The name Þórsmörk (Thor’s Forest) properly refers to the mountain ridge between the river Markarfljót to the north and the river Krossá to the south, but is commonly used to refer to a long valley, carved long ago out of the mountains by an outlet glacier and further smoothed and leveled by the river Krossá, which flows out of the glacier Mýrdalsjökul. Here is a map of the area, showing various hiking trails.
The valley is quite sheltered and this has created a microclimate that is warmer than the surrounding area, making it an oasis for various plants and shrubs. Several rivers need to be forded to get there, and while some of them might be passable for regular 2WD cars with high road clearance, others are not, especially the last two: Hvanná and Krossá. These rivers can only be crossed by 4WD jeeps, trucks or buses (or the huge tractor kept on hand to pull out those that get stuck – an entertaining sight for everyone except the unlucky driver).
On the way you pass several interesting places, including Stakkholtsgjá: a small, gorgeous river gorge well worth exploring (more of that in later posts). Click either image to enlarge.
Looking at Þórsmörk. This is just before you reach Stakkholtsgjá.
Looking into the valley. This is taken from the bank of the river Krossá.
The glacier looks small from a distance of a few hundred meters, where you can only see the tongue itself and not the ice cap.
Click to enlarge.
A closer look reveals that it is quite large – see the people up by the caves for scale.
It’s still fairly small compared with, e.g. Skaftafellsjökull.
Click to enlarge
Before the photo, some geology:
A “skriðjökull” (literally “crawling glacier” in English) is the Icelandic name for outlet glaciers, the tongues of ice protruding from ice caps in which you can see the constant movement and flow of the ice in the whorls and cracks on the surface. They crawl down valleys that they have carved over the millennia and generally have rivers running from under them and some have glacial lagoons in front of them where the river has been dammed by glacial drift: rocks and rubble that the tip of the flow churned up before the glacier began receding. Many of them have names distinct from the ice caps they originate in.
The following photo and the photos I’ll post in the next couple of days are from a visit to Gígjökull (“Crater Glacier”), an outlet of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull. It once had a lagoon in front of it (here’s an aerial photo), which got wiped out in the April 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull when a massive flood burst from under the glacier and washed away the natural dam (here’s a video, (it has an ad in front). Now there is just the river, and the foot of the glacier is considerably smaller and more tongue-shaped than it was before the flood. The deep fissure to the right of the glacier itself is where the main body of the flood came down.
Unfortunately I was there around noon and the sunlight was harsh. Click to enlarge.