If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, then you may recognize the volcanic formations and steaming water-filled caves of Mývatn as “beyond the wall.” The Earth here is leaking, steaming, bubbling, emitting and exploding. Short, relatively easy hikes, walks really, allow you to experience it all, including the pervasive smell of sulphur in the air.
I started on the western side of Mývatn with a sunset hike, and then on the southeast the next day, moving north and eventually east back onto the Ring Road. Two days allows a leisurely pace of hiking, shooting (pics, not guns) and soaking. I visited in November and thankfully there wasn’t a gnat in sight. Visiting during warmer months won’t allow such luck.
I made it to my first hike an hour or so before dusk: the extinct volcano, Vindbelgjarfjall. A small, barely marked path pointed the way up the gravel mountain, about a 45 minute hike. In every direction, a feast for my eyes. All around me it looked like meteors hit the Earth, exposing craters I imagined would swallow me whole if I dared stepped foot in them. I was wrong, but the scientific answer was even more fanciful–they were explosion craters, the Earth ejecting magma and volcanic rock from the inside out. Breathless from the severe incline, I shared the mountaintop with no one. I breathed. I laughed at the incredulity of the Earth. I signed the guest book.
The sun set at 5:16pm, and I raced it down the mountain, back to my warm mobile home.
Hverfjall is a tuff ring volcano, another result of an explosion about 2,500 years ago. From the parking lot it’s about a 10 minute walk up the steep path to the top ridge. I imagine a construction worker pouring gravel, the pebbles strewing down the sides of the pile, creating a peaks and valleys. Standing on the ridge was terrifying. The wind was so strong that it jostled me, at one point pushing me like a sail toward the crater. I sat in protest and avoided
certain imagined death.
Isn’t it amazing how volcanoes create so many different types of formations?! Beyoncé would be proud.
Dimmuborgir Lava Formations
It’s another impressive Icelandic site that leaves you in awe of what the Earth can do, given a few thousand years.
There are longer and shorter walks; depends what you’re up for. If you’re a kind person the Yule Lads, Iceland’s 13 mischievous Santas, won’t snatch you into their lair even if you “happen” upon it by following the green signs pointing the way.
There are so many places in Iceland where photographs don’t do reality justice. Grjotogjata cave is one of them. Besides the craggily, intimidating entrance, there’s the smell of sulfur, the steamy warmth and finally, the subtle jewel tones bouncing off the water. Entering is tricky, but people used to bathe here before the water became too hot (over 109F/50C) after the latest volcanic eruptions at Krafla. Since then, Jon Snow and Ygritte made it internationally famous. Sword play anyone?
Leirhnjúkur should mean “this is a smelly version of Mars.” How the Earth varies this much in such a small space, I cannot comprehend. Around every corner of this easy 5km hike is a new spectacle. Geothermal pools, fuming fissures, ashen fields, mossy mounds…it was surreal.
To start the hike, park at the lot just past the Krafla power plant. To avoid melting your shoes, don’t go off the vaguely indicated path. Lastly, let your mind wonder at the spectacle of Mother Nature.
Myvatn Nature Baths
The Myvatn Nature Baths are the perfect ending to a day of hiking in the cold. I went when it was least crowded, after sunset, and used the opportunity to get clean and warm before bedtime in the camper. I actually stowed my camera and phone to be more in the moment than documenting it, so there is only one photo. Guess you’ll have to get a glimpse yourself! Entry prices range depending on the season, and you can rent a towel, an option I chose because I wasn’t looking forward to drying a wet towel in a cold camper van overnight. I stored my hiking boots outside the changing rooms, my belongings in a locker, showered, and walked out into the freezing cold in my bathing suit.
One thing I wish I would have known: while the minerals in the natural hot springs are great for your skin, they settle in your hair and create knots for days, literally. I recommend slathering your hair in conditioner without rinsing and tying it up.
There’s a sauna, which I nearly fell asleep in, and two pools to choose from-a smaller, hotter one, and a vast steamy one. I oscillated between both, and eventually the 30 second walk between each in the bitter cold wasn’t so brutal. I’ve only ever heard it said, “I’m chilled to the bone,” but the heat of the hot spring settled so deep in me I felt loosey goosey, almost high.
The darkness made the experience mystical and relaxing as it dulled most visual stimuli and forced me to go within. I could see steam rise from the surface, feel soft moss along the edges of the pool and volcanic sand under my feet. It was marvelous.
Hverir is bizarre and not to be missed, but a quick view, rather than the full hike, was all I felt I needed after Leirhnjúkur. I visited on my way out of Mývatn, before heading to Egilsstaðir. The parking lot was quite crowded with huge tour buses, and the boardwalk full of tourists, including me, oooo-ed and ahhhh-ed at the bubbling mud and scalding water.
Next on The Noble Bee: Iceland’s East Coast (East siiiiide!)