I got a text inviting me along on a guided tour of one of the locked and gated caves near Langjökull, and seeing as I was well overdue for some sort of activity outside of downtown, I readily accepted, even though it meant getting up early on a saturday and driving to Bifröst. I ended up being late anyway, and missing the bus, and driving all the way to the cave and back as well :) Exciting. But, the cave! The trip was organised through the international students group at Bifröst, where my friend Eva is a lecturer/researcher. The destination, Víðgelmir, allegedly one of the biggest (by volume) lava tubes in the world. (It's big, but I'm not convinced, measuring volumes of lava tubes sounds like some highly dubious science) Certainly, it's a very big cave, and it's been known about for hundreds of years, some viking age artifacts were found high up in one crawl space, so it's definitely had visitors for quite some time.
It's also quite a different cave now. Looking at other pictures on the web, and reading the descriptions, it's certainly _quite_ different. There was still ice in the cave, sure, but not really any more than any other cave I've been in. From the 70s through to the late 80s though, the cave was completely closed off because the entrance was physically choked with ice, year round. Our guide said that when they came here in the 70s with candles, the ice was 2" thick on everything. Times change.
So, the distinguinshing feature of Víðgelmir is definitely straws. Hundreds of thousands of them. Mostly on the floor in pieces. I imagine this cave was probably stunning, perhaps as recently as 30 years ago, but perhaps you had to come a lot earlier. It's still got lots and lots and lots of nice rivulet patterns on the walls, in nicely contrasting grey and red, and often some little lava stalagmites, but you can tell that a lot of the cave has been rather heavily abused in the past. Also, given the size of the cave, you really need big lights to be able to see it and enjoy the full expanse of the cave, which we didn't get to do as much as I'd like.
Still, near the end, afer most casual vandals and simply clumsy tourists have given up, there's a very well preserved chamber, absolutely covered in straws. It's quite a sight, and after seeing so many straws on the ground walking here, you can almost imagine how stunning this cave must have been once.
Back in the entrance, we were treated to some rather delicious hot chocolate and kringla (sort of like bagels) before having to venture out into the cold outside again. A day well spent. Photo's are a bit so so, I didn't bring the tripod, because the group was so big, and I brought probably my worst lens to use in the dark, because it's got no distance scale to help focus with. Still, pleased enough with some of them.
So, this is a gated cave, if you want to go yourself, you have to organise a tour. Make sure you go on the long tour, otherwise you won't see anything you couldn't see by yourself in Gjábakkahellir or Arnarker, or any of the other big open tubes closer to town. (Though the double window entrance into Víðgelmir is pretty cool :)