Catastrophic floods in Iceland.

Posted on 01. Oct, 2015 by in Uncategorized


Vatnajökull + Twisted Bridge by Audrey at Flickr.

Living in a volcanic country is never predictable. When we’re talking about volcanoes and the dangers they bring along many people would probably get a very Pompeiian idea of what that means, but actually the real threat is not fire at all. It’s water.

Many of Iceland’s volcanoes are situated under glaciers, and when they start to warm up they melt the ice on top little by little until in the end the whole ice cap lifts up like a lid from a pot and lets out a huge flood. The worst ones of these floods take everything with them on their way and even smaller ones damage property and roads, threatening the Ring Road 1 in south Iceland. Besides the water another danger in the glacier floods is the possibility of poisonous gas that the water might bring along.


From up north at Dettifoss: probably the most catastrophic glacier flood of the history of Iceland happened here a long time ago, and this is what it left behind – rocks (and a majestic waterfall).

Iceland is currently having a massive glacier flood at Skaftá river, estimated to be larger and more powerful than any in the recent years; south Iceland is mostly uninhabited but alas, this flood might be nearing a populated area. People are likely not in danger but property and roads may be and this is a bad time of the year to have roads cut off.

To give you an idea of the impact of the floods, here’s a monument – a glacier memento, if you like – of the destructive power within Vatnajökull glacier.


This used to be a long bridge. Now all that’s left of it is this one, twisted rusty thing, standing alone in the middle of the large, cold desert south of Vatnajökull.


There’s also two signboards with photos of the flood while it was still going on.


Here’s what the bridge used to look like, if you’d like to compare it to what’s now left of it. For views of the previous large glacier floods in Skaftá I found this Flickr tag here – when floods happen here they happen very thoroughly!

The current flood area is much more to the west, and we’re all following news on what’s going on in that part of Iceland. Travelers are being warned to not go near the flooded area and I can only hope the ban is effective, we’ve already lost more tourists to the powers of nature this year than we have of Icelanders.

Glacial river flood under way.

Glacier flood may reach national ring road.

Skaftá flood: “This could be very big”.

Flood to reach populated areas by midday.

LIVE: follow the sinking ice cap (here you can watch the ice cover under which the water’s flooding out slowly collapse).

The English news are obviously aimed at foreigners, so let’s also have a look at the media in Icelandic.


Destroyed bridge on Route 1 after Katla Jökulhlaup in july 2011 by Pavel Karaflát at Flickr.

Langt hlé gæti þýtt að hlaupið verði stórt (A long break may mean that the flood will be large).

This article discusses the possibility of a large flood comparing it to the previous years, where a break in the more or less regular slammer floods has always mean a big one is on its way. This article’s now two days old though, and today we know it’ll definitely be a large one. In fact –

Vöxtur Skaftárhlaupsins óvenjulega hraður (The Skaftár-flood is expanding unusually fast).

Í tilkynningu frá Veðurstofunni segir að rennsli við Sveinstind sé nú rúmir þúsund rúmmetrar á sekúndu og fari hratt vaxandi.

An announcement from the Met Office says that the flooding at Sveinstind is now about a thousand cubic metres by second and growing.

Fréttir Stöðvar 2 í kvöld: Hættustigi lýst yfir (News on Channel 2 tonight, alarm level announced).

“Allt bendir til þess að þetta sé mjög stórt hlaup og jafnvel stærsta hlaup sem að hefur komið úr kötlunum eftir að mælingar hófust sem var held ég 1971… …Meiri hætta þá á vegaskemmdum uppi í Skaftárdal… …og síðan náttúrlega eru þá orðnar auknar líkur á að það flæði hugsanlega yfir þjóðveg 1. Sem þýðir að það geti hugsanlega þurft að loka honum um einhvern tíma,” segir Víðir Reynisson.

“Everything’s pointing to a very large flood, possibly even the largest flood that has come from the calderas after measuring began that I think was in 1971… …More danger is of damage to roads up in Skaftárdal… …and then naturally it’s become more and more likely that it’ll flood considerably over national road 1. That means it may have to be closed for some time,” says Víðir Reynisson.

(For Icelanders the Ring Road 1 is a lifeline around the country, and though it’s cut somewhat regularly by the forces of nature it’s never to be taken lightly.)

Hættustigi lýst yfir (danger level announced). Here’s footage of the flood as it was earlier today – also a great chance to train your ear to Icelandic!

