The Iceland Field Trip



Leader: Frank Clissmann
Coordinator: Angela Casey

Originally in 2005 the idea of a trip to Iceland as a wonderful opportunity to visit the most hands on experience of geology in the making was mooted at the IGA meetings by several people. Not much more happened until Frank took the idea further and with Angela a group of hardened field trippers were booked to go in a 20 seater bus on an overland experience of a lifetime.

The expedition included Mary Colley, Camille Souter, Deirdre Lewis, Frank C., Luke Brady, Pauline Herlihy, Eibhlin Ui Chionna, Geraldine and Des Walsh, Angela Casey, Deirdre Browne, J. Morgan Flynn, Des Croasdell, Ed McKenna, Peter Lewis, Tom Moloney, Dan O’Shea and Dan Griffin. Our driver, tour guide extraordinaire was Helgi Gudmundsson (“the Great Northern Driver”).

Wed August 23

We arrived at Keflavik airport, and picked up by Helgi after a short delay. We then headed for a short tour around the Reykjanes peninsula amidst lavas less than 1,100 yards to our first introduction to the mid Atlantic ridge which starts to enter Iceland at this point. The roads, if you could call them such, are very basic tracks like one could imagine on Mars. After been shaken and stirred like a proverbial cocktail we arrived at Svartzengi (Blue Lagoon) where we were given a very extensive tour of the geothermal power plant by a lovely young lady. These plants account for all the hot water and the bulk of the power for all the main Icelandic town areas. Oil is only used in outlying farms and houses.

After leaving the power plant we entered Grendairk a fishing town and got on a decent road to Stokksegre on the south east coast for an interesting meal in what looked like a school house with bench seating. A lovely king prawn meal was provided and wine. We then headed inland on good roads to the accommodation at Nesbud beside a large geothermal plant and nothing else.

Thursday August 24

We all went on a guided tour of the Nesjavellir Power Plant and slide show. Then we went to a viewing point over the power station to see the network of pipes, bore holes to 2,000 m and run off of steam etc which these plants create. We then drove by the Pinguallavatn lake to the Allmannaggia fissure where the continental plates are separating at 2cm/year about. The examples of ropey Pahoehoe lava swirls on the top of the fissures were very impressive. We were constantly reminded of the flora and particularly fauna of the surroundings as Helgi slammed on the brakes to reverse, and show us the Great Northern Diver or a Barrou’s Golden Eye. We all got the message quickly and afterwards headed for the steam bath and saunas at Laugarvatn (vatn = lake). We swam in the cold lake then into Jacuzzis to warm up – ah……! Next we went to Gullfoss to see the rainbow effect of the spray and see a glacial outwash river. The volume even in summer is quite amazing. Next we set off back to see the Geysir and Stokkis the area of super heated steam where good public shops are demonstrated by the hot pods of stinking H2S, CO2 (fart gas, rotten eggs whatever) and wattirrrrr!!! By this time we were getting more used to al the hot water in hotels which smells, the cold is very nice and pure.

We then headed for our next destination a geothermal greenhouse which grows veg and flowers, roses, chrysanthemums and iris etc the bulk for home use. They produce a cucumber snapps in a cucumber created (glass shape) and this was an interest for the green fingers among us. We then headed east towards our next accommodation at Leirubakki near the famous Mt Hekla which erupted in 2000, showering a huge area with scisia and pumice type tephras.

Friday August 25

We stayed here two nights with nice rooms spanking new but oh! The smell of the showers again. The food was good. The evening before we had a good view of the Westmann Islands as the weather was improving for our benefit. We set off through a larger tephia landscape light coloured andesitic – basaltic (argued by many) mature lava and pumice, brittle and very light. We stopped at various venues to sample and photo the environment of explosion craters and lava fields. The main attraction was our lunchtime destination of the very colourful Landmannalaugar and area of acidic exhaustives Rhyolite (yellowish) and Obsidian type Pitchstone. We went for a walk climbed over a large obsidian/pitchstone lava flow and some of us had a subsequent very enjoyable swim in the nearby river which is geothermally heated to very warm.

We had lunch and later moved away from this very isolated place. We passed by geomorphologic glaciation features, explosion craters and crater lakes with stunningly colourful scenery to another power plant, hydroelectrically powered with a bridge over a gorge with distinctive pillow lavas. A good while later we met a proper road and visited another high waterfall over a glaciated valley called Haifoll. This beautiful but awesome place is about 1,000 ft high and impressive falls, and Antrim like columnar basalts. We then headed back to Leirubakki for our meal and the night.

