The Icelandic Highlands are accessible only during summer. Sadly summer in Iceland lasts usually for only 3 months and it’s not enough time to discover every part of the Interior especially when you plan trekkings to meet Icelandic nature and really feel the place. It’s also not enough time, as we can travel only during weekends and only when the weather conditions are favorable.
Anyway, last summer we decided to use most of our free time, explore as much Highlands as we could and catch every sun ray on our faces. What later occurred to be just a hopeless plan, as what we didn’t know yet – we were about to experience the rainiest summer in 100 years in Iceland.
It felt great to leave crowded Reykjavik, busy ring road and wander on less attended Highlands gravel roads. As since we moved here we had this plan and an impulsive need to discover the Icelandic Interior and the hidden, not easily accessible world that lies within the imaginary line of the ring road.
We all appreciate Werner Herzog’s documentaries and his unique accent. One summer weekend, at the end of rainy August, we went for a hiking in the area of the Laki lava fissure that Herzog mentioned in his last film Into the inferno.
To make our trip even more compelling, we decided to check out the geothermal flood in the South Coast. All the media kept talking about it during the last days and we just couldn’t resist to see it. After all, it doesn’t happen every day that you have a chance to see the flooded lava fields.
Keeping all this in mind, before we went off the road we checked the road conditions and travel warnings. When we were driving the ring road the weather was great and asphalt completely dry. So far, we haven’t noticed any signs of the flood and we started to have a slight feeling of disappointment.
We decided to enjoy the weather and stopped for some time to have a walk in the sun in the area of the Fjadrargljufur canyon.
After Fjadrargljufur, we didn’t drive back to the ring road but continued further in the Interior to Lakavegur gravel road F206 that led us to the foot of the Laki volcano. This is also the starting point for all the hiking trails in the area.
We’ve heard in the radio Meteorological Office warning everybody traveling to the area of the dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide gases, especially in low-lying areas.
In this case, we decided to be extra careful and talk to the rangers from Vatnajokull National Park.
When we arrived at the Laki information point we were advised about which hiking trails are safe and about best camping site for the night, far from sulfurous gases. The gases are very dangerous as they are poisonous and not always detectable.
We decided to have a lunch in these amazing mossy surroundings and started to cook when the weather conditions made even more challenging with alternately pouring rain and sun. Well-fed with a lentils vegetable soup we started our hike up to the top of the volcano. The whole hike took us approximately 1hour and was marked as moderated.
When we reached the top of the crater, a breath-taking view met our eyes, of stretching Laki lava fissure and the surrounding glaciers in the Vatnajokull National Park.
Werner Herzog has mentioned the eruption of Laki in 1783 in his last documentary as one of the most violent in recent centuries.
He described the area on which we were literally walking at that very moment as a boiling lake of melted rocks with orange streams of lava ejected continuously into the air.
That amazing but disastrous spectacle lasted for 6 months reshaping the area. One of the most serious results of the eruption was the contaminated soil that led to a famine and killed 25% of Iceland’s population. Consequences of the eruption were felt also on a global scale. The enormous amounts of sulfur dioxide that spewed to the atmosphere caused a drop in the global temperatures, also extreme weather conditions in Europe that caused poverty and famine and are said to contribute to the French Revolution in 1789.
While coming down the path we had the view on the most dangerous part of the fissure. Hiking in the middle of the vast volcanic landscape made us feel tiny in comparison to the overwhelming power of nature. It’s important to remind ourselves that we are only guests on this planet, especially during living in the Anthropocene, when humans think their domination on Earth is permanent.
We noticed some interesting ash forms sculpted by the winds and humidity.
The weather was still good when we decided to head to our campsite.
Then, we finally started to notice the first signs of the flood. We were amazed as we’ve never seen flooded lave fields before.
We started to question if we will be able to drive further to the campsite, but in the end, we managed to cross the river and the views we’ve seen later were out of this world.
We realized later that we ended up sleeping in the same camping site as the rangers, We felt safe far from the flood and sulfurous gases and surrounded by the mossy lava fields that mute the wind. It was a great experience to wake up and see that view.
Next morning, we decided to find the “beautiful waterfall” – Fagrifoss and even despite the pouring rain it turned out to be really beautiful. But first, we had to take a path through one of the puffiest and mossy lava fields we’ve ever seen in Iceland. If you love moss you should definitely take this path to the Fagrifoss and visit the moss exhibition in the nearby town of Kirkjubaerklaustur.
When we started heading to camping in Pakgil the weather worsened significantly.
And when we came back to the ring road we found the flood again, this time it arrived at the main road nr 1. We were lucky to pass as the next day we’ve heard that this part of the road became impassable.
It was still raining when we were driving to Pakgil and the closer we got to the Katla volcano, the soil was becoming more black and the surroundings unwelcoming. We started to imagine how this area looked like during the last Katla eruption.
It was pouring so heavily that in the end, we decided to make a short trekking in the rain in Pakgill and then come back to Reykjavik and sleep in comfortable and warm beds It occurred to be the best decision we could have made as according to the forecast Pakgil was the only place in Iceland when it was raining that day.
We didn’t have to drive long to see the sun and clear sky again.