north iceland: the black lava field & solfataras of leirhnjúkur at krafla

Thursday, August 18:  After leaving Dimmuborgir in Eastern Mývatn, we drive to our next destination in the Krafla volcanic region, which encompasses an 818m-high, 10km wide caldera and a geothermal power station.  We plan to walk through Leirhnjúkur, a black lava field and its solfataras, within Krafla. Solfataras are volcanic areas or vents that yield only hot vapors and sulfurous gases.

On our way, we pass the Krafla Power Station. Built by the Icelandic government, construction began with trial boreholes in 1974; the first turbine unit started up in August 1977, and regular operations began in February 1978. Krafla came under the ownership of Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company, in 1985 (Landsvirkjun).

Approaching Leirhnjúkur by car
Approaching Leirhnjúkur by car

The name Krafla also refers to the fires that erupted on and off in the period 1975-84. The events were a striking repetition of what happened during the Mývatn fires which occurred between 1724–1729, when many of the fissure vents opened up. Fissure vents are linear ruptures through which lava erupts, usually without any explosive eruptions.

A collapsed, but still active, volcanic area, Krafla has recorded 29 eruptions, the most recent of which were the Krafla Fires.  In the 1975-1984 period, nine volcanic eruptions and fifteen uplift and subsidence (downward motion of the earth’s surface relative to sea level) events were recorded (Wikipedia: Krafla).

It’s a 20 minute walk through moss-covered lava that originated from the 18th century Mývatn fires.  The landscape is fascinating with its carpeted boulders of lava.

The strange landscape of Leirhnjúkur
The strange landscape of Leirhnjúkur
The strange landscape of Leirhnjúkur
The strange landscape of Leirhnjúkur
The strange landscape of Leirhnjúkur
The strange landscape of Leirhnjúkur
The strange landscape of Leirhnjúkur
The strange landscape of Leirhnjúkur

To our east, we can see the crater Viti.  This 300m-wide explosion crater was formed in 1724 at the beginning of the Mývatn fires.  We originally plan to walk around the rim of this crater, but our walk around Leirhnjúkur is so long and time-consuming that we don’t have time to do it.

walking to Leirhnjúkur
Viti
Leirhnjúkur
Viti
Leirhnjúkur
Viti

To our west we can see Leirhnjúkur, a rhyolite formation 593 meters above sea level.  The hill rises less than 50 meters above the surrounding lava field.  The rhyolite of the hill is porous due to the geothermal heat and has in several places turned into clay, hence the name Leirhnjúkur — “clay hill.”

Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur

After our long walk across the lava field, we are finally in the midst of the craters, steaming vents and fissures of Leirhnjúkur.

Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur

There are warnings about the danger of this area, as it’s still active and there are many hot spots.  We stay on the relatively safe marked trails, including many wooden walkways, around the field, crossing older lava covered in vegetation before climbing onto the darker, rougher new material.  Stains of red or purple mark iron and potash deposits, while white or yellow patches indicate live steam vents to be avoided (Rough Guides: Leirhnjúkur).

Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur

Several mud-pits and steam vents are located on the northern slopes of Leirhnjúkur.

thermal pools at Leirhnjúkur
thermal pools at Leirhnjúkur
thermal pools
thermal pools
thermal pools
thermal pools
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lavafields of Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lava fields of Leirhnjúkur

The magma boasts a full spectrum of colors, with the greens of moss and lichen next to the scorched earth colors of sulphur and rhyolite (Visit Húsavík: Krafla Caldera).

Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lavafields of Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lava fields of Leirhnjúkur

When we get to a high viewpoint, we can see Gjástykki, where the main area of activity was during the 1980s.  It’s a black swathe between light green hills, amazing in its scope.

the solidified lavafields of Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lava fields of Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lavafields of Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lava fields of Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lavafields of Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lava fields of Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lavafields of Leirhnjúkur
the solidified lava fields of Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Leirhnjúkur
Gjástykki
img_1824
Me and the extensive lava fields
Leirhnjúkur
Gjástykki
Leirhnjúkur
Gjástykki

This is our third walk of the day, and it’s a long one!  By the time we finish, it’s after 3:00 and we still have to visit the mighty waterfall of Dettifoss, at the southern end of Jökulsárgljúfur and then drive a long haul to the eastern town of Seyðisfjörður.  Already my legs are aching.🙂

15 thoughts on “north iceland: the black lava field & solfataras of leirhnjúkur at krafla

  1. This blog reminded me of the 2010 massive eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull which severely disrupted air travel for quite some time if I remember correctly! Are any of these photos taken of that volcano or is that yet to come??? Again these blue patches of sky, they remind me of the Tibetan high altitude passes I was lucky enough to see where the air was equally thin that far north (in Iceland’s case) and that high up (in Tibet’s case)!

    1. No one is allowed to bathe in these thermal pools which are part of the park area. I read that they are too hot. However, we did see people with their feet in the streams that flowed outside of the park. 🙂

  2. I love visiting ‘thermal’ landscapes you get a real feel for the ground being alive under our feet . . . my legs though are tired just reading about what you did!

    1. I agree, Becky. It’s as if the earth is living and breathing beneath us and we can feel its awesome power. We did an awful lot of walking on this one day, but it was all worth it! Thanks so much for visiting my blog.🙂

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