The Magic of Iceland: Beyond Fire and Ice


If the erupti­on would be about the avera­ge size of an Icelandic erupti­on, the ri­ver’s flow could get 10 to 20 times big­ger than what is normal dur­ing the sum­mer. We can’t exclu­de the possi­bility of a lar­ger flood though.

Magnús Tumi Guðmunds­son, a lea­ding Icelandic geop­h­ysicist, in an interview with mbl.is on how Jokulsa a Fjollum would be affected by a subglacial eruption of the Bardarbunga volcano

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Dettifoss, from the west approach

 

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On the trail to Dettifoss

This is the ninth story in our series on the Magic of Iceland.

DETTIFOSS, you beast!

Being touted as the most powerful ANYTHING of a continent is a lot of hype to live up to, but as European waterfalls go, Dettifoss fit the bill. Nora and I heard its roar long before we could see it, the effect of the river currents powering over the falls into the canyon below as we walked through a brush lined trail from the parking area. When our eyes finally caught up, Dettifoss was right there in all its grandeur.

It was impressive to say the least.

Our day was just getting started after a visit to Hverir but already we were awash in awe. Less than one kilometer upstream was Selfoss, Dettifoss’s little sister, a much smaller but no less beautiful waterfall. Together the falls formed an amazing panoramic landscape that included the crystal clear waters of historic Jokulsa a Fjollum, the glacier river that feeds the waterfalls and originates almost 90 miles to the south at Vatnajokull, the second largest glacier in Europe.

That we had the good fortune to have access to Dettifoss at all was only through an act of kindness by Mother Nature. An eruption at Bardarbunga — Iceland’s largest volcano with a perilous location under Vatnajokull’s massive (one-half kilometer thick) ice cap — had forced the closure of areas near Dettifoss from civilian and tourist occupation in late August, 2014. As lava flowed from the Holuhraun fissure for more than six months, Icelanders were forced to wait out the possibility the eruption could become a subglacial one which could have catastrophic results. (Special thanks to drixc1 for the spectacular video)

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Subglacial eruptions in Iceland have been responsible for widespread death and destruction — much of it from glacial floods called jokulhlaups — for centuries. The 2010 subglacial eruption at Eyjafjallajokull was internationally known because the smoke and ash spewed into the atmosphere interrupted air travel in Europe for almost a week. But for locals, the flooding it caused forced the evacuation of hundreds of people in south Iceland and nearly resulted in parts of the Ring Road being washed away. 

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Hiking at Vesturdalur

The reality in northeast Iceland is Jokulsa a Fjollum could easily serve as the delivery system for catastrophic flooding in and around Jökulsárgljúfur canyon.

Walking upstream from Dettifoss, Nora and I carefully navigated our way over slippery rocks to get as close to Selfoss as we could. It was fraught with hazards but necessary to get a better perspective. Somewhere along the way, we decided the magical ingredient to the natural beauty of Iceland was Mother Nature’s ability to change or take it all away with little or no notice.

Upon leaving Dettifoss, we continued north on Route 862 and toured the lava formations at Vesturdalur. There were numerous signs warning campers to check in with park wardens, which was necessary with the potential for flash floods.

We spent a couple of hours hiking through the lush green forestation of Asbyrgi, a horseshoe shaped and now mostly dry canyon in Vatnajokull National Park. According to legend, Asbyrgi was created when Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse of the Norse god Odin, touched a hoof to the ground as they rode through. The more realistic version is Asbyrgi was formed and later altered through catastrophic flooding emanating from the Vatnajokull glacier over a 10,000 year period.

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Asbyrgi cliffs reach a height of approximately 100 meters

Our scenic tour of the region included a drive around Tjornes peninsula before we finally reached Husavik, a popular tourist location known for its whale watching excursions in the nearby Greenland Sea. Our long day didn’t allow us to go out on the water and see the whales, but it didn’t prevent us from going to a local pub to enjoy a bowl of delicious seafood chowder!

As we returned to Reykjahlid, we knew our stay in northern Iceland was coming to a close. We were thrilled to hear Hotel Reynihlid had Saturday night entertainment lined up, a live band playing Icelandic rock’n roll. It was great to mingle with local Icelanders, including Ragnar David Baldvinsson, who operated a Myvatn custom tour business. We even bumped into a group of Americans, including a photographer on assignment for National Geographic.

Next up was a long drive through the eastern fjords to get to southeast Iceland, where numerous glaciers dotted the Atlantic Ocean coastline. We were effectively trading in the “Fire” part of our Iceland journey for the “Ice” part, and it promised to deliver another round of unique experiences. We couldn’t wait to get there.

Check out the entire Magic of Iceland series right here (Click on each link):

Part 1-Overview, Part 2-The Golden Circle, Part 3-LatrabjargPart 4-Midnight Sun DrivePart 5-Westfjords and IsafjordurPart 6-Fire and the MountainsPart 7-Date Night at HverfellPart 8-Surreal Saturday, Part 9-Beyond Fire and IcePart 10Taking the 939Part 11-Lost in SkaftafellPart 12-F208 DilemmaPart 13-Volcanic HighlandsPart 14-Homestretch to Remember

More Magic of Iceland:  1. Jokulsarlon – Glacier Lagoon,  2. Kirkjubaejarklaustur,

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Downtown Husavik

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Asbyrgi

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