjavík, and Danmörk, the territory of the Danes, known to English speakers as Denmark. Oh, and it's also a measure of weight.

Sigvaldi said...

Mörk initially meant forested land (or the worth of the land, hence it´s use as a measurement (a mark of silver/Mörk silfurs)) but as the land became deforested it came to mean just "Land"

dtw said...

Ah, glad to see that I was on the right track. Had no clue about the measurement though. So practically if you needed to buy yourself some soil, you could go and ask for a mörk of mörk? :)

Plays with foreign words always remind me of what an American-Norwegian guy, who knows a lot of Finnish, concidered to be the funniest sounding word. It's lämpimämpi, our word for "warmer." Never had thought it that way before, but I had to admit that it sounds a bit goofy when you don't know what it means and probably pronounciation is way off as well. And since Finns dislike articles but instead like their words to contain as much info as possible, you can conjugate those further. Lämpimämmät, lämpimämpää...