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Thrihnukagigur gives a unique journey to the bowels of the earth

20/07/2012 | By | Reply More

Thrihnukagigur – a rare chance to step back in time beneath the crust of the earth

From Thrihnukagigur, Iceland

Beacon of hope: The scientists believe that their studies will greatly improve their understanding of volcanoes – Photo: Hans Strand

This summer, some travelers may choose to spend their days sunning on a beach, while others might take refuge inside museums and department stores in air-conditioned cities.

But with an exclusive single-summer tour opening this June at Thrihnukagigur, a dormant Icelandic volcano near Reykyavik, others — particularly cave enthusiasts and spelunkers — might want to rethink their plans to include a tour of Thrihnukagigur‘s insides.

The dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano last erupted over 4.000 years ago. There are no indications of it erupting again in the nearest future. The Thrihnukagigur volcano’s name, mostly unpronounceable for other than locals, would be directly translated to English as “Three Peaks Crater”. The name comes from Árni B. Stefánsson, who was the first to explore the vault and has pleaded the case of making it accessible for years.

The Thrihnukagigur´s three craters (one of which you will be decenting into) are prominent landmarks, standing against the sky on the highland edge, about 20 km (13 miles) southeast of the Reykjavik capital area within the protected area of Bláfjöll Country Park (see map and how to get there).

The most northeasterly of the three peaks is a small cinder cone, standing about 35 m (100 ft) higher than its surroundings. In the top of this cone is a funnel shaped opening, about 4×4 m (12×12 ft) wide, the entrance of a huge 120 m (400 ft) deep, bottle-shaped volcanic vault, measuring 50 x 70 m (160 x 220 ft) at the bottom. Volcanic passages continue down to the southwest, to a total depth of about 200 m.

The beauty of the Thrihnukagigur crater mostly consists in the various  colourations found inside it and its enormous – and to some extent intimidating – size. To put in context, the ground space of Thrihnukagigur, is equivalent to almost three full-sized basketball courts planted next to each other and the distance from top to bottom is a little short of three NYC’s Statue of liberty planted on top of each other. The full sized statue even fits well into the chamber.

Make no mistake – It’s huge!

Thrihnukagigur are one of a kind magma chamber

From Thrihnukagigur (Þríhnjúkagígur) - Photo: Hans Strand

From Thrihnukagigur (Þríhnjúkagígur) Rocks and stones of all sizes and shapes can be seen on the ground of the chamber.- Photo: Hans Strand

The magma chamber, which you will be descending into, is often referred to as the heart of a volcano. It’s there where the liquid rock awaits to find a way through the surface, causing a volcanic eruption. In most cases, the crater usually closes after the eruption with hard cold lava.

Thrihnukagigur volcano is a rare exception of this, being a case where the magma in the chamber seems to have disappeared. It’s believed that the magma solidified through the walls or quite simply went back to the depths of the earth. Haraldur Sigurdsson, volcanoist, said this: “Thrihnukagigur is unique (…) It’s like somebody came and pulled the plug and all the magma ran down out of it,”

The tour starts with a light 40-minute hike across a lava field and up to the crater, from where visitors are lowered into the enormous — 120 meters deep and 70 meters wide — magma chamber of Thrihnukagigur via a cable lift.

The setup is comparable to the way window cleaners dangle outside skyscrapers, like “an open elevator system,” as 3H Travel, the Icelandic tour company that guides visitors into the heart of Thrihnukagigur, states on its website.

Visitors, five or six at a time, are transported into the bottle-shaped vault inside a basket, attached to cable wires, which in turn are attached to a huge crane on the surface. They enter through a relatively narrow aperture, a mere four meters square.

“This tour enables passengers to see and feel an amazing, unique phenomenon,” says Vignir Gudjónsson of 3H Travel.

According to Gudjónsson, it’s not just the fact that the passengers are inside a volcanic cave. It’s the way they experience it, descending 120 meters for 10 minutes.

“That does bring out the adrenaline in most people,” says Gudjónsson.

Size matters

And while the dappled reddish color of the walls is also said to be beautiful, according to Gudjónsson, “The most jaw-dropping effect is the intimidating size of the vault.”

The emptiness is also apparently an anomaly, geographically speaking; the magma chamber of a volcano is usually full of, well, magma.

Visitors worried about potential dangers — especially recalling another Icelandic volcano with an unpronounceable name (Eyjafjallajökull, since you ask), whose multiple eruptions in 2010 disrupted air travel for weeks — need not fear.

Thrihnukagigur has been dormant for 4,000 years without so much as a burp.

According to Gudjónsson, 3H Travel also adheres to strict safety procedures, with all equipment and processes tested and approved by the administration of Occupational Safety and Health in Iceland.

And if anyone knows how to test a volcano tour for safety, it’s the Icelanders, who live with more than 100 volcanoes and 35 active volcanoes.

The details

The tour of Thrihnukagigur will run only for the summer of 2012, from June 15 to July 31, and costs 37,000 króna (approximately US$294) per person.

Environmental issues play a big part in the limited run.

Although it’s difficult to imagine that a volcano (you know, like mountains, except that they spew molten stone and ash) is delicate, it’s true. “The surrounding area, fragile nature, needs to be respected and protected,” says Gudjónsson.

The tour includes transportation to and from Reykjavik, 30 minutes’ drive away, to the base camp, a cabin within Bláfjöll Ski Resort, where the trek to the crater begins.

Please view this amazing video below, of the wonder inside the Thrihnukagigur. You can also see the Gallery of Thrihnukagigur from here.

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Check out the official website of Thrihnukagigur, www.insidethevolcano.com, for more information and detailed directions on getting yourself there.

And if, for some reason, the volcano is not enough (it does end in a day, after all), www.visiticeland.com, Iceland’s official tourism information site, provides other tempting suggestions for enjoying Iceland: glacier lagoons, geothermal pools and whale watching.

Icelandair flies to Reykjavik from 31 cities in Europe, the United States and Canada.

Iceland Express flies to Reykajavik from 15 cities in Europe.

 

Category: Iceland

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