5 points to hiking in Iceland.

Posted on 24. Sep, 2015 by in Icelandic culture


Iceland is a wonderful country for hiking, especially from the spring to early autumn. The scenes are out of this world and can be surprisingly near you, the routes are well-kept and clean and often offer many levels of difficulty all based on the hiker’s experience and skills. In fact you don’t always even need much experience and skills as some trails are super easy… Here’s a few points to keep in mind when planning a hike in Iceland.


Fog on Esjan.

Check the weather forecast

Before you head out into the nature you’ll want to know what the weather’s going to throw at you. The weather may change very quickly so keep checking it, never trust a week-early forecast. Take into account the route you’re going to hike: cloudy weather may not stop you from enjoying a particular route to hot springs but it will make some mountain hikes useless and possibly dangerous. If the weather forecast says there’s a storm on the way hole up indoors and wait for it to blow over. Similarly if the locals tell you the weather’s too bad for what you’re going to attempt, listen to them (link).

Dress up well

Always be prepared, especially on longer trails such as Laugavegur but also on short hikes like Esjan. At worst it may be a question of life or death, and even when things don’t come to such extremes you’ll still feel much better in comfortable clothes.

Forget immediately about looking good, and if you’re told you’re not wearing enough, take heart because failing that may have resulted in at least one sad ending. What you want is layers, natural fibers and good watertight shoes that are good for walking. There’s no situation where fashion would beat function, safety, health and comfort always come first.


Make a plan B. Make a plan C as well.

Iceland is eternally unpredictable, especially when weather is concerned. Bad weather will only be overcome by good planning, so always have some kind of an extra idea in your backpocket if it turns out that your original idea won’t work after all. Never just go and attempt original idea in bad weather please, that’s how we get dead tourists… but that doesn’t mean you should sit indoors and bore yourself to death either. There’s always something interesting elsewhere so if the skies turn black you turn your back and follow the sun instead.

Make sure that any plan won’t backfire too badly

Save the Icelandic emergency number 112 to your phone well in advance is the most important part of course, but there are other things you should also do. Always let someone know where you’re going to go, when you’re going to leave and when you’re planning to arrive to your decided location, if something happens and you never arrive they know to send help your way. If your plans change along the way keep the contact person informed so they know you’re ok. Check also the road conditions in the area you’re planning to go to, especially in the winter some roads may even be closed.

If you’re headed to an area that’s known to have something dangerous in it, f.ex. Katla volcano nearby, find out in advance what kind of an alarm system is in use for emergencies. Most likely you’ll never need to know them, but if you do they may save your life. Katla’s eruption emergency signal is five flares and five maroons by the way, if you notice that it’s time to follow your emergency evacuation route and seek higher ground. More info on Katla’s nearby areas here.


Keep calm and þetta reddast

When something goes wrong and you’re in a strange country the first thing you should do is take a deep breath. Concentrate on the immediate problem. Are you lost? Sit down, eat something, think, alert help. If you’re sure you know where you came from you can try backtracking your steps but the best option would be to stop moving around. If someone needs to find you they’ll find you easier if you stay put.

If you suddenly get swamped by a fog, do the same. Sit down and eat something, pass the time and wait for the weather to clear up. On mountains sudden mists can even be lazy clouds that flop their bellyside on top of the mountain on their way over, they may blow away just as fast as they arrived.

If you injure yourself, calling for help is the first step of course. Try to keep yourself warm while waiting, don’t move around unless you spot a good shelter. Eating something is always a good option because it lifts your spirits and helps you calm down, thinking is easier with a bit of energy.

Whatever the surprising situation that has caused you trouble, don’t panic – the best thing you can pack on a hike in Iceland is a cool head.


Do you love to hike? Is there something that you feel should be on my list that wasn’t there? Please share your tips in the comments!

Soon landing in Reykjavík!

Posted on 17. Sep, 2015 by in Icelandic culture


Krummi krúnkar úti by Helgi Halldórsson at Flickr. Reykjavík airport in the background. :D

The ravens have returned to the villages and towns. In Iceland ravens are a seasonal sight, living the spring and summer in the countryside but spending the dark, cold season among humans. During the summer seagulls take over but come autumn they make way for the true kings who return to take their thrones atop houses, lamp posts and what few tall trees there are. Icelanders love ravens and feed them because not only are they beautiful and clever, they also bring good luck and are said to warn people who don’t know they’re in grave danger. Ravens even feature in an important role in the legend of how Iceland was found. Not surprisingly such an important bird has affected Icelandic language greatly, so let’s have a light studying day today and learn some raven-related words!


