Inside the cold heart of an Icelandic volcano
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.
Journey to the bowels of the earth
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.
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 tour 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.
Check out the official website, 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.
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