HOW TO SAFELY EXPLORE A VOLCANO IN ICELAND

crossing5oceans.com | Published January 18th, 2021 | Last Updated May 5th, 2021

A man at the summit of Mount Hekla Volcano looking into the distance

All Images © 2021 - Kelly Girouard - Please Contact for Permission to Use


Table of Contents

N THIS GUIDE:

1. Precautions

2. Mount Hekla - location, visiting by car, hiking Hekla

3. Mount Eyjafjallajokull - How to get there, tour options, weather


Iceland has been called a land of extremes, be it the glaciers and gushing waterfalls or the lava fields and volcanoes; there's no shortage of awe-inspiring sites and activities.


If you decide to go on a volcano tour, several companies can take you on a memorable journey up, down, and across these wonders. I used mountaineers.is and extremeiceland.is for my trips to Mount Hekla and Eyjafjallajokull and had great experiences with both.


While companies elsewhere in the world, such as those in Hawaii, offer tours to volcanoes to view molten lava, the situation in Iceland will depend on whether any are active and the safety of the excursion. Remember, a volcano can erupt at any time, so it’s up to you whether you want to take that risk.


Precautions

Here is a list of precautions that you should be taking if you plan to hike volcanoes in Iceland.

  • Make sure to check the weather before heading out. If there's a warning or storm watch, it may be best to make plans for another day. Also, Iceland's weather can change at the drop of a dime so being prepared is a must.

  • Be sure that family and friends know where and when you're going, as well as how long you plan to be there.

  • Pack a first aid kit and have some energizing food with you.

  • Warm clothing is essential! Higher altitudes mean colder temperatures, and snow can fall even in July, so be prepared. Dress in layers and make sure the outer layer is waterproof.

  • Bring a compass and/or GPS equipment and know how to use it.

  • Know the area you're planning to visit. Do some reading on the hiking trails, any precautions specific to that volcano, and the site itself.

  • Check to be sure there's no volcanic activity in the area.

  • Take these precautions seriously as people have died hiking in the summer due to unexpected weather in higher altitude volcanic regions. It's better to be overly cautious and avoid a life-threatening situation if possible.


Mount Hekla

Mount Hekla is a Stratovolcano nicknamed the 'Gateway to Hell' and is the most active volcano in Iceland since the Middle Ages. In the 20th century alone, it has erupted four times. Today, it's closely monitored since geologists believe it's due to erupt again soon.

WHERE IS HEKLA LOCATED?

Hekla is about a 90-minute drive (120 km) from Reykjavik in a remote area between road 26, the F210 mountain road and the Fjallabak Nature Reserve.


VISITING HEKLA BY CAR

You can drive to the summit, which is about 15km’s from the Hekla Centre. The Centre houses a multimedia exhibit and a tourist information stop for visitors who want to hike the trails or visit the surrounding area.


When driving to the summit of Hekla, it is recommended to use a 4x4 super jeep to traverse the terrain as there are deep holes and steep slopes that a passenger car would not maneuver over very well, if at all.


HIKING HEKLA

Hekla is not meant for inexperienced hikers. It will take approximately 3 - 4 hours each way, and if you plan to summit, be aware that there are frequent snowstorms, so it's imperative to have a GPS and glacial equipment with you in the event this occurs. The easiest way to hike Hekla is from the Northwest side or following the Northern ridge.


Looking over the Summit of Mount Hekla


Eyjafjallajokull

I toured Eyjafjallajokull on April 14th, 2010 and ended up in a jeep with a broken axle on the way to the summit. We were stranded on the side as we started to feel tremors and receive reports of an impending eruption; we were brought back down by a rescue crew after the towns at the volcano base had already been evacuated. We arrived back at our hotel at 6am and Eyjafjallajokull erupted at 7am. The whole experience still seems surreal ten years later, but I'm thankful we were lead by an experienced guide, Jonsi, who was calm and reassuring throughout the entire situation.


HOW TO GET TO EYJAFJALLAJOKULL

From Reykjavik, It takes about 2 1/2 hours to get to the area around the base of the volcano, and it takes another two-plus hours to drive to the summit. The terrain is incredibly rough and must be navigated with care. We drove in a 4x4 super jeep, and as you can see in the photos below, the axle was still no match for this volcano's terrain.

A Broken Axle and a Snowstorm on Eyjafjallajokull


TRAVEL TIP

If you're prone to motion sickness, you should consider taking Gravol before departing; being tossed around for two hours each way was not easy on the stomach.


TOUR OPTIONS

Several companies currently offer helicopter tours from Reykjavik to Eyjafjallajokull, which are expensive but offer once in a lifetime opportunities. A few great options for these tours are Manawa.com and Helicopter.is both which depart from Reykjavik.


If you would rather tour Eyjafjallajokull by car, guidetoiceland.is offers tours to the summit at 5465 feet in super jeeps similar to the one pictured in the photo above, without the broken axle, of course.


THE WEATHER

It wasn't too cold when we arrived at the base of Eyjafjallajokull, and the landscape had dots of green throughout, as is often the case with spring weather. After climbing to about 4000 feet, we hit a blizzard, as you can see in the photos above; this is the unpredictable weather that Icelanders always talk about. The photo below was taken at the summit which we hiked to after the axel snapped on the Jeep. While the volcanic soil behind me was still warm from the lava flow the night before, the surrounding area during our hike was cold; remember to dress warmly when you're planning on taking any tours to high altitudes in Iceland.


Girl in a snowsuit standing in front of mounds of volcanic soil

Standing at the Summit of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano


No matter how much planning you do, life happens, and the trip to Eyjafjallajokull is one of those times when nothing went as expected. Choosing to tour a volcano or any other perilous activity is your option and comes with a certain amount of risk. Don't be afraid of trying new adventures, but be sure you know what you’re getting into before booking any tour, and take the precautions seriously if you plan to hike the trails. Happy Adventuring!


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