Hi all, long time no see. Thanks for your patience. Since leaving for the north, about 10.000 VC comments ago, so much has happened. But, actually, it all started five days earlier, so about 14 days in “VC Calendar Time” but as all know that is un-measurable in Geological time.
When the eruption started (again) early on Sunday morning, 31 August, Junior phoned me about two minutes after it was first seen (Mila web 05:51). Plans were already in motion. Film. Make movie. Or at least get stock footage for the Hekla film. Some weeks earlier, this idea had picked up increased momentum, thanks to private support from Carl. By Saturday, 23 August 2014, I had already been in the air, filming over Bárðarbunga …
Further travelling plans were already in motion. I and my pilot friend Sigmundur tried fly up north on Monday (1 Sept) but ,as weather was unfavourable and we could not cross the interior by Visual Flight Rules (VFR), we had to postpone.
Then, I’m afraid my pilot had to go into hospital. But that was only for a check up, he was back two days later.
During those two days many brave pilots & photographers flew there and got some very good photos. By the time we got there, with two planes and four photographers on September 4th, it was dark as dusk, pouring with rain from huge-cumulus over the site. Then the first fountain appeared out of the murk – WOW! And I was not referring to the airline by that name. We were in company with two other planes but each flew different altitude for safety. All contained photographers! We took turns taking photos and video (the air was very turbulent, so stable video clips were all but impossible, sorry).
We stayed over the eruption site for one hour then left for Mývatn Airfield. Arriving there we saw crashed Dornier 27 off the runway. Nobody onboard was hurt, it had swung on landing. Thankfully, dear readers, we landed ok. We took on 80 litres of fuel, stayed two hours, but then left again for Reykjavik, via the fissure. It had stopped raining but it was rather dark. Immediately after landing I hurried home, started processing pictures/copying videos, sending some off to agency and Nick in England and also pictures to Carl at VC for you, readers. I wish I could say that this was straight forward, but a dodgy internet connection meant that it really wasn’t. They were still uploading when I went to bed at 02:00.
07:15 rose to find that the connection had dropped and the upload had to start again. Then I kissed wife goodbye, finished writing photo text, then had Sigmundur come over with the other photographers in a jeep. Pick-up was at about 08:40, and we were off 15 minutes later for VERY LONG road trip up north. Needless to say, car was packed with stuff. Helpfully,we got news that the area had been totally closed to all. Gas. A real Doh! moment. But we decided to continue anyway, to go on regardless, we had our Media Pass and Special Passes, permission document, our camera gear was 100% in order, and weather for the coming days was good. We drove the 750 km out to Mörudalur, still to find everything closed but, to our amazement, when phoning local authorities in Húsavík, about certain closure details, nobody seemed know these exact details I was asking about! It transpired so many people were involved, that all were not up to date with what all others had decided or were doing. Needless to say I reported this to the authories in Reykjavík, in the hope that if it could be checked, double-checked and learned from. When calling Húsavík the next day, there was another person on duty and he had all the relevant info, on a notice-board before him! I do not know if my calls “put it there” or not. Ok, back to the Mývatn area. Checking in at a hostel, at midnight, we got the wrong building. It had beds, so no no harm done (but got 700 kr discount on second night though. (And that’s 5 of your US$!)
We saw the eruption glow reflected on the clouds just after midnight, so we drove out again to catch that from south of Myvatn area. Then it was back to sleep at about 03:00 hrs. Just 4 hours later at 07:15 we were up again. We drove out before 09:00 hrs, this time to the correct checkpoint. But it was closed as before. Everything was closed at the eruption site but scientists were there, and with fine weather and plenty air traffic. We were still 50 km away, and had no plane! I even saw Luftwaffe C-160 Transall transport fly over west-bound (flight GAF061) and heading straight to the eruption! Police from Vopnafjörður came by but the remaining hours were spent chatting and speculating with very nice Volunteer Rescue Services persons from “Vopni” there. Thanks guys, I know they read VC there! Then we got a tip that by going up a mountain, to Vestar-Sauðahnjúkur, off Kárahnjúkar dam, the eruption could be seen in “line of sight”. We drove out, two more hours by backroads, over Kárahjnúkar Dam (bringing back memories from 1992 when I worked on its design & building drawings).
