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Seeing Fagradalsfjall gurgle in Iceland

I’ve been watching Fagradalsfjall, Iceland’s latest volcanic eruption for the past few months, hoping it would still be flowing for my trip this week. It is one of the more unique volcano flows, it started in a valley and the lava flowed down between small mountains. That meant people could hike right up to the edge of the flow or climb higher and look down into the bubbling crater. Some magnificent photos and videos have been created and I was anxious to see it. There are several live cameras broadcasting the action and I check them daily, even multiple times a day right before my visit.

The trail to the best view of Fagradalsfjall volcano is pretty steep. Those little dots on top are people.

The volcano has been constantly changing and went rather dormant a couple of weeks before I came. I was feeling pretty sad, I had hoped to be able to take my workshop participants out to photograph something super special. We would see lots of other lava fields from dormant volcanos so it wouldn’t be worth the hike to see the newest one. But I still added a day onto the start of my trip in hopes it would flow again.

I was excited to have my brother, Louis, join me for this trip. Sarah McGarghan, who helps me with workshops in Cuba, Peru and Vietnam, also came a day early and we got a place to stay in Grindavik, less than 10 minutes from the volcano. As we were driving around Grindavik we could see the volcano spurting in the distance. It got us rather excited so we changed our plans a bit and drove over to a new parking area they created. Talking with a park ranger we learned the volcano is now running on a 12 hour cycle and we were there right at the peak. We were prepared to make the hike but thought we would do it in the evening to get the best photos with the glowing lava against a dark sky. But the mountain doesn’t work on photographer time and we decided to go right then.

Fagradalsfjall volcano spurts behind Sarah McGarghan.

There are three routes that have been used by thousands of people to view the fabulous scene but only one now lets you look down into the crater. Since it isn’t flowing like it was a couple months ago, Route C was the obvious choice. Of course, it isn’t the easiest, in fact it is quite the hike. The weather was perfect, sunny skies and temperature in the low 60’s, not something you always get in Iceland. The parking lot was pretty full and there were lots of people on the trail but it didn’t feel crowded. The ranger had told us to hike to a big tower and if we really wanted the best view we should keep going to the top of the next mountain, a total of about three miles. The trail is well worn, rocky with plenty of loose stones and fine dirt making for some slick conditions. 

We got to a rather steep climb and people were scrambling all over the mountain. A rope had been installed to help people get up and down so we took advantage of it but still needed a couple of heavy breathing stops before we got to the top. But it sure was worth the effort, we could see the crater gurgling and lava spewing out over the sides. Each of us found a nice rock to sit on and just took in the sight. The mountain was green but there was the bed of cooled black lava that has flowed down the valley. When we were down in the valley we walked to the edge of the lava flow and were amazed how much there was. From this view we could see there was much more lava than we thought.

This was a pretty cool view but we noticed that we hadn’t made it to the tower the ranger told us about. Sarah and I decided to hike up to the tower to see if the view was even better. Louis found a nice spot to hang out while we went further. The hike was a bit strenuous and the view was a little better but not much. My brother didn’t miss anything. But we could see where the trail ended on top of another very large climb and since the volcano wasn’t going crazy Sarah and I decided not to proceed further.

The hike back down wasn’t much easier than going up. Footing was tough and we were thankful for the rope on the steepest part. By time we got back to the car we were gone for over five hours and hiked over six miles. Fortunately we had taken snacks and water because we realized that with all the excitement and last minute change of plans that we had skipped lunch. That just doesn’t happen for me. Dinner was great we were exhausted and energized. A great first day in Iceland. I hope I can go back when it is flowing strong.

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