Last update: 15 January 2021
What is a dalalæða?
The Icelandic dalalæða is an elusive natural phenomenon of fog waterfalls. When a dalalæða crawls along a valley and bumps into obstructions, it causes waterfalls of fog flowing over rocks and tumbling down the mountain tops.
The setting sun can create quite some stunning special effects. It’s always captivating to see it plunging down into the sea, and light up the sky in brilliant colours. But sometimes, if the conditions are right, something truly spectacular can occur.
A magical phenomenon that literally produces waterfalls of fog.
I was incredibly lucky to run into this by chance on Heimaey (Vestmannaeyjar), a beautiful island just off the south coast of Iceland. A dalalæða suddenly washed over the island, and I stood right in the middle of it. In this story you can see what that looks like!
Midnight sunset on Herjólfsdalur.
Midnight sun and midnight moon
It had been a blissfully warm & sunny day (… yes, that can actually happen in Iceland 😉 ) I went for a midnight scramble on the cliffs around Herjólfsdalur, to watch the sun set and the moon rise in radiant glowing skies. The natural amphitheatre of Heimaey is a spectacular sight at any time, yet even more enchanting when it’s basking in the glow of sunset light.
Midnight moonrise over Helgafell, just before an epic dalalæða comes flowing in…
And then some fog came rolling in from the sea, slowly engulfing the entire island. It was lying low on the horizon, just off the southeastern coast, as the full moon came rising up above Helgafell. That was a stunning sight already.
Midnight fog & moon over Heimaey.
But the magnificent display of fog that was about to ensue completely stole the show.
Distant sea fog rolling in.
Waves of fog pouring in
It rolled over the outlying islands, gushed into the harbour and flowed into the town below, wrapping itself around the nearby kletturs and volcanoes one by one. It slowly crawled up Eldfell, like mysterious fingers of fog – it looked like steam was coming off the crater itself.
Dalalæða rolling over Bjarnarey, covering the island like a blanket.
Flowing in and steaming off the Eldfell volcano.
Gushing into Heimaey harbour.
Heimaklettur engulfed by fog.
Engulfed by waterfalls of fog
Then it came pouring over the edges of the ridge where I was standing. There were waterfalls of fog flowing over the rocks all around me. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was incredibly beautiful. I just stood there for well over an hour, utterly mesmerized, as I watched it all unfold from my clear and lofty viewpoint above. Until it was finally swallowed up by the fog as well.
Spectacular waterfalls of fog pouring over the cliffs.
Viral video potential
I wish I’d taken a video of it too! It might have become viral like this well-known example. What I witnessed was definitely in that category of spectacular stuff. Unfortunately I just didn’t think of filming it at that moment. I was too excited, jumping around from one ridge to another, focussed on capturing this otherworldly beauty in photo’s…
Klif being swallowed by giant dalalæða fog waterfalls.
Flowing over the ridge into Herjólfsdal.
I had to find my way off the mountain through the thick of it… But I didn’t mind. I know this track very well, and I was so exhilerated to have witnessed such a magical sight! Being in the right place at the right moment when it accidently happened.
I have got to see another one! & get a video next time. Now there’s yet another thing I need to hunt… 😉
Misty harbour lights at the bottom of the track.
Dalalæða fog – the valley crawler
There’s actually a name for this phenomenon. It’s called ‘dalalæða‘ in Icelandic – a low-lying fog that flows into a valley, and sneaks up the surrounding hillsides, rocks and mountains. It can occur on a calm clear night after a warm and sunny day.
Dalalæðas may be generated when warm air rising up from the surface cools off quickly, as it collides with colder air circulating above. The lower air layer become saturated and drops down into foggy veins, crawling along the surface. And flowing upwards when it bumps into obstructions such as mountains and islands.
Læða is also the Icelandic word for a female cat.
Puffins on the edge of the Herjólfsdalur cliffs. They are feeling comfortable & cozy in the fog.
Where is Vestmannaeyjar?
Vestmannaeyjar is a volcanic chain of islands just off the south coast of Iceland, directly across from Eyjafjallajökull. They are also known as the Westman Islands. Heimaey may look tiny on the map, but there’s a lot of spectacular scenery densely compressed into its 13,4 square kilometres. The ferry to Heimaey departs from Landeyjahöfn and takes 35 minutes. You’ll see the turn-off to the harbour near Seljalandsfoss on the Ring Road.
Want to see more of this beautiful island? Explore the numerous Vestmannaeyjar walking tracks in this article. I watched the dalalæða unfolding from the HáHá plateau, on the eastern side of the walking track around Herjólfsdalur.
Earth Science Picture of the Day
Two of my dalalæða pictures were published as Earth Science Picture of the Day on 28 August 2017. I am honoured to be featured on this renowned science site, that showcases the beauty of nature and offers explanations about a wide range of fascinating phenomena occurring all around the Earth. The article shows the picture of the fog flowing into town, and pouring like a waterfall over the edges of the cliffs.
Have you seen a similar natural phenomenon? If you have a question or a comment, please share them in the comment box at the bottom of this page. Other readers can also benefit from your feedback and the extra information in my reply. Thank you for sharing 💚 Follow the Wilderness Coffee & Natural High page on Facebook and Instagram for more stories, inspiration and updates.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
This is one of the top-5 blog posts of 2017.
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Solar eclipse – A mind-blowing experience
Haleakala – The House of the Rising Sun
Kruiend ijs – Drifting ice in The Netherlands
Eldfell erupting a rainbow