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Katla volcano, the most powerful volcano in Iceland, packs a punch that has garnered a fearsome reputation. Due to patterns that have developed over time, it is now believed that whenever Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupts, Katla follows suit with a more powerful and destructive explosion, which is why it is thought to be a twin of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. The name ‘Katla’ is steeped in Icelandic folklore, where it is told that the volcano was named after a maid on a nearby farm that dabbled in witchcraft. This mystical link only adds to the reverence given to volcanos in Iceland, a land that has been shaped and formed by these beautiful forces of nature.
Found in the south of Iceland, hidden under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Katla’s eruptions cause massive floods and ash fall, resulting in major destruction. In 2010, Icelanders held their breath after the famous Eyjafjallajökull eruption, though luckily Katla stayed quiet. However, an eruption is now long overdue, so who knows how long the calm will last!
To get to Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the easiest way is to head to Sólheimajökull glacier, which is a smaller outlet glacier. From Reykjavik, follow Highway no.1 for 150 km until you reach Skogafoss waterfall, then turn left onto a road that leads you to Sólheimajökull glacier. Alternatively, you can follow highway no.1 for 125 km until you get to Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This is the starting point of a famous hiking trail.
Hiking Katla itself is a challenge, though not impossible. Reaching 1,512 m and partially covered by up to 700m of ice, an attempt to reach the summit is for hardcore hikers and should only be undertaken with professional guides.
For a more achievable hike, head to Skogafoss waterfall, where you can begin the Fimmvorduhals trail. This famous hiking trail is one of the most popular in Iceland and can be completed in a day (approximately 12-14 hours) though you can also complete select parts of the trail only. The trail will take you through many landscapes. Starting at the ocean, you will pass nearly 26 waterfalls and grassy tundra. Finally, you will come to a pass that affords unforgettable views of not only the Katla volcano, but Eyjafjallajökull volcano as well. Seeing these two vast volcanoes across their plains will make you appreciate the supposed link they share more than anything else.
If an up close and personal view is what you want, various volcano tours in Iceland offer helicopter rides that can take you over the summit of Katla volcano, which many struggle to climb. The views are significantly better with minimal effort!
Katla is an active volcano and should be treated with caution. Moreover, you should never head out onto a glacier without a professional guide to help ensure your safety. When hiking, always take ample provisions in case of emergency, and stay on the clearly marked trails.
With scientists predicting that the Katla volcano could erupt in the near future, now is your chance to see this giant in all its glory, before the landscape is once again changed forever.