10 April 2018 – Marvellous mud and pseudocraters in Lake Mývatn and the magnificent Northern Lights [Iceland]

10 April 2018 – Marvellous mud and pseudocraters in Lake Mývatn and the magnificent Northern Lights [Iceland]

Our 5th day of motor home adventures in Iceland was a rather scenic one.  The geothermal mud pits, pseudocaters and volcanic craters of the Lake Mývatn area provided some of the most amazing photos of the trip.  Then we doubled-down with some spectacular (and enormous icy waterfalls) before heading East to Egilsstaðir where we had another outdoor swim in geothermally heated pools and our campsite for the night let us witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis.

We all woke up again around 6.45am, and had a quick breakfast of cereal and coffee (for the adults).  Again the kids had a quick play in the snow while Anto and I did the washing up, this time with luxury of a kitchen, sink and water from the camp ground!  All the water smelt like sulphur but we were pleased not to be on water restrictions for the morning.  We still didn’t make it out of camp all that early but were on the road by 8.40am.

We were exploring the Lake Mývatn area for the morning, so we had plenty of attractions in a very small area, a pleasant change from long stretches of driving, at least until we had to head East to Egilsstaðir, our planned stop for the night.

We’d seen a few of the sights around Lake Mývatn the previous afternoon, but there was plenty more to get through.  Our first stop was just down the road again to the Skutustadir Pseudocraters, which we discovered we visited the other side of the previous evening.

The planet Mars has recently found to harbour a large groups of craters that seem to have formed by steam explosions as glowing hot lava flowed over frozen ground. Such “pseudocraters” from on Earth as lava runs over wet sediment or into the sea. Most of Earth’s pseudocraters are in Iceland and they are rare elsewhere. The pseudocrater by Lake Mývatn are among the largest and most beautifully shaped on Earth.

TheMývatn pseudocraters were formed as lava entered a large lake (a precursor of Lake Mývatn), trapping its wet sediment underneath. First, many eruptions take place and a platform of fine-grained material is built up. Later, a few eruption vents take over, the water supply diminishes and well-shaped crater cones develop on top of the platform. The molten lava moves like a thin sheet inside a stationary crust. The lower crust breaks and the hot lava makes contact with the water-logged sediment underneath triggering violent steam eruptions. The lava continues to flow inside the crust envelope and feeds the steam eruptions. The craters are covered by grass because midges fertilise the soil when they die. In Winter, the grass was still covered in snow!

The craters are amazing and we had the place to ourselves. Most are accessible with marked trails.  The wind was absolutely freezing but we did get a good look at Lake Mývatn.  People had been out ski-doing on the frozen sections of the lake!
The craters are amazing and we had the place to ourselves. Most are accessible with marked trails.  The wind was absolutely freezing but we did get a good look at Lake Mývatn.  People had been out ski-doing on the frozen sections of the lake!

The psuedocraters are definitely other-worldly, and very strange, but nothing on our next stop the Hverarönd mud pits.  It was only a short drive, and as we came over the hill we could see steam rising out of the snow in front of us……

Hverarönd (also called Hverir) is a geothermal area with at the foothill of Namafjall volcanic mountain, not far from Lake Mývatn. There are  colorful sulphurous mud springs, boiling mud, steam vents, cracked mud and fumaroles.  It is one of the most spectacular areas to photograph, but my goodness it is smelly with a very strong sulphur (rotten egg) smell……

Out of the motor home in the car park and we were immediately into thick mud.  There are marked trails but the trails are through the mud!  Apparently it is common for people to sustain very serious burns from the boiling liquid and mud spewing from the earth so we had the kids stick pretty close to us. Stick being the operative word, it was like walking through treacle……

The colour of the earth was amazing and we were all fascinated watching the mud boiling at the surface, making different shapes.  When in Iceland you get used to steam just pouring from the earth. There were a few quite impressive vents in the mud pits.

The walk around the mud fields was not huge, it took quite awhile though as every step you had to free yourself from the sticky and squishy mud we had sunk into. At least we had boots, people were attempting it in sneakers!

We had just cleaned the motor home floor that morning, so when we arrived back with a good 10cm of mud stuck to the bottom of our boots, and the kids with mud all the way up their legs we were not impressed.  In Australia you grab a stick and scrape the mud off, but Iceland doesn’t have trees, so there were no sticks!!!  We couldn’t even find any rocks to bash the mud off.  In the end we hit as much off on the ground as possible and piled our boots into the shower to be dealt with later.  The thought of that sticky mud all over our beds was not appealing!

All significantly more filthy we drove the short distance to our next stop, the Leirhnjúkur Lava Fields.  Unfortunately the road in to the car park was closed for Winter, meaning there was  long hike to the fields in very deep snow.  Judging from the footprints (some up to knee level) some people had been up that day but decided to give it a miss and go to the nearby Krafla Viti crater for a quick look.

