Jon and I, unlike Gunnlaugsson, Watts, and Johnstrup, have been exceptionally fortunate as to weather, for during the whole time that Jon and his companions were absent the sky was without a cloud ; and both in 1878 and this year the weather was all that could be desired during my excursions in the interior. Jon's exploring party were nearly caught in a sand storm, however, for within six hours after their arrival at Reylyahlfo it commenced to blow very hard, and we had a gale of wind that lasted four days, whirling up the sand from the deserts around so that one could not see two hundred yards from the house.
To resume the account of our journey. It was about seven o'clock when we quitted the Snftrd, and half-an-hour later we were amidst the lava of the Oddftahraun. Through this for six weary hours we slowly pursued a zigzag route, heading as straight as possible for the chief of the Dyngjuyoll, which rises like a mountainous isle from the midst of a sea whose billows had been suddenly petrified into masses of rock. Being beautifully clear, the sun was visible until nearly eleven o'clock, when it sank behind the mountains in the N.N.W., and the peculiar twilight of an Arctic midsummer's night followed, the sky to the northward being illumed by a soft, subdued, mysterious light, while the landscape was wrapt in shadow. One's feelings at such a time, amidst surroundings literally indescribably weird, are as difficult to analyse as to express. So impressive was the scene that we rode along for several miles without exchanging a word, our ponies' hoofs the while falling noiselessly on the sand, some lines of Mrs. Hemans' beautiful poem, 1 The Caravan in the Desert came vividly to mind :
'Tis silence all. The solemn scene Wears at each step a ruder mien ; For giant rocks, at distance piled, Cast their deep shadows o'er the wild. Darkly they rise-what eye hath viewed The caverns of their solitude?'
The ascent of the mountain may be said to begin out in the desert at a point seven to eight miles distant from the highest part of the defile-named Jonsskarft (John's Pass) in honour of Jon of ViftikcBr, the first man to traverse it-in Askja's mountainous periphery, through which it is possible to descend into the crater. From here there is an upward slope, which appears to have been formed by a number of lava-flows having issued from the volcanic vent below Askja before its present encircling mountain-wall was builded up, and spread over the plain in a northerly direction, there being signs of a terrace-formation in places, as if each succeeding lava-flow had been less in bulk than the one preceding and had not extended so far. Owing to the time that has elapsed since the lava-flows issued, and the number of pumice and ash eruptions that have subsequently taken place from Ashja, this terrace-formation is nowhere very distinct, save to the westward, where it slopes downward more abruptly than towards the north. The highest part of the slope thus formed has an altitude by Aneroid of about 3,300 feet, 500 less than that of the surface lava in Ashja, and quite a thousand less than the highest point of the pass.
Ascending the slope in a south-easterly direction, on the left hand, for a distance of five miles, a number of crater-cones of quite recent formation, and hills of scoriae, several hundred feet in height, show where even these vast superincumbent beds of rock have been fissured and upheaved by explosions within the mountain, when molten matters endeavoured to force a vent; while for a like distance on the right hand, there is a tremendous chasm, on the further side of which a mountain at least five miles in length from N.E. to S.W. rises precipitously to a height of 3,000 feet from its depths-4,000 feet above sea level. This mountain is not shown on any map of Iceland that I have seen, and, I think, must have escaped Lieut. Caroc's notice through hazy weather on his journey to and from Ashja. Peculiar black domes, possibly of obsidian like ' Mount Paul' in the Vatna, cropped through the snow-covered summit of this mountain. On the map attached to this volume the eastern side of the mountain and the chasm are roughly traced.
From the last terrace the ascent becomes more steep, first over lava-flows that have forced their way-through rifts in the defile, and later on over ice, and one must perforce dismount and drag his steed reluctantly after him. At 2 a.m. we had attained an altitude of nearly 4,000 feet, and, previous to rounding a projecting spur of the mountain which will shut out the Odcc&ahraun from view, we turn to gaze over its gloomy wastes at the rising sun, which even at this early hour is returning from his brief sojourn beneath the horizon.
To our surprise, we discover that the desert is hidden beneath a thick stratum of mist which, propelled by a light northerly air, had unknown to us been following in our wake. To the northward, the mountains twenty miles distant encircling the Midge Lake on the south and east, rise through the mist like islands from a frosted-silver sea; and between two of them, a few degrees to the eastward of north, the sun is shining brightly from the centre of a lurid halo, while the sky above is of a beautiful pearly gray flecked with a few golden cloudlets. The mist, where it is tinted by the ray of light streaming between the mountains from the sun, gleams like a flood of molten metal, its brilliancy intensified by the far-stretching deep purple shadows cast by the mountains on either hand. As we gazed, by the stroke of Nature's magic wand, Heat, the whole scene began to change ; first, the fiery flood of mist was rarified by the warmth of the sun's rays and slowly began to ascend, disclosing to view a broad stripe of the black lava below-the mist purple in the shadows of the mountains on each side remaining stationary. As the sun rose higher and higher, the whole of the mist was slowly set in motion, rising in wall-like masses radiating from the sun ; and these, when they had attained an altitude above the air-current from the north, remained motionless, and at the moment when my companion inquired if I was going to stay where I was all day, formed three vast colonnades, between whose vapoury walls streamed rays of golden light, as if they led to some brightly illumed palace in the sky! while below, in strange contrast, mile after mile of the black fire-blasted wilderness was disclosed to view. It was an unique sight, suggestive of Chaos being reduced to order by command of the Creator-of the moment when the fiat went forth, ' Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.'