July 17, 2021 – Iceland Day 9
I took way more videos than pictures today. To view short video clips of this day, click here,
There were a million reasons I wanted to visit Iceland, but when I first started planning this trip, seeing an active volcano never even occurred to me as a possibility. When Covid restrictions eased and news of the erupting Fagradalsfjall broke, I was more determined than ever to make it to the land of fire and ice.
I spent a lot of time watching videos and learning all that I could. I had big plans. My first social media post was going to be a selfie with hot, red lava right behind me and I would caption it, “The Floor is Lava!” We were going to roast marshmallows over the heat of the molten lava rocks. And while I knew my pictures wouldn’t come close to the professional drone footage I’d seen; I was surely going to get some amazing up close and personal shots like those I’d seen online.
Everything I had seen and read convinced me that this was going to be a relatively easy hike. “Just follow all of the people,” they said. “Dress sensibly and be mindful and you should have no problems,” said others. As I detailed here, our first attempt was not at all the cake walk I had envisioned. I won’t say that it was traumatizing, but it certainly served as a strong realty check.
Now that we’d conquered the Ring Road, we were ready to try, try again. This go round, I consulted official sources regarding weather conditions and volcanic activity and was feeling pretty good about our chances of seeing some red lava. Knowing that there was some fog this morning, we didn’t rush out too early and instead headed towards Grindavik around 11 am.
Upon arrival, I had reason to get excited. I could see the ocean! In fact, I could see just about everything around me. The fog wasn’t nearly as thick and there were definitely tons more cars in the lots than last time.
Starting at about 11:45 am, we took Path C which snakes along the right side of the lava field, across multiple ridges and would eventually place us directly across the valley from the volcano. This time, we could see a line of people from afar trekking across the multiple ridge lines. During our first attempt, we weren’t entirely sure that we’d taken the correct path, or at times, been on a path at all. As we hiked upwards, the familiar surroundings confirmed that we had, in fact, been heading in the right direction last time.
As luck would have it, we crossed paths with some familiar faces just as we were getting started. I waved and my daughter, forever embarrassed by my interactions with other humans said, “Shhhh! You don’t know them!” “Yes, I do! It’s the Austrian doctors from the Oxl!” We greeted one another and they confirmed that the volcano was actively spewing lava and that it was definitely worth the hike today.
By noon, we encountered the base of the lava field in the Natthagi Valley, the same as before.
We pushed forward going over one ridge after another. Even though her expression in the picture (and in real life) doesn’t want to admit it, the weather, views, fellow explorers and excitement made today’s journey 1,000 times more enjoyable than before.
After about 2 hours of hiking and trying to decipher which hilltop might be the one, we spotted her. The Fagradalsfjall volcano was active and effusing lava! (See approximation of location on the map above)
We sat down on the hillside along with a lot of other folks and just marveled at what we were witnessing. It’s hard to see the lava in these photos, but it is a little more evident in the videos linked at the top. Neither my pictures nor my words could come close to fully capturing the moment but it felt as wonderous and magical as when we witnessed the total eclipse or played in the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay.
We’d been advised by a few passers-by that we could view lava streams further up the way. We were assured that it was well-worth the extra time and effort so we resumed our hike.
As we soaked everything in, I was also enamored with the various shapes within the lava field that we were now walking right next to and sometimes on, though that is not advised and the people below were taking a far greater risk than I think they realized.
Ten minutes later we could see two lava streams way off to the far right of the volcano.
As we stared in awe, I noticed a buildup of lava starting to form at the top of the ridge above the streams. (below far left). You can hear my excitement in the videos as I realized what was about to happen. We watched as a couple of streams turned into a lava waterfall right before our eyes.
Some Scottish gentlemen walking by stopped to turn around and watch. They’d been camped out further down on the final hill for most of the day and they’d seen nothing like this all day. They were appreciative of my audible reaction since, otherwise, they’d have missed it entirely.
We began our trek back and stopped again in front of the volcano for a little while. It seemed to be going off quite frequently at about ten-minute intervals. In total, we were out there for a little over 4 hours.
About three quarters of the way back to the parking lot, I heard someone calling my name from the side of the hill. “Trina! Trina!” I anxiously looked to my left to see who on earth could possibly be shouting my name. We were, after all, in the middle of nowhere in Southwest Iceland. I spotted her in a knit cap waving. I recognized her but could not conjure up why and started shouting back, “Hi! How do I know you?!?!? How do I know you?!?!?” She replied, “The seals!” Ah, yes! It was the Cologne couple I met at Ytri Tunga. We’d spent less than half an hour together at that beach and I couldn’t remember their names for the life of me, so I was stunned that she could remember mine. After briefly exchanging pleasantries, we continued in the direction of our van.
This entire trip was like living out a movie and, though we still had two days left, today provided the perfect ending to a most epic adventure.
At the time of this posting, visible activity at Fagradalsfjall has subsided. Lava flowed from March 19- September 18, 2021. According to the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Volcanism Program, the median length of time for a single eruption is seven weeks. It is still possible that Fagradalsfjall could re-awaken in the near future, but that is hard to predict. I consider myself incredibly fortunate for having witnessed an actual eruption but I also feel sad that it has now ended. I know it sounds odd, but I’d grown attached to Fagradalsfjall as I frequently enjoyed monitoring its activity via the live cams.
We spent the night in Reykjavik (Sunna Guest House)