Photos of 1961 Askja Eruption Shown for First Time Skip to content

Photos of 1961 Askja Eruption Shown for First Time

On October 26 1961 the Askja volcano suddenly started erupting. Even though the volcano had brought misery to the nation a hundred years earlier, not many were afraid this time.

Two days later, on Saturday afternoon, a group of men in the fishing town of Norðfjörður in the East Fjords of Iceland decided to travel to the once dreaded volcano.

Öskuferð 1961

The Chevrolet was the perfect vehicle for a trip into the Icelandic highlands. Photo: Reynir Zoega.

Now more than half a century later the public sees the photos taken on the journey by a father and son, Reynir and Jóhann Zoega.

Askja 1961 Lava

The glowing lava. Photo: Reynir Zoega.

The group was lucky enough to find a driver and a car. Jens was an experienced driver and his four wheel drive Chevrolet was both big enough and strong enough to make it to the highlands. It had already started snowing on the mountain roads, so it was by no means certain that the car would make it. Not one country road in Iceland was paved. Even now the highland trails are gravel roads, but they have improved greatly in the half a century since then.

Askja eruption 1961

The Askja eruption.

After midnight the group made it to the glowing lava. Snow covered the ground and the molten rocks were a great contrast to the cold ground. The crater was in the vicinity of Vítí, the crater in which many foreign tourists choose to bathe naked. After parking the car the group marched towards the crater and came quite close. When the glowing rocks seem to get uncomfortably close they stopped. Three craters spewed fire; they may have been within 100 meters from one. On the way back the lava had flowed over the car’s track and they had to swing around the glowing tongue of magma.

Askja 1961 Lava

The tracks from a few hours earlier disappeared under the lava. Photo: Jóhann Zoega.

Early in the morning they left the fine display of nature and headed back. They planned to stay at Grímsstaðir, but there was no vacancy so they went on to Möðrudalur á Fjöllum, the most isolated farm in Iceland. The farmer Jón lived there alone after he lost his wife and he gladly allowed the group to stay. They finally had a place to sleep after staying awake for more than 36 hours.

Jón í Mörðudal

Jón the farmer lived alone in Möðrudalur after his wife passed away, on the most isolated farm in Iceland. Photo: Reynir Zoega.

The discussion among the group was which way to go back. It had snowed even more and they feared that the road might be closed. Then a car from Seyðisfjörður appeared. It turned out that the driver knew the roads well, and they decided to join forces, which was just as well. On a few occasions the group had to push, pull and dig the cars out of the snow.

Car stuck in snow 1961

The cars had to be dug out, pushed out or pulled out of the snow. Photo: Reynir Zoega.

Finally, after midnight on Monday (on Tuesday, in fact) the nine tired men finally made it back to Norðfjörður after an exciting trip. They are both still alive and well. Reynir is 94 and Jóhann is 72. They have not been to Holuhraun yet, but Reynir celebrated his 94th birthday in the highlands, just as he always does.

Reynir is the uncle of the author and Jóhann his cousin.

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