Saturday August 26

We reattached the trailer and packed the luggage and headed north over the central highlands between the glaciers and ice caps of Vatnajokull and Hofsjokull through Sprengisandr. We spent a long time over bad roads until the fauna distracted Helgi too much, and the whites of Des C. eyes told Morgan something was wrong. We got the message over to Helgi as he narrowly avoided a yellow jeep. We made our lunch break at Nyidalur and noted the desolation of the Martian type landscapes for miles around. The outpost resting stations and portaloo is all there is of civilisation except for a small airfield nearby.

We headed on again and Helgi interjected on several occasions for Morgan’s benefit with names of birds etc. We stopped on route at another impressive falls called Aldeyjarfoll, where columnar basalts were on show and eroded caves as well as pillow lavas along with a glacial outwash from northerly flowing rivers as we had crossed the watershed.

We avoided most of the rain and headed on towards Myvatn and stopped on the way at Godafoss (God’s Waterfall) since the last pagan king convert to Christianity threw his idols into the falls. Since it was getting late we just had time to see more birds on Myvatn lake and a series of pseudo-craters along the edge of the lake at Skutustakegigar caused as the magma encounters the cold water of the lake making a caldera appearance.

The accommodation at Vogar was very good timber cabins with smelly hot water. The restaurant even funnier as it was situated in a cowshed beside the milking parlour. At breakfast it was at least unusual to see the cows being milked as you were served breakfast by the same staff.

The previous evening Helgi had suggested two options for the trip on Sunday but some of us had a third and even a forth option. Pauline suggested to Helgi about the Arctic Circle and it went down like a lead balloon until five of us showed the same interest. He kindly made a few phone calls and it was found that only four could be accommodated. Ed had hoped to go but drew the short straw.

Saturday August 27

Started a bit confused no contact with airport til 9.00. Helgi arranged to deliver us to airport 10 mins away and bring the others to Dettifoss the largest waterfall in Europe and to a nearby canyon on the far side of Kafla a major eruption area east of Myvatn by about 50 miles. I on the other hand joined Pauline, Camille, Luke and four Americans we picked up in Akureyri. The piper chieftain hold 2 pilots 8 people and we set off for Grimsey which straddles the Artic Circle. This island is home to one hundred and seven people with about twenty houses, one small church, millions of Arctic Terns and a fishing fleet. The lady of the only guest house brought us on a tour of the one mile of road and showed us the church and lighthouse. The Americans were renewing their marriage vows after thirty years, the said people could hardly fit in the plane due to thirty years of over indulgence.

We returned late to Reykjahlid airport at 3.00pm and Helgi picked us up all smiles thank God! And we returned to the fold in time for lunch ! We all went to Krafla power station for a video presentation of the volcanic ferocity of the area and later went to Viti a large crater lake and a large sulphurous lava field nearby. We then visited Hverapond a very smelly mud spring and sulphurous gas vents (solfataras). The volcanic area near Krafla power station erupted in 1975 due partly to the borehole drilling and was still active in 1980 and until recently. The whole area is primed to go again any time.

Sunday August 28

We started early with the trailer back on we headed to Dimmuborgir (black castles) a 2000 year old lava field of contorted volcanic pillars up to 65 feet high. There is also a set of caves with hot water pods under ground and large lava tube arches with tunnels ten feet high in places.

From here we set off on a long drive over good roads to Akureyri. This was interspersed with Helgi’s constant references to flora and fauna a complete wealth of knowledge constantly at his disposal. From Akureyri we followed the coast road, recently completed in the 1970’s circumnavigating Iceland until after a couple of stops we arrived via an interesting port tunnel 6km long, the envy of us in Dublin.

We stopped at a factory shop to flex the plastic and got a guided tour of Reykjavik centre. We got to our hotel ‘The Baron’ and after a short stay we walked through a gale to our restaurant. Here a good atmosphere of fun helped to make the evening go smoothly and a well deserved presentation to Helgi also went down well (appropriately a geological hammer and Irish whisky).

Monday August 29

We were picked up by Helgi late, we joked about being drunk and the wife having beaten him up with the hammer. However we were brought to the Icelandic Energy Research office where we had a good illustrated lecture by Mr Hjalti Frranzson. Then we dropped back to the Isafold office and said our farewells to Helgi.

Our final visit was to the famous Blue Lagoon beside the Svartsengi Power Plant where we started our journey, the pool is the product of the effluent of the power plant but boast major benefits for people with skin infections and boy was it great!!!

This endeth the SAGA of the ‘Great Northern Divers and Arctic Turners’!! Frank and Angela also got a customary donation for their efforts.

Peter Lewis

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