Deep into the Volcano – Frank de Jong

A long lasting memory from Iceland

Iceland is known for their glaciers and volcanos. Everybody remembers the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. In Iceland they only remember how foreign reporters would pronounce the name There is also a place called Þríhnúkagígur where you can find a sleeping volcano. It goes down around 700 feet (around 200 meters) and is particularly known for its intense beauty and for the fact you can actually go down there.

Which I have. At the end of my exchange period I decided to have one last trip. At the time I didn’t have a driver license and I had seen a lot of Iceland at that point. In summer I couldn’t really go on a glacier or a take a trip inside an ice cave. After a while I found out there was a volcano where you could descent into and after seeing a clip of Þríhnúkagígur in this documentary I decided I just had to go there.

Iceland can be pretty scary if you think about their history with volcanoes. Eyjafjallajökull will pale in comparison of Katla or Hekla, the last was called ‘the gateway to hell’ during the middle ages. A recent catastrophic eruption was caused by Eldfell and almost meant a permanent evacuation of Heimaey, an island on the south coast of Iceland. The Þríhnúkagígur (can be translated to three peaks crater) on the other hand is perfectly safe. It hasn’t been active for about 4000 years and there is no indication it will become active in the future.

The story of how Þríhnúkagígur came to be is a bit different from how they tell it on their website. There it states that Árni B. Stefánsson was immediately in awe of the uniqueness of the volcano when he descended in 1974, but as they tell you during the trip Árni went down the crater four years earlier, in 1970. First he threw a rock down the crater and counted the amount of seconds it took to hit the ground, one…two…three….four. He got a 200 meter rope and descended down with only a simple lamp. Eventually down the crater he concluded: big disappointment. Nothing to see here. When he came back with proper equipment (reading lamps and such) he finally found out what a remarkable crater this actually was. (Read more).

It really is one of those experiences I still remember very well. I can remember it went by pretty fast, but I’ll never forget this experience. After a short bus ride from downtown Reykjavik we had to walk around 20-30 minutes to the three peaks in the distance. I have to come clean and say I was a bit underdressed, this was so noticeable that the bus driver started feeling sorry for me. Eventually the bus driver gave me his coat, because he thought I would freeze to death. I couldn’t really convince him that I had been walking around in Iceland long enough to know what felt comfortable to me.

When we got to the base camp right next to Þríhnúkagígur we got something to eat and encountered a young arctic fox which was being nursed by the lovely people at the base camp. The little fox wasn’t able to survive on his own so he became a resident for a few days until he could get back into the wild. You don’t see arctic foxes just running around in the wild, normally you’ll have to be lucky or go deep into the West fjords for example. So this was a rare sight, which excited everyone that took part in this trip.

Descending down wasn’t a big deal, as they installed a lift that took us down the crater. The interesting part is that normally a crater would be filled by lava and would harden over time, but here it had vanished and the extreme temperatures of the lava left a mosaic of colours inside. The uniqueness of the crater is only available for public access since 2012 so they made the comparison that more people had been on the moon then in inside this volcano.

The extreme beauty of the volcano can hardly be photographed, but I did my best as everyone would want to document this extraordinary experience. In fact a lot of volcanology studies revolve and revolved around Þríhnúkagígur. At the time they didn’t really figure out what happened to the lava or how the different colours came to be exactly. Apart from the fact that it was cause by the extreme heat of the lava. The place can also be considered a bit holy, since you are in no way allowed to take/buy/get rocks from the volcano.

It felt like an alien experience, we were able to walk around inside the crater what felt like a cave of unimaginable existence. I tried to look for every little detail, but what stayed with me the most were the rainbow like colours of the volcano that you wouldn’t normally see in nature. You could only hear water dripping down and look up to the light above. Apart from that there was nothing, no remains of lava or strange tunnels that led to another place. It was just a perfect hollowed out volcano that to my knowledge doesn’t exist anywhere else. Minus the volcanoes where you die when you try to enter, obviously.

This was my last stop in Iceland, but also the only thing I’ve never really gotten around to writing about. I used to keep a blog at that time. So this was the first thing that popped into my mind when I was asked to write an article about Iceland. I have studied there for half a year, but I had enough time to explore all of Iceland cold beauty. Studying there was definitely worthwhile, but I might have to postpone that story until later.

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