Day 14: A Day Trip from Kirkjubæjarklaustur: Laki
Trip Start Jul 05, 2010
21Trip End Jul 25, 2010
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The morning routine is now well established. The breakfast-eaters get up with the kitchen crew who go on duty at 7:00. Anyone motivated to do extra cooking is welcome to do so. The kitchen crew makes breakfast and closes down between 8:15-8:30. We are packed and ready for the field at 9:00 when we depart.
Because the weather suggested another spectacular day, I chose to stay with the plan and go climb Laki. The road to Laki heads north from Route 1 a few kilometers west of Kirkjubćjarklaustur. It is a bumpy gravel road but it is maintained and in pretty good shape. The last time I was here, in 2007, our driver, Magnus, introduced me to Fagrifoss, the "Beautiful Falls", which is just east of the road
Continuing northward, we stopped at an overlook that gave us a view of Lakagígar, the 1783-1784 chain of craters and spatter cones that erupted along a fissure running from Katla, in the south, to the subglacial Grímsvőtn beneath the Vatnajőkull. It runs parallel to and just east of the Eldgjá Rift. After Eldgjá, this was the second largest eruption, by volume, anywhere, in recorded history, covering ~550 km2. The four Dartmouth geologists posed for a photo with an elf named Franzi.
Laki, from which the crater chain gets its name, is a singularly unimpressive feature. It has steep sides and no obvious crater on top. Laki did not actually erupt during the big eruption. It is a Late Pleistocene volcano whose eruptive history appears to have been subglacial judging by the amount of hyaloclastite is seen in the stratigraphy during the short climb that rises a couple of hundred meters
It is worth the climb to the top of Laki, however, because the fantastic view. The first bench offers the best southwestward view which looks over the tops of the nearby spatter cones of Lakagígar. The chain can be traced all the way down to Katla and the Mýrdalsjőkull, which is presently covered with ash from May's Eyjafjallajőkull explosive eruption—the next volcano west of Katla
Climbing to the highest point gives a dramatic panorama to the northeast of the Vatnajőkull all the way down to Örćfajőkull, in the southeast. The crater chain leads directly from Laki toward the subglacial Grímsvőtn volcanic system. Some ash from the 1996 Gjálp subglacial eruption, part of the Grímsvőtn system, which broke through to the surface, is still visible where more recent snowfalls have melted away. Several nunataks are also visible.
The wind was pleasantly light and we all had a great time taking pictures and marveling at the world around us. Stan, Jake, and I lingered the longest. While they were off examining some rocks, a Chinese couple from Boston approached me and asked which was Laki. After I explained that they were standing on top of it, and pointed out the plate boundary, they became very interested and asked me to take several photos of them holding hands with the crater chain/plate boundary running between them in the background. Her father is a paleontologist at a university in Beijing; he appears to have a Harvard connection.
I pointed to Stan and told them a little of his Galeras story. They chatted with us, mostly Stan, the rest of the way down. She requested to pose for a photo with the two of us at the end of our descent
Once everyone was back, we started down the road that runs down the west side of the chain to the Tjarnagígur trail that winds through the spatter cones for a couple of kilometers. I had never done this trail before. It is my new favorite trail in Iceland. It first leads around a spatter cone to a small pond situated amongst the moss-covered lavas. After descending to the still pond’s edge, the trail weaves between more spatter cones through down-dropped valleys and beautiful meadows. The feature that makes this hike so enchanting is the thick, heavy growth of fluffy, soft moss that covers most of the rocks. I was amazed by the amount of vegetative rebound on hard lavas had occurred in the 226 years since the eruptions ended. Throughout the trek, we passed troll holes and the homes of faeries and elves hidden amongst the rocks and moss. Those who didn’t make the hike will regret it. It is now a permanent fixture in my trip.
Ţor met us at the far end of the trail and we started the long backtrack to Kirkjubćjarklaustur, leaving at 4:45 in hope of making it back to town to shop before the grocery store closed, reportedly at 6:30. About halfway there, Ţor noticed a problem. A large boulder had lodged between the driver-side rear tires. As we got out to inspect the situation, three motorcyclists attempted to ford the river next to the road. Two of them dumped their bikes in the river, right in front of the only crowd for many kilometers around.
Jake and I tried breaking the rock with rock hammers but we only got a few flakes off before driving the boulder deeper between the tires
We were on our way again but it was obvious we wouldn’t arrive back in Kirkjubćjarklaustur before 6:30. I announced that I would take everyone out to the N1 station for dinner, an idea that met with resounding approval. During dinner we saw our French-Canadian friends from Krafla who were on a Laki bus tour that was making a food stop as well.
When we got back to camp, we saw that the grocery store was still open afterall! Shew and I bought some bacon and eggs for breakfast and bread for lunch as well as a few other things we needed.
Ţor reminded me that, as a guide, I didn’t have to pay the ISK 250 for a shower. The warden gave him ISK 500 so that we could both shower. This was fortunate since exact change is required and the machine only takes ISK 50 coins. It was after 11:00 by the time I finished. Stan looked wistfully at the bus’ baggage compartment as he climbed into his tent. I had no trouble falling asleep in mine.