Iceland winter adventure: lava caving and snorkelling (Part 1)

From snorkelling in Thingvellir between two ancient continents to caving through lava pits in Iceland, life with Arctic Adventures was a glimpse into Mother Earth at her mightiest.

Into the black: caving

It’s a murky Sunday in December in Iceland, the peak of winter. 10 o’clock in the morning and the sun is only just beginning to rise. Our spirits are high anyway, as a full-day of caving and snorkelling awaits!

It doesn’t matter that it’s a bit dark as our first stop is to go caving in the darkness of the lava tubes.

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Still dark, walking towards cave in the Blue Mountains area.

Sarah our guide from Arctic Adventures parks as close as she can to the entrance of our first destination, caving in the Blue Mountains area. We’ve driven about 45 minutes from Reykjavik to be in the middle of nowhere civilised. It’s a perfect place for a murder, with rolling bumps of rocks decked in white and turf as far as the eye can see. In the distance are mountaintops streaked with snow.

Preparing us with helmets and headlights, she lets us know that it’s less than a five-minute walk to the cave. As we step out of the car, we feel the power of nature gusting at us! The wind is howling madness with sleet and as we hurry over the icy ground towards the lava cave we’re careful not to slip and fall.

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Sarah, our very cool Arctic Adventures guide.

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Entrance to the cave, Blue Mountains area.

We enter the cave. Our headlights reveal a glistening vision of icicles dripping from the ceiling. It’s glimmering like wet ice only can, ending in the perfect form of a spike. For caving nerds, it’s like a forest of stalactites – only made of ice.

Lava  tunnels.

Lava tunnels.

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Once you start looking, there are variations in the cave.

The lava cave formed due to volcanic activity. Molten lava pushed itself through the earth underneath a hardened surface. Eventually the lava moved on, but the tunnels underground remained. We walk through the cave, staring at crevasses and trying not to break the hanging icicle pops. I want to lick it, but decide that’s probably a bad idea.

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Icicle. So pretty.

Cavern.

Cavern.

We go deeper, and it starts to feel darker and more enclosed. We have to crouch to go through some holes, and as we journey on we mimic the passage of the lava in the days gone by.

Our guide explains a few features of the cave, describing how slow it takes for nature to form sometimes. She shows us a ‘volcanic tree’. It’s taken about 10 years to grow 20 cm. Time has another meaning in the caves.

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Surface of the cave wall.

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A volcanic ‘tree’ can take 10 years to grow to this size.

When we reach the end of the cave, we switch off all of our lights. It’s pitch black.  Sarah tells us a story about the hidden people who live in the caves. To some extent, Icelanders believe that they still exist today. There is so much respect for the folklore that consultants are hired to speak to the ‘hidden people’ when building construction. For example, these consultants will check with the hidden people if it is ok to move a rock in the way of a road, or if they need to build around it. Funny, huh?

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More icicles.

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Frozen jellyfish.

On our way out of the cave we met a rather strange sight. A group of Icelanders are sitting around in the cave with torchlights and hot drinks, singing Christmas carols! There is even a man playing an accordion! Apparently this group will hold a Sunday service in the cave for the rest of December…how quirky =)  

Brian Smits, a nice American who came on the same trip recorded this on his phone camera.

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You’ll have to duck around the icicles.

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Cave mouth: seeing the light again!

Finally, the opening to the cave is in sight again. Next stop, lunch and snorkelling in the Silfra (part 2)!

Practicals:

Arctic Adventures Winter Combination Tour: Black and Blue
Cost: 22,180 ISK

The caving part of the tour is for anyone who is interested in seeing a part of Iceland’s natural volcanic history – underground! There is a bit of crouching and ducking involved, but for the most part it is easy. Our Arctic Adventures guide mastered an excellent balance between professional and yet relaxed. I felt very safe being with her and most importantly, she gave interesting commentary. We had ample of time to soak in the surroundings. 

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Me!

For the caving part of the trip I wore the below. I wouldn’t recommend wearing more as you are moving around:

Top:

  • Damart light thermal singlet
  • Icebreaker 200 wool count long sleeve top
  • My Fjallraven Nuuk parka which now needs a clean from sliding down rocks in the cave =) I could also recommend something thinner and more suitable for hiking/skiing like my Haglofs Utvak jacket, but for the sake of reducing packing I chose to bring only one jacket.

Bottom

  • Icebreaker 260 wool count long underwear
  • 1848 ski pants with breathing zips open (rain pants would have sufficed)
  • My mother-in-law’s old Adidas hiking boots

Accessories

  • A thin woollen hat for underneath the helmet
  • Ski mittens (make sure you don’t mind them getting dirty!)
  • Arctic Adventures provided a hard hat with light.

I was a grateful guest of Arctic Adventures. Coming soon: how I survived snorkelling in 2 degrees Celcius water!

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Coming soon: what it felt like to snorkel in Thingvellir!

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8 thoughts on “Iceland winter adventure: lava caving and snorkelling (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Playing duck on Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon | The Fourth Continent

  2. Pingback: Iceland: Hiking on Vatnajökull, Europe’s biggest glacier! | The Fourth Continent

  3. Pingback: The American who quit money to live in a cave « BGTV MEDIA ONLINE

  4. I loved the post about snorkelling – I’ve only ever dived in warm water, but that looks like a great thing to do. But no way would I go into those caves!

  5. Pingback: Iceland winter adventure: snorkelling and lava caving (Part 2) | The Fourth Continent

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