noun: the exploration of caves, especially as a hobby.
Iceland is a country very obviously built by massive geological forces, barely contained and constantly poised to make a move. On the Reykjanes peninsula, west of Reykjavik, the Tvibollahraun lava field bears witness to the volcanic eruptions that spewed lava over a huge area. The area is fairly stable now, but these volcanoes are not extinct and the forces that created this lava field could start up again any time.
The surface looks cracked and split, grown over with famous Icelandic moss. In some areas, the ground has been levelled for housing, industry and the international airport, but these only account for a fraction of the whole area.
One of the features popular with visitors is Leidarendi cave. This is actually made from a series of lava tubes, created when the cooler surface of the lava flow has solidified while the inside of the flow has remained liquid. The liquid lava continued to flow, leaving a tube of volcanic rock behind it.
It’s reasonably safe to go down into the lava tubes, although for complete novices like me, this should only be attempted with an experienced guide. There are no lights or steps, and there has been only the barest minimum of development for visitors. A path through the lava field, a couple of very basic maps of the accessible areas, and a few chains to protect specific features inside the caves. That’s it.
So, kitted out with rather fetching orange overalls, a helmet and head-torch, we set off.
The walk through the caves involves a fair amount of stumbling, stooping, shuffling, bumping and crawling. Every surface is uneven and the only light comes from our head-torches.
Inside the cave, there is evidence for the forces that created the cave in the first place. In some areas, the walls of the cave are bubbled and cracked from when the molten rock settled and cooled.
In some ares, the rock still has the look of runny toffee, with drips, blobs and folds that have solidified.
At the end of one part of the tubes, known as The End of the Road, is the skeleton of a dead lamb that stumbled into the cavern and, unable to find its way out again, died there.
In order to get an idea of what this would have been like, we switched off all our torches, leaving only the torches of our two guides.
It’s really dark.
Stumbling along one of the other passages, we came to a place where the molten rock had dripped and dripped leaving a ceiling of rock stalagmites and other weird rock features.
Just towards the far end of the tube we had to literally crab-walk on our bellies (in plank position!) through a really narrow section. I just tried not to think about the weight of rock above me. On the other side we were rewarded with one more rock feature.
Here, the walls of the cave are smooth and you can see where the molten lava has smeared along the solidified sides of the lava tube.
Soon we came to the opening of the cave and we were back out into the fresh air.
This visit was great but definitely not for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.