“It rains quite a lot here”, says Ingimar (Ingi, for brief), our driver and tour information, while commenting on how fortunate we’re with the climate. “If you ask the locals, though, it only rains twice a week – first for three days, and then for four days.” This units the tone for our tour of Katla ice cave with Southcoast Adventure – a enjoyable, small tour from Vik.
We spend about 35-40 minutes in his luxurious Super Jeep, first on street, earlier than taking a detour off-road over miles of black sand. “In the morning it’s good to listen to some hardcore Icelandic metal”, he shouts, as he makes an adjustment to the tyre stress in preparation for the brand new terrain and a loud, vibrating noise emanates from beneath us.
The surroundings is nothing in need of dramatic – fairly lush at first, with some Alaskan lupins that assist forestall sandstorms, however more and more black as we depart the street. The space we’re traversing is Mýrdalssandur, a floodplain made up of black glacial volcanic outwash from previous eruptions. It’s separated from Vik by a artifical wall to hopefully cease potential floods from reaching Vik.
Ingy factors out a mountain on our proper – Hjörleifshöfði, named after Hjörleifr Hróðmarsson, one of many first settlers in Iceland, alongside along with his half-brother, Ingólfr Arnarson, who based Reykjavik. It is on this space that the 2 of them first got here to land in round 874 AD. We be taught extra in regards to the historical past of Iceland’s founders earlier than the Mýrdalsjökull glacier comes into view. It covers round 800 sq. kilometres and is the fourth greatest glacier in Iceland.
Underneath the glacier is a volcano referred to as Katla, one of many scariest volcanoes in Europe. It is lively (although not erupting proper now). It has erupted roughly twice each century because the seventeenth Century. The greatest eruption ever in Iceland that we all know of got here from the magma system in Katla. This was the Eldgjá basaltic eruption in 934 AD and is assumed to have lasted for as much as 8 years, with a 67-kilometre fissure spewing out lava. Another large eruption occurred in 1311, in 1755 (120 days lengthy)
Katla normally rests for about 40 to 80 years, and the final eruption was in 1918, now greater than 100 years in the past, so an eruption may be very a lot overdue. It’s a subglacial volcano which suggests it’s positioned beneath the ice. There are quite a few these in Iceland – chances are you’ll recall Eyjafjallajökull which erupted in 2010 and brought on air visitors chaos to a lot of Europe. Ingy helps us with the pronounciation by telling us you possibly can simply say “I-forgot-my-yoghurt” and that’s shut sufficient or you are able to do what the US information channels did and name it “E-15” as a result of it begins with a ‘E’ and is adopted by 15 extra letters.
Although the eruption in 2010 stopped air visitors for 3 weeks, it was ongoing for 4 weeks… however that was only a small eruption – only a “publicity stunt” to let the world know the place Iceland is. It labored – customer numbers to Iceland elevated by 30% in 2010, making tourism probably the most vital business on the island and the only greatest employer. Compared to what can occur at Katla, let’s simply hope you aren’t at an airport when Katla begins to erupt.
Being a subglacial volcano, the lava comes out of the crater, it’s round 1100 levels Celsius, and is pushed into the ice and water, making an explosion. So the lava explodes and turns into ash. Katla is understood to shoot ash as much as 15 kilometres up into the air. Ash from Katla has been discovered all over the place on the planet.
But the ash shouldn’t be the primary concern for folks dwelling within the space. What Icelanders are extra involved about is the floods that include the eruption. At the start of the eruption, a whole lot of the glacier is melted in a short time, and all that water must go to the ocean shortly too. They say that the biggest flood within the space was most likely the 1918 eruption which they are saying about 300,000 cubic metres of water was produced per second. Compare that with the Amazon River which discharges water on the fee of 219,000 cubic metres per second. So it is a large, devastating flood.
It has occurred a number of instances within the space. And though it’s been over 100 years because the final eruption of Katla, in 2011 Icelanders have been a bit apprehensive as a result of it’s quite common for Katla to erupt quickly after Eyjafjallajökull (which erupted in 2010). But Katla didn’t erupt – at the very least, no eruption was seen however there have been large floods and it’s thought there might have been small eruptions beneath the glacier that brought on the floods. It didn’t break by the glacier, however the floods that got here down destroyed the street and a few bridges.
As we proceed to journey over the sands, Ingi tells us a number of Katla tales. Since the settlement of Iceland, though Katla was creating eruptions and floods, there have been fairly a farms within the space. People at all times re-built them after the floods. People knew that, within the occasion of the eruption, they wanted to climb the mountain and discover refuge in a cave referred to as skjól (which suggests ‘shelter’). It has turn out to be useful for fairly a number of folks through the years. In the massive eruption in 1311, there was a farmer who was out working and the climate was dangerous. He couldn’t see the glacier – he began to scent sulphur however didn’t fear an excessive amount of till he felt earthquakes and the scent received worse. And then Katla was erupting and the flood was on its approach – he was a little bit too late to reply, however he rushed to his farm to get his toddler child after which began to run up the hill. As the flood rose, he quickly realised he was too late and wouldn’t make it to the secure space. He noticed an opportunity and jumped on to a bit of the glacier, like an iceberg, that was coming down with the flood. The flood took him and his toddler son out to the ocean. This was 1311 so the tales fluctuate – some say he was away for five days, others for five weeks. Either approach, he didn’t have any meals for his toddler child or himself. All he had with him was his pocket knife. He got here up with a superb thought and took out his knife and reduce off his left nipple with a view to feed the toddler his blood. According to the tales, that is how he saved the newborn alive. And that is the story of why Icelanders solely have one nipple… Ingi tells us that he solely realised only in the near past that apparently you’re purported to have two!
