Icelandic Saga: Hot & Cold Running Water


Hello once more from Iceland. I’m newly arrived here with Nat Geo Student Expeditions, sharing highlights of our trek. Welcome! I met up with the students I’d be traveling with for the next ten days in Reykjavik late last week, fired up and ready to roll.


After a (perhaps too authentic) meal at a “Viking Restaurant,” we charged out for Thingvellir, where representatives of Iceland’s Viking clans gathered more than a thousand years ago to form the world’s first parliament. They continued to assemble here from across the island annually for centuries, reading and making laws, deciding judicial cases, and feuding with one another in ways that would be chronicled in sagas and epics.

Thingvellir straddles the Mid-Atlantic ridge, a ripped seam running thousands of miles along the sea floor, but visible here above the surface. Tectonic forces are tearing Iceland apart, with the two sides of Thingvellir moving away from one another at an average rate of about an inch (two centimeters) each year. The spreading creates long, parallel rifts…


… and striking vistas.


Water that’s just a few degrees above freezing fills some of the rifts…


… so we pulled on insulated, (mostly) waterproof dry suits to dive in and get a glimpse of the drowned chasms. In case anyone’s wondering, freezing cold water is, in fact, COLD!


One additional consequence of the Atlantic’s ravenous yawning and the subterranean cauldron beneath Iceland: frequent volcanic eruptions that cover portions of the island with ash and lava. We stripped dry suits and grabbed headlamps and hardhats to scramble the length of a lava tube cave some 2,600 years old.


To round out the day—pretty much endless, since we’re so near the Arctic Circle that it never gets truly dark here this time of year—we pushed on to Geysir, where we made camp for the “night.” The geyser known as Geysir erupts a few times each day, but on an erratic schedule. We didn’t see it erupt, but the nearby Strokkur geyser…


…erupts every five minutes or so, first swelling up…


… and then erupting.


And in case you were wondering, yes, it’s hard to sleep at all when the sky’s this beautiful at 1 a.m.


I’ll be back ASAP with more updates. Meanwhile, post any questions you’ve got about Iceland below, and the students and I will try to get you an answer while we’re here. Bye for now, – Ford

PS – Next up from Iceland: Wonder Falls.


Photographs by Ford Cochran