The wind hits me as I walk out of my hostel and into darkness. I head towards my rental car. The stirring wheel is like an ice cube even through my gloves. I start my rental car up and head out of Reykjavik. I have about an hour’s drive towards Þingvellir National Park. The sky is just beginning to show signs of light despite it almost being 9:30 am. As I approach, the park I drive around towards rift valley that makes up most of Þingvellir. Þingvellir one of the few places where it is possible to stand on the North American tectonic plate as well as the Eurasian tectonic plate. The rift valley in the park is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between the two tectonic plates.
My second visit to Þingvellir National Park marked one of my last adventure on my Icelandic winter road trip. I had started my trip with a visit to Þingvellir but this visit would be different than my first visit. This time I didn’t want to just stand between the continents. I was going to take advantage of a unique feature of Þingvellir. On the rim of Þingvallavatn Lake is a large crack rift floor. It is filled with glacier water that has filtered through the porous lava rock. This crack is called Silfra and it is one of the few places in the world one can swim between too continents.
I arrive at the Silfra parking lot just as the sun rises above the horizon. I step out of my warm car and am reminded that it is winter. My guide hasn’t arrived yet, so I get back in my warm car and began questioning about my scuba skills and whether are dive computers expensive? And How much will it take to get a fully-equipped site? Which is when it stuck me that In a few short minutes, I will be SCUBA diving in Silfra, the space between two continents. I shiver from the cold and take a second tom think about what the next hour and half will be like. Its winter. I am a few degrees from the Arctic circle and am about to go SCUBA diving in water that is just above freezing.
My guides van pulls up and he gets out to greet me and several others who have just arrived. We gather around the back of his van while he takes stock of our diving skill level for assigning of dive groups. Due to the water temperature hypothermia occurs in about 15 to 30 minutes depending on body size. The temperature require a dry suit to dive.
Of the eight people in the dive group, only one had any dry suit diving experience. I had never done any dry suit diving or had any training on it. The guide when over the basics on dry suits. Despite the name dry suits aren’t actually dry. They are mostly dry but the openings around the hands, feet and neck provides an entry point from water. One need to minimize movements to prevent water from entering.
I am handed my dry suit, diving gloves, diving boots, and diving hood. The gloves, boots, and hood are made of 11mm neoprene. I can already feel the cold sneaking underneath my jacket. I prepare for the dive. The first thing is to strip down to my undershirt, legging, and my wool socks. I remove my jacket and winter pants. The cold hits like a ton of bricks. I start fight with the dry suit to get into it. It is a borrowed unit so it wouldn’t fit perfectly anyway. It was a tight fit. It was a struggle to get into. I had to work my body into the suit through the zipper across the shoulders of the suit.
Each leg is a huge effort. I am trying to get my foot out of the hold while still keeping my legging in position. With my feet out of the suit, I work the suit up and get my arms in position. Next I work my feet into the boots and tuck the tops of the boot into the dry suit. The boots are still damp from the last time they we used. I can’t help but wonder if my feet are getting frost bite.
I pull on the hood and tuck it in. The guide helps me zip up the shoulders and I am in the dry suit. I pull my gloves on. I am one of the first ones ready. I stand there waiting for everyone else feeling like a sardine. Once everyone is ready, we pull on out BC, weights, and tanks and start the 200 ft walk to the entrance to Silfra. I descend the steps and enter the water. The cold I felt before had nothing on what I was feeling now. The guide helps me put on my fins and start my descent into the water.
I turn my head to the right to examine to see the rocks that make up the Silfra. A nice trickle of 1 degree C water ran down my back. Nope, not moving my head like that again. The viability is as better than promised. Silfra is about 63 meters deep and from the depth of 10 meters I can see ever rock on the bottom. We slowly work our way through the Silfra hall. The crystal clear water provides amazing view of the rocks that from both tectonic plates. The hall isn’t long and is just a pre-dinner treat.
After a few minutes if swimming, we turn a corner and the hall opens into the famous Silfra cathedral. This 100 meter long fissure is clear from beginning to end. Visibility allows me to see all the details of the fissure. I swim in amazement of the clarity of the water. On my right is North American tectonic plate. On my left is the Eurasia tectonic plate. Silfra expands by about 2 cm each year.
Swimming the cathedral takes about 20 minutes. While, I can’t stop enjoying the view but a small part of my brain is worried that I can’t really feet my feet. Again, I am still conserved about the frost bite on them. My fingers have started going numb. I try flexing them in hopes of restoring blood flow. All that did was push cold water from gloves into the dry suit.
The Silfra cathedral opens into the Silfra lagoon. The lagoon has a sandy bottom intermixed with some rocks. Despite the water temperate, the rocks have algae growth on them. We spend the rest of the dive exploring the rocks in the lagoon. At the 50 minute mark, I can’t decide if I want to get out and get warm or stay longer and enjoy the views in the lagoon.
I take my fins off and get out of the water. I want to get back in the water. The wind is blowing and eats right through the dry suit. We quickly walk the 400 feet back to the cars and start quickly stripping out of the dry suits. I am cold and numb so removing the dry suit was even more difficult to get out of them in. It took two days and a trip to the Blue Lagoon to warm my bones up and yet, I would go diving in Silfra in winter again.
Have you been SCUBA diving in Silfra? If not, would you want to?
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Disclaimer – I was in no way compensated for this post.