Sunday, October 2, 2016

Inside the Volcanic Lava Cave in Iceland

Just 10 days back on a night like this, I was exploring the lava cave in Iceland with one of my most favorite tour guide in Iceland, Stefan Pall from Icelandic Mountain Guides. This one adventure experience you should not miss in Iceland and is top on my list of sustainable things to do in Iceland.

After a great day-long tour on Golden Circle along with best food tasting experience and relaxed soak in thermal pools of Fontana spa, we were supposed to go on Aurora hunting. But that night KP level was too low and it was raining all day with some storm approaching and completely overcast. So our guide, Stefan decided to take us for Lave Caving tour instead! This chance experience of lava cave totally changed my opinion about caves!
Magical Stalactite inside Leidarendi Cave

Firstly I would like to add, this was such a kind act by Icelandic Mountain Guides to give us this alternate experience when planned northern lights trip was not possible and secondly the expertise of their guides is admirable where people can get lost in these tricky caves during day time he took us their at night. But in his words it doesn't matter what time of the day it is as it's so dark inside.

Watch this video 'lost in cave' from Iceland to get an idea,

Caving Experience inside Leidarendi cave

I have seen caves all my life and even stayed or camped in them, but after the tour I realized how the word before cave, 'lava' changes everything and makes these cave so unique, never seen before kind of experience! After a drive up on Bláfjöll mountain range We had to fix helmets and head torch lights over it before we started our short walk towards the cave, I am so glad Stefan warned us to wear extra layers as it can get more cold inside the cave. On the way to cave Stefan pointed and picked few blue berries for us. He explained the blue berry plants doesn't grow very tall in Iceland as volcanic soil makes it difficult for plants to grow taller.

Lava Tube Cave Opening
As we reached the mouth of lava tube cave named Leidarendi cave, rather two openings facing each other, he explained that we will enter from one side and will come out from other, it sounded quiet simple at that point. But consider the fact that Blafjoll ridge is still an active volcano and there are three volcano in Iceland almost ready to erupt anytime, then entering in a narrow lava cave sounds a lot more adventurous isn't it? At the entrance there were big rocks scattered on ground, but later it was so smooth inside. The color of cave at start was red, this is because of oxidation of its iron-rich minerals into rust. We were still able to stand properly in the cave at this point. But as we started descending in the tube cave, the ceiling started getting lower and lower.
A Sheep's 'End of The Road'

As we reached the spot where a sheep died a long time back and her remains are still there, our guide explained the name of the cave, Leidarendi (end of the road) came from this sheep, as it was end of road for her. You could imagine how spooky it might have felt at that time in a dark lava cave!
Stalagmites and glittering algae on the roof

Stefan explained the algae formation on ceilings captures moisture from rain water dripping in the cave and gives glittery looks to the ceiling. We got to see a few models of Stalagmites sadly, because unfortunately those were removed or broken by some irresponsible tourists or may be geologist. But finally we found an original Stalagmite. Stalagmites are formed due to accumulation of materials or minerals deposited on floor while lava is flowing through the cave. Later the cave became so narrow that we had to crawl through it.
Narrow Passage

Then we came to a spot where roof was covered with Stalactite. Stalactite is formed by segregation extruded by expanding gas into cave passages. It was a beautiful sight, glittering algae, water dripping from stalactite almost sparkling. At that point Stefan asked us to switch off out lights and cameras and let us experience what pitch dark is. Believe me I never seen this darkness before. After shutting eyes I couldn't feel or see slightest light but it was so magical and calm, we could here only water dripping from ceiling and rock formations.

After that we crawled through few narrow openings, the cave colour started getting red and brown again so I thought we are about to get near other opening. That was true but only after a narrowest part of the cave, it was so narrow that we had lie down and crawl, I even rolled! Oh Boy, what an adventure! It's definitely so much challenging for claustrophobic people but we all survived, thanks to Stefan! At that point, I actually thought about name of the cave for split second.
That Narrowest Gap, where I rolled over

What is Lava Tube Cave

Lava tube caves are found in places with volcanic activity. After a volcanic eruption, the lava flows down the sides of a volcano and along the contours of the landscape. The lava can be several meters thick. While the surface cools down and hardens, the liquid lave on lower part continues to flow below the surface in a tube like form. When the flow from the source stops, the remaining lava moves through to the end, leaving a hollow tube. That is how Lava tube caves are formed.
In Iceland there are total 500 known lava tube caves!
Map of Leidarendi Cave

Responsible Caving: Be an Eco Traveler

At the start of tour, Stefan explained us some rules, which should be followed by everyone visiting these cave to preserve these natural wonders like no touching any rock formation or no picking up any rocks from the cave, need to be careful while walking in cave to avoid any accidents, which can damage delicate rock formations and follow the guide all the time.
Cave Rules inside the cave
But sadly we not just witnessed missing Stalagmites but also found this stupid engraving! Can't we spare natural wonders like these and leave them the way they are supposed to be unspoilt and awesome?
Engraving inside the cave

Icelandic Mountain Guides

As I mentioned earlier this is one of the best tour operator in Iceland not just because I had great experience but also because they received many Environmental and Quality awards from Icelandic Tourist Board and Environmental Ministry of Iceland; for being a leading company in nature friendly tourism in Iceland and their efforts for preserving the nature. Their expert views and suggestions were sought in the creation of Vakinn, the Icelandic quality and environmental system. They have followed the World Wildlife Fund Principle for Arctic Tourism for the past 15 years and have taken part in various small efforts with local communities concerning innovative sustainable solutions. They follow their own Environmental Policy, which you can read it here. I must say they have done a great job, you can see their nature conservation passion by talking to their expert guides.

Icelandic Mountain Guides (FB page) are great example of responsible tour operator, they have also created The Environmental Fund to support ongoing projects that restore parts of the Laugavegur Trail, their most popular trek in Iceland. Each of their customer automatically contributes to this fun as 1% of their trip price is diverted to this fund. Any tour with their knowledgeable and experienced guides is not just enjoyable but educational too and yes not forget their Icelandic sense of humor!

Thanks to Icelandic Mountain guides, we could enjoy this totally unplanned but very memorable caving tour!

No comments: