(The following post is part of my Covid Diaries – trying to make sense of so much lost time, so many lost lives, and so many lost dreams.)
When my brother and I were planning our (July 2021) trip to Iceland we knew we wanted to do the most insane thing we had ever done – we wanted to hike up to and witness a live active volcano! Are we natural risk takers? No – We were just exhausted from the Covid lockdowns and yearned to be free.
The Fagradalsfjall volcano eruption began on March 19, 2021 on the outskirts of Mount Fagradalsfjall, about 25 miles southwest of the capital Reykjavik.
This was the first active volcano in the area in more than 800 years according to volcanologists. Yeah, yeah, there have been eruptions on the island – about six of them over the past 20 years. Who can forget the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption that caused worldwide panic – but this eruption was not like that – not by a longshot. This eruption was a “tourist eruption.” Icelanders started flocking to the site, posting phenomenal pictures and videos of the site, and the next thing you know, it drew hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world to witness its lava flows including us two knuckleheads.
It was THE tourist destination of 2021! Let’s not forget, this was during the height of COVID – and like the thousands of others, numbed by months of lockdown – we decided we would take our chances on a volcano.
The base of the mountain is only about 30 minutes from the airport – so all we had to do was grab the rental car, get the wifi GPS, grab some snacks, and go…. We’ve got a lotta lava to see.
The eruption site turned out to be pretty safe. The Icelandic voluntary search and rescue teams created safe walkways to keep us, foreigners, from getting lost and doing even more stupid things. When we arrived in late July just four months after its first eruption, the teams had set up parking lots equipped with clean porta-potties.
There were four paths to see the volcano – varying in length and difficulties. We had just landed from our overnight flight from Denver, so we chose Path B – a challenging 4ish Km (2.5 miles) hike. Or so we were told.
From the parking lot, we headed up and from the beginning, we weren’t sure what we would actually see. Would we be blessed with the sight of flowing lava, an eruption, or would it totally blow its stack and vaporize us instantly? Yeah, I’ve got an active imagination.
We followed the “path” that climbed to a lava field… the lava had cooled, but the ground was still warm. Some folks walked on the lava field – but not me. Sorry, I’m not that much of a daredevil.
We opted to stay on the path and climbed and submitted three peaks – a very long slosh. We passed many who couldn’t make it all the way – robbed of the chance to look eye to eye with the erupting volcano.
Once atop the third peak which overlooked Fagradalsfjall, we sat down to eat our snacks and to take it all in. I wasn’t prepared for the sound the volcano made – it was an angry sound – full of fury from the very bowels of the earth, yet it had a certain rhythm to it, undulating with its forceful exhale, and yet soothing as it seemed to inhale, to catch its breath.
It was breathtaking to watch it. We were literally watching how our planet renews itself. It was so awe-inspiring and so humbling.
Speaking of humbling, the walk down. I guess we were feeling full of might so instead of walking down the same path, we chose a different, more challenging, more dangerous, and a longer path down. We snaked down a very narrow path that wound its way up and over the molten lava. I slipped many times and cut my hand on the sharp lava rocks…. Stupid rookie mistake… I’ll know better the next time I climb up to see an active volcano.
After six months of putting on the show of shows, Fagradalsfjall slowly stopped erupting and experts in Iceland officially declared the country’s longest volcanic eruption in 50 years, over. Although the eruption is finished, locals say it’s still stunning to see the new lava fields and craters created by the eruption up close.