Cairns of Laufskalavarda

October 27, 2011


Photographer: Stu Witmer
Summary Author: Stu Witmer

The photo above shows a small fraction of the hundreds of cairns, both large and small, that populate a stretch of the Mýrdalssandur, a huge alluvial plain that covers over 270 sq mi (700 sq km) between south Iceland's Mýrdalsjökull glacier and the sea. Mýrdalsjökull is the fourth-largest glacier in Iceland and it completely covers the Katla caldera. Katla, considered the most dangerous volcano in Iceland, has erupted many times since its first recorded eruption in 894. According to tradition, a farm known as Laufskalar (Icelandic farms have names that stay with them over the years and through changes of ownership) was destroyed in that eruption, which created a lava mound that has since been named Laufskalavarda (Laufskalar Cairn). Somehow, it came to be a tradition that travelers passing this spot for the first time would add a stone to the cairn for good luck. Over time, leaving a single stone evolved into building an entire cairn. Some of the hundreds of cairns can be rather large and complex, while others are just a few simple stones. Although the Public Roads Administration has reportedly moved a supply of stones to the site “to help continue the tradition” finding enough loose rock to make a cairn can be challenging.

Photo Details: Camera Maker: Canon; Camera Model: Canon PowerShot SD1300 IS; Image Focal Length: 5.0mm; Aperture: f/8.0; Exposure Time:  1/100 sec.; ISO equiv: 80.