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Geysir the Original…kind of

Did you know that Geysir was (presumably) the first ever spouting hot spring mentioned in written human history?

Now I am not really saying that it was the first in existence. And it most likely wasn’t the first one encountered by the human race either. But it was the first recorded in European history (again… presumably).

Now I know that might seem like a lot of disclaimers, but hear me out. The reason why we Icelanders like to call it the original is that all other spouting hot springs around the world are named after the one we have at Haukadalur valley in the south of the island.

The name of the hot spring in question is Geysir, which translates to Spouter or Gusher.
And now all other spouting hot springs around the world are named after him, Geysers.

Now geologically speaking the Geysir area has been active for a really, really long time.

We estimate that it has probably been active since the end of the last ice age 10.000 years ago. So it predates settlement by a tiny bit (It happened in 871.AD .. Give or take a decade or two depending who you ask). But the first historical mention of a spouting hot spring comes from the late 13th century. And it was the Great Geysir himself.

Another important, but often overlooked piece of information is the fact that the hot spring that is currently headlining at the Geysir area isn’t actually the great Geysir any more. It’s Geysir‘s little brother, Strokkur. So now a days when people say they saw Geysir spout, it actually was Strokkur. Now I realize that might sound a bit confusing, especially because we still call it Geysir. But that’s the thing. The area is named after the famous one even though it is currently dormant.

The reason Geysir has gone dormant is mostly that it has been active for a very long time.

And as it has sprouted the hot spring has become wider, deeper and now has a bigger surface pool. All of which contribute to it’s well deserved retirement. We might go into greater detail about the geology of the Geysers in another post. But before we move on I should note that even though Geysir has gone into retirement, it’s not dead yet. It still can spout, and it sometimes does. But it just takes a bit more effort than before.
When the Geysir was spouting at the height of his powers he was quite impressive. He would spout to 45-60 meters (150-200 feet) on average. But according to some of my old geology textbooks the highest spouting episode went up to 170 meters (560 feet) up in the air. However that measurement was taken in 1845. So I have always been a bit skeptical about it’s accuracy. But that might just be some personal bias.

Strokkur, or butter churner in the English translation, is not as impressive as his older brother once was, unfortunately. When he spouts he reaches up to about 30 meters (100 feet) on a good calm day. And as we frequently hear from some American guests, that isn’t very high, especially compared to Old faithful and Steamboat in Yellowstone.

But what it lacks in the height department, he certainly makes up in activity.

Because he is small, it takes a lot less for him to reach optimal spouting conditions, and because of that he usually spouts every seven to ten minutes. Which is a lot compared to his american cousins, Old faithful now spouts once every hour on average.

Now this might just be my personal preference, but I would take a small active spouting hot spring over a big inactive spouting hot spring. I Say that mostly because of Iceland’s brutal and unpredictable weather.

As I could probably go on for pages and pages about the Geysir area lets just call it for now, but if you are interested in learning more about the geysirs keep an eye out for future installments.

Written by Sævar Þorleifsson – Head of Operations Reykjavik and seasoned guide.

Visit Geysir on our Golden Circle Small group tour – Booking and more information can be found here 

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