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Published: September 15th 2021
Iceland - Day 3 from 22
We promised you something special yesterday.....
We don't know whether you are aware but a new volcano - Fagradalsfjall - broke out in the South western peninsula of Iceland in March this year. Some of the photos on the web have been pretty spectacular, with tourists standing within just a few feet of slowly spreading lava, and not surprisingly it has become quite a tourist draw.
We were aware of the volcano when we booked and were hopeful that there would still be some spectacle when we went on whatever day we booked for.
In the recent 2 to 3 months research on the web regularly showed us that the best of the eruption had now passed. Anything that was happening now was very intermittent and unpredictable, so booking a trip is a bit of a leap of faith.
We left booking as late as we felt comfortable with, which effectively meant after we had had our negative test results at the weekend just passed. Arriving in Iceland on Monday and picking up the hire car on Thursday gave few options and so a booking was made for Wednesday morning,
this morning. Our usual method - look at TripAdvisor for recommendations.
Most recent Twitter entries - search on Iceland Lava - was not looking over promising for much glowing activity.
Once we had all been picked up from around Reykjavík, a dozen of us in all, the guide introduced himself. Turned out he was a Brit, from Sheffield, here for 20 years. Previous experience was on snow mobile guiding tours.
He gave a reasonably untechnical intro to what had been happening since March. The initial eruption was, long term wise, unexpected as there has been no volcanic activity on this peninsula for over 6000 years, but it is a seismic hot-spot. The Blue Lagoon is visible only a few miles away, and we stopped by some thermal hot pools on the way to the volcano. But no lava activity.
Short term, however, it was predicted as local seismic activity had been very hectic eg 40000 seismic events in the 3 weeks before she blew.
Since she blew in March she has been through around 5 different phases of activity. Too much detail for a blog, but available here if you are interested - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fagradalsfjall
Particularly interesting points though, are
this volcano is not being serviced by a magma chamber which has a finite amount of lava and will only last for a running out period of time. This volcano is directly plumbed through the earth's crust into the molten mantle around 17km below.
The vulcanology on site here is perplexing scientists as it is demonstrating effects never observed before.
Over the last 3 months the guide had been hoping for just a peak of orange, but had had no luck
The climb up had been graded/surfaced as a tourist trail but was still reasonably arduous. We tracked it in three chunks with a group rest after each. At the top we still expected a mile or more walk across rough ground, above the already lava-bottomed valley, to reach what the guide expected to be the best viewing spot. As we crested the brow of a hill however plans were out of the window and all bets were off.
Barely a matter of a minute or two before we had crested, a brand new fissure had opened at the base of the main eruption cone.... and fresh lava was cascading from this
at a tremendous rate.
We all stood transfixed, watching what was happening below.
The guide himself could barely contain himself at what we were watching. His actual words were "That's insane!!"
The valley already had a layer, around 100 metres or so deep according to the guide, of solidified lava. But the new stuff was advancing across the top of this at a rate of knots. No direct danger to ourselves as we were well elevated above it, but really spectacular to watch as the lava spread. It reminded us of watching the advancing Severn Bore one time.
Closer and closer it came and the heat, even at a distance of a few hundred metres, became ever more unbearable. We all gradually moved further back, still transfixed by what we were watching.
After 20 minutes or so it became apparent, confirmed by the guide, that the noxious gases were becoming a very serious health hazard. The lava had flowed far enough along the valley below us that we were now downwind.
As a group, under the guide's direction, we moved along the high ground trying to stay ahead of the front edge of the
After a while we found ourself above the footpath we had ascended on, overlooking an earth dam that had been bulldozed into place to force the lava stream to descend into a safe valley rather than towards civilisation.
The fresh lava stream was heading for this, and there were tourists both on top of and behind the dam.
In those few minutes it had become apparent that some official action had to be taken. Our, and other guides, had already been making phone calls to let officials know of the increasingly dangerous conditions that were developing up there. Officials were moving in on blue lighted ATVs and instructing tourists to leave the area. However, the route we had come up on, Route A, was now officially closed.
Increasingly also there were a number of people in the area wearing full, carton laden gas masks, and carrying gas monitors that were bleeping away at ever increasing rates.
Our guide took us across virgin ground, away from the action, heading cross country towards Route B.
Having safely negotiated that rough ground the guide asked if we wanted to head directly down back to the bus,
or if we wanted to head back in along the alternative route. It didn't need to be group total. He'd go forward with those that wanted, others could simply follow the path back. Surprise, surprise everyone opted for going back in.
This route took us to a point level with the new fissure from which were were able to watch the full force below us. Still just as astounding as before.
Regrettably we couldn't stay up there for ever and we all had to leave. The Route B descent was even more tricky. We certainly wouldn't have wanted to enter by this route,. At one stage the route was bounded by a stout rope which we used to steady ourselves as we descended.
All in all the round trip bus back to bus was around 4 spectacular hours. We were a bit shattered but also really exhilarated. It felt like the realisation of a once in a lifetime event, difficult to fully express in a mere blog.
Not much else to add really. We rested up a bit this afternoon. Paul went out to buy some cheap reading glasses - he has managed to break his
main pair and lose, somewhere up at the volcano, his spare pair. But £10 has bought him 2 pairs of basic readers.
And then a beer in a craft bar this evening.
We forgot to say, yesterday's walking mileage was 9.5, today's 7.5.
Tot: 0.029s; Tpl: 0.017s; cc: 8; qc: 19; dbt: 0.0058s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.2mb