In March of 2021, Iceland was rocked by a series of tens of thousands of small earthquakes. These earthquakes made sleeping quite difficult for the Icelandic living in the southwestern most regions of Iceland. Scientists believed that magma was on the move in the Reykjanes Peninsula, and an eruption was imminent. Worry broke out in the small island country with anticipation of an eruption, with the lingering reminder of what occurred during the 2012 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.
March 21st, 2021
A star is born. Well not actually, as we would all be dead and that would just be awful for the most part. Though a new volcano was born, Fagradalsfjall, which quickly became a star internationally, figuratively that is. It didn't take long for hardcore adventure seekers to seek out a way to access the newly born volcano despite the year plus long COVID battle that was occurring and shutting down international borders. Before long, many Icelandic sightseers, scientists, and news reporters descended upon this beautiful and deadly display of nature.
Word broke out quickly about the birth of Iceland's newest baby volcano. The volcano would later become a treasure trove for research and data due to the characteristics of this fissure volcano, the duration, and the accessibility. Hopefully volcanologists can obtain lots of useful information moving forward in the prediction of future volcanoes around the world. Research that could someday save many lives.
The fissure volcano in the Fagradalsfjall mountain valley quickly began to grow, and while one fissure or vent may have ran out of lava and slowed down, another fissure or vent would soon open up. At the time of this blog article, I believe there is around 5, with a 6th just opening?
Volcano Tourism is a quickly rising type of tourism that as you can guess, involves visiting volcanoes. And more specifically, erupting volcanoes. Something most people might say is a certain death wish, but really it is not, in most circumstances with proper research and safety precautions taken.
I would say this was my third true attempt at volcano tourism. My first attempt actually began in September 2014 in Iceland. As luck would have it, a volcano began erupting just a week before my first trip to Iceland. Bárðarbunga, was the name of this eruption that would go onto last over 6 months. It was also a fissure volcano.
This first attempt did not go well due to multiple cancelled Cessna flights over the volcano hot spot, which was literally in the middle of nowhere Iceland. There was no other way for me to access this volcano after those cancelled flights, so in the end, the first attempt at volcano tourism was a failure.
My second attempt came in February 2021 to one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Kilauea, which is located on the Big Island in Hawaii. An active eruption was occurring at the time of my visit, but no lava was visible and the activity, was essentially minimal. While it could be considered a success, ultimately I wanted more. As fate would have it, a more violent and explosive volcano was soon in store for me later that year, I just didn't know it yet.
In March 2021, I began to notice lots of reports coming out of Iceland of earthquakes occuring, as mentioned above. And I was able to recognize signs of lots of earthquake activity in a volcanic region, likely could point to a new eruption. I began to focus daily on checking reports from Iceland. Heck, by the time the eruption began I was watching the volcano live stream 5-10 times a day keeping track of its activity for a potential visit.
It did not take long for me to make the decision to make a last minute, poorly planned trip out to one of my most favorite countries in the world, for what actually could be considered a once in a lifetime opportunity (and not in the cliché sense). I was about to embark on a nearly 2 week long trip to Iceland for the hopeful chance of viewing this volcano eruption. There were no guarantees of it was going to be erupting still by the time I reached Iceland in early May. Predictions by scientists were all over the board of the duration of this eruption unfortunately.
The anxiety and paranoia of the eruption ending before I reached Iceland followed me every day up until the trip,. I could breath a sigh of relief as my flight from New York descended from the clouds above Iceland and I was able to see a familiar Icelandic landscape, along with a trail of smoke rising from the location I thought the volcano would be. I was reaffirmed after I saw what I believed at the time to be lava flying up into the air. This trip was going to be a success!
Before I knew it I was leaving the Keflavik International Airport and quickly found myself at the impromptu parking site of the eruption. I had not slept in 30 hours, and was quite tired, but that still did not stop me from hiking to and visiting the volcano.
The entire hike to the volcano was exhilarating, the closer I got, the more I could begin to hear the sounds of an eruption off in the distance. Watching every large cloud of smoke rush up into the air off in the distance made me move just a bit more quickly in anticipation. It had been a life long dream to see a volcano erupting and it was finally actually going to happen.
What is it like to see a volcano erupting in person?
It was not too long before I got my first great glimpse of this beautiful natural event. It was still quite far away when I first laid eyes on it, but it was just how I imagined seeing lava shoot up into the air for the first time might be. It was absolutely incredible. The sheer amount of power being easily cast from this 'hole' in the ground was crazy. It was a sight I will never forget.
