Friday, 21 February 2014

Descending inside Thrihnukagigur volcano in Iceland


After experiencing Iceland last during the long, cold winter months, it was nice to return at the height of summer. The hills and lava fields, dusted with snow during our last trip, were now smothered in vivid greens as we left Reykjavik for the journey towards the volcano. We stopped off often on the way, admiring a waterfall or one of the numerous rainbows arching across the sky after a brief rain shower, excited to be back in one of our favourite countries.

A few detours later, we arrived at the meeting point, the beginning of a hike to the crater's edge. The website warns that the trip is not suitable for those physically unfit, and although the hike is challenging, it is mostly a result of the uneven ground (you walk directly over the lava field) rather than any major rise in altitude.

We stumbled across the sharp lumps of rock, trying not to slip on damp moss and thankful for sturdy walking boots. Our guide kept up a fast pace, stopping only to show us a couple of lava tunnels carved into the landscape, and to point out our destination looming ahead. On arrival at the base, we were greeted by enthusiastic team members and kitted up with our harness. Most of the guides were not full-time, holding regular jobs in the city, but drawn back to this incredible place to work the very short season.

As we waited impatiently for our turn, we were introduced to the base's newest resident - a tiny arctic fox, orphaned and rescued by the staff who were supporting her whilst she learnt to fend for herself. Shy but playful, she was soon rolling around with her toys and tentatively saying hello. After the so brief glimpse we'd seen of a fox during the arctic cruise, it was completely unexpected but wonderful to have such a close encounter.

Finally called up, we hiked the short, but steep, ascent to the top of the crater, and made our way along the walkway stretched across the lip into the steel cage (a modified window-cleaning design) and down, down, down inside the magma chamber. Colours gradually revealed themselves to us - vivid reds, yellow, oranges, blues and greens from the high concentration of minerals and past heat, gently glittering in the soft light. The floor was strewn with huge boulders of lava painted with more of the same hues, and after staring up and around for a few minutes, awe-struck, we began to explore, clambering down slightly deeper.

With only a few people allowed into the huge chamber at any one time, it was quiet and calm. We stared into the mouth of further tunnels running off, and up to where we could glimpse the opening. The 'room' itself was far bigger than I'd imagined - a cathedral of colour highlighted by the somewhat harsh artificial light. But even without the scale, I'd have been impressed. Standing inside a magma chamber in an actual volcano - it seemed unbelievable.

Eventually our too-short time was up, and we were winched out once more, to another bold rainbow stretching across the sky. It was the perfect external representation of how I was feeling inside.


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