Thórsmörk – Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley

Thórsmörk – Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley

The fabled valley of Thórsmörk is the stuff of fairytales and epic sagas. It’s so beautiful that it almost seems unreal. Þórsmörk is full of folded valleys and convoluted canyons, glaciers with volcanoes underneath, and bizarrely shaped mountains.

Hiking the hidden gems of Thórsmörk

Rjúpnafell is one of the steepest mountains in the valley, and the hiking track to the top of it is not to be underestimated. It’s a two-headed beast that is frightening and awe-inspiring at the same time. In this article you can read about this route – and what to watch out for.

Path and rolling ridges, Rjúpnafell, hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland
The path towards Rjúpnafell.

The distinctly shaped Mount Rjúpnafell

Rjúpnafell looms large on the north side of the Krossá river. At an altitude of 824 metres, it has a distinctive two-headed peak and rivals with Útigönguhöfði in terms of mind-boggling steepness. There’s a sweet litte river valley hidden along the track below its slopes, only revealing itself just before you reach it.

I had seen this intriguing mountain in the distance on my previous trips to Thórsmörk. And now I just had to climb it too 😉

Mount Rjúpnafell, hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Rjúpnafell looming across the valley.

Word of warning: The path up to the first peak does get a bit scary at some point. You need to be very cautious when going up there. If you suffer from vertigo or fear of heights, don’t even try to attempt it. If the top is covered in clouds or if it’s windy on the higher ground around the base of the mountain, it’s not a good idea either. This is one of the scariest mountains I’ve climbed. At one point I even thought I was stuck at the top…

More about that further on in this post!

Panoramic view from the top of Rjúpnafell, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Grand panoramic view from the top of the Rjúpnafell ridge.

Thórsmörk panorama

But even if you don’t climb all the way to the top, the walking track to Rjúpnafell is worth it for the enchanting hidden valley alone. Not to mention the other spectacular panoramic views you will see along the way.

View over the valley of Thórsmörk, Iceland
Views along the Stangarháls track on the north side of the Krossá river.

Stangarháls lookout, hiking trail, Thórsmörk, Iceland

Rjúpnafell hike & start of the track

The Rjúpnafell track leads off from the main loop on the Thórsmörk side of the valley. It takes about 6 hours to the top and back from either Básar, Langidalur or the Volcano Huts in Húsadalur.

Add a few more if you return via the Trollakirkja and Slyppugil canyon on the Thórsmörk loop.

Signpost to Rjúpnafell, hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland

Footbridges over the Krossá river

From the Básar side you have to walk across the stony riverbed and cross the Krossá over two footbridges, placed at varying locations depending on where it flows. Follow the ridge up to Stangarháls, where you will find some of the famous views over the valley all along the edges. Continue across the rolling mossy fields towards Trollakirka.

The troll’s church is further along the Thórsmörk loop, but you will see a rickety wooden sign pointing towards Rjúpnafell before you get to the church.

Krossá river crossing, Þórsmörk, Iceland
The Krossá river footbridge.

Path towards the hidden valley, Rjúpnafell hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland

The hidden river valley

The track goes up and down across more rolling ridges. Then it bends around a steep corner and suddenly the hidden river valley comes into view. It’s a perfect picnic spot, a sheltered little garden of Eden with a burbling river circling around it. There are even some tiny trees.

A perfect place to sit down & enjoy the surroundings before taking on the steep zigzag path up to Rjúpnafell.

Hidden river valley, Rjúpnafell, Þórsmörk, Iceland
The hidden valley below Rjúpnafell.

Little garden of Eden, Rjúpnafell, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Garden of Eden.

Path along the river valley ridge, hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland

The scary stuff

The zigzag path itself is quite doable, but there is a lot of loose gravel along the track. Things start to get tricky where the zigzag path ends, just below the first peak. I followed an increasingly smaller path to a point where it barely clung to the edge of the rock.

It just faded out into nothingness in front of me, and I realized I’d gone too far.

Upper path and ridge, Rjúpnafell, hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Rjúpnafell upper path and ridge.

Petrifying depths and steep slopes

My heart started fluttering and pounding as I looked down into the petrifying depths below. I’m not easily discouraged by tiny paths along steep mountain sides, but at that moment I felt a sudden bout of the wobbly knees coming on. ‘This can’t be right’, I thought, and crawled straight up to the rocks above, holding on for dear life. Loose bits & pieces of came off underneath my feet.

How on earth am I going to get down this again?!

Scary bit, looking down Mount Rjúpnafell, Þórsmörk, Iceland
The scary bit! & petriying depths below. The right path is actually on the other side of the rock to the right…

Breathtaking views

Beyond the first peak a fairly comfortable ridge comes into view, leading up to the wide grassy slope of the second peak, the actual top of Rjúpnafell. And the views are (literally!) breathtaking all around.

Ridge to the top of Rjúpnafell, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Ridge between the two heads of Rjúpnafell.

Coloured mountains and intricate canyons

You can see all the way to the coloured mountains of Landmannalaugar and the highlands to the north. And straight across in the face of Katla, with glacier tongues drooping down into intricate canyons.

Sweeping views of folded mountain ranges unfold everywhere you look.

View to Katla from the top of Rjúpnafell, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Katla and its many glacier tongues.

View towards Landmannalaugar from Mount Rjúpnafell, Þórsmörk, Iceland
The colourful Landmannalaugar mountains in the distance.

View from the top of Rjúpnafell, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Looking down from the top of Rjúpnafell.

What to do when stuck on the top…?

But I couldn’t enjoy it as much… The thought of finding a way down again was constantly in the back of my mind. I was trembling at the thought of those loose rocks and sliding down that horrifying steep slope with nothing to hold on to. What if I really am stuck on this mountain? Would I have to call 112 and beg for a helicopter to please come and pick me up?

Útigönguhöfði suddenly seemed easy compared to this.

View to the top of Rjúpnafell, hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland

The two-headed monster

A shower of rain approached in the distance, adding even more drama to the landscape – and my state of mind. It came straight towards the top of Rjúpnafell. Oh no… now there’s going to be wet and slippery rocks as well as loose ones…

I sat down on the sheltered side of the top, overlooking the ridge, and waited for the shower to pass. Trying to mentally encourage myself for the way back down. Meanwhile, I heard some deep and distinctive rumbling coming out of Katla. A few times. Glacier movement? Or… something else?

No! I’m not going to panic! Panicking won’t do any good or help me out. I must stay calm & focussed. I’m not going to die on this mountain!

View to Katla and the valley of Þórsmörk, Iceland
Katla, distinctly rumbling in the distance a few times…

Path down the top of Rjúpnafell, hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Path into the abyss…

The way back down from Rjúpnafell

So I gathered myself together and walked across the ridge towards that dreaded first peak. And found to my great relief that there was actually a slightly better path going down to the right, on the other side of the rock I had crawled on the way up.

As I was concentrating on the path in front of me, I had missed this subtle track going up just a little before it faded out…

The rock below the first peak, Rjúpnafell hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland
The rock below the first peak. On the right side of the track down again! 🙂

View to Tindfjöll and path down Rjúpnafell, hiking trail, Þórsmörk, Iceland
View to Tindfjöll, the peaky mountains.

Rain shower over the valley, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Rain showers over Thórsmörk valley.

Shuffling down the track

It was still tense and tricky to shuffle down, and I sighed a grateful sigh of relief when I was finally below the first peak again. Thankfully I kept my mind focussed & refrained from panicking when scaling that terrifying rock.

Lessons learned & affirmed:

  • Take one step at a time. If it’s in the wrong direction, go back and try another. You will eventually get where you need to be.
  • Trust your instinct & inner compass (even though it’s wonky sometimes 😉 )
  • Do not let fear take over your common sense.

I celebrated my survival with another relaxing stop in the garden of Eden on my way back.

And a glass of wine under the northern lights back at the hut that evening 💚

Northern lights, Þórsmörk, Iceland

Rjúpnafell hiking map

This handy interactive map shows the hiking route I took from Básar up to Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley. You can also zoom in on the different sections of the track for more details.

Find more practical details & information about Thórsmörk in this article, how to get there and where to stay.

(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High

What was your scariest mountain experience? Let me know in the comment box at the bottom of this page. Your input can also be valuable for other readers. Thank you for sharing. 💚

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Slightly apprehensive, top of Rjúpnafell, Þórsmörk, Iceland
Enjoying the views, but still feeling slightly apprehensive at the thought of going down…

Last update: 27 February 2023
First published: 25 November 2018

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Video – Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley

Looking out over the hidden river valley beneath the slopes of Rjúpnafell, as it comes into view along the track.

More to explore & discover

The coastal track to Stórhöfði – Puffin colony and geological beach

Pico del Teide – A volcanic playground

Faroe Islands – Atlantic weather systems moving overhead

Stromboli – The ancient lighthouse of the Mediterranean

The opal fields of Lightning Ridge – The mesmerizing draw of luminous stone

2 thoughts on “Thórsmörk – Rjúpnafell and the hidden valley

  1. Veronica Grinstein says:

    Hi. When going up after the zig zag the path should be to the left? Thank you.

    1. Hello Veronica, nice to see you again here in the comments! 🙂 Yes, when the zigzag path fades out, you need to turn left just before you reach the big bald rock sticking out. It’s the first picture below the paragraph ‘The way back down from Rjúpnafell‘. Look for the path to go up there. Don’t continue straight on across the rock – even though you’ll see another tiny path – as you will then get to the Scary Bit! Have a great trip to Iceland. Thórsmörk is so beautiful, you’ll be spoiled for choice!

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