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Published: August 21st 2018
During summer the rangers here at Drekagil hold a walk and talk at 10.00am most mornings at the lava field site for the Holuhruan eruption. This was Iceland's largest eruption for 230 years, and its most recent.
The volcano Bardarbunga (great name) started to move in summer 2014. There was major concern. An eruption under the ice cap of one of the most powerful volcanoes in Iceland could cause catastrophic flooding in glacial rivers (jokulsa). Bardarbunga is a 180-190 km long mountain range with a fracture system running SW to NE. It is hidden by ice with a caldera filled with up to 850m of ice. The eruption that rolled around underneath all of this, causing the earthquakes that are signals for volcanic activity here, eventually made it out into the open through a fissure last active in 1797. The eruption continued for 6 months in the Vatnajokull National Park.
The site for the ranger walk and talk was 19km from the Drekigil campsite campsite so we stayed overnight to take the short run down. We did allocate the trip down plenty of time, given that we were going to a lava field and you can't take the rock
hopping on these too fast. Lava is sharp and fresh stuff, if that is where we were to drive, would be even sharper.
It was a nice relatively easy road for 5 or 6km, occasionally picking our way through lava rock. Then, without much warning, we hit lava sand for 13km and a lot of it was deep. There was really no need for a warning, but it was still a surprise as there had been warnings on the F910 for a lot less sand. We realised very quickly why most of the serious 4WD drivers had very wide tires with the capacity to inflate and deflate all set up with the flick of a switch. That, along with jacked up suspension and carriage of sand mats, gave them every chance of getting through this sort of stuff with relative ease.
I haven't driven through deep bull dust - and this is much the same - for a few years now and, having just 4WD with standard tyres and no capacity to pump them back up if I let them down, I simply had to slip into H4 and keep it moving as well as I could. The
wheel ruts helped a bit until they became too deep. When we started to bottom out and spin it was a little more difficult to maintain some traction and steerage. I was also painfully aware that I had a great big box on the back, that at least looks unweildy. Anyway, we made it out there; and the only problem was that we had to go back.
The ranger talk was worth the drive. We learnt about the new lava and the old. The old being 230 years old and beginning to look a little weathered, as you might expect, but still very rough and sharp. The new being bright and shiny and very sharp. You could still feel the heat in the stuff that had flowed in 2014 and, in places, it was still steaming.
In the eruption of Laki in 1783-1784 about 20% of the population of Iceland perished, most as a result of the high amount of sulphur dioxide discharged. The 2014 eruption also produced sulphur dioxide in large amounts but due to a windy winter the pollution had less of an effect than feared.
The eruption happened in the 'best place' north of
the ice-cap. The lava field is about 85 square km in area and averages 10-14m thick and up to 40m around craters. It was 1175 - 1180 degrees C when it reached the surface and flowed thinly, like honey.
The river system and particularly the Jokulsa-a-Follum is still changing. It was pushed sideways - or easterly if you like. It cooled the lava and slowed some of the lava down.
The ranger talk was, as most are, excellent. This particular ranger had worked at Askja for 10 years and was there for the 2014 eruption. With some encouragement she described the lava flow and, in particular, the feeling of walking along side a lava flow as it moved across the land. Amazing stuff. Never miss a ranger talk.
The lava seems to be quite brittle. The rangers are trying to keep people off it, partly for safety reasons I think but also to allow the lava to cool and settle down.
And then we had to drive back. Easier this time. It wasn't a surprise and I knew how far I had to go. Still hard work and didn't give me any chance to check out
the scenery. At one point I was sure I was going to stall but we hung on in there. The security of knowing that there would be a couple of vehicles following us was also probably in the back of my mind.
We then headed out of Askja and towards the east out of the Highlands. We decided to take the F910 out running east, south then east again. It may have been easier to simply return up the the F910 in the other direction, then on to the F905 to the highway. We only saved 40km by taking our route. We forded a few streams, met about 6 vehicles, travelled through pretty barren country for most of the way till we started to see grass, water and the inevitable sheep and horses. Then we hit a Hydro electric dam and a big, black bitumen road and off we toddled to Egilsstadir for some food shopping and on to the village of Reydarfjordur for a comfortable and well set up camp.
Reydarfjordur had recently upgraded its facilities and there were 4 toilets, with two of them incorporated into showers as a sort of family bathrooms which worked quite
well for us. In common with most other campgrounds, it also had a camp kitchen and this one had a good washer and a drier. Extra cost and in this case 800 kroner a go but still handy. It was a pleasant place to stay, well off the highway. And we proceeded down the East all clean and sparkly.
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