Mother nature has been showing off in Iceland with the spectacular 2021 eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano. Located ~40km from Reykjavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Fagradalsfjall became (almost overnight) a massively popular tourist destination attracting adventure seekers, volcano enthusiasts, and photographers from around the world.
All the shenanigans started in late December 2020 with near-constant earthquake swarms throughout the Reykjanes Peninsula. Vulcanologists had indicated very early on there was the movement of magma underground, and it was likely that it would erupt soon.
Fast forward to March 19, 2021, and it happened; magma breached the surface, bringing the Fagradalsfjall volcano back to life after laying dormant for 6,342 years!
Fagradalsfjall became an instant tourist attraction thanks to the internet and social media. I can remember a constant stream of pictures and drone footage of the show. What launched the volcano into viral stardom was the installation of live-streaming HD cameras at various locations around the eruption. With the click of a mouse, you could watch in real-time mother nature’s show at Fagradalsfjall.
What also made this eruption particularly enticing to tourists was the relative safety. Unlike the violent 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano which disrupted airtravel between North American and Europe, Fagradalsfjall just kinda oozed lava out of the fissure in the earth’s crust and wasn’t particularly violent.
Fagradalsfjall volcano uncensored
Iceland has always been a favorite destination; I planned to explore the volcano and surrounding areas over a few days in Iceland. Knowing the local weather-shenanigans, I planned on 5-days of “working very remotely.”
I landed at the Keflavik Airport (IATA: KEF) on an unusually sunny and clear day; I grabbed my tiny Icelandic rental car and immediately headed out towards the volcano. I fought the early morning tiredness and jet lag with caffeine and headed South across the peninsula. Within 45-minutes of leaving the airport, I had arrived (or so I thought).
Along the coastal road of Route 427, there were three massive ad-hoc parking lots with hundreds of cars and tour busses. The hastily erected sites were the only safe place to accommodate the tsunami of tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of Mother Nature’s big show. After 60-minutes of bouncing between the three designated parking areas, I found a place to park, grabbed my photography gear, and set off.
The first major decision I faced was which way to go. The eastern route was a 4km round trip, ascending 150m, giving visitors a view of the caldera from ~1km away. The western trail was a 6-7km round trip, climbing 350m, and was much more challenging.
I chose the eastern route and began the hike with 25kg of camera gear on my back. I joined ~200 other people sitting down at the summit, waiting for Fagradalsfjall to do volcano things. Yep, as I began the hike, the volcano’s cyclic eruption had paused, and there was nothing to see but the sun illuminating the charred landscape. After catching my breath, I chatted with fellow trekkers from Europe and North America who were just as disappointed at the lack of activity. I stuck around for 3 hours, hoping something would happen; sadly, it didn’t.
Days 2 and 3
As predicted, Iceland’s weather is bipolar asf. Sunny one day, awful the next. On days 2 and 3 of my trip, the weather was horrible; rain, fog, extremely low cloud ceilings, and not a hint of sun anywhere. Crappy weather didn’t stop me; each day, I drove to the volcano, waiting patiently for a glimmer that the weather was clearing so I could start the hike (again) – It never happened.
I ended up visiting the Blue Lagoon, a favorite destination to float around in 30C, silica-rich water, and relax.
The day started just as awful as the past few days, and I found myself lurking around the volcano parking lot, watching the live volcano feed on my phone of fog covering everything. Then, without notice, the fog began to lift and gave way to a windy, overcast day. The live feeds yielded pictures of an active eruption and decent visibility. Almost simultaneously, droves of people started to head up the east trail. I paired down my camera bag and wanted to tackle the western path closer to the caldera. I began the hike, and 2-hours later, I rounded the corner on the final ascent and came to a ridge overlooking Fagradalsfjall volcano erupting and spilling lava into the valley below. I spent two glorious hours photographing and flying my drone around Fagradalsfjall, capturing another erupting volcano.