The Krafla Viti crater Iceland, is a circular crater filled with blue water and surrounded by a geothermal area and colorful mountains.  Of course, everything was covered in snow, and the blue water was frozen into white ice!  Unlike some of the other craters we’d been past so far, we could park relatively close to the top and walk over for a look.

Viti is a large crater approximately 300m in diameter whose name signifies Hell. It was formed during a 5-year long explosive eruption of the west side of Krafla at the beginning of the Mývatn Fires in 1724.

It was again cold and windy at the crater, but we had a quick look and rushed back to the motor home for some warm.  The drive up to the crater was a little scary over some very thick ice and snow, and going back down wasn’t all that appealing.  Luckily Anto was getting proficient at his ice road trucking!

On the way back down hill you can see the Krafla power plant, with steam pouring out of the vents. We decided to pull in for a look.  Unfortunately, the visitor centre was closed for Winter so we had a quick look at the information boards and steam vents.  With all the geothermal activity in Iceland you can see why there are so many power plants dotted around.

We had enjoyed the spectacular landscape around Lake Mývatn.  The landscape in this area is rather surreal, it must look entirely different again when the snow melts……

Due to a few things being closed or inaccessible we hadn’t seen all it had to offer, and we had opted to skip the highly rated Mývatn nature baths in preference for getting time to visit the waterfalls we missed the day before due to road closures.  There were more opportunities for swimming and soaking in geothermal pools to come, so it was back into the motor home and an hours drive to get to Detifoss and Selfoss, this time from the other side of the Lake.

After about half an hour we reached the turn off from Route 1 to the minor highway that was going down to the falls.  Luckily from this direction it is mostly a sealed road!  There was still a large amount of driving over ice and through snow but despite being fairly far in the North of the country there were a great number of tour buses going down the road so we didn’t have too many worries in the motor home……..

Again we had blue skies, snow for miles and no trees, the typical Icelandic landscape we’d become so familiar with.

Detifoss and Selfoss share a car park.  A rather large one, but it was very full when we arrived. We still managed to find a scenic spot for lunch (even car park lunches are scenic in Iceland) and had some toasted sandwiches and soup and coffee while watching freezing tourists heading out and returning from the falls.  Seeing how cold everyone looked we made the thermos up with some hot chocolate for our return.

Unlike some of the other falls we’ve visited, there is a short hike into both Detifoss and Selfoss.  Both had marked trails but the trails were entirely under snow and the ‘short’ hike was far from easy with the wind, snow and ice.

The path down to Dettifoss was 800m, with a few rather steep and slippery sections. The snow was pristine white, but with sections caked with red mud from all the people who’d been to mud pits that day!  It took us awhile to make it to the falls but the view was worth it!

Dettifoss is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. You will find this beast of a fall in North Iceland; in the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which flows from the magnificent Vatnajökull glacier. The falls are 100 meters wide and have a drop of 45 meters down to the mighty Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. It is indeed powerful in volume, having an average water flow of 400 m3/s during summers.  The origin of the water is south of the waterfall and can be traced to the many outlet glaciers and glacier tongues on the northern side of the large glacier Vatnajökull.
It was insanely cold and windy with the spray coming off the falls, but they were impressive and we even got a rainbow!

We then hiked to down to Selfoss about another 800m down following the gorge.  The track down was flatter but still slippery.   As we hiked down we passed more basalt cliffs, with their hexagonal shape.  There was quite a drop down to the icy river below and the number of footprints off the track to the edge of the cliff was concerning, especially as you couldn’t see how far over the edge the snow was!

The Selfoss waterfall is a horse-shoe shaped waterfall. It is 10m high and continues into a veil like series of small waterfalls. While it isn’t as large as Dettifoss, the canyon and cliffs are even more impressive and we got some lovely photos.  
After some photos of the falls the kids were getting a little tired, so it was time to return to the motor home.  It was around a 600m hike back to the car park.  It had warmed up significantly and was quite sunny so the hike was getting even more slushy and slippery. On the upside it did clean our boots a little but we were still very muddy on the return to the motor home!

Glad that we finally made it to Dettifoss and Selfoss, we returned to the motor home for some of that hot chocolate to warm up.  It was now approaching 3pm and we had a long stretch of driving East before we made it to our camp for the night.

We had the same drive back out to the main road (Route 1) through snow and ice, but made it without any dramas.  Once we were back to Route 1, it was time to head East.  There was precious little traffic in this area but there was also absolutely nowhere to stop, no towns and not really an option to pull off the road due to large amounts of snow.  The kids were almost immediately asleep and slept most of the afternoon away while we drove……..

