Take Part in the 5VH Trail Run in Iceland

Athletes in Iceland – listen up! The 5VH Trail Run takes place at 9 AM, August 10, 2024, at Fimmvörðuháls Pass. How can you get involved in the race? What can you expect from the route itself? Read on for more information.

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The following is sponsored content in partnership with Náttúruhlaup

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Why Cross Country Running?

Cross country runners understand all too well the reasons why they are drawn to this unique and demanding sport. First, it is the profound connection with nature it fosters. It allows them as athletes to immerse themselves in the beauty of the natural environment.

Photo: Arctic Running

Additionally, cross country running offers the rush of competition. Victory hinges not only on the runner’s physicality and mental resilience, but the conditions of the day. The diversity of the terrain challenges and refine their endurance, honing their sense of self-reliance and determination.

Off this alone, it’s easy to comprehend why cross country running is an unparalleled and deeply fulfilling pursuit. And yet, these rewards are heightened tenfold when running in a country as unique and naturally captivating as Iceland.

For local and visiting runners, there is no event more prestigious than the 5VH Trail Run.

The Mystique of Fimmvörðuháls

Photo: Arctic Running

The race takes place in Fimmvörðuháls, a mysterious, yet stunning region that promises far more than first meets the eye.

Where is Fimmvörðuháls?

Fimmvörðuháls—translated to ‘Five Cairns Pass’—is a large area in South Iceland. It is situated between the mighty ice caps, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. 

(You may recall Eyjafjallajökull made headlines in 2010 following an eruption that halted much of Europe’s air traffic, stranding thousands of passengers.)

It boasts one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland, a 22 km route between Skógar and Þórsmörk.

Skógar is an enchanting little village best characterised by its sublime landscapes; in fact, Skógar translates to “forests.” On the other hand, Þórmörk is a dramatic and untamed valley in Iceland’s Central Highlands.

Photo: Arctic Running

What does Fimmvörðuháls look like?

As you might imagine, the journey between these locales is filled with intrepid contrasts, otherworldly vistas, and unexpected secrets. 

It is a trail that is wholly Icelandic in its aesthetic, showcasing diverse scenery that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with this island’s many other beautiful wilderness areas.

While well-frequented in its own right, Fimmvörðuháls is only part of the great Laugavegur trail. This extended route takes hikers between the geothermal hills of Landmannalaugar to the shady valley of Þórmörk.

It goes without saying that Fimmvörðuháls contributes to a landscape of immense beauty. 

Much of it is stark and patched with black sand, almost moon-like in its appearance, forcing trailblazers to remain enclosed within a blockade of mossy hills marked by sudden cliffside drops.

It makes for a fitting location to host the popular 5VH Trail Run, an annual event that draws the very best country runners from not just Iceland, but often the world.

What Will You See During the Race?

Photo: Arctic Running

The race begins at Skógafoss waterfall, a popular attraction among sightseers on Iceland’s South Coast

At 60 m high, Skógafoss sees glacier water from the river tumble over the lip of a majestic cliffside, resulting in a glittering cloud of mist at its base. 

It makes for a gorgeous backdrop for the race’s opening phase, a place where you can take a moment to focus, breathe in, and prepare for the task ahead.

From there, you will charge inland, discovering countless more waterfalls as you run parallel to a cascading river.

At 1000 m, you will come across the first aid station, Baldvinskáli, before pushing on towards Eyjafjallajökull glacier and the volcanoes, Magni and Móði.

Is the 5VH Trail Run Difficult?

Photo: Arctic Running

It is important to realise one thing before undertaking this running adventure in Iceland. The route is not for the faint-hearted, nor the undertrained.

The plateau’s terrain is undeniably challenging. Races will make constant ascents over loose shingle, or push their tired bodies through icy glacial rivers and up steep embankments, all for the chance to come out on top. 

Serious competitors will, of course, be aiming to cinch a victory, meaning speed and pacing will be important factors throughout the race.


Still, the event is more than welcoming to those who simply want to participate without the pressure of winning or losing. 

If you’re here for little more than to take part in a community challenge and witness some beautiful scenery, tie up your running shoes and hit the track. Nothing’s stopping you!

