Climbing the easy snow slopes without incident, we continued upwards on a steep dirt path. The path eventually curved around a high point, then flattened out. A new panorama was now presented to us, the smoking fields and cinder cones of Eyjafjallajökull's 2010 eruption.
Hiking way above the plateau
There were two main phases to the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano - one was an eruptive event from the volcano's caldera, causing a glacial jökulhaup flood and shooting massive amounts of ash into the air. The other event was the eruption of lava from two new fissures. These new fissures happened to open up right across the Fimmvörðuháls pass hiking trail, creating a spectacular show for those who were lucky enough to visit during the time of the eruption. It was the aftermath of this event - the fissure eruption - which we were now approaching.
New Eyjafjallajökull cinder cone
Surprisingly soon after the 2010 eruptions ceased, a new trail had been blazed across the freshly-created land, right over top of still-steaming vents and very hot ground. We could see the new lava flow ahead of us, complete with a large new cinder cone that was still issuing forth white wisps. Chris was anxiously hoping to see some actual red lava, but this was, of course, not very likely. Nevertheless, very interesting and exciting!
Crossing the new flows
Once atop the new flow of lava, we dropped our packs and explored around for a bit. The surface of the flow was mostly rough and clinkery, an "a-a" sort of texture. There were many open features - small lava tubes, vertical shafts from which lava fountains had issued, and the reddish oxidized mouths of small spatter cones. Some spots appeared to require a bit of care when crossing - we were unsure if something might collapse beneath us.
Sampling the air
Chris poked about trying to uncover some real lava, discovering that in many places, the digging more than a few inches into the ground yielded stones that were nearly too hot too touch. The ground still lived beneath our feet!
We moved a short distance further on to a large area that was steaming from every square centimeter of ground for many meters in all directions. The trail crossed right through this section, and it was strange to stand right in the middle of what was essentially a crust over an actively-cooling bed of lava. It was slightly sulfurously smelling, but actually, not too bad. And in contrast to the chill wind and cool temperatures at this elevation, this spot was nicely warm.
With our examination of the new lava flow complete, we continued on towards Fimmvörðuháls pass. We were now essentially at the height of land of the pass, but we had to cross several flat snowfields to reach the precise point. We had to now start to think about where we were going to stay for the night.
Another angle on lava flow
As we crossed the snowy flats of Fimmvörðuháls pass, clouds began to obscure the sun and the wind picked up. We weren't sure if this was just some sort of mountain effect late-day phenomena, or something more long-term. Not wanting to get caught out in worsening weather, we quickened our step a little.
We could now see the Fimmvörðuháls hut, positioned on a gravelly ridge to our right. We had heard that there were limited and not-ideal places to pitch a tent outside the hut, and with the rising winds, we were feeling less interested in setting up there. There was, however, a backup plan that I had in mind. I knew of another hut about a kilometre south of the pass, apparently in a run-down state of repair, but not requiring reservations and with apparently flatter tent pitches outside. Both of these facts made this other hut (called the Baldvinsskali hut) sound much more appropriate for us. After a bit of informal polling, everybody agreed that going there was a good idea, and immediately we started the march down towards the hut. In fact, we could see the red-painted roof of the hut's A-frame shape from the pass.
As we started down towards the Baldvinsskali hut, the wind continued to pick up. In fact, it picked up to the point that layers of fresh ash from the 2010 eruption, which were clearly in evidence everywhere, started to get blown about, creating an unpleasant grimy mess. I was starting to think that the interior of the Baldvinsskali would have to be pretty horrible for me not to want to set up for the night inside. Hopefully the place was empty (or at the very least, not busy).
Baldvinsskali in distance
With a gale-force wind making things cold, unpleasant and dusty, we arrived at the Baldvinsskali hut shortly before 8pm. Inside were five French hikers. While not empty, this meant that there was more than enough space for the rest of us.
Chris and Caroline were less satisfied with the hut's interior than the rest of us, and initially they decided to try and set up a tent outside. The whipping wind eventually caused them to give up, however, and they resigned themselves to a night in the hut. We set about sweeping the floor of the sleeping areas we'd be using (six of us upstairs, and Ewart downstairs. Ah... those poor French guys downstairs - they didn't know what they had coming!).
Dinner at Baldvinsskali
The moderate decrepitude of the interior of the Baldvinsskali hut - which I had taken to describing as "slightly skanky" - was apparently no match for the interior of the nearby outhouse, which by the reports of others was a whole other magnitude of skankiness. I myself chose not to experience it's horrible magnificence, and instead chose to water the ash-covered ground some distance downwind of the hut.
Note: I have read hints on various pages that the Baldvinsskali hut may be up for demolition and rebuilding. I do not know if such rumours are true, and, if so, what the timetable is. All I can say is that as of the summer of 2012, the hut still stands and is useable.
For all of the negatives we heaped upon the hut, it seemed quite sturdy and sound. Very little sound and no motion from the howling winds outside reached us as we set up our gear and prepared for dinner.
Water was required for dinner. We had been sparing with the amounts we had trucked up from Básar, and that meant that we needed to manufacture some clean water for cooking, something that was looking a little bit tricky, up here in blowing-ash land. The French hikers next to us had dug down into a nearby snowbank to some relatively clean snow, and were proceeding to melt it. We, however, needed larger quantities sooner. We had spied a couple of meltwater pools next to the hut from a kilometer back at the pass, and were originally unconcerned (we assumed that these would be typical clean mountain meltwater pools). However, with the advent of the strong winds and blowing ash, we wondered what the water in these pools would be like. Would they be an unusable silty mess?
Graciously, Ewart volunteered to go out into the biting winds and fill several water bottles from the nearby pools. Presently, he came back with several unappetizing-looking ash-coated bottles.
Fortunately, we had decided to bring the water filter, and we decided that we could probably manage by first letting the water in the bottles settle, then carefully filter the top 9/10ths into our cooking pot. This worked remarkably well, actually, and we managed to get clean water without completely clogging up the filter.
Dinner at Baldvinsskali
After the French hikers had finished their dinner, we crowded around the hut's small table and had our dehydrated dinners, then retired for the evening. It had been a full and interesting (and quite varied) day - from the scenic bus ride into Þorsmörk to the wonderful ascent up from Básar, then visiting the new lava flows and finally transitioning into a windy world of snow and ash. We definitely all needed a decent night's sleep.
Here's a video sequence covering our hike from Þorsmörk' to the hut. Click directly on the image below to start it.
Video Sequence - Þorsmörk' to Fimmvörðuháls pass - Click on video above to start
Interactive Trackmap - Thorsmork to Fimmvorthuhals pass - click map to expand
Þorsmörk-Skógar Backpack, Day 1 - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet