A mature perspective on descending Inside the Volcano
Our client Sam Boote and his wife descended into Iceland’s dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano in June 2012 – read about his experience below.
We went on our Inside the Volcano trip in June on one of the earliest trips to this location – it was only the third day of operation. It was a truly unique and memorable experience and well worth the cost, and I would recommend it to anyone with a taste for adventure and a love of the natural environment.
“I am a fit and healthy 65-year-old; I found the volcano trip to be well within my capabilities, and I would recommend it to anyone in reasonable physical condition.”
We booked on the 10.00 visit, which was the nominal time for pick-ups from hotels in Reykjavik, though we had opted to meet the party at the meeting place by the Blafjoll ski resort on the mountain road. The minibus carrying the rest of the group (and the guide) arrived at 10.35, and, after a few words from the guide, we started walking at 10.40. There were 15 tourists plus the guide. It took nearly an hour to walk across the rough terrain (lava field) to the huts just below the volcano summit. This was a serious hike in cold windy conditions, requiring proper hiking boots, thick socks, hat and gloves.
On arrival at the summit camp, we congregated in one of the huts to receive a briefing on safety and procedures. We split into sub-groups of 4 or fewer people for each descent into the volcano, as this was the maximum capacity of the cable lift. We gathered in the other hut, leaving our rucksacks there and putting on our harnesses and helmets as our turn for the descent approached. While waiting for our turn, we drank coffee, talked to the guides and explored some lava tubes and other volcanic formations nearby.
When our turn came, my wife and I (who comprised the final sub-group to go into the volcano) walked up to the summit in the company of a guide and waited for the cable lift to come up. One by one, we attached our harnesses to the walkway going across to the cable lift and then climbed down into the lift itself and attached our harnesses to it. All seemed very safe, and the harnesses were there to cope with any danger of someone falling out of the walkway or the lift. The lift took 10 minutes to descend the 400 feet to the base of the cavern, travelling quite slowly at first through the narrow opening of the volcano spout and then going a little faster for the main descent. The actual descent was pretty comfortable, and the lift did not sway about at all, though I wasn’t too keen on looking down!
On reaching the bottom, we got out and quickly made our way outside the “drop zone” (where there was a danger of falling stones) and then walked freely around the magma chamber, which was maybe 100 metres across. The ground was covered in very rough sharp volcanic rocks, which had stayed very sharp because of the absence of weathering. This made it quite difficult to keep one’s footing, and I found afterwards that my leather boots had been badly chewed up by the rocks. However, the views and general ambience were truly spectacular – the chamber was an incredible size, and the colours of the rocks were wonderful in their variety.
The inside of the chamber was discreetly lit by electric lights at the base. I used a Canon DSLR camera, to which I had attached a powerful external flash unit, and I set the camera’s speed to its maximum (ISO 1600). This gave maximum reach for the illumination and enabled me to take properly lit pictures of the whole interior of the chamber.
I didn’t want to leave! It was with some regret that I saw the lift approaching to take us back up to the top after our 35-40 minute stay at the bottom. On returning to the hut, we were given a bowl of Icelandic meat soup (much needed in the cold conditions) and began the long trek back to the road, where the minibus met the main party and we got back into our car. Altogether, it took 4 and a half hours from the road back to the road. The guides and operational staff were very friendly and helpful, and I had full confidence in their competence at all times.
Having regard to my age (I am a fit and healthy 65-year-old), I found the volcano trip to be well within my capabilities, and I would recommend it to anyone in reasonable physical condition. There seemed to be a fair spread of ages among the other visitors, some of whom looked nearly as old as me!