Thorsmork Riding Trips

 

rainbow over Þórsmörk

rainbow over Þórsmörk

Ishestar offers a 3 day riding trip into the famous nature reserve, Þórsmörk in Iceland. Its usually a popular hiking destination, but why walk when you can ride? I went as a guide for the first 2 trips with Kiddi from Eyvindarmuli farm, along with 12-15 riders, and I don´t think I´ll ever go back without a horse. We were able to ride where even the biggest jeeps had problems going, like the big glacial river Krossá. We also rode into the steep, narrow gorges hidden in the mountains around, and slept both nights at Volcano huts, complete with a barrel sauna and hot pool… well, actually more like a luke warm puddle.

river crossing

river crossing

I took two of my horses with me, one for me and one for the guests, and Þór ended up being a guest favourite twice. My Mjölnir had a bit of spring fever, but was wonderful to have along. The herd was about 50 horses strong, and they all had a bit of spring fever. I think we had 3 fall offs, one from the staff who ended up knocking herself unconscious. We knew she was ok when we ran up to her, lifeless, but snoring, so still breathing.

Þórsmörk

Þórsmörk

There´s an onsite masseuse and yoga teacher, who holds classes in a small circus tent outside that they heat up with stones. There´s also an onsite chef who cooks the most amazing food for hungry hikers and riders, which is always ready when you come in cold, wet and/or tired. But luckily we had pretty dry weather, although the deep river crossings got us wet anyway, but then the sun peeked out at all the right moments to warm us up and brighten all the green fields and forests.

There are a few 6 day trips that go past Thorsmork and into Landmanalaugar or Lákagigar with Kiddi, and going on this Thorsmork trip just makes you want more so I guess thats the next step. If you want to join me on a tour, come to the east to west Power of Creation tour in August.

horse change

horse change

Pearls of the East: Egilstadir riding tours

Eastern Iceland is an epic place to have horse trips. There is so much open space and unchartered territory to roam with a herd of nearly a hundred horses, and you only ever see a road or fence when we’re down in the valleys between highland passes. We’ve run into reindeer on all of our 3 tours so far, and the last week has been over 20 degrees and sunny every day. Our herd is nearly 100 strong and we´ve got all sorts of new and young horses to try out. Some are crazy, some are wonderful, and some we still haven´t dared to try.

letting the herd pass

The first tour we had was a 6 day tour from Fljotsdalur down to Stafafell near Lón. On the way back, we added a few extra days and had a 9 day tour to return the herd home. It was a very special tour, not only because it was longer, but also because we had our first guest from Greenland, our first guest from Singapore, and 6 male guests. We spent 2 days riding in and out of Getihellnadalur, sleeping in tents at the end of the valley. We had one day of rain, which we cut short and took a boat trip to Papey island. We got a little lost on our way over the highland because it was white-out fog, and after circling on ourselves once because of the snow and lakes in our way, we ended up changing the way down through another valley.

swimming with horses

The regular Egilstadir tour has also changed a little, for the better as well, and after trying out the new way and a couple new accommodation places, we ended with a swimming with horses day in Sudurdalur. The next tour leaves tomorrow, and the last one ends mid August, so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for the weather like we’ve had to stay, and for our long days to go by quicker as the threatening sunset time keeps creeping earlier and earlier each day.

The Golden Circle on Horseback

The most popular tour Ishestar offers is the Golden Circle, running 13 times this summer. I guided two in June and finally got my ass into riding form. After riding very little since last summer, the aches and pains of muscles forgotten creep back into use and my hands turn into dirty, wrinkled working hands once again. Your level of hygiene and cleanliness lowers, as you and everything you own starts smelling like horse too, and eating anything but porridge for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch turns into luxury food.

a multi-coloured horse herd

Gestur and his sons run the tour from Kálfhóll farm, and there was where I began my summers with Ishestar four years ago. They have over 60 horses, and the herd we took was 30 or 40 strong. We rode from Kálfhóll along Þjórsá river, past the green farmlands and up to Gullfoss. We stay at Geysir two nights, and cross the highlands on our last days back.

We managed to lose one staff member in the highlands on the first tour, somewhere between the herd and the guests she or we followed a different track and missed eachother. She was still looking for us when we arrived to the farm but she eventually returned. A few guests fell off, as per usual, but noone got injured. There´s always one guest who comes and knows little or nothing about horses, or simply doesn´t really like riding, but gets dragged here by a significant other. There´s the token party guest(s) who always stays up later drinking with the staff. There´s usually a guy or two, if that, and a vegetarian or pescatarian. Every group has some or mostly German riders, and we randomly had two guests that lived in Afghanistan on the same tour, so being able to speak French and Spanish rarely comes in handy, unfortunately.

the view from Denni´s farm

It has been a perfect start to my summer, and I got just the right amount of practice and transition time before moving to Fljótsdalur in the east for the rest of the summer. Now begin the Egilstaðir highland tours, with our herd of 85+ horses, sleeping in tents and mountain huts, and exploring the southeast coast on a 9 day special tour. The summer weather is supposed to be the best in Iceland in the east, and living on Denni´s farm, the last farm in the valley, is a vacation in itself – there´s barely any cell phone reception, and all you hear is the glacier river running by, a few sheeps calling and a couple dogs chasing them every once in a while.

The Wild Wild East

 

the first group, on Eyjabakkajökull

I rode 4 tours with Íshestar this summer, around the Eastern fjords and valleys, and up to the highlands around Snaefell mountain in Fljótsdalsheiði. I guided the first tour with 10 guests, a nice mix of Dutch  German, Swedish, Belgian, English and Australian male and female riders. Last year we sometimes had groups of only 16 women or 14 German speakers, and few young riders, but this summer, there were riders even younger than me. Last year, the first tour began July 4th, and then the highland was a muddy grey swamp land, only just beginning to recover from the snow cover, but this years first tour was at the end of June, and summer was already full blown with green vegetation, sunny skies, and dry ground covering the highland. Once in a while we still encountered soft ground, and had to invent creative detours to avoid a domino effect of horses disappearing down into the slush. This was Susy’s greatest fear, and she could only get past these points by dismounting or riding with her eyes closed. Christian had absolutely no fears, and requested to ride only the crazy ones which he handled just fine, even with rodeo bucks, slipping bridles, and disappearing into the herd a few times. Some of the stronger riders rode stronger horses, which they slowly tired of having to hold back, so me and my horses ass became a useful brake. Between rides, we played in other ways; we had an epic snowfight on the glacier and went skinny dipping into a few glacial rivers.

The second trip was an exploration experiment, a staff tour for us to take to figure out a new way and familiarize ourselves with another highland region. We were 4 staff, with 16 horses, which

Denni and Arna with half the herd in hand

we rode with all has hand horses. Its difficult enough to maneuver some highland terrain on one horse, so being 4 horses wide and trying to balance the pack horse as best you could over the terrain was difficult, to say the least. We had packed our tents, sleeping bags, food and cooking supplies for 5 days, and even brought rope and poles to make temporary fences for the herd, but these things were rarely cooperative in staying put on the pack horses backs. We set off on the first day very late, leaving at 7pm and assuming the late night sun would be sufficient to light our way. But, then we got hopelessly lost and stuck in thick fog cover, so finally at 3 am we were forced to stop in the middle of nowhere and wait for clear skies in the morning. We were in a damp, rocky place, with almost no grass for the horses, it was freezing cold, and we realized our stove didn’t fit the primus so we couldn’t cook our food or heat up any water.  We set up the tent for the three hours we waited there, but maybe slept 1 hour each since we were so cold and hungry and worried the horses would run away. Arna actually thought at one point she was freezing to death.

At 6 am, we set off again, and rode nearly 16 hours, dozing off on our horses as we descended into the wrong valley. We stopped once we reached greener pastures, for the horses to finally eat and for us to pass out in the sun for a warm, well-deserved nap. We rode all the way out to the coast, splashing along the beach, to round the fjord into the next valley we were initially trying to find. Fossdalur is a valley of a hundred waterfalls, with one very nice farmer who let us stay in his guest house and use his electricity to cook our food.

With this refreshing revitalization, we set off again over the same dreaded highland. After leaving 2 lame horses behind, we made it to Geitdalur after another long day without any fog or mid-night cold. There we camped and were able to scrounge up enough birch wood to make a campfire for cooking water on. Another day of riding finally took us back home, with some exhausted horses and our battered selves, and we could enjoy the week off before the next guests arrived.

The next trip was a pack tour with 12 guests, a 6 day trip with 5 pack horses to carry our 2kg of luggage each. Most of our food and camping supplies also got carried by pack horses, but we had

the pack tour

one truck sometimes dropping off tents or food refills along the way. We rode a new way, further north past Jokuldal and to Saenutasel – an old turf house farm. From there we rode to Laugarvalladalur, a geothermally active valley with a hot waterfall to shower under.  The third day was the most interesting, as we rode with our horses, pack horse and herd of 40 loose horses over the Kárahnjúkar dam – a narrow bridge creating the boundary wall for the controversial hydropower plant built in the middle of the highland.  The next days we rode almost the same way home, but circled the base of Snæfell and rode on the other side of Norður dalur back out into Fljótsdalur. We camped our last night and celebrated our last riding day by letting all the extra horses run free, and the truck support took all our packs so no rider held a hand horse.

The last tour was an extra long 9 day tour, a 300km trek from Höfn in Hofnarfjorður, over Lónsheiði and through the Fossdalur and Geitdalur paths we paved on our staff tour. We rode in and out of the dramatic south east coast, with glaciers or the ocean constantly painting our background. Highlights included taking whole herd for a gallop way out in the sea (through a shallow tide) and almost losing the entire herd in a glacier river as they tried, unsuccessfully, to take a shortcut home.

the herd swimming away!

The riding trips I took in the east this summer can all be summed up in one word: adventurous. Whether it was the beautiful landscape, changing elements, or pioneering sense of exploration, all the trips were full of (sometimes challenging) surprises and I couldn’t imagine any better way to experience the wild wild east other than by horseback.

Landmanalaugar & Landmanahellir

riding into landmanahellir

riding into landmanahellir

Three of the horse trips I took were to the Landmanalaugar area in Iceland’s southern highland. This area is basically uninhabited, and impassable 8 months of the year with bad weather, freezing cold and snow cover. The other 3 or 4 months when you can pass, there aren’t any paved roads, only 4×4 tracks, hiking trails and horse paths. You ride over these huge, black mountains and gravel valleys to reach a small oasis of lush green near Landmanahellir and natural hot water baths 20km further at Landmanalaugar where we bathe to both clean and relax our tired bodies. We cross bridges and streams, moss-covered lava and some epic, moon-like landscapes in just the course of one day. This trip requires more experienced riders, and 2-3 horses per person, so for the group of 18 plus 5 staff we had almost 70 horses on one trip. That means that everytime all of us are mounted on our 23 horses, another 50 are running loose, magically staying in a herd following one leader on horse back. That is truly an amazing sight.

riding over old lava

We stop numerous times in one day, since we ride up to 40km over 6 hrs and need to switch horses once or twice, or just rest all the horses if its too warm. We stop for lunch and take off the horses saddles to let them graze a bit, or drink, and if its nice weather I just lay in the grass holding the reins in one hand while I doze in and out of consciousness. It is the time of year when lupin seeds spring all over the place, and you can actually hear them popping, as well as feel them land on your face if you are laying down within a couple meters of a lupin plant. Once a horse was grazing too close to my head and with his big, slobbery lips took a mouthful of my hair and ripped it out like they were feeble blades of grass. That hurt, to say the least, but I learned my lesson and instead laid on my horse bareback to nap more.

changing horses

There seems to be a trend with movie-related industry people being the Ishestar guides, and this quite successful actor Svandis was with us for two trips. She was funnest later at night, after a few drinks, when she started talking about the elf Dutti who lived in the cave near our cabin at Landmanahellir. Maybe it was the brennivin speaking, but I think she may have convinced some of us Dutti was real.

We have one party for the quests where we give them brennivin and dried fish, and quickly you get to learn more about someone and what kind of person they are. It’s an interesting way to see peoples personalities come out, as you’ve already spent a few days speculating what kind of rider they are and what kind of horse they need to ride, and then some true colours shine thru and I think the  next day they’ll be paired much better. If that isn’t enough, then sleeping all 23 people in rows of bunkbeds in one giant room definitely gets us all close, with only 1 or 2 bathrooms for privacy, no hot water, and no electricity. If theres ever a time you want to see someones comfort limits, this type of situation is perfect for grinding out the princesses in the group. But, in the end, I think we all end up making better friends and letting down our guards alot easier, and the best part is always having a cuddle buddy.

nap time, with a furry friend