While staying for a week in the Mývatn area in North-Iceland I got the opportunity to visit Lofthellir cave, the extraordinary lava cave, where one can see the largest natural ice sculptures in any known lava cave in Iceland.
Lofthellir cave is located in the Búrfell lava field. On our way to the cave, we passed the distinctive Mt. Hverfjall, a sandy explosion crater. Walking on its rim makes for a very popular hike. I could spot tiny people way up on the rim of the volcano. We then passed between Lúdentarborgir crater row and drove to the roots of Mt. Hvannfell.
The drive took 45 minutes on a bumpy dirt road, so fasten your seatbelts if you don't want to hit your head on the ceiling of the 4x4 Saga Travel GeoIceland vehicle. It is a joke amongst the tour guides that the tour is not successful if one passenger at least doesn't hit his head on the car ceiling ;)
If you are car sick sit in the front. I get car sick easily so I planted my behind firmly on the seat next to our tour guide - as I was not about to get car sick before I entered the cave.
Our tour guide, Ármann, asked us if we were claustrophobic or had any medical conditions so that he would know how to react in case anything happened inside the cave. He is a very experienced guide and a former member of our rescue team, so it made me feel safe to have him as our guide in the lava cave.
From the roots of Mt. Hvannfell, we hiked for some 20 minutes in lovely weather through the rugged ropey lava field. Here you can see how the semiliquid flowing lava solidified, creating the most extraordinary fields of ropey lava. It is an easy marked hike.
At the end of the hike, we stopped by a white shed and were equipped with spiked wellies and helmets with headlights as it is icy, wet and dark in the cave. Waterproof clothing is necessary as there will be some sliding on your back on the wet ice. I wore windproof trousers but still got wet, so waterproof trousers would be the safest bet.
We marched to the opening of the cave - which is a big round hole in the lava field - an opening to an extraordinary world of underground ice sculptures.
Lofthellir cave was discovered back in the eighties after an earthquake in this area. A plane was flying above the lava field and the pilot noticed a big hole in the ground - the roof of the lava cave had collapsed during the earthquake - opening up a world of wonders below.
I dressed warmly as it is cold down in these caves (I would say 0 degrees C), but I got so warm from squeezing and sliding that I started taking off my layers of clothes.
I am an Icelander and used to the cold, so don't follow my lead and keep your warm clothes on, especially those of you who come from warmer climates. And don't forget to bring some gloves as well.
A staircase leads down to the cave. We then slid on the wet ice to get to a barricade with a locked door. The cave has to be locked as it is not safe to go inside without proper guidance. And you will see why as you read further on in my blog.
As I entered through the door I saw a narrow opening through which I had to crawl to get inside the cave! This narrow entrance is why claustrophobic people might have some problems visiting this cave.
I used to have both fear of heights and extreme claustrophobia, but I got rid of both these phobias with hypnotherapy, so something that was out of the question doing all of a sudden became possible!
Ármann, our guide, was on the other side guiding us and helping through the opening - we could not have done this without his secure hand and guidance. An excellent guide, with whom I had the pleasure to go on yet another tour in this area, the Diamond Circle.
He knows Lofthellir cave like the back of his hand and he told me that once he had spent 5 hours inside the cave photographing. I can relate to that as there were endless photo opportunities as we went further into the cave!
Squeezing through this opening has been made easier by placing rubber mats and a plastic cloth to slide on. Thus I was able to slide on my stomach through the hole by pulling myself up a rope, as you see in the photo above. And you can also see the spikes on the wellies we got from Saga Travel, which were of great help on the ice.
When you are in a group you get this fellow feeling and we were all rooting for each other, be it squeezing through holes or pulling ourselves up a rope and swinging on the ice :) No matter how clumsy I felt while doing this, and believe you me, I looked clumsy ;) - then the whole group just laughed and had good fun.
When I got through the narrow hole I saw an ice sheet where I was instructed to pull myself up another rope and swinging my body to the left (or was it right) getting a foothold on the wall of the lava cave. It was fun and here is where waterproof clothing is needed as the ice is wet.
I was the first one into the cave, right behind the guide, so I have no photos of myself pulling myself up the ice sheet by the help of the rope, but got permission from my fellow travellers to use their photos for my travel-blog.
On the way back out of the cave, I slid down the ice on my back and got totally wet. What an adventure!
After sliding on the ice sheet we saw the most amazing ice sculpture, a massive block of ice reaching from the floor of the cave and right up to the very ceiling. If I am not mistaken then this ice sculpture is called the castle. To get further into the cave I had to pass the ice castle on the wet ice.
I accidentally put my hand on it when I thought I was going to slide down - not to be repeated as the ice sculptures, which have taken years and years to form, should not be touched. Only footprints should be left behind in the cave - in my case I left one handprint on the ice.
By now we were seeing more and more ice sculptures, but as we were busy helping each other out on the wet ice, we were thinking more about walking side by side than admiring the ice sculptures - although I had a few "WOW" moments on this spot.
Our guide had instructed us to walk sideways on the ice as that way the spikes on the wellies get the best grip.
Then all of a sudden the most extraordinary chamber opened up with myriads of ice sculptures - small and big! We were all in awe! Now we were at the core of the cave and saw the biggest ice sculptures known in an Icelandic cave.
What a magical sight! I couldn't stop breathing in this beautiful sight and put my feet firmly on the ground and took photos left and right. I put my feet firmly on the ground as I did not want to slide and accidentally step on some baby ice sculptures on the floor ;)
In the photo above you will see the part of the ice sculptures which has got the name the "Ice sculpture family" - so cute :)
Our tour guide told us that there are some 20 meters of ice down to the solid ground and the ice sculptures take decades to form, starting out as small ice babies.
Lofthellir is 370 meters long and here we could see how big this cave actually is - the height is about 10-15 meters and the width of 15 meters by the ice floor on a 70 meters long part. I hope I am getting these numbers right as sometimes I just wander off and totally lose myself in taking photos instead of listening to the guide.
We now stopped and gathered around Ármann, who told us about the cave and the ice sculptures. He then told us to turn off our headlights and we found ourselves in pitch darkness - this is total darkness and we saw nothing.
Our other senses were heightened and we listened to the water dripping from the ceiling onto the ice floor in the cave. He then told us to put our hands in front of our face - it was a strange feeling, but we could not see our hands!
While experiencing the pitch darkness in the cave Ármann told us to listen carefully to the sounds and music of the cave. Without sight our ears became our primary sense organs in the cave - and all of a sudden we heard beautiful, almost hypnotizing sounds. What a beautiful moment!
I was thinking that he must have been playing some music on his mobile phone for us - but when we had turned our headlights back on and found out what was actually happening we were flabbergasted - could this be true - I got tears in my eyes - I will leave the surprise for you to find out when you visit Lofthellir cave :)
We were now free to roam around and explore the cave for a while and take photos. It can be a bit tricky taking photos in the darkness with only a headlight on the helmet, but our guide had put a small light behind the biggest ice sculptures, which made them even more mystical!
You can see in the photo above that the ice sculptures are bigger than I am!
Our guide offered to take photos of all the members of our group on a spot by the biggest ice sculptures. All of us got photos like the one above and I treasure it - it is truly one of a kind!
Now it was time for me to go a little crazy in the cave as I saw so many beautiful photo opportunities. The lava cave is very colourful and in some places, lava rocks have fallen down to the ice floor of the cave - the colourful lava is beautiful in itself, but covered by a thin layer of ice the colourful lava rocks become iridescent and look like priceless jewelry!
Next to the lava rock in the photo above, you will see a tiny ice baby being born :)
There were so many ice sculptures in the cave in their different stages of life, growing taller by colourful lava rocks. The beauty just took my breath away and I felt affection for these delicate ice creations being formed far down in the earth.
I walked as far as we were allowed inside the cave where there were myriad of ice sculptures surrounded by colourful lava walls.
If you have ever read the series of books about the Moomin by Tove Hansen, which almost all of us in Iceland have read as children, then you will see great similarities between the "younger" ice sculptures and some characters in these books, called the Hattifatteners :) I felt like a child again in this magical cave.
