Cold Will Never Be The Same Again – Dry Suit Experience Required
Once again I had barely slept. I had had a fever during the night and this compounded with the Snoratron 3000 in the bunk below was not a good mix for resting. However I had to be up early as today I was getting picked up to go Scuba Diving. Now this may sound a little crazy and looking back on the experience, you do have to be a little mental to want to go diving in water that’s 1-3 degrees centigrade. The decision isn’t made any easier when there are so many other things that you can only do in Iceland whereas you can dive almost anywhere. However, as soon as I saw this dive opportunity I was completely set on the idea. I’ll explain why later…
The weather had finally decided to make up its mind what to do over the course of the night and as a result the landscape as we drove out of Reykjavik had changed completely. Where there had been endless fields of grey rock there now was a never ending blanket of snow. Iceland obviously still had a few tricks in store for me! As we went further out the horizon became less and less flat and soon mountains where looming on all sides. Our instructor informed us that we had just entered the Þingvellir National Park.
This incredible place is where the European and North American tectonic plates are slowly moving away from each other, at a rate of approximately 2cm per year. The result is an incredible fissure in the earth which is what I would be diving into. Now there is almost no wildlife, only one type of fish which is the size of your little finger and the same colour as the rocks it feeds on, hardly a wonder of the world. So you might ask why I would spend so much money and so much of my short time in Iceland to make this trip. Let’s try and sum it up with a photo:
This is Silfra, the only place that provides the opportunity to touch two separate parts of the earth’s crust at the same time. Unfortunately, to do it you have to go through a rather brutal acclimatisation to water that’s barely still liquid. We were strapped up in dry suits which would keep the major parts of the body warm. This meant our heads and hands were left bare so we put on thick neoprene gloves and a hood. At this point I was feeling pretty confident as I waited from my whole face mask to cover the remaining exposed skin from my forehead to my chin. Unfortunately these don’t exist, and only a regular mask is provided. This means that from under your nose to the bottom of your chin is left completely exposed to the water.
The instructor was absolutely correct in saying that the pain only lasts a couple of minutes before you lose all feeling in your face. However, that hardly felt like a consollation as I gritted my teeth waiting for my lips to turn to ice. I’ve never felt cold like it. And my hands and head weren’t fairing much better. I’m pretty sure wet suit neoprene is designed to work for water that’s at a reasonable temperature. Like the North Sea for example. And so it was that the instructor gave us the signal to follow him below. Thank god the dive doesn’t go too deep as I was using up air at a ridiculous rate just hovering below the surface. However I’m pretty sure if you looked at my breathing record after the dive there would be a massive flat line where I put my head below for the first time.
It’s a cliché to say it but the scenery literally takes the breath away from you. It may have been partly the cold as well but I’m giving the scenery the majority of the credit. As you drop down into the fissure you get an idea of how good the visibility is. Because there’s no wildlife and the water is so pure, visibility can reach over 120 meters. At this point this means you can see the walls around you as though you’re outside in the fresh air. The colours and shadows are so vivid, the cold is actually necessary to remind you that you’re in the water.
The dive gets more and more stunning as you progress on, going through sections like the Silfra Cathedral, a giant area where the walls stand almost vertical and the depths reach 22 metres. Another is the lagoon which was my personal favourite, an area which is extremely shallow at just a few metres but is extremely wide meaning you can see a huge amout, especially since this area has the best visibility.
The dive was magnificent but my only issue is that I had never done any dry suit diving before. It is extremely complex and the dive is already tough as it is considering you’re trying to master the cold, whilst navigating tiny spaces. It got so frustrating that I decided not to do a second dive despite being included in the tour, a decision which I don’t regret because my sinuses through a hissy fit promptly after getting out of the water. For people looking to do the dive I would definitely recommend it if you have dry suit diving experience, and if you don’t, you should do it snorkeling. I would probably advise snorkeling anyway as the dive is so shallow I think the scuba equipment is a waste of time. Then again if I had been able to use it properly maybe I’d feel differently.
Overall it was an excellent trip that was hampered by being ill. When I got back I spent an hour under the shower trying to reheat and eventually gave it up. The only thing that was going to cure this was some good food and a lot of alcohol, a story which deserves it’s own post.
Would you be up for a dive like this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments 🙂
N.B. The guy I dived with is going to send me the underwater photos once they are developed. Unfortunately I have had to borrow some images from Google until then.