Despite it being relatively good road most of the way to Egilsstaðir, it was a difficult drive with the snow and bright sunshine causing a lot of glare, and winding roads requiring quite a bit of concentration.  Luckily it was made up for with lots of spectacular scenery, huge snow-covered mountains and the first signs of snow melt into rivers.

We arrived into our stopping point for the night, Egilsstaðir, a town in east Iceland on the banks of the Lagarfljót river, by 4.30pm.  After again handing over a week’s salary for petrol, we located the camp ground, and it was indeed open, yay!   We’d decided that we were in need of another relaxing soak in a swimming pool and there wasn’t much to do in Egilsstaðir so it was off to the pool we went.

The Egilsstaðir swimming pool rated pretty well, and after another long day of wandering around in mud and snow followed by a lot of driving, a soak in the hot water sounded ideal.  Despite the camp ground being ‘open’ there didn’t appear to be bathroom facilities open so this meant we could also have a shower!  The Egilsstaðir swimming pool was again outdoors and it was surprisingly busy before 5pm on a Tuesday.  The kids swam in the kids pool, had a few goes on the water slide, and then we all soaked in the hot tubs (available in 3 different temperatures). Unlike in Australia, it is expected that kids will also go in the hot pools.  Anto gave the 3 degree ice pool a quick go, but the rest of us were too sensible for that and stuck to the 40 degree pools.  Again we weren’t allowed cameras or phones, so no pictures unfortunately.

We dragged the kids out of the warm water at around 6.15pm for hot showers and the 5 minute drive back to the campground.  There were a couple of other camper vans and even a tent camper in the grounds for the night.  Anto whipped us up another pasta dinner, cheap carbs are your friend in Iceland!

Once the kids were off to bed for the night, Anto and I re-jigged our itinerary for the next day and got our maps ready. We were all getting rather exhausted from the amount of driving in difficult conditions and were trying to plan our days a little better.  The aurora forecast for the night was strong and we were desperately hoping to catch those Northern lights before our time in Iceland was up.

It gets properly dark so late (sunset was around 10.30pm but last light was signficantly after that) that we had taken to having a quick nap before getting up around midnight to check for the aurora.  We had pretty much given up for the night and had moved the kids into their bed for night (we put them to sleep in our bed while we stay up in the ‘living area’ until our bed time).  We had one last look outside and I was sure there was a faint green glow in the air. Anto tried to convince me it was light pollution from the nearby town but I insisted he go out with the camera and take a couple of test shots.

Well sure enough, as soon as I checked the back of the camera I could see aurora. I madly got the test photos onto the laptop to confirm it wasn’t light pollution or artefacts, and we could see the light trails, so we rugged up and headed outside to shoot.  This is what we saw…….

It’s totally worth standing outside in the middle of the night in the freezing cold when you can see this moving across the sky……….
The campground was fairly deserted and despite having some light pollution from the town and the campground we got some amazing shots of the aurora.  We also happened to see some moose running past, as you do in Iceland, apparently!

It took us 5 nights but we finally got to see that magical green glow.  It did cause a couple of hours lost sleep and frozen hands (despite wearing gloves).  We had promised to wake the kids up to see the Northern Lights but there were not all as strong to the naked eye, so we ended up leaving them sleep.  The aurora forecast for the next few days was even higher so we were hoping we’d get another go later in the week and would have a chance to show them.

As tempting as it was to sit up all night watching the sky lit up with greens and blues, we did eventually pack the camera away and head to bed. Exhausted after another amazing day in the frozen North.  The next day had some pretty amazing sights in store for us, Iceland just kept getting better!

Daily statistics for Tuesday 10 April, 2018, in Northern and Eastern Iceland – 

The temperature range for the day in the Lake Mývatn area (North Iceland) was minus 4 degrees to 3 degrees. At the Detifoss and Selfoss falls in the North the temperature range was minus 4 to a balmy 5 degrees, but with 40km/h winds, making it rather chilly.  We finished the day in the East in Egilsstaðir where the temperature range was 4 degrees to zero overnight (a very mild night compared to what we’d experienced so far).

The total walking for the day was 8.8km, a fair effort given the amount of driving and the fact that most of it was in snow!  The driving for the day was over 380km, or a bit under 6 hours with some back-tracking.  A rather solid day of driving in ice and snow, but we were rewarded with spectacular scenery. Here is a map of our driving adventures for the day…….

Up next – Day 6 of Iceland had us in the North-East of the country. We followed the coast East through the scenic East fjords.  We finished the day at one of the most spectacular sights on earth – the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach.  A lagoon filled with seals and icebergs and a black sand beach littered with giant ice diamonds. The photos are amazing!

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