In these cases, competitors are encouraged to walk and appreciate the environment around them rather than strain themselves. Keep in mind, however, that the route closes after 7 hours. In other words, the 5VH Trail Run finishes, on the dot, at 4 PM.

What Should You Bring for the Trail Run?

Photo: Arctic Running

You know what we’re going to say first—a good pair of trail running shoes is a must! Make sure they are both comfortable and capable of handling the terrain.

Other items are considered mandatory, including a working cell phone in Iceland, an aluminium blanket, a whistle, and a light running jacket that is somewhat windproof and rainproof. On top of that, you will want a hat and gloves.

Also, make sure to pack one litre of water (at least) as well as a sports drink, if desired. Gels and nutritional chocolates are also a must.

Whether you choose to bring a running belt or a backpack is up to you, and really depends on what you are accustomed to on runs such as this.

Participant Benefits

Photo: Arctic Running

Participants will find a number of things included on sign-up:

For one, you will receive something that is sentimental and essential to any runner—the age-old running bib. You will receive this alongside your time registration.

In the case of an accident, there are aid stations at Baldvinsskáli, which is 13 km along the route, and Strákagil, which is 10 km further.

The Volcano huts at the end of the route also offer shower and toilet amenities, and it is possible to receive baggage transfer between them and nearby Skógar.

The top three contenders will be awarded with clothes from Iceland’s top outdoor outfitters, 66°North.  

Whether you are a seasoned runner or simply looking to experience the natural wonders of Iceland in a unique way, the 5VH Trail Run is an event not to be missed. Prepare yourself for an unforgettable journey through one of the world’s most breath-taking landscapes.

What do former runners say about the race?

Elísabet Margeirsdóttir was the first woman to complete the gruelling 400 km Ultra-Gobi marathon in under 100 hours. 

Her professional career began in 2009 after signing up for the Laugaveg race, and since then, she has racked up achievement after achievement.

Today, she is considered one of Iceland’s best long distance runners. When asked her thoughts on the 5VH Trail Run, Elísabet eagerly replied:

"The competition is quite unique in that it covers the most popular and most beautiful hiking trail in the country. Even though the hiking trail Fimmvörðuháls is very popular among both Icelanders and tourists, runners will experience themselves in a real natural gem and feel a certain peace in this rugged landscape between the glaciers."

And there we have it. 

If you’re hoping to get involved, know that registration is currently open, costing  ISK 21,900 for entry. But with only a month left before the race begins, better get a move on! 

Register for the event at the Nattúruhlaup homepage. Good luck racers!

Two Cross-Country Skiers Rescued in North Iceland

The Dalbjörg Search and Rescue squad in Eyjafjörður in North Iceland came to the aid of two skiers who got stranded while trying to cross the highlands. RÚV reports that the skiers had registered a detailed travel plan at safetravel.is which greatly aided rescuers in locating them and bringing them to safety.

The skiers intended to cross the highlands from north to south. However, on Thursday, one of them got wet and very cold during the expedition, which prevented the pair from either going back the way they came or continuing on their journey. They sent word to a contact in Canada, who in turn, got in touch with Icelandic authorities to request assistance on their behalf. The information that ICE-SAR received from this third party was unclear, but happily, the skiers had registered a detailed itinerary on that made it possible for rescuers to pinpoint their location without difficulty.

Two ICE-SAR volunteers on snowmobiles left from Eyjafjörður on Thursday afternoon to find the skiers, who were taking shelter in a tent east of Urðarvatn lake. At the time of writing, a rescue vehicle was on the way to transport the skiers back to Akureyri.

 

Tourists Rescued from Highland River

Three foreign tourists were rescued from their car roofs on Wednesday after their vehicles got stuck in a glacial river on the Flæður highland route north of Vatnajökull glacier, RÚV reports.

“This was a group of foreign tourists in six cars,” explained an officer on duty with the Húsavík police department. “The last car that was crossing got stuck in the river. Then one of the cars turned around to help and also got stuck.”

“This is a special spot,” he continued. “It isn’t a straight riverbed – it flows out from under the glacier. It’s been really hot and thawing a lot and the [rivers] have expanded and their currents have become very strong.”

