Land of Ice and Fire

by   Profile Alex   When 6th July 2023
A diver (Byron Conway) explores Silfra canyon, a deep fissure filled with fresh water in the rift valley between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates at Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. In this photo the American plate is on the right and the Eurasian plate on the left of the photo.
Magnificent Silfra
Alex with all the kit, ready for the walk to the dive site
Alex’s 2012 shot still on the stamps
A dive marvels at the amazing geology
A diver between the American (left) and Eurasian (right) continental plates
Alex diving the fissure. Photo Byron Conway.

I've been to Iceland 5 times before, but it was almost 15 years since my last visit, and in a country with such fast moving geology, I was expecting much would have changed! My previous visits were before Iceland’s tourism boom, and it was great to return to find the landscapes as spectacular as I had remembered them, and the unique country even more friendly to visitors. 

I was back in Iceland to dive a bucket-list dive between the continents at Silfra. Although bitterly cold, my Genius computer reported a consistent 2˚C, the glacial mineral water that fills the dive site is often touted as the world’s clearest. In fact, the stunning visibility is almost impossible to gauge because, despite the scale of this jagged fracture that divides the North American and Eurasian continental plates, you can never see far enough in a straight line to judge it. There is always a turn in the canyon before the viz runs out. I was lucky to dive here in the early days because it meant that my trailblazing shots were published in magazines and newspapers around the world. One is still featured on Icelandic postage stamps, but I was excited to be back because this is a dive site like no other. The visibility and the ever-changing light make the dramatic scenery jaw-dropping. It even has a celebrity fan club: movie stars Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller have both logged dives here.

Unusually for a dive, the 'wow' moment came right at the start, because it is was the process of dipping my mask beneath the surface that really blew my mind. Silfra means 'silver', and the fissure gets its name because the dark waters, shaded by the narrow walls of the canyon, conspire with the smooth surface to reflect the sky above. It means that the mirror-like surface reveals very little of what lies beneath. It’s only at the moment of submergence that you pass through the looking-glass and everything is revealed.  The cold-water bites into any exposed skin on your face and you inhale sharply. Reeling, you struggle to make sense of the scene. The scale of the chasm is suddenly apparent, and because you can see so much more than you could from above the silver surface, at Silfra you get the feeling that the water is even clearer than the air. The water is pure enough that it could be bottled and sold as mineral water and is delicious to sip during the dive (don’t drink too much as it will cool you down).

There is little life to see in Silfra, but the visibility and scenery help secure its place firmly on almost every diver’s bucket list. The scenery becomes ever more stunning as you explore further down the fissure. The site is conveniently less than an hour’s drive from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, so there really isn’t any excuse not to brave the cold! I went with local expert Byron Conway and the team at Arctic Adventures and Magmadive

Silfra is a challenging dive because of the temperature, so I pulled out all my top gear for this one. For my regulators, I went for out and out quality and took the Epic Adj 82X which, as always, is just a dream to use. They are heavier than my travel regs, but if I didn’t usually have to travel with so much camera gear, I’d use them on every trip. I took my most capable BC too, the excellent Dragon SLS which, as always, was brilliant in the water and also ideal for the reasonably long walk in gear to and from the dive. I also used my X-Stream fins which are powerful, comfortable and manoeuvrable. Last year I borrowed an XR3 neoprene drysuit from Mares-UK and I love it. I am hoping they don’t read this and ask for it back! It is warm and the neoprene means it fits well. It is stretchy, comfortable and tough. As it is borrowed, I haven’t got dry gloves fitted, but I was fine over 6 dives (up to 80 mins) in 5mm wet gloves – although I would recommend dry gloves for most people. 

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Profile Alex
When 6th July 2023
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Peach on Jul 11th 2023
This must be so awesome (I hate to use this word, I feel like this word is overused in every other instance!) to behold firsthand! I love the photos you post of sea and ocean life. The best part (and we're really spoiled with people like you daring to do this) is you take risks down there and then you share these photos with the world! Blennies will always be my personal favourite of your photos, but this seascape you're floating in, between continental plates, it's just astonishing. And you look right at home down there! Thank you for the inspiring work you do!

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