Descending Into a Volcano

In partnership with Inside the Volcano

Thrihnukagigur Volcano location
Thrihnukagigur Volcano location

On a gray and miserable afternoon, my husband and I took a tour with Inside the Volcano, to descend 120 meters into Thrihnukagigur (‘Three Peaks Crater’), a dormant volcano that had last erupted 4,000 years ago.

We drove out of Keflavik, with our four-wheel drive feeling like a toy car thanks to the strong gusts that rattled our windows and blew the entire way. When we arrived at the meeting point, the sky was an even grimmer shade of gray. We battled not having the car door blow back in on us as we got out and into the little cabin where we waited for our tour to begin.

Once our group of about 15 had assembled, we were off on a 45-50 minute hike to the crater, with the wind billowing persistently behind us. The landscape around us was bleak – mossy lava fields, and black upon black lava rocks. While the path itself was moderately flat, the surface was slightly uneven in parts, and the wind made it that slight bit more challenging.

The bleak walk to the volcano
The bleak walk to the volcano
Remnants of an old lava tube
Remnants of an old lava tube

When we arrived at the cabin by the crater, it was time to put on our special descending-the-volcano gear – a helmet with a headlamp (we were going deep into the volcano, after all), and a trusty harness, which would be clipped onto the caged metal elevator that we would use to go up and down the volcano, as well as walk across the little bridge to get in and out.

Getting our safety gear on
Getting our safety gear on
Battling gale force winds on our way up
Battling gale force winds on our way up

The wind continued to blow stronger and mightier as we donned our gear – and as we made our way to the volcano mouth itself, I felt at times that I would be lifted up and blown away! But I made it to the volcano without flying off, and as our group of about seven squeezed into the elevator that seemed to barely fit into the crater, it took about six months for us to eventually get to the bottom. Along the way, we were greeted with glowing colors of red (iron), yellow (sulfur), and even blues and greens from the different minerals that had been left exposed after the volcanic eruption.

The steep final section
The steep final section
Climbing out on the platform
Climbing out on the platform
Looking down into the abyss
Looking down into the abyss
The old window washer elevator
The old window washer elevator

The sheer size of the volcano from inside is incredible – apparently you can easily fit the Statue of Liberty inside it, and we were able to explore the different little paths near the base of where we descended. There was one particular area on the volcano wall that was impressive – a huge splattering of black rock surrounded by bright yellows, which almost looked like it was a big eye glaring at us below.

Thrihnukagigur Volcano
Image showing the enormous size inside Thrihnukagigur Volcano
Part of the wall resembled a giant black eye
Part of the wall resembled a giant black eye
Silhouettes of people at the bottom
Silhouettes of people at the bottom
A really red section
A really red section
The scale inside the volcano is hard to comprehend
The scale inside the volcano is hard to comprehend

Thrihnukagigur volcano is unique because when the eruption happened, the magma in the chamber seems to have disappeared, with experts believing that the magma either solidified in the walls or retreated somehow into the depths of the earth. Tours started about 40 years ago, giving people a unique experience to go into a volcano for an extreme close up.

After we had wandered around the volcano, we made our way back to the cabin where we were treated to traditional Icelandic meat soup, coffee and tea. With the icy wind continuing to hammer around us, it was a very comforting treat. It was also clear as to why the volcano tours only operate until September – the weather here could obviously be treacherous and unforgiving in the colder months.

Nothing better than a hearty meat soup
Nothing better than a hearty meat soup

And then it was time for the hike back…. And very quickly, the weather went from crazy to insane. The skies turned vicious, and there was a ferocious downpour of sideways rain, carried by a howling wind. Then it started to hail, with the ice feeling like it was cutting tiny shards into my face. I felt drenched despite wearing multiple layers and a Gortex jacket and waterproof pants on top of my leggings and thermals.

Trudging along the path and combating the wind, we eventually made it back to the cabin where we started, where we quickly wiped our faces and ran back to our car for the 30-minute drive back to Keflavik.

While I was relieved to be out of my wet clothes, I felt thrilled by what I had just experienced. It’s a perfect summary of Iceland – enthralling, majestic and rugged all at once, and a country that makes you want to go back and relive it all again.

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