The officer interviewed about the rescue noted that the tourists had been travelling along a marked trail and had simply ended up in difficult straits because of the river conditions. It was, in fact, due to the strong currents and high water levels, that a Coast Guard helicopter was dispatched to rescue the travelers, rather than having rescuers ford the river.

At the time of their rescue, the tourists had been standing on the roofs of their cars for one and a half to two hours but were unharmed.

Swelling rivers are creating travel concerns in several places in the highlands. SafeTravel.is has since issued the following travel alerts:

“Gæsavatnaleið via Flæður is closed due to extremely high water levels on Flæður. Gæsavatnaleið can be driven by bypassing Flæður via Gígöldur – superjeeps only.”

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“Sprengisandur, road F26, is only suitable for bigger jeeps due to swelling rivers. Smaller jeeps could cross in the early morning when water levels are lower.”

Roads to Landmannalaugar Might Open Early

If conditions are deemed to be safe, the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration hopes to open the roads to the Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve in the highlands on Saturday, Vísir reports. This would be the earliest that the roads have opened in the last five years.

From 2014 to 2018, the earliest that the Landmannalaugar roads were opened was June 18 and the latest, July 1. Road Administration employees are currently checking conditions to see if it will be safe to open the roads on Saturday.

Visitors should keep in mind that Landmannalaugar can only be reached by 4×4 jeeps along the Fjallabaksleið nyrðri (F208) or Dómadalsleið (F225) roads. Road conditions and openings can be checked on the Road Administration website here.

Warm and Wet Summer Forecasted for Iceland

Icelanders should prepare for a warm and wet summer, according to Meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson, who released his three-month forecast on blika.is yesterday. The forecast covers the period from the beginning of June to the end of August.

“Summer weather conditions are characterised by pleasant warmth, especially in the highlands and the north and east,” Einar writes. “There is a 60-70% chance that temperatures will end up in the top third [of averages] compared to the last 20 years. The pneumatic circuit and the state of weather systems is projected to vary somewhat, shifting between differing periods of weather over the summer months.” Einar adds that El Niño has not been able to establish itself as meteorologists expected, which will impact summer weather in Iceland, as around the world.

While temperatures in North and East Iceland are expected to be warmer than average, Einar says the forecast for the south is less definitive. The North, East, and Highlands may be feeling the heat, but they are also expected to receive significantly more rainfall than average. However, as no particular wind direction is expected to prevail, Iceland’s weather will likely be very changeable this summer.

Development in Highlands Could Have Negative Impact, Says Planning Agency

Kerlingarfjöll mountains.

Building additional infrastructure and lodging facilities at Kerlingarfjöll mountains in the Southern Highlands would have a negative impact on the current planning policy for the area, RÚV reports. This is stated by the National Planning Agency in its assessment of four different plans for infrastructure development at the popular tourist site. The Agency expressed its belief that further development would place environmental strain on the area and could have significant negative impacts.

Kerlingarfjöll was recently placed on the Environment Agency’s Red List of natural areas at considerable risk. It is not officially designated as a protected area. The company Fannborg, which operates tourism in the area, proposed four different options for infrastructure development at Kerlingarfjöll to the National Planning Agency. While the first option focuses on improving existing structures in the area, the other three involve additional construction and development. The third and fourth options, in particular, would increase the amount of lodging to accommodate nearly 300 guests and make the area one of the largest accommodation establishments outside of the capital area.

The Planning Agency considers the third and fourth options to both negatively impact visitors’ experience of nature in the area, as well as put additional strain the environment by increasing the number of visitors. While option two involves a minimal increase in accommodations for visitors, it is considered to have a minimal impact on the surrounding environment.

Reforestation in Þórsmörk a Stunning Success

Designating Þórsmörk in the Icelandic highlands as a nature reserve has had an astonishing impact on reforestation efforts, RÚV reports. The highland oasis was designated a nature reserve in 1918 and given over to the custodianship of the Icelandic Forest Service shortly after. Photos of the area taken 50 years apart now show dense birch forests where once there was very little vegetation, and particularly few trees.

