The surroundings at the Básar hut were even prettier than they had been at the nearby Húsadalur hut. In addition to wildflowers, small birch trees, and lush grasses, everything was nicely manicured - boardwalks and nice lawns, well-maintained buildings, good stonework and trails. I had a peek inside the Básar hut itself, and it seemed like a typical well-built alpine-style cabin. Even the bathrooms were quite upscale for a remote off-the-grid hut, complete with full flush toilets.
Interior, Básar hut
With all of the bus-riding out of the way, it was now around 1pm. It was late to be starting a backpack, to be sure, but we had two facts on our side: the first was that we only had about ten-ish kilometres to hike (depending on exactly where we finished), and secondly, the Icelandic near-midnight sun meant that we essentially had no nightfall deadline. Not that we intended for our hike to go super-late, but it was nice to know we didn't have that sort of typical restriction.
Anyhow, it was now time for lunch, and what better place to have it than in the idyllic little slice of nature that is Básar. We set up at the hut's very nice eating / barbeque area (complete with a nearby grill that someone was currently using, and which smelled absolutely delicious). The day continued to be dry and mostly sunny, with only a thin layer of high cloud keeping it from becoming very warm. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was already warmer here than at any point so far on our trip - it felt like the temperature was approaching twenty degrees C.
Lunch at Básar
With bodies fueled up, we were anxious to start on our hike. Our journey would lead us up, away from Básar, towards the Fimmvörðuháls pass. The pass marks the low point between the Ice-capped Eyjafjallajökull Volcano and the adjacent (and much larger) Mýdalsjökull icecap, under which lurked the much larger Katla volcano. The pass is a glacier-free corridor between the two, and would allow us to make the crossing over to the Skógar side.
Taming the foot-sweats
Our planned overnighting spot was not completely decided. There is a reservable mountain hut up at Fimmvörðuháls pass, and this would have been our first choice, but due to the uncertainty surrounding when we would be climbing Iceland's highpoint, we were unable to attempt a booking until we had decided which way we would be circling the country. Once that had been decided, I had put a request into the hut, but they were already full. That meant we needed to bring our tents and mats as an alternative, since we would now have to camp outdoors.
Heading off from Básar
Shortly before 2 pm, we started off on the main path leading away from Básar towards Fimmvörðuháls pass, hiking past a proudly fluttering Icelandic Flag above Þorsmörk's downy birch forest.
As it turned out, the first ten minutes of walking was not along the Fimmvörðuháls pass trail itself, but rather a connecting trail that led through the fringes of the Básar campsite area. There were again many little campsites tucked away in the short, thick forest, and again many were filled with visitors who had driven up with their own 4-wheel-drive conveyance.
Hiking out of Básar
Arriving that the junction with start of the Fimmvörðuháls pass trail, we observed a most curious emergency-warning sign that discussed what to do in the event of a major volcanic eruption. It listed all sorts of data on blast radii and volcanic lightning, flooding paths, emergency radio frequencies, and escape routes. We took a picture. It's always good to know what to do when an apocalyptic eruption occurs near you when hiking!
Rare Icelandic Forest Trail
Above the sign, the trail immediately began ascending at a moderate grade. For the first few minutes, we hiked through a beautiful green forest along a smooth, perfect path. It wasn't at all long, though, before we began to reach the upper fringes of the forest. Clearly the trees were having a difficult enough time at the valley bottom ekeing out a life, and it didn't take much altitude to reach treeline.
A wonderful panorama was revealed as we climbed up out of the trees. All around us were grassy, moss-covered crags of lava. Looking back down in the direction of where we had come, we could see a beautiful combination of streams and rivers braiding and twisting down-valley, with birch forests carpeting the lower hills on either side. Higher up on the left was the white snowy slope of Eyjafjallajökull, looking not at all menacing on this wonderful, sunny afternoon. And off in the farther distance on the right was the mountainous complex of Tindafjöll. The scene had a particular unified harmony about it. Many pictures were taken.
Brian and Þorsmörk valley
In addition to the spectacular scenery to which we were witness, the path itself deserved mention, for it was in fantastic shape: smooth, nicely-graded, and nicely integrated into the landscape as it ascended diagonally up along the slopes of a craggy side-valley, nicely switchbacking or traversing as necessary. The trail was the icing on the "cake" of an already beautiful, enjoyable situation.
The Fimmvörðuháls pass trail continued traversing diagonally up the slope on one side of a sheltered little side-valley, and for the time being, our views were less wide-ranging - but no less scenic: the rim of the valley above us had many interesting-looking craggy formations, including one very nice natural arch. As the trail ascended to the rim of the valley, there was one short scrambly section where a protective wire had been placed. In good conditions such as we were experiencing today (i.e. dry, not slippery), using the wire wasn't necessary.
First ascent stage complete
The climb out of the side valley marked the end of what I'd consider the first stage of the hike. We were now on a wide flat spot along a ridge (Kattarhryggur ridge, to be specific) that connected us to the higher lands above. Now out of the valley, our wide-ranging expansive views of the Þorsmörk valley returned. A perfect place for a quick rest break.
Hatko on Fimmvörðuháls pass trail