“You know in the US this caving thing is known as spelunking” said the chatty American girl with the dazzling white teeth and waterproof jacket to match.
What?! As a Brit I’d never heard this term before. Exploring caves is known as caving. Functional and descriptive. Typical British efficiency. I decided spelunking sounded a lot more fun so let me tell you about the time I went spelunking in Iceland.
My brother and I were looking for a bit of excitement during our Iceland trip. We’d done the Golden Circle Tour and it was fabulous, with some breathtaking scenery but we were craving adventure. We looked over our options and booked a morning of quad biking (that’s ATVs if you’re not British!) and an afternoon of spelunking in the volcanic caves.
We drove out along with about 10 other people and our tour guide to the middle of absolute nowhere and donned all our waterproof gear. If you’re going spelunking then I definitely recommend hiring all the waterproof equipment if you don’t have your own. I’d have been soaked without it! And gloves too, they’re a must.
We were given helmets, lights and then we walked about a minute from the side of the road to an area covered with snow with small hints of the black volcanic landscape peeking out from underneath.
It was beautiful but I couldn’t see any evidence of any caves around until our tour guide sat down in the snow and started shoveling snow out of the way. He soon revealed the very small opening to a cave and told us that in summer the entrance is a lot bigger but the recent heavy snowfall had covered much of it.
He told us the only way to get in was to lie flat on our backs and slide into the cave, just like a water slide!
Now this was the type of adventure we were looking for!
I whizzed into the cave and as my eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness I was surprised by how big it was inside. Although as everyone got inside and we started to move through the cave, not all bits were as big as this.
Some parts required us to crawl on our hands and knees over jagged rocks, sheets of sheer ice all the while ducking low under the uneven roof of the cave.
Our tour guide explained to us how the caves had been created by the eruption of volcanoes and the incandescent flowing magma.
Leidarendi lava tube, the caves we visited, are around 25 minutes from Reykjavic near the Blue Mountains and at around 900 metres long is considered to be an excellent example of a lava tube. The frost and ice erosion over the years since the cave was created means that we could clearly see the various different lava streams that have flowed through the cave at different times due to different eruptions.
The flowing lava has created many interesting features within the cave including Stalagmites and Stalagtites as well as what is known as a ‘chandelier’ – a peculiar lava structure prominently protruding from the ceiling of one part of the cave.
My brother and I are total self-confessed geography nerds (and proud!) so we loved seeing all the geographical volcanic features that we’d previously only seen in books during our respective times in school classrooms. If all geography was this hands on I think most schoolkids would love it!
There is even the skeletal remains of a sheep within the confines of the cave and although it is not known just exactly how old they are, it is estimated that it could be from the Saga period, over 1000 years ago!
We spent over an hour navigating our way through the cave, marvelling at the patterns and features created by the magma until it was time to leave. Due to the heavy snowfall the usual exit to the cave was blocked by a wall of snow so we had to leave via the route we’d entered.
Yes that’s right, we had to try to crawl our way up the ‘water slide’ we’d slipped in on. Not the easiest of tasks as it had been packed down by everyone in our group sliding down it and was just like sheer ice. With quite a bit of effort (and a bit of a tug from my brother!) I made it out and was blinded by the brilliant white light of the sunshine outside.
So spelunking might be a bit of a funny name but it was SO much fun and if you’re visiting Iceland and looking for a little bit of adventure and something different then this could be the perfect experience for you.
Have you ever been spelunking or caving before? Would you like to explore this lava tube in Iceland?