Inside The Volcano – Iceland
So I went inside a volcano.
Thrihnukagigur volcano hasn’t erupted in 4,000 years, which is reassuring, and I didn’t rappel down into the crater or anything, but still – hiking boots were required. For that day, I was an adventurer, an outdoorsy girl, one of those women in the Athleta catalogues!
Slight digression: A few years ago, I bought a couple of items from Athleta, a women’s athletic wear line owned by Gap (aka a kind of cheaper lululemon without the seemingly douche-y founder). Since then, I’ve received approximately 84,000 Athleta catalogues in the mail. They portray women(/models) surfing or paddle boarding or biking or doing something else I can’t do, along with constantly taking their perfect asses off to yoga class in their size XS Athleta yoga pants. These women could totally crush me, but they wouldn’t because they’re so freaking happy from all the endorphins. I am so not one of them, needless to say. But, you know, sometimes I do want to feel a little empowered by a tiny degree of athletic competence. Back to the point…
After we decided to go to Iceland, I started my typical research for activities, tours, and so on, stumbled across Inside the Volcano’s website and booked it right away. It sounded like a unique experience, to actually descend into the crater of Thrihnukagigur volcano. (I’ve since read some saying that this should be considered part of a lava tube system, not the magma chamber – but I’m no geologist and whatever it is, it’s pretty exciting to go down into it.) The website for the tour warns that there is a moderate hike to the volcano, so as soon as I booked it, I started exercising more in order to avoid somehow being that person who’s holding up the entire group.
The morning of our tour, we boarded a bus that took us from Reykjavik to Blafjoll mountain cabin in about 30 minutes. We met another American guy on the bus, who chatted with us and gave us some info about Helsinki (where we were headed in a few days, after leaving Iceland). When we arrived at the cabin, we had the opportunity to use the restroom and to put on big bright yellow full-length raincoats. I had worn my own rain pants and jacket, but they had plenty of the full-length raincoats in my size so I took one, as the guide said it probably would rain on the way over to the volcano.
Just FYI – they hadn’t promised that there would be rain gear for everyone, and if every single person in our group had wanted a jacket there wouldn’t have been enough because ours was apparently a very large group. You should wear your own rain gear anyway, just in case, but the jackets they provided were very protective, so most people took one. (It didn’t end up raining, and someone who worked there ultimately offered to carry the jackets back for us, which was nice.)
The guide led us out and across the lava field. It was interesting – you always hear that the lava fields seem like they’re on the moon or something, and they kind of do. The hike isn’t bad – mostly along a path they’ve made, and only starts going uphill at the end – but it’s more than a leisurely walk and you definitely need to have good hiking boots or shoes for the times you have to step on the rocks. I think it took about 45 minutes. There were people in the group who had a harder time than others, and the guides stayed back and waited for them. We passed over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, from North America to Europe (or was it the other way around?) on our way. There was a small metal bridge across the gap.
When we got closer, we saw the helicopter, which is the other (cool, but quite expensive) mode of transport to the volcano. There was a very nice family at the base camp that had taken the helicopter and were purchasing t-shirts. (If you are a souvenir person, I think the t-shirts were about US$40.)
They split us into groups of 5 or 6, and we were in the last group, so we had some time to wander around the little cabin at the top and to rest with a cup of coffee or water before they put us in harnesses and helmets. When it was our turn, they took us around the cinder cone and up a bit more before descending into the crater.
The views from the top were gorgeous.
The contraption that takes you down into the crater reminded me of a window-washer unit, but they call it an open-air basket elevator.
It takes a few minutes to descend, and the group was already taking tons of photos. One section of the descent is a little tight, and the contraption has bumpers to take the impact when it bounces against the sides of the narrow passageway down into the crater.
We arrived, 120 meters down, and it was stunning.
This is where you REALLY need your hiking boots – it’s hard to maneuver in the enormous chamber, and you need to be very careful to test your footing and take your time.
We made our way to one side to examine the vast expanse of walls. They have placed a number of lights around the cavern to illuminate different areas. Some areas had an interesting scorched appearance, and there were so many amazing colors on the rocks of this huge chamber.
I had of course seen the photos on the website, but I was still taken aback by the beauty and calm of the place. It’s a weird thing, to be in that space and think about our planet and how it works – with plates of the Earth’s crust floating on a hotter layer of the mantle, pulling apart at that Mid-Atlantic Ridge that we stepped across. It’s an extraordinary place, and there is not nearly enough time to take it all in.
They say that you will have a half hour in the chamber, but we only had about 20 minutes before the guide told everyone to get back on the lift. Having only 20 minutes when you have been told you will have thirty is disappointing, so I would suggest budgeting your time in the space assuming that you will only have 20 minutes, and then if you have more, it’s a bonus. Regardless, it was an undeniably, incredibly beautiful and special experience.
We ascended, and the weather had cleared nicely, so we could see the hiking path from above.
Soon we were back in the cabin to take off our gear and have some of the promised soup. As the last group we were definitely rushed; we only had maybe 5 minutes to have a few sips of tasty soup before leaving on the hike back. As I mentioned, we had plenty of time before descending into the chamber, but we were told to wait for our soup until after we were in the volcano and that there would be plenty of time, which wasn’t the case. Not that big of a deal, but we started the tour around noon, I was hungry after the hike, and more than two bites of soup would have been nice, especially because the bit I did manage to eat was quite good! Ours was an unusually large tour group (according to the guide) so maybe it’s not normally like that for the last segment of people in. We hiked at a somewhat leisurely pace, stopping to take photos often.
Going Inside the Volcano is awesome, and in my opinion not to be missed.