A volcanic adventure in the Icelandic Highlands
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During our adventure in Iceland with kids, we spent as much time exploring the interior and the highlands as we did our 14-day Iceland tour through the ring road and western and central Iceland. Our trip through the interior brought us through rivers and over glaciers and eventually led us into the Icelandic highlands where we made our way towards the Dyngjufjöll mountains with a goal of trekking to Iceland’s Viti Caldera. We had based ourselves the night before outside of the town of Husavik, the northernmost town in Iceland at just 60 km from the Arctic Circle and were all rested up for a serious day of hiking.
Be prepared for the Icelandic Highlands
The Icelandic interior is incredibly beautiful but unforgiving for those entering unprepared. The area does not see heavy traffic, even in the high season and there are an extremely limited number of places to stop for food, water, and fuel. If you plan on venturing deep into the interior, make sure you have enough supplies to last you, and a little extra, just in case.
Royalty and Waterfalls
We started our route up near the stunning Asbyrgi canyon where we paused to take in the massive rock formation that divides the central valley before continuing along route 864. It is a rough but beautiful road that led us to the mightiest waterfall in Europe, the spectacular Dettifoss. We stopped and hiked along the rim of the river up to the incredible Selfoss.
After taking a break to admire the rushing water we continued on our way towards the junction at Route 1 to F88 where we caught the view of the Queen of the Icelandic Highlands, Mt. Herðubreið.
Askja Caldera and Viti Crater
Askja is about 100 km from the popular Ring Road (Highway 1) and is a popular destination. It even has two mountain huts and a campsite where visitors can sleep, however, there is no food or drink available. If you are thinking of going that route, make sure you pack enough supplies to cover your stay. Known popularly as the Askja Caldera, the word Askja is actually Icelandic for Caldera, so this would make it the Caldera Caldera.
The gravel roads leading up to the Highlands are rough and offer little forgiveness. You should not even attempt to drive the interior unless you have a reasonably capable 4 wheel drive to do so. You don’t, however, need a monster truck. We made our journey in a Volkswagen Tiguan and it handled everything we threw at it with little effort.
The landscape in the Icelandic highlands is spectacular, barren and rough. It’s no wonder why Iceland’s interior is an empty place, as living here would be a feat of its own. This was the coldest day of our 18-day journey through Iceland, and as we parked our car at the top of the switchbacks in the Askja parking lot, a cold rain began to fall and the clouds dropped and soon seemed to be sitting just above our shoulders. We mounted C into our Deuter Kid-Carrier and attached the rain jacket to help keep him dry for the journey and began to trek out towards the Caldera.
Even in early July, the hiking glaciers in Iceland means trekking on a thick blanket of snow and ice. The snow was soft and wet and made the hike a slow one, especially with the added weight of the backpack and C on my back. Christina and I had brought hiking poles with us and having them went a long way towards helping me retain my balance as the icy carpet crunched beneath my feet. In the places where the field of snow gave way to bare ground, we were met with a soft, muddy base that quickly covered our boots. C was having none of this cold, wet hike and promptly dozed off in the dry, cushiony softness of his kid-carrier. I was treated to the sounds of his snores through the rest of my journey across the ice.
We arrived at the Viti explosion crater after about 30 minutes and were wowed by the milky white water of Lake Askja. Viti sits a short distance from Öskjuvatn, the main, and much larger crater lake that was formed when a massive volcanic eruption took place in 1875. The aftermath of the explosion was so devastating that it lead to many Icelanders migrating to Canada to escape the poisonous ash and damage it caused to crops and livestock. The lake is covered with ice the majority of the year, only thawing for a short time between June and July. We were up around 1300-1500 m above sea level and the Viti (Warm lake in a crater) Geothermal Lake. The water in the crater sits about 50 m down from the rim. The water in the caldera is usually around the 30°C mark, although the temperatures do fluctuate, and many people who hike to it climb down into the crater and go for a swim.
Beyond its gorgeous scenery and spectacular background, the Askja Caldera has been used by NASA as a training ground for its geology research. In fact, 9 of the 12 men who set foot on the Moon did some of their training in Iceland.
A lesson in adventure parenting
I had brought my swimsuit, having every intention of making the climb down to the crater and bathing in the warm waters below, but after testing the grounds and watching the struggles of others who had made it to the bottom attempt to climb back up the crumbling, loose rock and mud walls of the crater, I looked at my wife and son and decided that should I need to be rescued from a volcanic crater in the middle of the Icelandic Highlands, I would surely never hear the end of it from them during my lifetime. This hike left me with a sense of respect for my position as a parent while travelling. I learned that as much as I love adventure, there are now people who rely on me to stay safe and available. This doesn’t mean I will avoid all risk moving forward, it just means I’ll weigh the risk vs. rewards before doing things that might cause trouble for myself or my family.
Exhausted after a long day of trekking through Iceland’s highlands, we made our way back across the snow field toward our car. We would make the drive to Hofn, where our next day would be spent exploring the spectacular Iceberg lagoon and another adventure that none of us expected.