The Silfra Fissure is for real. Today, November 15, is the first time I snorkeled in 3 degrees Celsius. First time I swam inside a crack in the Earth. First time I put on a dry suit. I keep saying Iceland is a Land of Fire and Ice but yesterday I was in a geothermal pool of warm, milky blue, saltwater in a bathing suit and today I was in ice-cold fresh glacier melt in a dry suit. And both were natural temperatures!
It sounds impossible but you can dive and snorkel in ICE-land. In fact, it’s supposed to be one of the top dive sites in the world because of the uniqueness and the incredible visibility. 100+ meters! That’s the length of a US football field. I did not know about it until a few months ago. But as soon as I read it, I thought: Sign. Me. Up. Is the water freezing? Uh, YEAH! It’s not literally freezing of course. You can’t swim through ice. Anyway, it’s dang cold.
This activity is done in Thingvallavatn Lake, which is in Thingvellir National Park, where the earth has cracked (and is cracking) over a loooong time. One statistic that I read is that the crack is slowly expanding by about two centimeters (0.79 inches) per year. You can see the ridge of the North American techtonic plate nearby and the Eurasian techtonic plate in the distance. We are actually snorkeling in no man’s land in the Mid-Atlantic Rift in the space between where the earth has separated.
I signed on to go with a small group. We entered the water from the shore of Thingvallavatn Lake and drifted with the current along the water-filled crack in the earth. After it was over I did inventory on my extremities. My fingers were useless. A young man with us could not tie his shoes afterward. He asked his girlfriend to tie his shoes. I could not button my jeans! It actually takes a lot of finger strength to button stiff jeans. I did not ask anyone to do it for me though. I just left them unbuttoned. During the snorkel my feet were nice and dry in the attached booties from the dry suit. But my fingers were fairly numb and water seeped into my ears throwing me into temporary shock and panic. I decided to ignore my ears and they eventually left me alone. The guides advised us to swim with our hands behind our backs so that they would be mostly out of the water. I followed their advice.
Back up to the drysuits. Here’s what I wore: John’s thick, wool Uniqlo heat tech thermal pants. A little large but definitely a good choice. And two Uniqlo heat tech layers up top. Next they gave us a comfy jumpsuit that was lined with fleece and super fluffy. It had neoprene around the sleeves and ankles and zipped up the front. We put the drysuit on over all that. I was a walking rubber human. They secured the sleeve openings with rubber bands and put some plastic collar thing around my neck, over the drysuit collar. Then the hood. Yank that thing on over my tangled hair. Then the gloves. I still wanted to take a few photos so I held off on the gloves but in the meantime my hands turned red and raw. I had nowhere to put my camera down while the guides gave their long dissertation on Silfra and safety instructions. So some of these photos came at a price.
The drysuit effectively works as a floatation device so even people who are not very good swimmers can do this. The guides said if you feel tired, panicky or otherwise uncomfortable, just turn over on your back and float. I did not want to waste a second on my back.
It was amazing. The colors in the water were an indescribable blue, green, yellow, brown. Those plain color names don’t accurately describe what was in the water. Crayola needs to get over to the Silfra Fissure for some inspiration. The visibility was 100 meters. If you are diver or snorkeler you know what that means. The pictures here speak for themselves so I won’t waste time trying to describe what I saw.
I love this description from the website now.guidetoiceland.is
“The most extensive section of the glacial ravine is known as Silfra Cathedral. This beautiful section defies the imagination with its sheer size, reminiscent of swimming through a dark blue Grand Canyon.”
The water in Silfra is so clear because it’s been filtered through underground lava for over 100 years. Unbelievable. From the website divesilfra.is:
“The water in Silfra fissure runs from Langjökull glacier and undergoes a vigorous 50km long filtration process that can take up to 100 years as it slowly percolates through subterranean lava fields until finally arriving at the underground wells of Lake Thingvallavatn. This unique process means that the crystal clear water in Silfra fissure offers some of the best diving visibility in the world and should divers become thirsty it is also completely safe to drink.”
Yes, I had to try the icy water. I took the snorkel out of my mouth and drank some water. It was good but it kind of went down wrong (because I was in a horizonal position and hampered by a plastic choker around my neck?) and I started coughing and then I had to drink more water and then I was coughing in my snorkel for a bit. So that wasn’t worth it and I was sorry I did that.
Earlier, when we were talking about safety, we all went around and said where we were from. 3 other people (out of 10) from America. After the snorkel was over and we were drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies I went over to a pair of people who were together and asked where in America they were from. Orange County, California, they said. OH? I’m from Orange County, I said. They said, we’re from Irvine and Anaheim. Okay, let’s just say that is no longer a surprise (even though it really is). But we have now “run into” so many people abroad with some strong connection to Irvine that it can’t be surprising anymore. When I first arrived in Iceland and I told John that the young man who checked me into my hotel room was from Virginia, John’s response was, “not Irvine?” That was before I met these fellow snorkelers from OC. They parted ways by saying, maybe we’ll see you again someday. Hilarious.
You can see in this photo that from above the water you can’t even tell there’s a fissure like that down below. You just can’t imagine it from above. It just looks like a stream running through the land.
My last story is about the perils of traveling solo. I spent some time in Reykjavik before meeting the shuttle driver so during the morning I wore the thermal pants, then my black jeans over that, then John’s army green waterproof pants over that. It was like a hurricane outside and I didn’t want my jeans getting soaked. John’s waterproof pants were awesome. But they were big, even over two layers that included my jeans.
I went inside City Hall to use the ladies room. When I came out of the bathroom I noticed that they had free WiFi so I decided to stand around by a window and check my social media and maybe post something. A few people were walking in and out of the bathroom. When I went to put my phone away I finally noticed that John’s waterproof pants had fallen down around my thighs. So I was standing there by the window of City Hall with my outer layer pants falling way down and looking at my phone oblivious. Where is your travel buddy when you need them? I should not be traveling solo for this very reason. No one to button my pants and no one to pull up my pants.