Stokkseyri to Langbrok - Into the Volcano:
After a quiet - and free - night's camping we drove to the appointed place to meet the guide for the tour we had booked on the internet from home. Called 'Inside the Volcano', we had read about this unique experience in the travel guides in the Sunday papers.
We were met by a very fit young blonde Icelandic woman, our guide across the lava fields to the volcano. The group consisted of Brits, Americans, Canadians and Danes and us.
First was the walk: the lava fields we were to tackle first are quite young, only about a thousand years old. The bumpy, twisted rocks are first colonised by grey-green spongy moss, but this doesn't make them easy to walk on. Eyes are constantly on the ground picking the best way through the tortuous track. On the way are volcanic marvels to see: lava tubes forming big and small holes in the ground; basalt bridges; depressions, now dry of water, but covered with a peculiar, small plant with cotton-like threads as flower heads; shiny, convoluted volcanic basalt in bright colours and the pumice-like vesicular basalt; wide, flat rocks whose surfaces are in waves or concentric circles. Across the plain too is a fissure in the earth that you can jump across. It is only about a metre or two wide, and sometimes much less, and it is surprisingly deep. This is an offshoot of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that runs diagonally across Iceland from south-west to north-east. The land is actually moving apart here at the rate of 2cm per year.
The 2.7 kilometre walk took an hour, much more than one would expect but the going was tough. The only way forward was to pick your way amongst the outcrops and weave a path that would have, in the end, been much more than the 2.7 km straight line.
The base camp for the expedition was halfway up the cone of the volcano, consisting of a couple of containers with refreshments inside and all the gear for the participants. In small groups we donned a climbing safety harness and a hard hat with a light. Then up the last stretch to the opening at the top. And there was a fine view to the north over Reykjavik from the top.
A guide attached us to a platform by rope over which we walked to a high-rise window cleaning platform. Another rope attached us safely to the platform and then it's down into the depths.
The opening at the top is quite small and the platform nudges the sides, but then the vent opens up and a whole new world appears. At the bottom, 120 metres down (400 feet), you alight and can explore the wide cavern at the bottom.
This particular volcano is not extinct but dormant - just resting - and last erupted about 4000 years ago. Mostly when volcanoes turn quiescent, the vent collapses in on itself when the pressure from below ceases. In this one, no collapse happened and so the vent and the cavern below are still there - this is quite rare.
The bottom of the cavern was a mass of heaped boulders, big and small, shining and slippery with the water that constantly drips in from overhead. Russ managed to scramble down to see some sulphur crystals on the walls but I stayed put near the top - hanging onto a camera and trying to scramble over the rocks was not a happy combination. But there was plenty to see all around. The surfaces of the rocks making up the walls had been baked at the huge temperatures of the original magma and shone in the deepest of reds, oranges, yellows and greens. Where parts of the rock wall had split away, only black basalt was underneath - truly a case of skin-deep beauty.
At one stage though, yours truly slipped on a wet loose boulder and came down on hands. I now have playground-style grazed knees, cuts on my palms and a suspected broken ring finger on my right hand. If it's not broken, then it is doing a good job faking it with swelling, bruising and pain!
After some time we were hauled up again on the platform and we repaired to the little base camp for a bowl of traditional Icelandic Meat Soup. And very delicious it was too.
Of course, an hour's trek to get there means an hour's trek back but we took our time and travelled at our own pace, looking into lava tubes, inspecting the moss, admiring the view.
Another exciting trip booked for tomorrow, so we have had to drive back towards the east over ground we had covered yesterday. We found our chosen campsite nestled amongst farmland, and in the not too far distance we see the huge volcano Eyjafjallajökull which caused all the havoc with air travel in 2010. Tomorrow we will be much closer to its caldera!