From Iceland — A Craving For Caving In The Leitahraun Lava Field

A Craving For Caving In The Leitahraun Lava Field

Published April 15, 2014

Exploring the Búri Cave with Fjallhalla Adventurers

Photo by
Ben Snick

Exploring the Búri Cave with Fjallhalla Adventurers

Forty-five kilometres from downtown Reykjavík I’m standing on a snowy embankment surrounded by the Leitahraun lava field. The snow slopes down, guiding me under a shelf of rock and into a winding crevice to a basketball-sized hole in the ground. Feeling a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I drop my legs into the void and slide in, wriggling a bit to get my shoulders through the gap. The top of my helmet vanishes into the dark.

My first thought is that I’ve actually arrived in Wonderland, complete with its own sparkling ice palace. The narrow tunnel has opened up into a vast cavern completely coated in ice with two-metre long icicles hanging from the ceiling and rising up off the ground like teeth. The tunnel looks like the giant glittering snarl of some sort of snow monster. The excited voices of my forty or so fellow Fjallhalla Adventurers echo and bounce off the walls, announcing into the abyss that we have finally arrived at the Búri Cave.

Past The Castle Of Ice

We make our way slowly, single-file, past the colossal icicles until we reach a second, larger cavern. Moving further into the cave, the icicles begin to disappear. As one of our guides, Quinten Verdonck, explains, the rest of the cave is just as damp as the entrance, though less icy further from the opening because it’s the outside temperature that causes the icicles to form. By June, all the intricate icicles will melt, not to return again until autumn.

A droplet from the porous volcanic rock above lands on the nape of my neck and sends chills down my spine as we climb rocks of varying shades of red and black. The complex designs on the shiny black boulders look like something out of an alien movie—I’m convinced there were sections of Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ filmed here.

Hiking further into the cave, the walls begin to spread out and the ceiling becomes vaulted, creating an unsettling emptiness that hangs over us like a dark guillotine. We’ve reached the largest sections of Búri, where the sides reach around ten metres in width and height. Its colossal girth makes Búri one of the largest lava tubes in the world.

Craving for caving Ben Snick

Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

For the next 500 metres, we climb up and down piles of lava rocks, which lie scattered throughout the cave like a giant’s toppled toy blocks. Another guide, Ragnar Hjálmarsson, gathers all forty of us into a huddle and directs us to turn off our torches. One by one the lights flicker and fade, leaving us shrouded in absolute darkness. We sit silently, stooped in the pitch-black world around us, listening to the ringing of water droplets as they hit the cave floor.

Surrounded by the unmitigated void, Ragnar’s disembodied voice tells us how Björn Hróarson discovered Búri in May of 2005. Because of its rather recent discovery Búri remains naturally pristine. Crouched in the darkness, Ragnar tells us that while Björn was exploring the cave for the first time he lost one of his legs in an accident—and that they still haven’t found it. As he explained to me later, “Being a tour guide is pretty much all stand-up comedy. No one remembers the facts you tell them, but they remember your jokes.”

We continue hiking to the end of the lava tube, about one kilometre from the entrance, and approach a vast black pit. Our guides inform us that it was formed by a ‘lava fall’ during the massive shield volcano eruption that created the entire lava tube more than 5,000 years ago. Brave souls carefully approach the edge and lean over, looking down into the bizarre rock designs running along the 17-metre pit.

We stop for a group photo and hike back to the shimmering palace of ice at the entrance, carefully climbing over the piles of rocks as our feet slip out from under us, which leaves us scrambling across the grotto. We lift ourselves out into the night and are greeted by the Northern Lights as they arc and dance over the lichen-capped lava field, and the secret subterranean world it covers.

What’s A Lava Tube?

There are more than 500 lava tubes in Iceland. Lava tubes are formed when the outside surfaces of a lava flow cool and harden while the lava within or underneath continues to flow towards an outlet, leaving behind a hollow tunnel shaped cave. Once formed, subsequent eruptions can lead to multiple lava flows re-melting and changing the inside of the cave. These flows can melt through the walls of the lava tube creating hardened lava falls where the smaller flow fell through from one layer of the tube to the next. Iceland’s abundant volcanic activity makes it an ideal location for lava tubes to form, which is great mostly because they look out of this world.

The distance from Reykjavík to the Búri Cave is 45km. Book your trip with Fjallhalla Adventurers; arrangements can be made online or by phone at +354 696-6758.

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