The Icelandic Forest Service began reforestation efforts in Þósmörk in 1920. Farmers with property there gave up their land rights when the area became a nature reserve. Originally, the area was densely forested, but after years of grazing and logging, the vast majority of this vegetation had disappeared.

Hreinn Óskarsson, division head of the Icelandic Forest Service’s coordination division, will be giving a presentation on the 100-year preservation history of the birch forests in Þórsmörk at the end of the month. The presentation will include a number of stunning before and after photos taken most recently by Hreinn, but formerly by Einar Þ. Guðjohnsen, who was one of the pioneers behind the Icelandic Touring Association and later, the founder of the Útivist Travel Association.

See a sample of the before and after photos on RÚV’s website, here.

Motorcyclists Fined for Off-Roading in National Park

Four French tourists were fined a combined ISK 400,000 [$3,575; €3,092], after driving their 4WD-equipped motorcycles off-road within the Vatnajökull National Park on Friday, RÚV reports.

The incident took place not far from the Herðubreið tuya volcano in the highlands, to the east of the Askja caldera; the motorcycles left deep tire tracks in their wake. After being detained by Vatnajökull National Park rangers, the tourists owned up to their offense. According to an announcement posted about the incident on Facebook by authorities in Northeast Iceland, the tourists were asked to report to the police station in Akureyri two days later, which they did. They were then each fined ISK 100,000 each.

Illegal off-road driving is becoming an increasing problem in Iceland. There were, for instance, ten off-road driving citations issued between early June and mid-July this year, and, most recently, a group of 25 tourists were fined ISK 1.4 million [$13,000;€11,000] for off-road driving by Jökulsá river and in a protected area by Grafalönd on the road to Askja caldera—not far from where the French tourists were detained on Friday.

The increasing frequency of these incidents has lead some to call for the implementation of a new highlands driving permit, while others—such as Stefanía Ragnarsdóttir, a Vatnajökull National Park ranger—says it should be possible to better inform travellers of driving laws and their environmental responsibility. “I mean we are living on an island,” she remarked after the incident with the 25 tourists in late August. “You come here by boat or plane so it should be possible to reach you and this is a lot of responsibility that we need to take on much better. This maybe lies most with car rental companies. They need to really step up.”

Woman Dies in Highland River Accident

A foreign traveler died after a serious accident on the Steinholtsá River en route to the highlands on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports. The deceased woman is survived by her husband, who was traveling with her at the time of the accident.

Police, ICE-SAR, paramedics, and the Coast Guard’s helicopter were called to the scene of the accident around 3:00 PM on Friday. The couple, who were visiting from the US, were on their way to Þórsmörk in the Icelandic highlands and had attempted to ford the Steinsholtsá river in their vehicle. The river was running very high, however, and their vehicle got stuck, flooded, and was pulled downstream. They attempted to get out and the man was able to reach the far bank, but the woman slipped in the river.

After further investigation into the incident, South Iceland police reported that the woman was pulled 650 meters [close to half a mile] downriver by the current before washing onto a small island in the middle. There were no witnesses to the accident itself, but those on site afterwards reported that she appeared to be unconscious. When rescuers arrived on the scene, they had to reach the woman on the island mid-river, where she’d gotten stuck. She was then transported via helicopter to the hospital in Reykjavík where she was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Police have not yet taken a statement from the woman’s husband, but report that he had not been injured in the accident.

Lone Traveller Rescued in Highlands Storm

A traveller lost in Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Highlands was found shortly before 2.00am this morning, RÚV reports. Nearly 200 volunteers from the Reykjavík capital area, West Iceland, and the Suðurnes peninsula set off in search of the man yesterday evening when an emergency signal was received from the area. The location of the call was unclear, making the search a challenge. The man was wet and cold when he was found, but is now safe and sound.

The man was a foreign tourist and appears to have been stranded by bad weather. “He was travelling alone and had missed the weather warning. He maybe didn’t have a way to listen to it or the language skills to understand it,” said Jón Hermansson, of the Rangárvallasýsla Search and Rescue team. Luckily, the man had a tent, which protected him from the elements until rescue teams located him.

“The weather was so bad that it took a while to find the man in his surroundings,” Jón said. “He was in a green tent, which is not the easiest to see in the landscape there. It blended into the environment.”