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by Irene Butler
For Travel Writers' Tales

In each country we visit, my husband Rick and I keep our eyes peeled for something unique to that country; something that cannot be seen or experienced anywhere else in the world. While blazing around the best of Iceland's geothermal activity of billowing geysers, steaming hot springs, thunderous waterfalls, we get wind of such a phenomenon: Thrihnukagigur. Further investigation reveals, we can be lowered "into" a volcano. Normally, after a mega-volcanic eruption the magma hardens closing the crater opening. Not so with Thrihnukagigur which, after its mega blast 4,000 years ago, an anomaly of nature occurred-the magma did not remain in the cavity! Volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson's explanation, "It's like somebody came and pulled the plug, and all the magma ran down out of it." We are hyped up to see this oddity of nature!

Thora leads us to the volcano

Our bus ride from Reykjavik to the volcano is on a road with more twists and turns than a pretzel. "The reason for this is to avoid the elf and troll habitats," our driver says, feeding the local belief in Huldufólk (hidden people). We arrive at the foot of Bláfjöll Mountain Range - where the road ends. Thora, our guide meets us and leads us along a 3km lava field hike. At one point we pass over the split between the Eurasian and North American rift that runs northeast to southwest across Iceland (and is widening by 1.5cm each year).

Stop at Eurasian-North American Continental Divide

Arriving at the small Welcome Cabin, our group of ten is divided into three, with us in the middle group. By the time we are fitted with a harness and helmet, it's our turn. We walk up the nearby embankment to the gaping opening of Thrihnukagigur or Three Peaks Crater. We will descend 120 metres into one of them.

Going Down!

A metal cage awaits us; one like the window washers of sky-scrapers use. Pall, the operator, assures we are properly hooked to the cage frame with carabineers, and then presses a red button. After a few jolts and the cage scraping against the rock face, we rumble slowly into the dormant volcano's cavernous maw. Icy fingers run down my spine caused by more than just the 4 degrees Celsius at the bottom. I am blown-away with the enormity of the chamber: its ground space could hold three basketball courts and could easily fit the Statue of Liberty!

Stay out of roped area

We are un-tethered and other than being warned where "not to go", we are free to wander away from the semi-flat section gingerly finding our footing up, down and over jagged rocks, to get nearer to the chamber walls. It is strangely emotional witnessing the results of gases, pressure and extreme temperatures of the magma that violently blasted to the surface so long ago. The colours are astounding - amber, yellow, green, russet, and reds - which, as our docent Pall explained, "are from the different ore concentrations; and the pitch black sections are where this outer coating has crashed down in chunks from the walls."

Dazzling colour

Humbled by this grandeur, I am rendered fossil-still, until I hear Rick call, "Come over to this edge; you can't miss seeing this!" I grab onto sharp boulders and make my way over to where he gazes way down into a seemingly endless abyss of more dazzling colour in swirling patterns. Truly a spectacle to behold! We learn from Thora that this chamber was first discovered in 1974 by long-time caving enthusiast Árni B. Stefánsson, who at that time descended without a headlamp and thought it nothing more than a dark hole. Years later, this time with lighting, he was overwhelmed by what he saw, and began petitioning the government on the fine line between conservation and, at the same time exposing this wonder to the public.

An Indelible Experience

National Geographic helped this along by doing a documentary about this amazing chamber, which led to an entrepreneur covering the cost of the lift and lighting for the magazine's crew to film the documentary; this was 2010. The first tour took place in 2012-the first time in history visitors, like us, could venture into this eerily magnificent subterranean world.

Above ground again, we fill up on a much appreciated bowl of steaming traditional meat soup and several cups of coffee before our trek back from this unforgettable look "inside the volcano" - as Sci Fi as anything we have done to date and probably ever will in future.

For more info:
Inside the Volcano
3H Tours, an Icelandic company is the tour operator for Inside the Volcano. Tour duration is 6 hours. Pick up at your hotel can be arranged, then transfer to a bus for the 30-minute drive to where the road ends at the foot of Bláfjöll Mountain Range, for the almost 3km hike. If not up to the hike, the site can be assessed by helicopter. Iceland Tourism -

PHOTOS: By Rick Butler

1. Thora leads us to the volcano
2. Stop at Eurasian-North American Continental Divide
3. Going Down!
4. Stay out of roped area
5. Dazzling colour
6. An indelible experience

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