Inside the Volcano in Iceland
We came across the “Inside the Volcano” tour on our walks around Reykjavik. The claim could not be more exciting, “Journey towards the centre of the Earth!”, it said, on posters and brochures in the Tourist Information Shop in the middle of the city. We could not resist booking a place right there and then to visit Thrihnukagigur, a dormant volcano about an hour’s drive from Reykjavik.
QUICK REVIEW: PRICE OF “INSIDE THE VOLCANO”
While I personally thought the visit to Thrihnukagigur was interesting and beautiful, I cannot recommend it because of the price. Per person, it cost €324. This is almost 3x the price of a Glacier Walk on Sólheimajökull and almost 6x the price of the Puffin Tour. Both of which are far more interesting activities.
The cost per person was about €324. This gave us a little pause, but the novelty of going inside a volcano was simply too great for us to pass up on, so we booked it without further hesitation. On retrospect, I do not think the excursion was worth the money, even considering Iceland’s inflated prices.
Trek to the Thrihnukagigur Base Camp
There is no doubt that Thrihnukagigur and its surrounding area of the Blue Mountains is a masterpiece of nature. Peaks rise out of craggy lava fields that stretch out into the horizon. The landscape is isolated and rugged – if this is your first excursion outside Reykjavik, you will be in awe.
Unfortunately for us, the weather was terrible that day. Our excursion, which was originally in the morning, was initially cancelled because it was raining badly. The tour company deemed the weather to be better later in the day and asked us if we wanted to reschedule instead of getting a refund. We believed them and decided to go along for the tour despite the reservations we had.
The tour is divided into two parts. First, the drop off at the meeting point, where we picked up some serious raincoats. Once appropriately dressed, we ventured out into the pouring rain, hiking for 3.2 km to the Base Camp. The wetlands here are very beautiful and desolate. The land here is mostly flat and covered by volcanic rocks of varying sizes. Most were about the size of a football, or smaller. The hike isn’t difficult, but the ground could get quite uneven at times. Occasionally there would be large pools we had no choice but to step into.
From the Base Camp to the Top of the Volcano
At the Base Camp, the groups going to, and coming back, from the volcano are coordinated. Here, we were served tea and coffee while we waited our turn to hike up into the volcano. We were also given a harness, and shown how to put it on. The guide told us that it was necessary safety equiptment for the descent into the volcano. We were then briefed on what to expect and what was expected from us. Because the weather was very windy, it was especially important for us to know that we had to take extra caution.
From the Base Camp, it was about a twenty minute climb up to the crater of the volcano. The climb is slightly uphill, and lined with wooden poles rammed into the earth, connected by ropes. On a good day, I suppose these would have been unnecessary, but since epic weather in Iceland is a norm, I reckon these “railings” are often put to good use. I did find them helpful. The winds were very strong, especially nearing the entrance. Here I had to grab a hold of the ropes strung between the poles and use them to haul myself up the last few meters.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
At the platform, we all took turns getting harnessed before being guided into the elevator, which was an open cage hitched up on some strong cables. The term ‘platform’ is perhaps a misnomer. In reality, it was a long metal grate strapped across the crater of the volcano. To get to the centre of the crater, where the elevator was waiting, we had to walk across this construction. It was very exciting, and I enjoyed a good look into the drop below.
We were divided into groups of about six people, taking turns to take the elevator down. The decent into the crater was simply wonderous. I was awed by the rough walls of the crater that were, at moments, mere centimetres from the side of the elevator. The depth of the descent, from the opening of the crater to the floor of the chamber, is 200 metres. Although this feels, and looks, like a long way down, 200 metres is a mere scratch when considering the thickness of the earth’s crust. In this moment, I was reminded of how insignificant and transient human beings are.
All too soon, the six minute ride down the shaft came to an end. The crater opened up into the magnificent volcanic chamber, its walls coloured in various hues of maroon and ochre.
Inside Thrihnukagigur’s “Magma Chamber”
If, like me, you’ve read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, you’d think all volcanoes can be entered – this is not the case. In fact, most dormant or dead volcanoes are plugged up or capped with a caldera. It is unusual for a chamber like this to be empty, and thus accessible, like Thrihnukagigur.
There is some controversy over what this chamber we entered actually is. Link grabby headlines call it a “magma chamber”, although (according to Discover Magazine) this is wrong. A magma chamber of a young volcano like this one usually has magma in it – this is simply a lava tube.
Nevertheless, scientist don’t quite know why this chamber is empty. A popular theory is that after the last eruption, the magma simply drained back into the earth. This theory is consistent with what normally happens in lava tubes, where unreleased magma simply retreats back into the ground.
Lava, and therefore, volcanic rock, is mostly black basaltic rock. We saw many samples of this on our hike here through the lava fields. However, the interior of the volcanic chamber was filled with a variety of earthy shades. This is due to the mineral deposits left on the walls. We noticed that there was a lot of red colouration – this is because of iron, which has oxidised over the years due to oxygen brought in from the surface. This colour is common in lava tubs close to skylights due to the constant stream of fresh air bringing in oxygen,
Eerie Song Echoes in the Chamber
We spent a total of about 20 minutes in the bottom of the cavern. It’s a small space, and most of it is restricted, so there wasn’t much open floor to wander about. Being inside the volcano was less exciting than the descent into it. “On the ground” it felt like being in any old cave.
As our elevator was being lowered once more into the ground to pick us up, we heard a song coming from above. The singing was beautiful and slightly sad – I suppose it was a traditional Icelandic tune, although I really couldn’t say. It took me awhile to realise it was the technician who was operating the lift who was singing. The song echoed beautifully in the cavern. There was something magical in that moment.
All too soon, the visit was over and we were strapped back onto the elevator, to be brought back up to the surface.
We headed back to base camp, where we were served traditional Icelandic meat soup. Here, we spent some time chatting to the other travellers about the experience we just had.
For a little bit more info about our descent and this video we created, you can take a look at the post “Descent into the Thrihnukagigur Volcano in Iceland“.
Final Review of Inside the Volcano in Iceland
In retrospect, I enjoyed the experience. However, I cannot say it is as awe inspiring as others claim it to be. Save for the descent into the chamber, the rest of it felt very much like being in any cave. I also thought it was slightly dishonest of the organisers to claim the weather was “better” when in fact it was not. If you only have a short time in Iceland and some extra cash to burn, you could consider this. But if you have more time, and are venturing on the Ring Road tour, I would give this a miss.
FAQs for Inside the Volcano
Although many websites claim that the descent into the volcano leads to a magma chamber, the cavern is actually a lava tube. Read more
To cost per person is around €324. This includes a 3.2km hike and refreshments at the Base Camp. Read More
Although it was a unique experience, the possibility of bad weather making the trip very unpleasant is quite high. For the price of roughly €324, this risk might be costly for many people. The descent was very exciting, but the actual chamber itself I didn’t find to be such a novel experience.