The Day I Was Nearly Boiled Alive In Iceland
Back in 2016 I made my first trip to the incredible island of Iceland with my friend and fellow photographer Lance Rudge. This adventure ending up being my favorite photography adventure to date, spending ten days chasing light around the island. We were able to make two full trips around the 1300 kilometer ring road, visiting almost every location we hoped to see on this trip at least twice.
We traveled there the week of the summer solstice, sleeping during the day and capturing images throughout the night. The sun never sets in Iceland this time of year making for incredible opportunities for photography with almost no one else around. With sundown technically at midnight and sunup three hours later, when the conditions are perfect you can witness the golden light of sunset for hours on end. We were fortunate to witness this for ourselves around our 5th day there while photographing Kirkjufellsfoss.
Safe Traveling While In Iceland
Everything in Iceland feels volatile and ever changing from the visual look of the varied landscape itself to the dynamic changes in weather. If you plan to travel there, it is important to read everything you can about the island and how to travel safety while you are there. Starting with your rental car, where they will warn you about winds that regularly bend car doors back on their hinges, you get the idea real quick that you aren't in Kansas anymore. If Toto is with you, he's going to need a really strong leash -- or better yet a parachute.
Operation Mud Crack
While conducting travel and photography research prior to our trip, I stumbled across many beautiful images of colorful cracked earth that made for incredible abstract photography. I learned that these areas formed around the edges of countless geothermal vents located across the island created by volcanic activity underground. While there are many hot springs and swimming pools in Iceland, like the famous Blue Lagoon, I wasn't interested in swimming or lounging, we had amazing images to capture!
After striking out trying to find the location of a few of the more visually stunning geothermal areas I had seen photographs of, I asked a fellow photographer who lived there who graciously gave me directions to the best the island had to offer. I couldn't wait!!
Geothermal Wonders | Powered By Volcanos
There are many high temperature regions of Iceland, full of hot springs, geothermal vents, geysers, fumaroles & boiling mud pots. There are the kind that are nice to take a relaxing soak in and the kind that can melt your face off. This was the kind I was looking for! The water and steam temperature at the surface of these areas can exceed 150 degrees Celsius (300 degrees F). While there are numerous "safe" geothermal areas that draw curious visitors every year, I was most interested in the off the beaten track, wild, raw versions -- and we most certainly found them!
A Deadly Volcanic Playground
When we reached the location I was most excited about, that I will purposely not be naming in this article, my jaw dropped. Covering an area about the size of a football field were boiling mud pots and steam vents ranging from the size of a softball to the size of a trampoline and one that was close to 50 ft across. Around the edges of each of these pools were layers of dry cracked mud, all colors of the rainbow due to the elements in the groundwater rising from the earth below. Abstract nature photography is my absolute favorite imagery to capture and I had never seen anything like this in my life.
Interwoven between all of these human crab pots the surface ranged from hard and dry to moist and spongy. We decided to stick to the dry hard areas, where even some ground cover plants were growing and we began to explore. My super highly educated (see Cracker Jack) scientific knowledge told me that wherever plants were growing it surely must be solid ground -- even as I walked past ten foot wide mud pots where you could clearly see the earth at the edge was less than a foot thick. We took our time and carefully calculated each step, changing directions whenever the ground began to feel a bit too much like walking on SpongeBob SquarePants.
I Got Cocky.. As Usual.
After about an hour of carefully tiptoeing around these magical geothermal rainbow pots, Lance told me he was done and was going to go explore a different area about a half mile from where we were. I was not going anywhere. I literally would have stayed there for the rest of our trip and would have been like a kid in a candy store the entire time. I kept shooting and soon Lance disappeared behind a hillside and I was all alone. That was when I saw it. The most amazing iridescent green and blue pool of water I had ever seen. While the area truly did look a bit crazy, I was transfixed and had to get closer. The entire scene was like something from a different planet.
The photograph above shows you exactly what it looked like on that day and there on the left you can see the glorious blue pool. Right next to it, on the far left edge you can see where it all went down...or should I say where I went down.
A Hot Time In Old Town Tonight
I could almost feel the pull of the beautiful blue water. I took a step, then another, each time testing the surface with my weight on one leg. I should have stopped when my shoes began to sink about a inch with each step in the slippery soft mud but I had tunnel vision. Just one step closer.....into the nothing.
It's About To Go Down
That is the only way I can explain it, with one step too many, it felt like I had just unknowingly stepped off the porch and there was nothing to catch my weight. In an instant my entire leg sank thigh deep in what felt like warm...very warm jello.
Over the course of the next 5 seconds or so, my mind raced with a tornado of thoughts. Should I put weight on my other foot? What if that foot sinks too? What if I fall in? I looked around and still there was no one in sight. As my initial adrenaline rush began to wear off I felt it -- my foot was on fire. I could tell that my foot had punched through the mud and I was in hot water...literally.
With no other choice and a small prayer under my breath I put weight on my back foot and catapulted back the way I had come. The mud was so thick on my foot and ankle that it was still feeling like it was burning. This stuff was the stickiest mud I have ever witnessed and as I scraped it off my leg it felt like my hand was on fire too. After about 30 seconds everything cooled and I was safe. I laughed to myself, said a second little prayer and stood up just in time to see Lance walking back over the hillside. Just in time I thought. ;)
In the end there was no burned skin and no trips to the hospital -- only an interesting side story to share along with some great images and good times!
Part II: The Return
Despite almost becoming a lobster roll that day, two years later I went back during my return trip to Iceland. When I got out of the car and walked over to the area I had been previously, I was amazed to see that it had all changed. Every single mud pot was in a different place as if they had moved by magic. Some were smaller, some were completely gone. It looked even more dangerous than the first time I had visited but there was one area close by that looked very beautiful. I started to walk towards it and my foot sank an inch into the surface. One step closer I thought.... just kidding. I decided that this chapter of my life was done on this day and Iceland could have this area all to itself -- until next time. :)
The images below show some of my very favorite images I captured on this trip. You can also see the rest of my Iceland photography and all of my online galleries here. I offer large, limited edition prints to collectors around the world. Some of the abstracts and other images captured in Iceland are still my favorites today. I hope to return one day but either way, what a strange trip it has been!