Do you have a bucket list? I certainly do and there was one item all the way up on that directory: to experience a live volcano. The closest I have come to fulfil this dream was to fly over Mt St Helens on a clear day in 2004 during a brief period of activity. But that was like watching a video.
It was therefore exciting to see the mesmerising footage from the recent volcano eruptions in Iceland that started in 2021. But Covid prevented me from traveling there. However, on July 10th of 2023 a new fissure appeared in a remote area of the Reykjanes peninsula. After briefly chatting with a local friend in Iceland, I decided to buy a plane ticket on very short notice. Four days later, I landed in Keflavik with a mission: Witness and photograph the Litli-Hrutur eruption.
“Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.”William Arthur ward
August 1st was the chosen day. My friend Carsten and I met in the town of Grindavik to prepare for the hike. Visiting Litli-Hrutur is a bit more involved. There are two hiking trails – each at least a 10 miles round-trip. One of them had a 600m ascent on top. We spent almost 7hrs out there with stops on both days. While this might sound daunting to some, both hikes area gorgeous and I would recommend doing them even once the eruption has stopped (which it has now…). You get to see the vast lava fields from the 2021 and 2022 eruptions. As of August 2nd, there were still some steamy patches.
Seeing the volcano for the first time was a breathtaking experience. We were allowed to access the top of Mt Litli-Hrutur (it was closed a few days prior due to toxic gases). You can literally see directly into the crater from there. It was a perfect location to get some close up photos and to fly the drone. Despite the awesome views and the tremendous drive to capture nature at work, people were super respectful. I did not witness any reckless behaviour with drones etc.. My tools on hand were the Fuji X-T4 with a 70-300mm lens, the Fuji X70 as well as the outstanding DJI Mavic Mini Pro.
Some people have asked me if the effort was worth it. It’s a very long day out there and fairly strenuous hike after all. Weather is not only unpredictable in Iceland, it can be extremely fierce. My verdict: Yes, it’s 100% worth it. There is something special about feeling a volcano that photos & videos can’t capture. There is the sound – a deep grumble with occasional small explosions. The lava stream itself has its own sounds: it crackles, you sometimes hear drips and flows. Hard to describe. It’s constantly present. Then there is the smell – a bit of sulfur and burned stuff. And of course the heat. If you get close to the lava you feel the power.
Kudos to the officials in Iceland. Not every country would provide virtually open access to a volcano. There were plenty of guards around the site and politely redirected people that went a bit astray. It’s important to keep in mind that volcanos are super dangerous. Yet, a bunch of people still seem to forget that (there are videos of pure stupidity around the volcano on You Tube). The drive to get that Instagram photo seems to be higher than the desire to be safe. As a matter of fact, Carsten and I ventured to the end of the trail on the second day and ended up around 200m from the crater. While we were standing there, we realised that one of the walls had collapsed just a few days ago causing a massive lava spill (watch it in You Tube). Needless to say….we retreated quickly.
A fantastic adventure
Two days, two hikes, two different life-time experiences. It was great fun and my mind is still spinning. It looks like we were quite lucky. Lava-flow in Litli-Hrutur dramatically decreased the following days and I heard the rumor on August 7th that the eruption is now officially over. Things change quickly in nature.
Oh….and there is a new item on my bucket list: go back and see more volcanos!
Here is a short video from our experience.