In some places on the ice floor of the cave, you will notice some yellow stripes. They are markers put up by explorers of the cave back in 1989.
After feeling and behaving like happy kids inside the chamber it was time to slowly head back. Slowly I say as it is not possible to hurry through this wondrous cave.
Extreme care must be taken as not to stub one's toe on one of the ice babies. We really do not want to stub their growth ;)
On our way back I noticed parts of the cave I hadn't noticed on my way in. The walls and ceilings of the cave have many hues of red, orange and yellow (sulfur) colour - and the contrast between the red lava ceiling and the aquamarine ice is breathtaking!
And in some places, you will see red lava rocks deep inside the ice floor. These are lava rocks that have fallen from the ceiling and are being covered more and more with ice.
In the photo above you will see one such rock buried down in the ice.
In the photo above you will see the yellow/golden colour of sulfur in the lava - and if you look closely you will see different layers of bright blue lava and some other formations in the photo.
This is what I love about lava caves, well apart from the ice sculptures - inside these caves you will find multicoloured layers of different lava.
While visiting such caves keep your eyes on the details, like on the multicoloured lava ceiling - I think it looks like a beautiful painting.
There are some stalagmites and dripstones in the cave, small ones, which are worth looking for - as I said before, the beauty of Lofthellir cave lies in the ice sculptures and the details - it is so varied and there is so much to see!
Sliding down the ice on our way back was much easier the second time around - also squeezing through the small entrance hole under the secure and firm guidance of our guide.
I was the first one to go through the hole after our guide, which gave me the opportunity to watch all the others while they were pulling themselves on the stomach through the hole.
Again I felt this closeness to my fellow cave explorers - we were all going through the same thing, sliding and squeezing. As I watched them I felt like I was watching them being born, as it were, and you will understand why when you look at my photo above ;) I took photos to send to my fellow travellers as I think it is priceless to own such photos as the one above.
We had spent an hour and a half in the cave and I felt elated after our visit and left the cave with a smile on my face. I had been a bit afraid before visiting the cave and thought it was only for experienced cave explorers.
All of the lava caves in Iceland have their own charm and characteristics, but Lofthellir is one of the most challenging and fun caves I have visited so far.
On our way back from the cave we visited Lúdentarborgir, which is a 15 km long row of craters. Astronauts were trained in the lunar landscape by Lúdentarborgir before the launch of the space shuttle Appollo 11 back in 1969.
The explosion crater, Lúdent, is close by the row of craters. It is simply amazing looking at these craters from above - just imagine what took place in this spot - the earth ripped open and fire and lava forced itself out of the earth through a long row of craters in the ground!
Lofthellir cave is on the land of the farmers at Vogar and thus privately owned. Saga Travel is the only travel company licensed to visit Lotfthellir cave. And kudos to them for creating a tour to show us around inside this fantastic cave.
When I posted my photos of the cave on Facebook I got a lot of comments, mainly about the location of this cave and why people had not heard about it before. Now you know whom you are going to call to visit the cave :)
The ever so responsible guide, Ármann, did not want to smile for the photo above, but I got a shot of him being less serious when my husband, who is a professional magician, showed him some magic tricks in the parking lot by Mývatnsstofa information centre where he dropped us off ;) Ármann now runs his own travel-agency up north, Imagine Iceland travel.
This tour lasted for 5 hours, from 8 am until 1 pm and later in the afternoon we joined another tour and hiked in the extraordinary lava field of Gjástykki.
I want to visit Lofthellir lava cave again in winter time - so next time I will hike through the ropey lava field on snowshoes!
This tour starts both from Akureyri, the capital of North-Iceland, and Mývatn. And you can even fly from Reykjavík on the Caving Tour to Lofthellir Ice Cave with Flight from Reykjavík.
Saga Travel offers a wide variety of tours. I joined several of their tours while travelling up north and wrote travel-blogs about my experience:
Have a wonderful time visiting Lofthellir cave - it is an unforgettable experience :)