The recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland and the resultant disruption of air traffic made international headlines. But few outside Iceland know that Eyjafjallajökull is a minor blip compared to the cataclysmic event that took place not long ago. In 1783, over 130 craters opened up near Laki in a violent emetic fury that had geological, climatic, and human consequences extending well beyond Iceland, into regions as distant as Japan and India. Over a quarter of Iceland’s population was wiped out, and an estimated 6 million worldwide were killed. Read the details here.
Laki was the largest eruption since the settlement of Iceland. Even the casual visitor cannot fail to notice the grim sight of Eldhraun (“fire lava”), a vast swath of moss-covered lava bisected by the Ring Road west of the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. As the lava came cascading down towards the village, Reverend Jón Steingrímsson and his congregation gathered in the local church where he delivered what has come to be known as the “Fire Sermon.” His eye-witness account, Fires of the Earth, is now available in English translation.
One Sunday, as the eruption reached its peak, Father Jón Steingrímsson held a service in his church in the small town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. A month and a half had passed since the eruption had begun. Father Jón considered the eruption to be a punishment from God for debauchery, laziness, and sinful living. The lava flow was bearing down on the town at speed with thunderous rumblings and crashes. The terrified residents believed their only hope lay in the church. A service began and Father Jón called to God, promising that his congregation would repent their wicked and sinful ways. As the service continued, the lava-flow reached the course of the Skaftá river near an outcrop called Systrastapi, just outside the town. And there it stopped. This remarkable event was attributed to Father Jón’s compelling prayers and his address to the congregation is now known as the “Sermon of Fire”.
Visiting Lakagígar (“Laki craters”) takes some effort as there are no paved roads in the interior and there are potentially treacherous glacial rivers to ford. Specially fitted 4WD vehicles known as superjeeps are usually deployed to negotiate the rough terrain, and the site is a good couple of hours of bone-rattling ride away from the Ring Road (the main road in Iceland).
At Lakagígar you are met with, to put it mildly, an astonishing sight (the Sanskrit word adbhuta comes to mind). One senses a faint echo of the elemental forces of Nature, and for a few disorienting moments one wonders if one has been beamed to an alien world. A full appreciation of the crater row pattern can only be had from the air.
We went to Lakagígar with our personal guide Guðmundur Eyjólfsson, among the finest adventure professionals in Iceland.