Then there’s additionally the story of what occurred in 1755, when there have been 4 males on the mountain strolling within the forest (there have been timber again then), gathering firewood for the winter, and Katla began to erupt. They needed to run to the cave for shelter however have been apprehensive as a result of they didn’t have any meals. They have been in luck, although, as a result of there have been two fishermen travelling throughout the sand to Vik to promote their fish. So now there have been six males and so they needed to keep within the shelter for seven days whereas the flood was coming down from Katla; in some way, they managed to outlive. Imagine staying within the cave… frequent earthquakes, floods throughout you with large icebergs, and every part can be black exterior – you wouldn’t know whether or not it was day or evening. What’s extra, it was 1755, so no cellphone sign and no Netflix! It will need to have been horrible, Ingi tells us! After the flood, they went down the mountain and crossed the flood space over to a farm, which will need to have been a tough journey. Once they reached the farm, no one believed them because the flood had been so large and it was unthinkable to think about that that they had survived. They satisfied the folks to return with them to the cave – they confirmed them the cave partitions the place that they had carved their names, and an enormous cross that that they had carved on the entrance. The cave had since crammed with sand however, in 2006, some native folks went there with shovels and began to dig the sand out and recovered a few of the markings which are nonetheless seen immediately.
Having heard in regards to the 1918 eruption, we realized that Icelanders have been ready for an eruption from Katla because the Sixties, earlier than getting our first view of Kötlujökull (Katla glacier). Kötlujökull is an outlet glacier from Mýrdalsjökull – a tongue of ice poking out from the canyon that goes into the crater. The crater, by the way in which, presently crammed with ice, is about twice the dimensions of Manhattan island, simply to offer you some sense of scale. Whilst there may be nothing stopping folks making journeys independently, I’d strongly advocate that you just go to with one of many three recognised tour corporations providing Katla ice cave excursions. On arrival, a joint signal from the three corporations
The ice collapse Kötlujökull will be harmful. If you aren’t cautious, there may be risk of harm. It is really useful you solely go into the cave underneath supervision of an skilled information who is aware of this cave nicely. Conditions within the cave can and do change each day. To help entry to the cave, and make sure the security of travellers we supply out a considerable amount of work each week with a view to hold the cave open. Without this work, just a few would have the ability to attain the cave, and it will be virtually inconceivable to indicate the cave to inexperienced travellers.
We get out of the truck, placed on helmets and crampons and stroll the brief distance in direction of the glacier.
Note additionally the crimson minibus to offer you a way of the enormity of the panorama.
The stroll to the glacier might be solely half a mile.
We cross a make-shift bridge over a meltwater stream..
…and shortly attain the ice.
One factor that always surprises folks about glaciers is that they’re typically not gleaming white, however will be fairly soiled due to the particles they transport and, in volcanic areas equivalent to this, the ash that falls upon them.
A brief archway beneath a few of the ice that’s secure sufficient for us to stroll proper by and emerge the opposite aspect.
As the ice melts in the course of the Summer months, the margin of the glacier modifications frequently. At the time of our go to there was work happening to make a brand new cave, which had opened up solely 4 days earlier, extra accessible.
For now, entry is by way of some picket steps after which up a steep stretch of filth with a roped bannister assist.
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Climbing up this route is definitely a lot simpler thean it seems to be.
Once on the prime, we have been in a position to enterprise into an unlimited cave inside the ice.
Beautiful layers of various colored ice create fantastic stripes on the wall of the ice cave.
The fewer the bubbles, the bluer the ice.
Air bubbles intervene with the passage of sunshine so the place the ice seems whiter, it typically incorporates a whole lot of air bubbles, cracks or suspended particles.
There are even some areas the place thick bands of volcanic ash will be seen.
Having explored the ice cave and admired its magnificence, we head again out the identical approach we got here in.
The descent is a little bit trickier however nonetheless not problematic for anybody in a median bodily situation.
We head again to the automobile, admiring a view we hadn’t actually absolutely appreciated once we have been strolling in direction of the glacier.
This had been a memorable journey, not only for the expertise of getting into the ice cave, however made all of the extra particular for Ingi’s fascinating tales and professional commentary, while nonetheless giving us time to replicate on the spectacle earlier than us.
Planning a visit to Iceland your self? You can watch a video from our journey to Iceland right here. You can see our expertise visiting the Kalta ice cave between 3m 49s and 4m 23s: