Julia Bradbury's Icelandic Walk


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Julia Bradbury's Icelandic Walk

Julia Bradbury walks the 60 kilometres of Iceland's most famous hiking route, a trail which ends at the the huge volcanic crater at the centre of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier.


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'Iceland.

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'A land of fire and ice.'

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What is that?

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'The most recent eruptions here caused chaos all across Europe.'

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-Is this THE ash?

-Yeah.

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Yeah, this is it.

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'It's one of the most geologically active places on Earth.'

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We really are at the gates to Hell!

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That's the burning core of the Earth!

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'Over 130 volcanoes are gradually pushing this country apart.'

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Julia, that's it. That's where we're heading.

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Our prize.

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So five minutes out of the hut and this is our first epic view of the day.

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'Wherever you look is another heart-stopping sight.'

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-Makes you want to cry.

-It does.

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It's extraordinary.

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'I'm about to embark on the most challenging walk of my life.'

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My thighs are killing me.

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-We've still got so far to go!

-Yes.

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'Landing in Iceland makes you feel like you've arrived at the edge of the world.

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'For an avid walker like me, this place is paradise.

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'In an area only slightly smaller than England, Iceland has glaciers.

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'Volcanoes.

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'Lava fields.

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'Mountains.

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'Gorges.

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'And geysers.

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'Indeed, Iceland's very existence is a geological oddity.

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'It marks where the European and American tectonic plates meet and are pushed apart

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'by volcanic activity.

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'There are only 320,000 people in Iceland

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'and the first permanent settlement wasn't established until 874AD.

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'It was then that a Viking chieftain called Ingolfr Arnarson arrived off the coast with his family.

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'According to legend, he threw two carved pillars overboard

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'vowing to set up home wherever they landed.

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'The pillars washed ashore on a coastline dotted with steam vents, so he called the place Reykjavik,

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'which in Norse means "Bay of Smoke".

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'His settlement is still the capital and home to two-thirds of Iceland's tiny population.

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'The reason I've come to Reykjavik is for advice on my expedition.

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'I'd like to walk to the volcano that grounded planes across Europe,

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'but walking up a live volcano is not to be taken lightly.

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'So I've arranged to meet Ari Gudmundsson. He's a geophysicist, a volcanologist and a broadcaster.'

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-Hi,

-Ari. Hello, Julia.

-Nice to see you, nice to see you.

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So before we begin a geology lesson, here we have now one of the most famous volcanoes in the world.

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-How do you pronounce its name?

-It's Eyjafjallajokull.

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-Eyjafjallajokull.

-Yeah, that's good.

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-And the easy way to do it is just to talk about the E volcano.

-You see, that I can do!

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-The E volcano. What's happening now?

-Right now, everything is quiet.

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You have to know that the eruption had two different phases.

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The first phase we had this rather small eruption on the flank of the volcano.

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And it was, yeah, you could say a tourist attraction, not disturbance.

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-And that was the first eruption that caused problems for air traffic...?

-No. Nothing.

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-You just knew in Iceland.

-Yeah, but then it paused for two days, the volcano

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and started again to erupt, this time in the summit crater.

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That eruption caused all the havoc

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because mixing magma and ice,

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because that was in the glaciated part of the volcano, it's an explosive thing.

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-Not a good combination.

-By no means.

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-How close do you think I'll get?

-You will get very close to the lava craters from the first phase. Easy.

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But to get to the big one, that's a bit more difficult.

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It's another long climb and it has been off limits to people for a long time now.

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So, in reality, you have to put a request to the authorities

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and ask them for permission to go to the top crater to see what's up there.

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And that's even more interesting. But, well, submit and see what happens.

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'The route I'll be following is the Landmannalaugar Trail,

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'the start of which is a three-hour drive east of Reykjavik.

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'It was the first dedicated hiking trail in Iceland, laid out back in the 1960s.

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'It's considered one of the finest walking routes in the world,

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'right up there with the Inca Trail in Peru and the Milford Track in New Zealand.

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'I've got 60km to cover so it will take a good four days to walk to the base of the volcano.

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'On the fifth day, I'll climb up to the new hills formed by outlet vents

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'from the first part of the volcanic eruption.

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'Meanwhile, we've put an application in with the authorities

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'to see if I can get permission to go up to the main crater, 10km west of these new hills.

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'At night I'll stay in a series of huts across the wilderness,

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'set up for intrepid walkers like me.

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'And this place does make you feel intrepid. It's like embarking on a journey through Lord of the Rings.

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'This is no accident.

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'JRR Tolkien was fascinated by Iceland and it's said

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'that this is as close as you're likely to get to Middle Earth, the fantasy land in his novels.

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'It turns out that even driving to the start of the trail is something of an epic quest.

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'It may be the middle of summer, but the weather is changeable and the roads just rough tracks.

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'But after a bone-shaking drive, I finally reach the start of the route at Landmannalaugar.

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'These huts are only open from June to August. The rest of the year, the weather is too ferocious for hiking.

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'Yet even this bleak-looking camp has a great surprise in store for me.

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'How weird. A boiling hot river.'

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Ohh.

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This is hotter than your bath, I'm sure.

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It should be getting colder this way. Oh, yeah, getting slightly... slightly colder.

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You can feel the temperature drop a little bit.

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It's still lovely, though.

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'My first real brush with Iceland's volcanic landscape couldn't be more enchanting.'

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What a way to start a walk!

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I think I'll just stay here all day.

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'This area sits right on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge,

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'a crack in the Earth's surface running diagonally across Iceland.

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'This rift is the place where two of the tectonic plates that make up our planet's surface meet.

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'And it's this instability on the Earth's crust that causes Iceland's volcanoes and geothermal activity.

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'It's an intimidating place and the greatest walking challenge I've faced,

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'so I've enlisted the help of a companion from one of Iceland's guiding companies.'

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-Hi, Hanna, lovely to meet you.

-So nice to meet you.

-I could spend all day in the hot spring!

-I know!

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Have we got an action-packed five days? Lots to climb and get into?

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We're going to see a nice selection of lava fields. Really different types of lava fields.

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We're going to see some river crossings, we'll see deserts

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-and really colourful mountains.

-That's quite a lot!

-Yeah.

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-So what have we got in store for Day One?

-Let me show you the map. It's going to be a varied day.

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-So we're starting here... Landmannalaugar?

-Landmannalaugar.

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We could walk through this lava field here, but I prefer going through the valley here.

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It's really spectacular.

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Then crossing the lava field this way, we go around the base of this mountain, up the ridge,

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-and then walk into this geothermal area here.

-Geothermal area! It just sounds exciting!

-It is.

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And then we're continuing, you know, upward in direction to the hut here.

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-How do we say this?

-Hoskuldsskali.

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OK, yeah.

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-And...it looks like quite a hike. What distance are we covering?

-That's about 12km.

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We're starting at 590 metres and ending at about 1,100 metres.

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-Yeah, so...

-Five hours? Four?

-Five hours, I should think.

-Better get going!

-Let's do that.

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'Although I've done a lot of walking, I'm feeling slightly apprehensive.

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'It's all a bit more raw and exposed down here

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'and as soon as we leave the huts we're in the most incredible wild landscape.

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'I'm glad to be with someone who knows the ropes

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-'and it's always good to walk and talk.'

-They don't want to just know about...

-The Vikings!

-..the Vikings.

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And the elves and stuff. They really want to know what people are doing now.

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-Up this way?

-Yeah. Right up there.

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OK.

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Knobbly little path.

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Oh, my lord!

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Look at that!

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-It's amazing, isn't it?

-Yeah.

-So this is the lava field?

-It is.

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We were sitting right next to it when we first met earlier today.

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And this was created in one single massive motion

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at the end of the 15th century.

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It actually came from a few small vents up there.

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-You can see how it comes out of that crater.

-Look at all the...

-Yes!

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-..the spines along the edge. And the colours. It's incredible.

-Yeah.

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I walk a lot in the Lake District and the landscape there is so old compared to this.

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-This was...15th century?

-15th.

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-So this is all fresh, new ground, really.

-Yeah.

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It's quite old for us. It gets younger as we continue our walk.

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-That's strange to me. It is such a young formation, isn't it, the land here?

-Yeah.

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'This lava and the volcanoes that formed it are one of the few visible parts of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

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'Most of this ridge lies under the ocean,

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'as it runs from Iceland to just short of the South Pole.

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'It marks the point where the Atlantic is gradually getting wider

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'and what we see in Iceland is the ocean floor being pushed up to the surface to form new land.'

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Let's go this way.

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'Over the next few million years, Iceland will grow bigger and bigger,

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'possibly forming a new continent that will sit between Europe and America.'

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-That way?

-Yes.

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'It's like being inside the most exciting GCSE Geology book in the world!'

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-So this is a crater?

-Well, this is one of the vents, yeah,

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where this lava came out from.

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-It's a really eggy smell, isn't it?

-Yes, the sulphur you're smelling.

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-You can see down there. Let's look.

-It's such a vibrant colour.

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Extraordinary colour. And if you pick one up you can see the crystals.

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Yes...

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It's just beautiful, isn't it?

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-So you say this crater is much bigger than it was 20 years ago?

-Much bigger, yeah.

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-You can see how the geothermal activity is kind of boiling it.

-Mm.

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Apart almost. It's opening up, it's deepening.

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A lot more sulphur is coming to the surface.

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-It is quite literally a boiling landscape.

-It is, absolutely.

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'As we leave the lava field, we're climbing steadily.

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'The walking here is no harder than anywhere else I've been, but it feels more alien and exposed.'

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-That's a good...climb.

-Yeah!

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It is a bit of a climb.

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Ohh...

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It's so beautiful, though. So worth it.

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'The hills we're crossing are breathtaking.

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'They may be barren, but I've never seen anything like them.

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'As we climb higher, the wind is really starting to bite.

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'Our route is marked by posts every 100 metres or so

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-'and the effect the relentless buffeting has on them is startling.'

-Look at this, Julia.

-Hey.

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-Isn't that extraordinary?

-How long has that been there?

-A couple of years.

-Is that all? Blimey!

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It's the wind. It's so harsh up here.

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-It's very beautiful, though.

-Yeah, it is extraordinary.

-Gnarled.

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We would say that's a gnarled, weather-beaten bit of wood.

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'My respect for this landscape grows deeper with every step.'

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OK.

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What is THAT?

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Well, the whole area is called Storihver,

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which basically just means big, hot spring.

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And what's happening here is that water trickles down deep in the Earth where there's lava

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and it heats up there. So as the water rushes up, it's hotter than the boiling point.

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-So it's just exploding up!

-Exploding up. Yeah.

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It's amazing, isn't it? And look over here. You see little puddles fizzing.

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-It is boiling hot.

-You really shouldn't touch it.

-We're standing on a bubbling mass

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-beneath our feet.

-Yes. That's exactly what's happening.

-It's just incredible.

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'This collections of springs is just one of 780 dotted across Iceland.

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'In other parts of the country, these take the form of steaming mud pools

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'and even huge columns of boiling water we know as geysers.

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'In fact, Iceland gave the word to the world. Geyser means to gush in Icelandic.

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'Out amid the steam vents, this can feel like a very desolate place.

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'The entire population live by the coast. The rest of the country is a wilderness of ice,

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'rock, fire and water.

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'It's this otherworldliness that brought NASA to an area of Iceland called Askja to train astronauts

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'for the geological conditions they'd encounter on the Moon.

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'Across most of Iceland, you could walk for miles and see no sign of human life.

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'No roads, no houses,

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'nothing.

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'Back on the trail, Hanna is keen for us to keep moving. We've still got two hours to go

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'and the weather is going from bad to worse.

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'The wind and the rain are relentless and the clouds so low I can barely see

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'from one route marking post to the next.

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'I'm very glad I've got Hanna guiding me. Without her at my side, this would be terrifying.

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'And as we near the end of the day's walk, we come across something that brings home how dangerous it can be.

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'In loving memory of Ido Keinan who passed away in a blizzard

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'so close to the safe hut nearby yet so far, at only 25 years old.

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'June 27th, 2004.

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'This tragedy took place in the height of summer. We're in August, although it doesn't feel like it.'

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You can see how easily it happens. Today - this, with us.

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Yes, it can. And that's also why we should really get going soon, and get to the safety of the hut.

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Shall we?

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'We make it to the hut, but the weather this high up is awful.

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'The forecast for tomorrow is no better, so we reluctantly call in the back-up vehicles and drive on

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'to the next hut down the trail.

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'It means missing 12km of the route, but it gets us down from the really high part,

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'which is a nightmare in this weather.'

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The weather closed in today and became quite menacing.

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Our equipment stopped working and we had to get off the mountain to the closest hut.

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Nevertheless, it was an exhilarating first day.

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Even though I've been to Iceland before, now I really feel it.

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After the day I've had, I need a shower and the best thing about my shower is the view.

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But there are some practicalities to get to grips with.

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400 kronur buys you 5 minutes. That's about £2.50. So speed is of the essence.

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Bless.

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'It's 11pm, but during the summer Iceland never really gets dark.

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'We're staying at a place called Swan Lake.

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'As the twilight that passes for an Icelandic summer night sets in,

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'it feels an eerie and foreboding place. The perfect setting for some Nordic story telling.'

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Swan Lake is named after the whooper swan that breeds in the highland areas

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and is quite common in summertime.

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The strange thing is that it's called Swan Lake, but no one has ever seen any swans here.

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But the story goes that in the 18th century

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a man was in the area with his daughter on horseback.

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And they were looking for sheep. This was in the autumn.

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And coming to the lake, he saw swans on the lake.

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And the swans were hunted at this time.

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So he wanted, obviously, to get the swans and he rode into the lake on his horse.

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-But the horse got frightened and threw him and he disappeared into the lake.

-Gone?

-Gone.

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-Disappeared.

-People looked for him, but they couldn't find him.

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-No sign of his body, no sign of him.

-He just disappeared into the lake.

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And then, months later, his mother dreamt

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that his body was in the cave

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that farmers used as their shelter at the lake

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when they were looking for sheep. And in the spring, when the area was accessible again,

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people came looking for him and found him dead in a cave.

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Very strange.

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And the strange thing is that no one has ever seen a swan on this lake.

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'Listening to Hanna's story in the semi-darkness is mesmerising.

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'Iceland has drawn me in.

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'I wonder where this saga will take me next.

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'It's Day Two. As we've skipped a day's walking, we're now halfway to the volcano.

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'By this point on the route, I was hoping to get my first glimpse of Eyjafjallajokull,

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'but the terrible weather has caught up with us again.

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'The showers come and go all morning as we march on through black volcanic rock

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'covered with a thick layer of dust and sand. But this isn't any old dust.'

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Is this THE ash now?

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Yeah, yeah. This is it.

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This is the stuff that caused chaos all over Europe. What happened here?

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The areas to the south of the glacier were very seriously affected, the farming areas.

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-But it could have been much worse.

-Much worse. If the wind had been blowing in a westerly direction,

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or even to the north of Iceland and the farming lands there had been destroyed,

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that would have had very serious consequences for everyone.

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'In the thousand years Iceland has been inhabited,

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'there have been over 250 eruptions in a volcanically-active zone covering a quarter of the country.

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'Our trail runs through the heart of this zone,

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'but many of Iceland's biggest settlements are also within it.

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'I'm wondering just how dangerous is it to live here?

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'Well, not nearly as deadly as you may imagine. In the last 100 years,

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'only two people in Iceland have been killed by volcanoes -

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'one, a scientist who was crushed by lava,

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'the other, a man who was overcome by noxious gases while breaking in to a chemist's to steal drugs

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'during a 1973 eruption here, on the offshore Westman Islands.

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'The rain is back and I feel like an astronaut as I slog through this lunar landscape,

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'cocooned in my wet weather gear.

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'Heaving under its blanket of ash, this may not be the prettiest place I've walked, but I'm glad I did it.

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'It's so fantastically odd.

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'Nonetheless, it's a relief to see the hut for the night.

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'We seem to have finally escaped the worst of the terrible weather.

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'And the warden here has a welcome pot of coffee on the go.'

0:26:360:26:41

Why do you want to be a warden? What does the job give you?

0:26:410:26:45

It's a habit!

0:26:450:26:47

It's a very nice job, staying here. Usually I have my family with me.

0:26:480:26:53

-My wife and two kids and two dogs.

-In this?

0:26:530:26:58

-In this house.

-You call it a house!

0:26:580:27:00

-It's tiny!

-Yeah.

-All sleeping in here?

-All sleeping in here.

0:27:000:27:06

-Two and one.

-And the dogs?

0:27:060:27:08

Ahh.

0:27:080:27:10

-It's a bit like living on a boat.

-I used to be a fisherman on a small boat.

0:27:110:27:16

-So it's probably the same.

-Maybe that's why you like it.

-Could be.

0:27:160:27:22

How many people can sleep in the huts?

0:27:220:27:25

It's about 60 people in the huts.

0:27:250:27:28

And when the weather is really bad, and more people knock on the door, what happens if you are full?

0:27:280:27:35

-We always manage to somehow...

-Squeeze.

-Sleep on the floor or somewhere.

0:27:350:27:41

-You make room for everybody.

-Nobody has to stay out in crazy weather.

0:27:410:27:45

-How many years do you think you will carry on doing this for?

-I'm not sure. Maybe this is the last summer,

0:27:450:27:51

but I don't know. I've been in it for six years.

0:27:510:27:55

But I will never stop going to the mountains. I'm a mountain man.

0:27:550:28:00

'This might not be the job for everyone, but I think it would be a wonderful way to spend the summer.

0:28:030:28:10

'Just look at this place.

0:28:120:28:14

'I have to say, I'm pretty jealous.

0:28:150:28:18

'It's Day Three. We're now three-quarters of the way along the Landmannalaugar Trail.

0:28:290:28:35

'The volcano we're heading towards sits under the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier,

0:28:350:28:41

'which is how the volcano got its name.

0:28:410:28:45

'Glaciers occur when ice builds up faster than it can melt, forming ice caps that stay all year round.

0:28:450:28:51

'It may seem surprising that a volcano is covered with ice,

0:28:530:28:57

'but because glaciers occur on high ground, many of Iceland's large volcanoes are covered with ice caps.

0:28:570:29:03

'We've got 12km to walk today to reach the base of this glacier.

0:29:040:29:09

'Tomorrow, all being well, we'll head up to the new hills

0:29:090:29:12

'formed by the outlet vents on the side of the volcano.

0:29:120:29:16

'One thing which shouldn't be too much of a problem is finding the right route.

0:29:160:29:22

'We've got an impressive feature to follow for most of the day.'

0:29:230:29:27

So, five minutes out of the hut, and this is our first epic view of the day. It's ridiculous!

0:29:320:29:38

Shall we go a little bit closer?

0:29:380:29:41

Yeah, yeah.

0:29:410:29:44

Even up here, what, a couple of hundred metres from the bottom,

0:29:510:29:55

-the sound of the water is so powerful.

-Yeah.

0:29:550:29:58

Can you imagine what it was like at the end of the last glacial period, 8,000 years ago,

0:29:580:30:04

-when all this was being created by the melting ice?

-The water was just carving through the rock.

0:30:040:30:09

And it's so young, 8,000 years ago.

0:30:090:30:12

When you talk about geology, you're used to hearing "millions of years ago".

0:30:120:30:17

8,000 years, I mean, it's a puppy.

0:30:170:30:19

Yes, but again we are in the middle of the volcanically active zone of Iceland

0:30:190:30:24

and it's all happening right now.

0:30:240:30:27

-Is this your Grand Canyon?

-This is our Grand Canyon, yes.

0:30:270:30:31

'Although we're now only 12 kilometres from the glacier and its volcano,

0:30:320:30:37

'the weather up till now has been so bad, I still haven't seen it.

0:30:370:30:41

'But as we cross over a ridge midway through the morning,

0:30:410:30:45

'we suddenly get our first glimpse of the Big E.

0:30:450:30:48

'To the east, we can just make out the new vents, while ahead of us lies the main crater.'

0:30:500:30:56

So, Julia, that's it. That's our volcano. That's where we're heading.

0:30:570:31:01

-Our prize.

-Yeah.

0:31:010:31:04

Can you make out the crater at the very top? The steam is rising up. It looks like clouds, but it's steam.

0:31:040:31:10

Because we've got cloud cover, you can't see it so easily.

0:31:100:31:14

You can see it coming up a bit, then slowly going down.

0:31:140:31:17

Can you see that little crater, like a little valley? That's it.

0:31:170:31:21

And the secondary crater is over this way.

0:31:210:31:24

We're definitely going to make it there.

0:31:240:31:27

-Then we're going to see what...

-What happens.

-What the future brings us.

0:31:270:31:31

-I want to make it there.

-Yeah, so do I.

0:31:310:31:34

So do I.

0:31:360:31:38

'The canyon we're following is taking us down to a huge valley right in front of Eyjafjallajokull.

0:31:440:31:50

'Here, all the melting water from the surrounding glaciers

0:31:540:31:58

'join up to form a web of interlinking streams and rivers.

0:31:580:32:02

'The shifting banks and surging winter floods make bridging almost impossible...

0:32:100:32:15

'..which means we're going to have to cross the streams the old-fashioned way.'

0:32:170:32:22

OK... You know what? I think this looks like a good place, you know, to cross.

0:32:240:32:30

-It's not too wide, is it?

-No.

0:32:300:32:32

Up there it was too violent, but here it is starting to break up into tributaries

0:32:320:32:37

-and we'll be able to cross the individual streams.

-OK.

0:32:370:32:41

Let's just sit down, get our shoes off and I'll talk you through it.

0:32:410:32:45

It's going to be cold because this is a frozen glacier, isn't it?

0:32:480:32:52

Yeah, yeah, it's cold. It's a few degrees if we're lucky.

0:32:520:32:56

Take your time crossing. Keep your eye on the far bank and get over there.

0:32:560:33:01

-This is probably going to go up to our...

-Up to our necks?

0:33:010:33:05

-Up to our necks.

-Great!

-Get everything off(!)

0:33:050:33:09

-Let's do a naked river crossing.

-Naked river crossing!

0:33:100:33:13

And then tie your shoe laces together

0:33:130:33:17

and hang your shoes around your neck.

0:33:170:33:20

Agh!

0:33:260:33:28

-It's not so bad.

-That was all right.

0:33:340:33:36

'Once we're across the river, we get another big surprise.

0:33:390:33:43

'Suddenly, we're into a beautiful, lush, green valley.

0:33:440:33:48

'It's incredible.

0:33:480:33:50

'This is about as much vegetation as I've seen anywhere in Iceland so far.'

0:33:500:33:55

Yet again, the landscape has changed. Why is it so green here?

0:33:550:34:00

Yeah, it's a very sheltered valley, you know, by the volcano, the glaciers.

0:34:000:34:05

And so the plants get the chance to grow.

0:34:050:34:09

The growing season is so short in Iceland. It's really only three months.

0:34:090:34:14

And even shorter sometimes in some areas.

0:34:140:34:17

Most places are windswept, so the plants just really never get a chance.

0:34:170:34:22

-But they do here.

-Yeah.

0:34:220:34:24

'We've arrived at Thorsmork...

0:34:310:34:34

'..by far the biggest hut since Landmannalaugar.'

0:34:350:34:40

-So this is it.

-This is it.

-Home.

0:34:400:34:43

'And the most civilisation we've seen in three days.

0:34:430:34:47

'Before us sits the glacier of Eyjafjallajokull,

0:34:510:34:56

'dark and brooding under its thick blanket of ash.

0:34:560:34:59

'But it hasn't always looked like this.

0:34:590:35:03

'This footage of the glacier was taken prior to the 2010 eruption,

0:35:030:35:07

'back when it was pristine and white.

0:35:070:35:10

'Eyjafjallajokull has gone off on three previous occasions in the past one thousand years...

0:35:130:35:20

'..the last time being in 1821.

0:35:210:35:24

'However, the latest eruption didn't come out of the blue.

0:35:240:35:28

'Earthquakes, which usually precede an eruption, came and went throughout the 1990s

0:35:280:35:34

'and then started again in earnest during 2009.

0:35:340:35:38

'These earthquakes were seven to ten kilometres underground,

0:35:400:35:44

'but by early 2010, monitoring equipment showed the rumblings

0:35:440:35:48

'moving closer and closer to the surface.

0:35:480:35:51

'Just before midnight on the 20th of March,

0:35:510:35:55

'Eyjafjallajokull's 189-year sleep finally came to an end.

0:35:550:36:01

'One of the drivers who is supporting our trip is Kristjan.

0:36:040:36:08

'He's brought in supplies to feed my hungry crew,

0:36:080:36:11

'but he's also got some stunning photos from visits he made to the volcano during the eruptions.'

0:36:110:36:18

And this is during the first part of the eruption, the lava eruption.

0:36:180:36:22

And we went up on the third day, I think, after it started.

0:36:230:36:27

And what's this? It looks like a firework display.

0:36:270:36:31

This is when we're further into the night

0:36:310:36:34

and the light show became more spectacular.

0:36:340:36:37

You know, it's like watching fireworks for hours and hours.

0:36:370:36:41

It must have been just such a sensory overload -

0:36:410:36:45

the heat and the visuals and just the environment being up there.

0:36:450:36:49

Yes. All of that.

0:36:490:36:51

It's just amazing to see,

0:36:510:36:54

to feel the heat from the lava, the noise from the explosions,

0:36:540:36:58

and the rumbling of the lava when it's flowing.

0:36:580:37:01

-The sound feels a bit like being in an old factory...

-With the rumble.

0:37:010:37:05

With the rumble and the squeaking. It's quite magnificent.

0:37:050:37:09

Have you seen anything like this in your life?

0:37:090:37:12

Actually, I've seen a few eruptions, but this one was very accessible.

0:37:120:37:17

So the first part of this eruption was in a good place, it was easy to access.

0:37:170:37:23

We could get all the way up to it.

0:37:230:37:25

This is obviously the ash cloud.

0:37:250:37:28

This picture was actually taken on the 17th of April.

0:37:280:37:32

If I remember correctly, that's the day when all the flights in Europe went down.

0:37:320:37:37

-Yeah, it stopped me. Thank you very much.

-There was one airport open and that was in Iceland.

0:37:370:37:43

-Yeah, I'm sure.

-We just shipped it over.

0:37:430:37:46

What was the difference between the first eruption and the second eruption?

0:37:460:37:52

The first eruption was a regular lava eruption like we have in volcanoes all over Iceland,

0:37:520:37:57

but the second eruption is under a glacier and that type of eruption is much more dangerous

0:37:570:38:03

because you have these huge explosions.

0:38:030:38:06

When we drove up, about one or two kilometres away from the crater,

0:38:060:38:11

we started to see these huge potholes on the glacier

0:38:110:38:14

which were up to five metres wide and four or five metres deep,

0:38:140:38:18

which we had to drive around.

0:38:180:38:21

And they were made by huge lava bombs which came flying 1,000 metres high

0:38:210:38:26

and about 500 to 1,000 metres away from the crater and dropped on the glacier.

0:38:260:38:31

-So just mega lava bombs?

-Yeah.

0:38:310:38:34

And this went on all the way up to the crater.

0:38:340:38:37

We probably won't make it to the crater, but how close will we get?

0:38:370:38:41

I can take you to the outlet glacier from the crater where all the floods came down.

0:38:410:38:46

There used to be this beautiful glacier lake there, but now it's just all covered with ash.

0:38:460:38:52

-So it's an ash lake?

-It's an ash lake, but you can see up the glacier and into the crater

0:38:520:38:58

-where it all was happening.

-I can't wait.

0:38:580:39:01

'Kristjan drove up the glacier when the eruption first started.

0:39:010:39:05

'That was before the authorities closed the area down.

0:39:050:39:09

'It's now almost impossible to get permission to go all the way up.

0:39:090:39:13

'We're still hoping my request will be successful,

0:39:130:39:17

'but this trip out to the ash lake in front of the main crater

0:39:170:39:21

'may well be as close as I ever get.

0:39:210:39:23

'This is a view of the lake that used to sit in front of the volcano,

0:39:250:39:30

'the one that Kristjan thought was so beautiful.

0:39:300:39:33

'Now look at it.

0:39:350:39:37

'It's like he's brought me to the Gates of Mordor.'

0:39:370:39:41

-So this used to be your lake?

-Yeah.

0:39:510:39:55

And now it looks like a car park.

0:39:550:39:57

Oh, yeah. Everything around looks different.

0:39:570:40:00

At the top, up at the glacier, I would say it's about 50 metres higher than it was.

0:40:000:40:06

Down here at the bottom, where the river is running,

0:40:060:40:10

it's about 20 metres lower than it was.

0:40:100:40:13

You can imagine the amount of material which has been brought down

0:40:130:40:18

because the lake was deep as well.

0:40:180:40:21

Can we go down there? Can we walk on there?

0:40:210:40:23

No. This area is declared "a danger zone"

0:40:230:40:27

because not only did a lot of mud and water flow down here,

0:40:270:40:32

from the glacier, it took massive icebergs and buried it in the sand.

0:40:320:40:37

And it creates quicksand.

0:40:370:40:39

-Ooh!

-Well, we could maybe walk, but we might not come back.

0:40:390:40:44

-If you didn't know this was a danger zone, you could easily wander across there.

-It looks harmless.

-Yeah.

0:40:440:40:50

-But it isn't. Believe me.

-I do believe you, Kristjan.

0:40:500:40:54

-So this landscape has changed for ever?

-It has changed, but that's just how it is.

0:40:540:40:59

-One day, green will fight its way back.

-Yeah, and white.

0:40:590:41:04

Because obviously, the glacier isn't very white now.

0:41:040:41:08

'Frustrating as it may be, I can understand

0:41:080:41:10

'why the authorities don't want too many people climbing up to the main crater.

0:41:100:41:16

'It looks pretty hairy up there, but it's got me fired up for our trip tomorrow -

0:41:160:41:21

'our final assault on the Big E.'

0:41:210:41:23

'Our route for the final day will take us up to the two new hills

0:41:390:41:43

'formed by the lava vents on the side of the volcano.

0:41:430:41:47

'These are about ten kilometres east of the main crater at the centre of Eyjafjallajokull.

0:41:470:41:53

'There is still no word on our application to go up to this main crater,

0:41:550:42:00

'but even if we aren't able to get up there, our trip today will take us to the newest hills in the world.

0:42:000:42:07

'It should be a spectacular day and I'm itching to get going.'

0:42:080:42:12

-Cute little bridge.

-Yeah, it's cute.

0:42:130:42:17

'But before we get to the vents, I've got a gruelling walk ahead of me.

0:42:200:42:25

'We'll be hiking for about eight hours,

0:42:290:42:33

'the first five of which will be a relentless climb.'

0:42:330:42:37

This is the valley that we're looking at.

0:43:100:43:13

We have a nice view of it now.

0:43:130:43:15

And it's sheltered by three glaciers -

0:43:150:43:18

a small one, in fact, a tiny one over this way which we can see in that direction,

0:43:180:43:24

a rather large one, Myrdalsjokull, in that direction.

0:43:240:43:29

Mm-hm. Where's our one?

0:43:290:43:31

-Eyjafjallajokull is over there and you can see it just between those two hills there.

-Oh, yeah.

0:43:310:43:38

-And we are approximately here on the map.

-Mm-hm.

0:43:380:43:43

And we've got 500 metres to go.

0:43:430:43:46

-When you say we've got 500 metres to go, you don't just mean we've got 500 metres to walk?

-No.

0:43:460:43:52

-No, we've got to gain 500 metres.

-In altitude.

-In altitude, yeah.

0:43:520:43:57

We're going up to 1,100 metres

0:43:570:43:59

and about eight kilometres.

0:43:590:44:01

-OK, so lungs and knees in action.

-Absolutely.

0:44:010:44:05

'As we climb higher, the vegetation once more gives way to ash and rock.

0:44:120:44:17

'It's a thrilling and exciting feeling.

0:44:220:44:25

'We're getting close to the new crater now.

0:44:250:44:28

'As we cross a huge plateau, we come across yet another awesome sight.'

0:44:300:44:35

What I wanted to show you here is the lava flow from the eruption

0:44:370:44:43

and you can see that it came over this ridge

0:44:430:44:47

and it fell down in a wall of fire,

0:44:470:44:50

in a cascade, in a lava fall,

0:44:500:44:53

and poured down here into the gorge.

0:44:530:44:56

It must have been such a spectacle, a burning flow of red.

0:44:560:45:00

Yeah, red-hot lava just tumbling down there. It was magnificent.

0:45:000:45:05

Now we're going to head over that ridge

0:45:060:45:08

and we're eventually going to get to the eruption site.

0:45:080:45:12

-We've still got so far to go!

-Yes, we do.

0:45:120:45:16

'Looking back as we climb, you can see the green river valley where we started this morning

0:45:310:45:37

'and the big plateau we just crossed.

0:45:370:45:40

'The climbing seems to go on and on.'

0:45:410:45:45

My thighs are killing me!

0:45:480:45:50

'It may be exhausting, but my tiredness is starting to be replaced with rising excitement.'

0:45:520:45:58

-You did a little sidestep there.

-A bit of skiing.

0:46:050:46:08

'We finally reach the new hills created by the eruption.

0:46:210:46:26

'The sight that greets us is breathtaking, terrifying and thrilling.

0:46:300:46:35

'The power of the Earth is almost overwhelming.

0:46:400:46:44

'The heat is shimmering all around us and the sulphur-laden air is rasping at my throat.

0:46:440:46:50

'We need to keep moving as breathing this in for too long can be quite toxic.

0:46:520:46:57

'Yet somehow they are not how I expected volcanoes to look.

0:47:020:47:06

'They're not so much cones, more like raging rivers that are frozen in mid-flow.'

0:47:060:47:11

COUGHING

0:47:260:47:28

We can't see where we're going.

0:47:290:47:32

COUGHING CONTINUES

0:47:380:47:41

'These vents are constantly monitored.

0:47:480:47:50

'If there was imminent danger of another eruption, we wouldn't be allowed up here,

0:47:500:47:56

'but we still need to watch where we're walking.'

0:47:560:47:59

OK, Jules, I want you to come over here and be really, really careful.

0:48:010:48:06

I want you to look inside this crevice and tell me what you see.

0:48:060:48:11

Oh! We really are at the gates to Hell!

0:48:140:48:17

-It's the burning core...

-Yeah.

-..of the Earth.

-Yes.

-Look at that!

0:48:170:48:22

That's right. Maybe, what, 20, 30 centimetres beneath our feet?

0:48:230:48:28

-Yes...

-We are on a volcano!

0:48:300:48:32

'In all my walks, I don't think I've ever been to a hill that's less than six months old.

0:48:460:48:52

'It's extraordinary.'

0:48:520:48:55

I love the heat. You can feel it just hitting your face.

0:48:580:49:02

THEY LAUGH

0:49:120:49:15

-The newest hill in the world?

-Yeah.

0:49:210:49:23

That's right.

0:49:230:49:26

Explain to me exactly how all of this was formed when the volcano went off.

0:49:300:49:35

We're standing right now on the first crater, the one that first went off,

0:49:350:49:40

and the lava that came from this crater went in this direction, over there, where it fell into the ravine.

0:49:400:49:46

And we saw the lava fall that was created.

0:49:460:49:48

And then this crater paused for a while

0:49:480:49:51

and this other crater, a smaller one, over there, started erupting.

0:49:510:49:57

-Have these been named yet?

-Yes, they have.

0:49:570:50:00

-We're standing on Magni.

-Magni?

0:50:000:50:03

And that is his little brother Modi over there.

0:50:030:50:06

And they were the sons of Thor,

0:50:060:50:11

the thunder god in Nordic mythology.

0:50:110:50:14

And the valley which we walked up from this morning is called Thorsmork,

0:50:140:50:20

"the valley or the woods of Thor".

0:50:200:50:22

-So these are the sons?

-These are the sons.

-I can't believe we're standing on them.

0:50:220:50:27

-And they're hot.

-They're hot, yeah.

0:50:270:50:30

-Shall we have a little sit down?

-Yes. We should sit down.

0:50:300:50:34

It's not every day you get to do this.

0:50:340:50:37

Not every day, no.

0:50:370:50:39

Oh, I've got a warm bottom!

0:50:400:50:42

HANNA GIGGLES

0:50:470:50:49

-You really could stay here all day.

-Yeah.

0:50:490:50:52

Camping here wouldn't be a problem... It would be eventually because you'd kill yourself.

0:50:520:50:57

-From the fumes?

-Yeah. Apart from that, at least it's warm.

-It's getting a bit too warm.

0:50:570:51:03

-I'm still fine.

-Are you?

0:51:030:51:05

I got the hotter part.

0:51:050:51:07

# Na-na-na-na-na! #

0:51:070:51:10

Ow, it is quite hot, yeah!

0:51:120:51:14

'I've reached my goal.

0:51:220:51:24

'We've walked to the newest hill in the world.

0:51:240:51:28

'But all too quickly, we need to get moving again.

0:51:280:51:32

'We've still got to walk out to meet Kristjan who will drive us down the other side of the mountain.

0:51:340:51:40

'He's going to meet us at one of the unmanned huts

0:51:450:51:49

'which is there for anyone to use if they get caught by the weather up here.'

0:51:490:51:54

There's a welcome Viking face!

0:51:550:51:57

We did it!

0:52:000:52:02

Welcome, girls. How did it go?

0:52:020:52:04

Oh, it was amazing!

0:52:050:52:07

Some of the best walking in my life, for sure. What incredible things we've seen! I can't believe it.

0:52:070:52:13

-Just too much to take in in a few days. Too much to see.

-Amazing.

0:52:130:52:18

I have even better news. I've spoken to the mountain guides' office.

0:52:180:52:22

They've been in contact with the authorities and we have been allowed to go up to the top.

0:52:220:52:28

-To the top of the Big E?

-Oh, yeah.

-No?

0:52:280:52:31

We're going even further up.

0:52:310:52:34

'It may be a bit of a cheat to end my most exciting walk ever by helicopter,

0:52:360:52:42

'but with a prize like a trip to the main crater on offer, I'm not saying no.

0:52:420:52:48

'We're the first people to come up here for four months,

0:52:480:52:52

'but because of all the unstable ice, it's been decided that flying is the only viable way up.

0:52:520:52:59

'We're flying up over the huge tongue of ice

0:53:090:53:13

'that leads from the crater down to the ash lake that Kristjan showed me.'

0:53:130:53:19

'So I'm finishing my trip with a taxi service

0:53:440:53:47

'right to the spot that Ari described to me at the start of the week.

0:53:470:53:53

'I'm one of the few people to visit the summit of the volcano

0:53:530:53:57

'that's caused so many problems across Europe.'

0:53:570:54:00

-So, in 30 years, you've never been up here?

-Never.

0:54:010:54:05

And I'm imagining that you and I will never have seen anything like this in our lives.

0:54:050:54:10

Nothing in our life.

0:54:100:54:12

-Little holes all over...

-Yeah.

0:54:130:54:16

-Let's keep away from those.

-There's a little promontory there. Let's...

0:54:160:54:21

-It is like some lunar surface up here.

-It's just...

0:54:250:54:29

No-one's been up here. You know?

0:54:300:54:33

This ash spewed out of the volcano.

0:54:410:54:45

-Oh, my...

-Oh, God!

0:54:450:54:48

-This is...

-Oh!

-..the most extraordinary...

0:55:080:55:11

Look at those enormous, great grooves.

0:55:120:55:15

How close do you think we can go?

0:55:280:55:31

Just stunning.

0:55:370:55:39

Oh!

0:55:420:55:44

-It makes you want to cry.

-It does.

0:55:480:55:51

It's extraordinary.

0:55:510:55:53

-You see, that's the crater over there.

-Yeah.

-Right there.

0:55:540:55:58

And this was just a huge,

0:55:590:56:02

smooth, white,

0:56:020:56:04

ice glacier?

0:56:040:56:06

Yeah, pristine white.

0:56:060:56:09

Then in the eruption, once the lava started flowing,

0:56:090:56:12

which didn't happen immediately because it was an explosive eruption under the glacier,

0:56:120:56:18

it carved a tunnel through the ice all the way down that glacial tongue that we just flew over.

0:56:180:56:24

It was so hot, it was burning its way through and underneath the glacier, then it's all collapsed in?

0:56:240:56:30

Yeah. And there's massive crevasses down there.

0:56:300:56:34

These are hundreds of metres.

0:56:340:56:37

Massive.

0:56:380:56:40

You actually... Even from here,

0:56:400:56:43

-the scale of those big crevasses is unimaginable.

-Yeah.

0:56:430:56:48

And look at the colour. It's black!

0:56:520:56:54

It's black. There's a really, really thick layer of ash there.

0:56:550:57:00

And see the steam? The steam is coming out because actually it's still really hot in there.

0:57:020:57:08

And there's still some ice, so the melting is still going on.

0:57:080:57:13

And the vapour moving makes it look as if the landscape is moving, doesn't it?

0:57:130:57:18

I don't think I'll ever see anything quite like this again.

0:57:180:57:22

It's amazing, isn't it?

0:57:260:57:28

Just incredible.

0:57:280:57:31

Eyja...fjalla...jokull.

0:57:320:57:35

That's it. Excellent.

0:57:350:57:37

You're very good at this language.

0:57:370:57:40

-It's not easy.

-THEY LAUGH

0:57:410:57:44

"The Big E" is definitely easier.

0:57:440:57:46

-And it is right now...

-Yeah.

0:57:470:57:50

It's the Big E. Come on.

0:57:500:57:53

Yeah.

0:57:530:57:55

Wow!

0:57:550:57:56

This is now one of the most infamous volcanoes in the world

0:58:000:58:05

and it's the end point for the best walk of my life.

0:58:050:58:08

Iceland is utterly absorbing and so exciting. I can't wait to come back for my next adventure.

0:58:080:58:14

And who knows how it will have changed by then?

0:58:140:58:17

Eyjafjallajokull, I love you!

0:58:170:58:20

Subtitles by Subtext for Red Bee Media Ltd 2011

0:58:490:58:54

Email subtitling@bbc.co.uk

0:58:540:58:57

Julia Bradbury heads for Iceland to embark on the toughest walk of her life. Her challenge is to walk the 60 kilometres of Iceland's most famous hiking route, a trail that just happens to end at the unpronounceable volcano that brought air traffic across Europe to a standstill in 2010. With the help of Icelandic mountain guide Hanna, Julia faces daunting mountain climbs, red hot lava fields, freezing river crossings, deadly clouds of sulphuric gas, swirling ash deserts and sinister Nordic ghost stories as she attempts to reach the huge volcanic crater at the centre of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier.