Spelunking the Largest Lava Tube in Iceland

Leah and I overnighted in Arnarstapi, a tiny fishing village perched on a lava cliff in West Iceland, where Mt. Snapafell looms large across the horizon.

Icelanders believe the village still pulses with a healing energy that emanates from chieftain, Bárður Snæfellsás, half ogre/ half human and sorcerer from the first settlement.

as imagined by sculptor Ragnar Kjartansson in 1985

Legend suggests that Bárður was swallowed by Snæfellsjökull glacier. Perhaps it was his penance for killing his nephews, who admitted to pushing his daughter out to sea on an ice floe.

Consequently, Bárður was forever frozen in time and eternally committed to protecting the people of Snæfellsnes Peninsula,

and preserving its unspoiled natural beauty…

Another storm was brewing the day of our drive to Snæfellsjökull National Park. We mapped a route in search of the mysterious Snæfellsjökull Volcano, and took the high road as directed by GPS…

until we ran out of road and visibility halfway up the pass.

It was snowing on the other side of the mountain, and road crews had already conceded to Mother Nature.

So back down the mountain we went, where the weather was more predictable, and the roads were more reliable.

Unfortunately, we sacrificed a critical hour to correct our course, which translated into less time exploring Snæfellsjökull glacier at Snæfellsjökull National Park.

Instead, we continued to our next destination and penultimate excursion–

Our pre-paid guided tour of Iceland’s largest cave was originally scheduled for 1pm, but with rain clouds rolling in and a cold drizzle spoiling any chance of sightseeing or picture-taking, we expedited our drive to Borgarfjörður, with prospects of joining the noon tour if allowed.

We arrived at 12:05pm, but Sigurður (Siggy) agreed to include us, since he was already waiting for another late arrival with reservations. Hallelujah!

With our tour party now complete, each of us received a hardhat and headlamp, and Siggy (our only true-born Icelandic guide during our trip) led us 100m across a lava field called Hallmundarhraun to a twin opening in the earth where the roof of Víðgelmir had collapsed, revealing the cave’s only entrance.

We were dressed for winter inside the cave, where temperatures usually rise to 4oC, but Siggy was comfortable in a traditional Icelandic wool sweater knitted by his mom that he wore this day to celebrate Iceland’s Independence Day.

While traditional wet caves boast an array of stalactites and stalagmites, Víðgelmir cave gave us icicle formations,

and colorful mineral deposits imbedded in the walls,

and ceiling.

After an hour, we reached the end of the boardwalk where the tube narrowed,

and it was time to resurface.

With a 2-hour drive to Reykjavik ahead of us, we may yet reach the Penis Museum before closing time.

To be continued…

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