Cold, Wet, and Wonderful
I could not decide between a trip to Askja or Lofthellir. Since we hiked up Viti behind the power plant we already had a sense of a water filled crater and felt that a part day trip to Lofthellir would be more unique than the full day trip to Askja and we would also have more free time to do a hike or two later in the day. I think we made the right decision. We had a lot of fun with the other people on the trip and did something pretty unique.
We boarded the vehicle at the Visitor's Center across from our hotel. The truck had a licence plate that said "ASHOLL" which kind of made me question the attitude of the tour company, but we learned that the "AS" is what people in that district get on their plates, and Holle (pronounced Holly) was the guy's name. He said he did get a lot of people laughing at him and he finally asked why. That has to be embarrassing. I guess it is like getting Asian character tattoos and finding out they mean something not so good later on. I was pretty sure if there was more than one vehicle out there, I would know which one to get back into at the end of the day.
We drove over to the company's location and were each handed boots close to our size. If you are a woman size 7 or under you got extra socks as they did not have the green rubber caving boots in our sizes. I recommend you bring your own socks just in case. Once we were all adequately outfitted, we squished into the vehicle and traveled a rough road to the destination. The worst seat is the window seat for the bench with three people. I was completely bruised on my left arm as a result.
We ended the ride on the edge of a hill and started walking over rough bubbled lava towards a giant hole in the earth. There was a ladder that we climbed down to get inside the earth, and put our boots on and got ready.
What a surprise to find out our first part of the cave was to slither through a small hole. I've done caving before but for some reason was not expecting something like this considering we only had rubber boots, a helmet, and a headlamp for equipment. I thought maybe we would walk around and see ice dripping from the ceiling and take pictures. We ended up doing maneuvers like pulling ourselves into the next room by hand-over-handing it up on a rope while our feet walked up the side of the cave and our bodies laid in the wet ice, and shimmying to the top of an ice mound, rolling over, and sliding down the other side like a penguin. It made for entertainment as we each took our turn, and left us dripping from the water and proud we made it though that.
There were several rooms we went to on the level we were on, then we turned back and got our final chance to take more photos and pull ourselves up ropes and lie on wet ice. At the end, the guide set up one more display with the lights (none of my photos came out from that) and we squirmed though the last hole to walk out thought the water into the sunlight.
The walk back and the drive home were really nice. There was a rainbow over Hverfjall that I tried to photograph, and we had time to enjoy the walk over the black earth. On the way we were looking for the other company truck to give them the boots we were done with as some of their party needed them. I think it was a group of guys in the trip that all new each other pretty well. We found them at a pit stop drinking beer and other things that drinking fluids leads to, much to their embarrassment, but their guide did come over to our truck with a platter of rolled pancakes, kind of like crepes, and they did hit the spot. After that stop, we were well on our way again.
We really liked everyone in our group which is good for us since we do not like group activities, but we were already familiar with another couple we had met hiking at Námafjall behind Hverir who also signed up for this trip which helped break the ice. We were sad to say good bye to everyone, but good bye is not forever, because when we went to the thermal spring that evening, we ran into three of the couples from the trip. There are not a lot of people in Mývatn in September, but we did see the same people over and over again. It was kind of nice!
What to Wear
Don't wear what we wore. We were wet and cold part way through, though it was really just discomfort more than anything. Because there are parts where you lie down on wet ice, waterproof over pants, jacket, and mittens or gloves would be nice. If you carry a lot of camera equipment, a dry bag is a good idea, though we used the pockets of our rain jackets for my tiny camera and carried the other one in its case. Double your wool socks for comfort as they give you boots that fit over whatever you are wearing. The rubber does not insulate you very much from the temperature of the ice.
The tour was very patient and supportive of photography which for may of the people on the trip was a good thing. It is hard to tell if your photos come out at all and so we ended up taking a lot. Eighty percent ended up being bad or throw away quality. Out of the other 20%, we had a few really good ones. In several of the rooms, the guide would back light the ice with headlamps or tiny lights to help people take nice photos and sometimes would use a red light to make it interesting.