Raven by Atli Harðarson at Flickr.


Hrafn = raven.

Krummi = a fond nickname for ravens.

Hrafnsungi = a raven chick.

Krunk, að krunka = to caw like a raven. Yes, Icelandic has a verb that specifically means “ravensinging”!

Hrafnagangur = ravens being very noisy ravens. Icelandic also has a word that simply means “ravens going loudly about their business”.

Hrafnaþing = a raven assembly, a parliament of ravens. Just like it sounds like, a group of ravens getting together, usually followed up by fierce hrafnagangur.


Ancient technology – a broken piece of obsidian stone tool by aotaro at Flickr.

Hrafntinna = raven-flint = obsidian, black glass of volcanic origin. No wonder that a volcanic country fond of ravens would make that connection.

Nátthrafn = a night raven, also known as a night-owl in English.

Hrafnahret = raven spell-of-bad-weather, a period of sudden coldness right before the beginning of summer (in Iceland we have beginning of summer on a set date, just as we have the beginning of winter). Another similar term for this phenomena is…

Krummaél = raven short-snowstorm, when it snows during the last three days of winter. This is actually a good sign according to folk belief, if “summer and winter freeze together” the summer becomes very beautiful and sunny.


Hrafnaklukka/Cardamine nymanii by Gudny Olafsdottir at Flickr.

Hrafnaklukka = Cardamine nymanii, lady’s smock; a flower.

Krummastör = Carex saxatilis, rock/russet sedge; a plant.

Hrafn-blár (also hrafnsvartur) = the first one is raven-blue, the second raven-black, but both refer to the deepest shade of black there is – coal-black or ink-black. Often used to describe the colour of someone’s hair.

Krummaolía = raven-oil – it’s brennivín! 😀


I see dead vikings… by Hans Splinter at Flickr. Table’s set for our raven friends!


Hrafnblóts goði = the chieftain of raven parties, if translated freely. In other words Óðinn, the one who likes to see good fighting done among humans. A raven party is a war of course.

Hrafnfæðir = raven-food… this has a gruesome meaning: it’s humans, more specifically warriors.

Hrafnvín = another one in line with the above one, raven-wine means human blood.

Blágammr = blue/black vulture = raven (Old Norse).

Blóðvalr = blood-falcon = raven; any blood-[insert bird of choice] in Old Norse tends to be a kenning for a raven.


A raven by Kjartan Birgisson at Flickr.

Proverbs and sayings

Krummi verður ei hvítur þó hann baði sig. = The raven becomes no whiter though he had a bath – a tiger can’t change his stripes.

Sjaldséðir eru hvítir hrafnar. = Rarely are white ravens seen – said when something completely unusual or out of the ordinary happens.

Guð borgar fyrir hrafninn. = God pays the raven’s dues: give food to ravens and you’ll have good luck.

Að vera í hrafnafelum. = To be raven-hidden, meaning something’s lost and no one can find it. Ravens are good at hiding things!

Að vekja hrafnana. = To wake up the ravens. Ravens are always up early in the morning so if you wake them up you’re really an early bird, earliest of them all.

Að vera með krummafætur. = To have raven feet. This one’s a bit funny, it means you have your shoes on so that the right shoe is on left foot and vice versa.

Seint flýgur krummi á kvöldin. = Raven flies late into night. Sometimes there’s just not enough hours in a day to make a living, raven-wise.


Raven by Atli Harðarson at Flickr.



Hulda recommends: Autumn foods

Rhubarb-blueberry jam (original recipe here)

1 kg rhubarb
1 kg blueberries
1 tbs water
1 kg sugar
500 g brown sugar

Cut rhubarb into small pieces. Boil with water in a pot for 15 min or until the rhubarb begins to soften. Add blueberries and boil on low heat until soft and mixed. Let cool a little.

Put in a blender and blend well. Pour back into the pot, add sugar and bring to boil again, let boil slowly for 15-20 min. Put in clean jars, let cool down before closing the lids.

This recipe makes quite a lot of jam, so you can easily halve the ingredients if you don’t need this much. :)