A little over a year ago, I took a trip to Iceland that has been one of the most awesome adventures of my life. It’s not every day that you see a volcano erupt up close and come out unscathed. Oh, and climb a glacier and see icebergs on a shimmering beach a few days later. My four-day tour with Hidden Iceland guide Ryan Connolly not only left me (very) humbled by nature, but also gave me a greater appreciation for Iceland – its diverse topography, spirited people, and how quickly the Earth can change, literally tearing apart and putting itself back together before our eyes.
When another volcano began erupting in Iceland last week, Ryan inquired with the latest details. In short: Yes, you can visit and see the lava, but the hike is steep and everything could change next week.
LDR: Is it the same thing? eruption site as in 2021? If not, how far is it from there?
RC: This new eruption, from August 3, 2022, is from the same general site as the Geldingadalur volcanic eruption, also known as Fagradalsfjall [which erupted March–September 2021]. However, the big difference is that the lava is flowing from a new 300 meter fissure that opened up on the northeast side of the original craters in a valley called Meradalur. New craters are already forming and the lava flow is quite massive. This suggests that the lava/magma originated from the same magma chamber but was simply released from a different location.
The enchanting thing about this new fissure is that to get to it, you actually have to follow the edges of the cooled lava field from the 2021 eruption, passing through the two main craters that were created last year.
This means that the hike to the new volcanic eruption is beautiful but also quite long compared to the site of the 2021 eruption. The hike to the new fissure is approximately 14 km and has sections of rough terrain, loose rocks and some steep sections. I would estimate the hike (each way) to be around 2-2.5 hours for the average traveler. Local authorities are working hard to make the paths more accessible and have even started installing reflectors to show people the way. I have no doubt that the path and infrastructure will improve as the days go by, but for now I would say this hike is really only for avid hikers with a good level of fitness.
The 2021 eruption drew thousands of locals and international travelers as spectators. Is there a volcanic eruption that is safe (or safer) to see?
No volcano will ever be truly safe to visit. After all, there is lava up to 1,250 degrees Celsius gushing out of the ground in all directions. But is this volcano “safe to see”? With caution, the right guide, and choosing the safest viewing platform, I would say this is something travelers can appreciate as long as they listen to the professionals. As a wilderness guide in Iceland, I’m pretty biased when I say it’s definitely worth it, but I’ll let you decide. There will always be risks involved and this is something each person has to decide individually if it is worth it for them.
The main reason I say the volcano is handy visit is due to the type of eruption itself. The word “predictable” isn’t used very often when referring to Icelandic volcanoes, and I refuse to attach that moniker here. That said, this (and the latest) eruption are what are called “effusive eruptions,” which means that the majority of ground activity is lava flow, ie less explosive. As scary as lava is, it’s a slightly more predictable and manageable (from a visual standpoint) substance than “explosive eruptions”, which can hurl debris high into the air for great distances.
Another major component of volcanoes is the dangerous gases they emit. Each eruption is different from the previous one. The 2021 eruption released various noxious gases. This meant you had to be careful where you looked at the lava. High hills are a great option, deep valleys less so. This rash is no different.
What is currently happening on the ground?
There is currently a warning that a new fissure may be opening near the current lava flow. This new eruption could therefore have other surprises to share in the future.
At the time of writing, with the apex of the new fissure currently releasing lava in the Meradalur Valley and being in close proximity to where the postulated “next fissure” will open, it is not certain get as close to the lava flow as we did in 2021. There are just too many variables to consider on a guided tour. That doesn’t mean you can’t visit yet.
Luckily the current eruption is quite massive and the nearby hills where we take our guests are a perfect place to get one of the most breathtaking views of your entire life. As in the last eruption, the volcano changes and surprises us almost daily, so each new visit brings with it new experiences and new points of view. My recommendation is not to wait too long to come here to see it.
What’s the best (and most responsible) way to see the volcano?
Do not descend into Meradalur Valley where you are exposed to gas and very close to the lava flow. Sticking with an experienced wilderness guide and consulting local authorities (eg, safetravel.is) should make for a manageable visit. Iceland’s hidden guides are experienced in this field. Each day, at least one Hidden Iceland guide on site will wear a gas detector, gas mask, satellite radio and full wilderness rescue pack and have access to the most up-to-date information from local authorities. Traveling with a dedicated local guide is the best way to safely see this natural wonder.
The best and safest route (at the time of writing) is to take Route A. . . from the main parking lot and follow the reflective markers along the cooled lava fields from the 2021 eruption. After 7 km (about 4.5 miles) and some steep hikes, you will be able to see the new fissure up close. Be aware that this might be the best route today, but as early as next week that might change drastically.
What tours does Hidden Iceland run?
Hidden Iceland currently offers a private version of this volcanic eruption hike, either as a day trip or as part of a multi-day experience, where you visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in the southeast and participate to glacier hikes. For anyone who is not avid hikers with a good level of fitness, we can also arrange helicopter tours with local partners. The last eruption lasted six months, but there is no guarantee that this one will.
How far is the eruption from . . . everything else?
The parking lot to start your hike is just a 20 minute drive from the airport. It is also only 50 minutes from Reykjavík and only 10 minutes from the famous Blue Lagoon in the local town of Grindavík. Since the volcano erupts in the same general location as the 2021 eruption, many provisions are still there: for example parking, temporary toilets and areas where the search and rescue team can base themselves . The main downside is the length of the walk itself.