Inside the Volcano in Iceland
Since we were arriving in Iceland at 5am (thank you Wow Airlines) we had the entire day for adventure travel in Iceland. Although I really wanted to see lava in action, the idea of spending almost $3000 for a helicopter flight was giving me heart palpitations. Especially since our flights to Iceland cost a little over $800 for the two of us. When I stumbled upon the Inside the Volcano experience, I knew I wanted to do it.
Inside the Volcano is a unique attraction that allows visitors to descend over 700 feet (taller than the Statue of Liberty) into the Thrihnukagigur volcano. Good luck pronouncing it. Thrihnukagigur volcano is unique because the magma in the main chamber simply disappeared after it’s eruption over 4,000 years ago. Instead of hardening inside the chamber, the magma cooled off but did not fill it to the brim. It left a giant cavity down there. Exactly where the magma went, no one knows, but presumably there was another vent somewhere. The guides like to elude to stories about elves, since they are a big part of the Icelandic culture.
The tour begins just 30 minutes outside of Reykjavik at the Blue Mountain Cabin, which operates as a ski resort base in the winter. Inside the Volcano is only offered during the summer months at this time. They also offer pick up/drop off at your Reykjavik hotel without an extra fee. Our guide offered us rain coats and prepared us for the 45 minute 2 mile hike to the base camp at the volcano. The rules were stay on the path (to avoid falling in a sink hole or crevasse) and leave no trace (don’t take a lava rock as a souvenir). There was still a little snow cover from their extra harsh winter, so having waterproof hiking boots is highly recommended.
The hike is along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the American and European tectonic plates are pulling apart. The volcano sits on this ridge. The plates are pulling apart at roughly 22cm per year. Sadly, King mountain sits on one plate, and Queen mountain sits on the other plate. So they are apparently experiencing a very slow divorce. The snow, sink holes, and bridges over the cracks in the earth made for a memorable hike. There was even a low fog blowing across the lava fields that looked a little eery.
Base camp looks like two cargo containers welded together. When we arrived, we were split into 3 groups of 6. The modified window washer contraption can only accommodate about 6 people at a time. So while one group descends into the volcano, the others drink hot beverages or eat homemade lamb stew. Iceland is known for it’s lamb stew, and theirs was great. And since it was included in the price, we dug right in. There’s a beautiful deck and a great view of Reykjavik from above. They do have nicely built in porta-potties too.
Gearing up means donning a hard hat with head lamp and a harness. The harness is only for the ride down and you are free to walk around in the volcano after being unhooked. The pictures do not do this thing justice. The inside is enormous, almost the size of three basketball courts. The marks that the magma made on the inside of the chamber in pattern and color are hard to capture on film. Crawling amongst massive lava rocks and watching the “elevator” go back up, made me feel small amongst this giant nature made structure.
Although the descent only takes about 5 or 6 minutes, they only allow 2 groups to be at the bottom at a time. We had about 30-40 minutes inside the volcano. I thought that was plenty of time to explore, take pictures, and ask questions. Our guide on the hike was permanently placed a the bottom while all of our groups cycled through the volcano.
I’d like to leave you with some numbers to consider:
1973: The year it was first discovered and considered no big deal. He only had a long rope and one flashlight, so we can give him a break.
1983: The year the same guy decided to take a better look around and was amazed by what he saw.
2012: The first year they started public access to the volcano after National Geographic had built and filmed inside the volcano using a modified window washing contraption.
4000 years: How long ago they think the volcano erupted.
700ft: The depth of the inside of the volcano.
6 minutes: How long it takes to descend into the volcano via the above mentioned contraption.
4: Number of years this access has been available to the general public.
Because of the limited access, more people have climbed Mt. Everest, than been inside Thrihnukagigur volcano. Plans and surveys are being done to try to build a tunnel and viewing platform that are at about the halfway point in the chamber. So access to this amazing natural wonder may soon be much more limited. It made me think of those photos of a bygone era when cars and people could walk in-between the stones at Stonehenge. But alas, you can do that no longer. So if descending into a volcano is something you’ve always wanted to do, you might want to move Iceland to the top of your list.
Note: We paid every penny out of the almost $300 per person that it cost to take part in this amazing attraction. As always, all opinions are my own. Personally, I thought it was worth it.