The idea of making Thrihnukagigur volcano accessible came from Árni B. Stefánsson, a doctor in Reykjavik and a lifelong cave enthusiast. He has been studying caves in Iceland since 1954 and it’s easy to argue that nobody in Iceland has explored as many caves as Árni.
Thrihnukagigur has always been very special to Árni. He was the first to descend down to the ground floor, in 1974, and, like most people that experience it, he was spellbound by its beauty and uniqueness. Ever since, he has pleaded the case for protecting and preserving this phenomenon. But how should that be done?
Árni insists that the preservation of caves and volcanic vaults is not about leaving them be. It´s rather about making sure that natural wonders like Thrihnukagigur are treated with care and respect – and made accessible in the right way. Árni has a very clear vision of what approach should be used in the project:
“In my opinion, a moderate approach – an approach that really demands all our ingenuity, resourcefulness and modesty, is the only way to tackle a grand natural wonder like Thrihnukagigur. Sensitive nature neither defends nor protects itself. We must treat with care and wisdom what we have been entrusted with. Enlightened humility and modesty is the only way towards a real success. Sustainable development, environmental consciousness, green thinking and modesty are all prerequisites of how to approach the subject.“
Árni has written many articles on Thrihnukagigur and the preservation of caves in general, as well as presenting his thoughts on the matter on many occasions. Below are some examples of these presentations (follow the links):
Presentation 1 – On the preservation and conservation of sensitive formations in Icelandic lava caves (Presented at the 13th International Symposium on Vulcanospeleology, Jeju Island, Rep. of Korea, Sept. 2008).
Presentation 2 – Skrúðshellir and two other littoral caves in Iceland (Presented at the 13th International Symposium on Vulcanospeleology, Jeju Island, Rep. of Korea, Sept. 2008).
Presentation 3 – The preservation of Thrihnukagigur and the status of the feasibility studies of its access (Presented at the 13th International Symposium on Vulcanospeleology, Jeju Island, Rep. of Korea, Sept. 2008).
Presentation 4 – The Vatnshellir Project (First presented at the 14th Vulcanospeleological Symposium at Undara, Queensland, Australia, August 2010. Updated and rev. ed. presented at the 18th. ACKMA Conference, Tasmania, May 2011).
The Big idea
The idea of making Thrihnukagigur volcano accessible to the public was first formally presented in 2004 by Árni B. Stefánsson, a veteran cave expeditioner, doctor and – from that moment – entrepreneur. Up until that time, very few people actually knew that a phenomenon like this (a volcano with an open entrance) existed in Iceland – let alone only a 30 minute drive from the capital!
To make a long story short, the idea of public access to Thrihnukagigur was well received – so well, in fact, that a nonprofit firm, Thrihnukar ehf., was established in 2005, supported by various parties from the public and private sectors. The main purpose of the company is to plan, carry out, and eventually evaluate, the best ways to make the volcano accessible, while upholding a strict benchmark in terms of environmental protection and sustainability.
As of today, there are plans to build a ground tunnel from the surface that will lead into the magma chamber. From the tunnel, visitors will walk to a viewing platform inside the crater, from where the enormous size of the chamber can be enjoyed. An environmental impact assessment is currently being conducted and all licence applications are being processed.
If all goes according to plan, Thrihnukagigur volcano could then potentially be open to the public through a ground tunnel, making it one of the most unique tourist attractions in the world.
In order to discover more, it was decided to offer a tour for the general public. The operation started in June 2012 and continued through August. In short, the tour turned out to be a great success and Thrihnukagigur volcano is now recognised as a tourist attraction in Iceland. Hence, it was decided to offer the tour again in the summer of 2013, 2014 and now in 2015, at the same time, continue with the ongoing environmental, geological and marketing research on the volcano.
Conditions in Iceland make it impossible to operate the tour outside the summer season, from May until September. The area is classified as highlands, it’s located 550 metres above sea level and snow will begin to set in from September, with regular storms and unpredictable weather. It simply wouldn’t be safe.