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  • Einar Páll Svavarsson

Lakagígar Craters from Skaftáreldar eruption in 1783


A view to the west part of Lakagígar craters
A view of the west part of Lakagígar craters from Mt. Laki

Lakagígar Craters is composed of a 25-kilometer-long row of craters near the eastern side of the Vatnajökull ice cap in the Icelandic Highland. In June 1783, the largest eruption in historical times, Skaftáreldar (Laki eruption), commenced here and caused havoc for people in Iceland, Europe, America, and Asia. Skaftáreldar eruption is considered to have killed more people worldwide than any other eruption. Some have even claimed that Skaftáreldar initiated the French Revolution as it led to crop failure and devastation in France, aggravating the already terrible situation. It is considered to be the most extensive volcano activity on the planet in the last 1000 years, and the lava flow streaming from the craters covered little less than 600 square kilometers of land. Even the well-known Eyjafjallajökull eruption pales in comparison with the consequences of Skaftáreldar. Thus, Lakagígar is more than a natural wonder—It is also a historical site and a large-scale monument showcasing the power and consequences of mother nature.


Map of Icelandic Highland
Map of Icelandic Highland

The mountain Laki:

Hiking up to Mt. Laki
Hiking up to Mt. Laki

When you arrive at Lakagígar, you should take the short hike to Laki. It is a small mountain unlike others, as it has an extraordinary reputation. Laki is approximately 820 meters high and stands 300 meters over its surrounding area deep in the Icelandic Highland. Before June 8, 1783, Laki was just an ordinary, lonely, and peaceful mountain. However, all that changed when two large fissures opened to the west and east sides of the mountain, forcing an unprecedented amount of magma to the surface. Although Laki was more or less unchanged, the eruption ripped Laki's northeastern part, leaving some interesting cracks in that part of the mountain—a spot that is interesting to stop by when you hike the mountain. Nonetheless, contrary to outspread writings and wrong information, Laki had nothing to do with the Skaftáreldar eruption. Laki is not even a crater or a volcano. But when people came to the source of the catastrophic events when things cooled down in 1784, they named the craters on both sides after Laki.


A rewarding hike to Laki:

A view from the top of Mt. Laki to the east
A view from the top of Mt. Laki to the east

Laki is located deep in the Icelandic Highland. It is a place you could easily call a geological and geographic wonderland. After the eruption, Laki became an excellent place to climb to view the magnitude and source of the Skaftáreldar eruption. As time passed, more and more people became interested in this one-of-a-kind place. Today, it is becoming one of the main attractions in the Icelandic Highland and, probably, will soon be one of the main attractions in Iceland. You will find a path to walk up to the top on the south side and another on the west side of Laki. The trail is relatively easy and extremely rewarding, as the view is stunning. The cracks on the northeastern side are also quite impressive, especially considering how they were formed.


A dangerous event produced a stunning landscape:


The service center at Lakagígar
The service center at Lakagígar

Although an enormous area of land glowed with lava flow and threatened life with toxic chemicals in the air only about 230 years ago, the Skaftáreldar eruption also formed a breathtaking landscape. The activity was such that enormous carpets of lava flowed on both sides of the mountains, all the way to shore. On the west side, the lava filled the (then) largest canyon in Iceland, which was 25-kilometer long and has now disappeared under the lava. The whole event changed a large area of the landscape forever.


Access requires a 4X4 vehicle:


Hiking track at Lakagígar
Hiking track at Lakagígar

Laki is accessible only from late June until the beginning of October. It is approximately 40 kilometers from the Ring Road Nr. 1 in the south region of Iceland on a rather rough road with two unbridged rivers to cross. The visit requires a robust 4X4 vehicle and proper preparation. However, although the trip is rather harsh, the scenery and the craters are bewitching. The drive also requires a lot of patience as your average speed for the whole 40 kilometers is probably under 30 kilometers per hour. You start your drive by turning north on the Ring Road Nr. 1 on the south shore, a short distance west of the small village of Kirkjubærjarklaustur. Here, you turn to Holtsvegur (Road Nr. 206). After driving just two kilometers past the farm Hunkubakkar, you turn north again to the Lakavegur Highland and Mountain Road Nr. 206. From there, follow the road for 40 kilometers, and you will reach Laki. On your way back, you can even make more of the tour by visiting Fagrifoss waterfall and Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon.


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