With Sandy’s knee injury, I was on my own for the lava tube cave tour offered during our conference in Iceland. Sandy is the big caver of us, but we both agreed that she shouldn’t even think about trying it.
I boarded the bus with the rest of my would-be explorers and we left Reykjavik. The views from the bus are surreal, with dark lava rock in every direction. The mountains off in the distance are shaped like volcanoes. Wait a minute, they are volcanoes! Most of them are extinct. That does not mean that they could not come back for a replay someday. The island of Iceland, after all, is built on volcanic eruptions.
On the way to the cave we turned off from the main road, onto a coarse black lava road, to visit a “fish head” drying station.
Be honest. How many of you have ever visited a place were there are thousands and thousands of fish heads stuck on wooden racks and left out to dry?
As we pulled in, the view from the bus window was like a scene of an old sci-fi movie. Bones hanging from stakes in every direction. The fish heads, with their eyes, spines and tails, made it an eerie place.
When the bus door opened we were all greeted by the stench of old fish. Steping outside, we didn’t linger long. The buzz of flies, the squawks of birds over head, and that smell. We took our photos quickly and continued to the lava cave.
The bus pulled off onto a wide spot on the road. We had arrived. Without the path leading off into the lava field, there would be no indication of the cave entrance.
Before our trek began we were all given a few safety tips, a heavy duty LED flashlight, a hard hat, and a pair of thick woolen gloves. Björn Hróarsson, the author of Icelandic Caves and a noted geologist, led our tour.
Our guides led us down a steep entry over large and unsteady rocks. This was not going to be the typical cave tour that I have taken dozens of times. There were no handrails, backlights, or paved easy-to-follow paths.
The floor was like the entrance, made up of loose assorted size lava rocks. Many were more than two feet wide, and still wobbled as you walked or crawled over them. The gloves were not a luxury. They were a necessity.
It didn’t take long before we realized how very happy we were to be wearing our hard hats. Throughout the tour we kept hearing the sounds of a hardhat thumping the cave ceiling. Without these plastic protectors, we would have all left the cave with bloody heads.
After moving deep enough into the cave that all outside light was gone, we stopped. Björn had us turn off our lights. He told us his background and about the geology of lava tubes like the one we were now deep inside. As we continued deeper, the cave narrowed and the ceiling became lower and lower. Our group spread out with the second guide bringing up the rear.
One of our brave explorers had brought along a nice camera and its bag. I don’t know if the camera ever left the bag, but I do know that it must have been very difficult to crawl through some of the small openings with it.
I tried a couple of underground shots with my little point and shoot, using peoples flashlight beams as my light source. Using a flash down here would have taken all of our night vision away. As you can see, they didn’t come out all that well.
As we reached what looked like the end of the cave, Björn asked if any of us wanted to take a short cut. This was the turn-around point. It was a longer trip back the way we had came, but taking the shortcut meant crab-crawling or laying on your back and rolling through a very narrow passage.
Our crew divided up. Those of us crazy enough to take the shortcut got an extra taste of cave exploring. Laying flat, I crossed my arms on my chest and rolled through the flat narrow opening. As I rolled, when one shoulder was on the floor, my other shoulder was mere inches from the ceiling. Shimmying through a couple of tight places, plus a little crab-crawling, and we were above ground before the rest of the crew.
Later in the evening, when I pulled out my wallet to pay for dinner, I noticed puncture marks in the leather. During my rolling through the tight spaces, the pointed rocks from below had left their mark in the wallet in my pocket with every roll. A funny thing, since I never felt them as I was rolling.
Caving in Iceland
If you don’t like dark or tight spaces, then a lava tube tour might not be for you! It was my first lava tube, and I enjoyed the experience. But I would rather be up above in the sunlight taking pictures of the unique landscape.
Experience Iceland from below with Iceland Excursions from Gray Line Tours