My journey to the center of Þríhnúkagígur: An adventure Inside theVolcano

Þríhnúkagígur's magma chamber during a hike into
the volcano on May 27, 2017.
Photo Credit: Lauren J. Mapp
Petrified and shaking from both the subarctic, chilly wind and the fear inside of my bones, I held my camera tightly as I was lowered into absolute darkness. Though I couldn't see much during the first few feet of my descent, I could hear the water dripping off of the rocks and feel the creaky window washing machine bang against the walls. Inch by inch we crawled down through the narrow opening until it revealed the cavernous magma chamber inside of Þríhnúkagígur — a dormant volcano outside of Reykjavik in southwestern Iceland. 

Golden-colored rock showed evidence of sulfur, red-colored rock was full of iron deposits and a massive black spot showed where an explosion occurred inside the volcano when it was active more than 4,000 years ago. Our tour guide sang a hauntingly beautiful Icelandic lullaby that echoed off the walls of the volcano as I sat in awe of the natural cathedral around me.  

The 120 meter journey from the top of the volcano to the floor may have only taken a few minutes, but it was part of a journey that I had been planning for years. 

During my adventures in Iceland in May I was finally making my way back to a country I had fallen in love with during a trip through Europe three years prior. My first trip was a brief, 26-hour adventure through the streets of Reykjavik on my first night, followed by a dip in the Blue Lagoon before flying home to the United States on the second. Even though I had spent the least amount of time in Iceland out of all my destinations that fall, it was the highlight of my trip and I knew that I wanted to go back.

Characterized by landscapes of volcanic black rock covered in green moss, black sand beaches, geothermally heated pools and volcanoes that tower over the countryside, Iceland is known for both the diversity of its geological structures and its seclusion. 

Another angle of the magma chamber inside of
Thrihnukagigur in southwestern Iceland.
Photo Credit: Lauren J. Mapp
A tour guide during a glacial hike on Falljokull confirmed a story I was told in elementary school regarding the origin of the country’s name. When the vikings first found Iceland, they named it to warn people of its uninhabitable weather and redirected them to Greenland saying it was amazing in comparison. As the guide said, in naming the island after its ostensibly “icy” terrain, it worked as a public relations campaign to avoid having the country invaded until the major ecotourism boom in the early 2000s. 

In actuality, there are several different stories about how Iceland received its name. One version of the story states that Greenland was named firt by Erik the Red to entice Europeans to populate the region; another version says Iceland was named by Hrafna-Flóki for its icecaps and permafrost

Inhabitants of Iceland are welcoming, despite the nefarious legend of the country’s name, and the food they prepare is delightful. Freshly caught seafood is available at almost every restaurant, and the lamb raised on the island is far more appetizing than any lamb I have eaten in the United States. 

Best snack for a chilly hike: Icelandic meat soup.
Photo Credit: Lauren J. Mapp
I definitely recommend taking the Inside the Volcano hike if traveling in and around Reykjavik. Out of all of the hikes that we went on (guided and otherwise), it was by far my favorite. 

On the day of our hike, the field of lava that surrounds Þríhnúkagígur (Three Peaks Crater) was covered in a low fog, so the volcano kept playing hide and seek. Once at the base camp, the staff of guides gave a description of what the trip into the volcano will be like, and everyone was fitted with a harness and a helmet and then taken to the volcano in small groups of about 10 to 12 people. Hikers have about 30 minutes to explore inside the volcano before being lifted out and fed Icelandic meat soup, coffee and tea. 

Between the hour-long round trip drive, the 1 hour hike each way and an hour spent at base camp and inside the magma chamber, the day trip from Reykjavik to Þríhnúkagígur and back took about four hours.

Peter and I just after being lower into Þríhnúkagígur.
Photo Credit: Lauren J. Mapp

Photo Credit: Lauren J. Mapp


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