Laying eyes upon the blackened, smoking caldera which surrounded a chamber of bubbling lava was quite surreal. It did not seem like something that belonged on this planet. The sound that was emitted was something else I would have never imagined. It sounded sort of like a waterfall or a river, with a loud thunderous churning noise emitting from the flowing lava. Except it sounded much more dense than you would expect a waterfall to sound. Yet, combine that with the sound of mini propane burner on high and that's similar to what the eruption sounds like. Or at least until that bubbling eruption turns into a 200-300 meter fountain of death.
I think I lucked out lot to be visiting the volcano when it's lava geyser like behavior was occurring. This was quite amazing to witness, and with very frequently regularity (about 3-6 minutes per eruption). With every geyser like eruption of lava, you could really feel the heat bearing down on you from the volcano. The sound it made was similar to that of an rock avalanche as it came back down to the earth and rained all around the caldera.
Into the fire
So you want to visit this volcano? How do you do this? Do you need a guide? Is it safe? All questions one may have before visiting a active, erupting volcano.
I am no expert obviously, but I can provide some simple advice from my experiences from visiting this volcano a few times.
First step would be to travel to Iceland... Well duh. During COVID this may be a little more difficult than you may think, so do some research on current COVID procedures with Iceland and figure out what you need to do upon arrival. You don't want to be stuck being forced to quarantine for however many days the government suggests...
And what I think was the easiest part, is how to do it? It's pretty simple. There are several makeshift parking lots at the entrance of the volcano hike. At the time I was in Iceland in May, the parking lots were still being formed and built, more infrastructure was beginning to be added to the area daily. Not much time was wasted with beginning to build a safe way to access this natural wonder. I can only imagine the changes that have occurred here since my visit, not only due to human construction and visitation, but also the constant flow of lava which changed the landscape around the volcano daily. Do a little more updated research on the volcano and learn what to expect, but it really isn't that difficult to access. When I did the hike to it, it had some steep parts, but nothing too concerning, plus they have been constantly working on the trail to the volcano.
A guide is not needed by any means to visit the volcano, though it could be helpful to learn more about the area, or if you are not comfortable going to the eruption site by yourself. The trail is pretty obvious, but overall it is not that difficult. At the time of this blog article, there was no charge to access the volcano, and hopefully it remains that way.
One of the biggest questions about the volcano is probably, is it safe? PROBABLY NOT!!!! After all, it is a hole in the ground that is unpredictably shooting liquid hot magma (1300-2200 degrees F) up into the air, getting hit by lava or rock from the eruption is likely an insta kill.
While the volcano has seemed quite predictable in it's behavior, you never know if if may suddenly change it's mind on how it wants to act. So that factor will always remain that it is unsafe. On top of the risk of a crazy eruption happening, the potential for more fissures to open up are a real possibility, or lava cutting off paths to get away (though to be honest, there is likely other ways to get home). If all of those haven't scared you off, there is always the toxic and poisonous gasses that are emitting from the volcano. After both visits I made to the volcano, I definitely did not feel 100% after, and felt lousy the day after. I had heard a new phrase for this, people had been calling it the volcano hangover. I think it is safe to assume I felt the volcano hangover after both visits.
If you are worried about gasses, which is a fair worry, you could always bring a specific rated mask to the volcano site.
All in all, I would say this is an opportunity people should try to do if they get a chance. The eruption is remarkable, and it is something you will remember for the rest of your life. It is not often something like this occurs in nature with the ability to get so close. It really is an amazing way to see the forces of nature at work that have created our planet.
One other recommendation I would have for visiting the volcano is to visit it both in the day time and the night. It really is two completely different views. It's a night and day difference, literally. I think I preferred the night visit more as it was like watching one of the greatest firework shows on earth, over and over again!
Other suggestions for things to bring would be warm clothes (it was super windy both times I visited), also sunglasses or eye protection could be helpful as there would be tiny little fragments that would rain down on the crowds after each sky high eruption. (Though if it is not behaving like a geyser I would not worry about that). Food, water, and a camera would be a great addition too. No real specialty gear is needed aside from your typical hiking stuff, and if you choose a mask rated for gasses associated with volcanoes.
If you do decide to make this venture, be prepared for one of the most amazing things you will ever likely see in your life!
Enjoy some more pictures of the eruption below. I will be updating some of these photos in the near future as I have a ton to go through.