Watching Volcanoes in Iceland - Safely

Whenever volcanoes erupt in Iceland, thousands of people make their way over to see the wonders. I've been filming volcanoes in Iceland since 2021 and it's probably been the safest place to see them, thanks to the efforts of the ICE-SAR teams around the country.

The vast majority of people don't take necessary precautions though and put themselves and the members of ICE-SAR crews at risk.  As a result, extractions of tourists can take place under difficult circumstances.

Here are some tips to keep yourself safe:

Make sure you take water and some snacks.  Do NOT litter.  You must bring back whatever you take out with you.  Please stick to the designated trails.  There is magma and lava moving in various directions under any volcano and its surrounding areas, listen to the instructions given to you by the Police and ICE-SAR crews and adhere to them.

Take appropriate clothing in layers - especially in Winter.  Pick the right clothing that won't trap moisture.  The last thing you want is for that sweat to turn to ice on your body if something goes wrong and you can't move.  Make sure you have sturdy walking boots and the right kind of socks too.  People working in outward bound type stores should be able to give you give advice but it's worth doing your research and asking questions before buying as some sales people will try to sell you anything to make a profit and it isn't necessarily what you need for the trip.  As a photographer/videographer, I use the heavy duty Canada Goose gear when I'm filming.  However, the jacket is no good for hiking because it doesn't wick moisture away that well but it is excellent if you've got to your location in a sub-zero temperature environment and want to be protected from extreme weather as it won't let the cold in.

Don't forget an outer waterproof layer.  Although, if it rains, you should be looking to move away - especially if you have low cloud.  If the area fills up with gases, you won't be allowed in anyway.

Take a respirator, especially if you have conditions such as asthma.  Again, do your research and get the right one.  A half face mask is fine.  Also get goggles to protect your eyes.  Take a personal C02 alarm as well and monitor your surroundings carefully. Remember that C02 is odourless.  Be aware that various gases will be in the area:  carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and others may be present, such as hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen halides.  Make sure your outer layer is a shell jacket with a hood,  If you smell sulphur (which smells like rotten eggs), it means sulfur dioxide is present, so mask up, put your goggles on and pull up the hood of your jacket.  If your C02 alarm goes off, you need to get out of that area.  Pay attention to the direction of the wind, you don't want to be in an area where the wind is driving the fumes towards you.  ICE-SAR crews and the Police will move you away if they see a potential threat to your safety.  Please obey their directions.  Most ICE-SAR crews are volunteers and they won't risk themselves to save you if you've done something irresponsible - and quite rightly so.

Test the seal of your respirator before entering the area and make sure you know how long a set of filters is estimated to last.  If you smell sulphur when your mask is on, either your seal isn't correct or the filters need changing, if you've been using them before.

Take walking poles.  They're essential if you have any kind of mobility related disability...but even able bodied visitors will need them.  You'll see locals overtaking you and walking without poles - be humble.  Remember that they've been going up and down these hills all their lives.

Make sure your mobile is fully charged and that you know how to contact the emergency services there:  112 (one-one-two).  Take a battery pack to charge your mobile up if you're going to spend the day there.

Handwarmers are very useful if you're going to be sitting in cold weather, as are heatpads/wraps for injuries you may have.  It can be very uncomfortable when the cold seeps into your bones.  

Take a torch and/or a headlamp.  Especially in Winter.  If you're viewing  a volcano in lighter months, it's still worth keeping one in your pocket.

Carry a small personal first aid kit for those little cuts.  Some of the rocks are very sharp.

Don't forget any necessary medication.

Check on each other if you are travelling as a group and move to the pace of the slowest person in your group.  Do not leave anyone behind you on the way there or back.  If you see a stranger that's struggling, check on them.

I hope you have a great time and see something wonderful but please remember that volcanoes can be catastrophic and that people's homes can be at risk, so please be sensitive when asking about or discussing volcanoes.  Also remember that the Police may have closed any access to volcano sites; if they have, please don't try to find another way in.  Again, do your research as to whether the volcano can be safely viewed before you book your flight, in order to avoid disapointment.  You should seek this information from a ICE-SAR or Police source though rather than any tourism related office as there can be a conflict of interest.

Be safe.

Villayat 'Wolf' Sunkmanitu

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