We literally we ran up the mountain, 1000 meter high (but only last 200 meters!) as light was failing. Arriving in dusk, the eruption was visible but there were clouds overhead. It was not very photogenic. We met a girl Park Ranger that had been forced to leave Hvannalindir, but was filling in at Snæfell Mountain Hut that weekend. We drove back in the darkness, three hours by the roughest back roads. We made it back to Mývatn at 02:30 hrs (note to self: next time, stay closer). Bed at 03.00 hrs after a small snack. Up again at 09:15 Sunday morning (a record breaking 5-6 hours of sleep) for the trip. Off for food and news, but no news yet. Packing all up, with everything stuffed into car. We decided to stick around until midday, Sunday, then head back. We were still clinging to the hope that the media ban would be lifted.
I began phoning “those in charge” at noon. No news. Phoned again. No news. So we decided to do some sightseeing in the Dimmuborgir and Mývatn area to pass the time. I will readily admit, we were not in high spirits. Driving 1200 km and having no media permission for the eruption site. Two full days of waiting. I was seriously thinking of calling it quits!
But at 13:54 hrs the ban was lifted. Yay, a flurry of action. I quickly recalled my fellow “sightseers” and driver back to the car. They bought some extra food and we set off quickly. Then we drove east, for the third time! Arriving at main checkpoint in Krepputunga, there were two cars ahead of us, also on the way to the eruption site, but we never met up with them… We followed, made stops on the way and photographed the surrounding mountains. Arriving in Dreki in early evening, we sought advice and instruction. Incredibly, a very nice scientist handed us his Tetra radio, and briefed us on procedures. Obviously, I became Radio Operator and Tour Guide instantly. Approaching the eruption it started to rain, and it rained for the remaining 27 km until we arrived. We found correct track in the sands, then the eruption came into direct view. It was small… Only 150 meters! And very silent. Only a quiet rumbling like large waterfalls. A strange and eery sound. But we stayed well off the lava and possible gas areas. Lava had entered river near Vaðalda, but it was silent. Light conditions did not allow any time to there, Instead we went for the main crater fountain and I managed shoot some video, before the light ran out. With the other camera I had, I took pics of others taking pics and videos!
The rain continued relentlessly and one lens soon became water-logged. Lenses don’t like water. It kills them. It fogged up (damaged, but repairable). I changed lenses and managed fill (almost) all available memory cards before our return to Dreki Huts at 23.00 hrs. In the meantime, two other jeeps had joined us, and I had became Group Leader for all (the others asked for our “group protection”). One car had a flat battery, but soon started again. Likely old battery having “off-road shaken syndrome”, where vibration loosens up old particles inside it and the voltage falls (by shorting). Otherwise we never got stuck in sand or otherwise. My driver is an old hand at driving in hostile mountain terrain. Back at Dreki at midnight, we were refused accommodation, briefly or overnight, so we had to set off on the highland roads in the dark, in the middle of the night. Two other cars were ahead of us and we had exchanged phone numbers, just in case. Not scary, we had very good car, but it took three hours to the main checkpoint (VEB made tent/hut). Only two rescue personnel were there on duty (new shift) and the four of us were invited to rest in our sleeping bags. One elected to sleep in the car outside as it was not such a cold night.
Off again at nine, a quick coffee, and we said goodbye to the “Jökull” people at ten. Off to Möðrudalur and Hálendiskaffi at midday, for food, had lunch and then refuelled for trip back to Mývatn and Akureyri. Then I discovered that my jacket was still in the VEB made tent/hut, since 03.00 am last night! It was wet so I had hung it to dry on the wall and forgot it in the morning. In it were samples of New Lava, small stones for Petro Analyses (as requested by someone).
It took all day, Monday, to drive back home, 750 km along main roads. The following two days were spent copying and backup copying files, repairing camera gear, and processing photos to send to VC.
A good adventure. We had plenty of minor troubles, not to mention that we never were able buy gas masks or gas meters. These were all sold out. On Friday I got my jacket by mail complete with samples and my Hi Vis vest. Thanks Mr. Jökull in Fáskrúðsfjörður. Then I discovered probably how SO2 smells. Think Diesel motor fumes!
And thanks again to you all VC readers, for your tremendous support and inspiration on the Movie Fund project (I have lurked whenever time perhaps permitted, but have only read about 7,000 comments so far). I intend to film more in the coming weeks, and have worked on this practically every day since 23 August, so far financing myself, so contributions are very much appreciated.
Your eye on Bardarbuga, Eggert Norðdahl, aka “Islander”