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Descent Into a Magma Chamber in Iceland

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I recently came across found pictures that my wife and I took on our trip to Thrihnukagigur magma chamber in Iceland back in 2016. This trip was epic in all sense of the word. What could be more intriguing than actually going into a volcano? We drove up to the starting point of the Inside the Volcano in the Bláfjöll mountain range. This is only about a twenty minute drive from Reykjavik. We joined a multinational group of about 25 travelers. Together, we hiked the easy 3KM long path across the lava fields towards Thrihnjukar. We joked that the distant hill emerging from the fog would make a perfect lair for a super villain, Batman or perhaps Elon Musk.

 

Heading into darkness

On the way, the guide Tryggvi told us all about how unique the Thrihnukagigur* really is. Magma chambers almost always collapse after an eruption and form a caldera but somehow this didn’t happen at Thrihnjukar when it erupted some four thousand years ago. The only known exception to this rule on Earth is Thrihnukagigur, the dormant magma chamber in Iceland. In 1974 when a caving enthusiast used a rope to descend to the bottom of Thrihnukagigur. The full magnitude of this unique magma chamber in Iceland was discovered. How insane it must have been to descend into the deep like that! Now it is a popular destination for adventurers and geology enthusiasts. Both get their full money´s worth.

The elevator that takes you down to Thrihnukagigur magma chamber in Iceland.
Preparing to go into the Iceland magma chamber.

Incredible solitude

When we reached the base camp at Thrihnukagigur we were got to coffee and split into three groups. This means that you descend with few other people and you get to experience the wonder of the empty magma chamber in relative solitude. That in itself is just incredible.

Professional guides

The guides impressed me with their professionalism and focus on safety. You descend through the narrow opening in the roof of Thrihnukagigur in a specially made elevator. The descend is slow and methodical. The chamber is lit up below you. Soon you realize how stunningly beautiful the colours of the walls of this cooled out magma chamber are. Part of the wall is covered with thick red lava formations like they were sculpted by some renaissance genius commissioned to create a tribute to the almighty.

Thrihnukagigur magma chamber in Iceland
It´s a long way up!

Reaching the bottom of the magma chamber

After a few minutes of the descend we reached the bottom. Unsafe sections are closed. This includes the ‘iPhone drop zone’ below the elevator and a tunnel that reaches some 120 meters in the to the deep to the side of the magma chamber. Descending into that tunnel is probably not for the faint of heart.

Inside the Thrihnukagigur magma chamber.
Inside the Thrihnukagigur magma chamber.

Exploring the underground cathedral

The air is cold and damp down in the magma chamber. Since it was raining on our trip we had droplets of silvery rain water swirling down. It interacted beautifully with the high powered lights which illuminate and highlight the incredible spectrum of colors and hues. You have deep red from oxidized iron, sparkling silver from silica, green from copper, deep black from tuff and so on and so forth. I walked around the chamber, explored its nooks and crannies. This underground cathedral is so massive that I hardly noticed the other people on the tour. You see the narrow opening above you like a narrow slit of light in the ceiling.

Thrihnukagigur magma chamber in Iceland.
Glorious colors.

Taking advantage of the acoustics

The highlight of the tour was the singing of my wife, the soprano Hallveig Rúnarsdóttir and Tryggvi the guide in this otherworldly magma chamber in Iceland. They performed the mournful and ethereal Icelandic lullaby “Sofðu unga ástin mín” (Sleep my young love). It was very appropriate somehow for this otherworldly place.

 

*Thrihnjukar means Three Peak Mountain. Gígur means crater.

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Descent Into a Magma Chamber in Iceland

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