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Back to Thórsmörk

After months of uncertainty, it was very good to finally arrive back in Thórsmörk yesterday. As always, our first visit of the season is an opportunity to take a look at how the winter conditions have affected our previous work. Despite heavy snow, the trail network was in good condition in most of the areas that we visited.

This first trip of the season is also the time when we start putting together a project list for the groups and we found plenty of interesting work to do. So far, the list includes everything from stone construction to timber stairs and of course… lots more drains.

We are currently working on a new safety plan for Covid-19 and hopefully it will be possible for our volunteers to join us later in the season. In the meantime, we will open the Langidalur camp this week so that work in the area can begin.

Back to work

After an extended winter break, we are now back to work preparing for the summer projects in Thórsmörk and Goðaland. As usual, our season has begun at Thjórsárdalur Forestry Station (pictured) where we prepare materials and equipment before returning to our camps to start the practical work.

In these strange times, we will begin the season without groups and the revised work plan for our staff in May includes GIS data collection and work on the new hiking map as well as maintenance and improvements at the Langidalur base camp – so that it’s ready (and even better) for the groups when they can return.

Travel restrictions, safety concerns and ongoing uncertainty mean that many of our international volunteers will not be able to join us this season and have now deferred their placements until next year. We very much look forward to welcoming them to the team in 2021.

Winter at Langidalur volunteer camp

These recent pictures from the Langidalur volunteer camp show that there is still plenty of snow in Thórsmörk and the area is still in winter conditions.

We will be heading back to Langidalur to begin preparations for the season in April… just as soon as spring arrives and the snow starts to clear from the hiking trails.

These pictures were taken by our friends at Húsadalur, Volcano Huts, who work in Thórsmörk throughout the winter.

Forest Service – Trail building with timber

Timber built trails have become one of the main features of our maintenance work in Thórsmörk and Goðaland.

Although we do work with stone when it can be found close to the trails, there are many areas on the trail network where there is little natural building material available. Since our volunteer programme began in 2012, we have been developing trail maintenance techniques using timber produced from the forests of south Iceland and these timber trails are now a common site throughout the Thórsmörk area. During this time, several types of timber have been trialled, but the majority of this work has been done using Icelandic-grown Sitka spruce.

Where possible, new steps are built wider than the existing trail to help prevent erosion and the height of the steps is limited to approximately 15cm to make them comfortable to walk on. Low steps are particularly important for visitors carrying heavy backpacks. Flights of steps are usually built with regular spacing. Long timbers are used to make drains (waterbars) and these are added to each section to divert water from the steps and to help protect them (shown in middle picture).

Timber sides can be added to help secure steps over bedrock areas and these help to prevent material from being washed out of the steps (shown in the picture on the right). On freshly repaired sections, rye grass seed is added to stabilise the areas around the trails. This is fast growing but only grows for one to two seasons, helping to stop loose material being washed away. As the rye grass grows and then dies back, it allows time for the slower growing natural vegetation to re-establish itself beside the trails.

This summer, our trail building with timber continues as our team move to new worksites in Thórsmörk and Goðaland.

Trailteam in Goðaland

In summer 2014, a volunteer camp was established at Básar so that we could host additional teams and improve access to work sites on the hiking trails in Goðaland. Facilities are basic but include a group tent for cooking and eating together as well as a large timber framed tent used for storing food and equipment. Our volunteers usually stay for two weeks and camp in the surrounding forest.

The volunteer work is organised in close cooperation with Útivist travel association who support our teams and provide facilities for them at Básar. Our simple forest camp at Básar is much loved by the volunteers and we look forward to returning to continue our work there in June.

As well as returning to some of our favourite project sites on Réttarfell and the popular trails close to Básar, this season we will also start restoration work on several new sites on remote sections of the Fimmvörðuháls trail. This summer we will also focus on improved trail marking in Goðaland, continuing the trail marker numbering system on more trails in the area.

This is the final day of applications for volunteer placements for the 2020 season.
Full details including placement dates and application forms can be found on our website…

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