Leaving the Dark Behind While Caving in Iceland
In the complete darkness of Cave Leidarendi I could hear the water continuously trickling through the porous lava rock. Our tour guide had encouraged us to take a seat on the available rocks and turn off our headlights, sending us into the deepest darkness I had ever experienced.
“Fun fact,” he said. “Your eyes will never adjust to the darkness here.” Unlike in a dark room or outside at night, there wasn’t any light making it the half mile into the cave.
Lava caves are made from the eruption of volcanoes, as the lava moves through the ground so hot that it melts anything in its way. As the lava cools, it sticks to the tunnel. Over time, the cooling lava creates layers as it solidifies in stages. Eventually, the lava comes to an end and leaves a hollow tube behind.
Located in the Reykjanesfólkvangur Nature Preserve, just 20 minutes from Reykjavik, Cave Leidarendi is a 2,000-year-old lava tube that was discovered in 1992. It was created when Stóri-Bolli erupted and lava flowed into the field. Unlike the most popular lava cave, Víðgelmir, Cave Leidarendi has remained nearly unchanged–nothing has been installed to make navigation easier. The guides have a rule– “Don’t take anything out of the cave, and don’t leave anything in the cave.” This helps to keep it as well-preserved as possible.
One of the other six cavers remarked that it was a relaxing experience, like being in a sensory deprivation tank
As the seconds passed in the darkness, my heartbeat became louder than the water. One of the other six cavers remarked that it was a relaxing experience, like being in a sensory deprivation tank. I made note never to subject myself to that, should the opportunity ever present itself. My panic was growing, and I was on the verge of ignoring the request to keep our headlamps off a little longer.
I began to count down from 10, telling myself we would be turning our lights on soon. Being in a beyond-dark cave with uneven ground that I had to crawl through in parts was not my idea of a relaxing experience. Even though I was nearly panicking, I had enjoyed the lava caving experience up until this point. It was like hiking and rock climbing all in one. With some sturdy rubber-soled shoes, gloves, and a hard helmet, the underworld experience was fascinating.
Although physically exhilarating, it was perfect for our limited skills, and no more challenging than hiking a hill.
I did love the beautiful colors of the cave walls, which showcased different stones and minerals, and reminded me of rings on a tree that reflect the time passing between layers. Unmarred by man-made floorboards, floodlights, or guide rails, Cave Leidarendi was mysterious and exciting. The multitude of colors– from a rust-colored red to deep lilac purples– showed under the lights of our headlamps.
I loved the physical exertion of climbing over crumbled rock piles. Maneuvering around the piles had offered a unique hands-on experience that wasn’t provided at the more popular locations. Although physically exhilarating, it was perfect for our limited skills, and no more challenging than hiking a hill.
I loved the reflections of our headlamp lights in the clearest icicles I’d ever seen, made from lava-rock-filtered water so pure that there was nothing to discolor or frost it. The water in Iceland was the purest water I’d ever tasted, and the lava rock field we were under was just one of many that made it that way.
Finally, the tour guide announced that it was time to turn the headlamps back on. We were headed back to the surface, where the colors of the lava rings could be better observed and my fear of the deepest dark would vanish.