On our three-week road trip around Iceland, my husband Albert wanted very much to walk on a glacier. I ended up booking him a five-hour Iceland glacier hike with Troll Expeditions, leaving from Skaftafell. I decided not to go myself.
Why? When the description mentioned crampons and icepicks, I decided it wasn’t a good idea for me. I’m a generally clumsy person and not at all physically fit. Anything that involves a need for such implements and lasts for five hours would just be unwise. I pictured myself plunging into a crevice and simply not having the strength to get myself out.
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So my husband got his Iceland glacier hike, while I spent the time a) driving and b) taking pictures at Glacier Lagoon.
Falljökull, the glacier this group hiked on, is a tongue of a much bigger glacier called Vatnajökull. In fact, Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Europe. It’s the centerpiece of Vatnajökull National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that comprises 12% of Iceland’s land area or 1.4 million hectares. The park includes ten volcanoes.
Here is my husband’s account of the tour:
Today was a day I had been looking forward to since Rachel reserved a glacier tour. We got up early to drive to the meeting point at Skaftafell Terminal Tour Center, where Rachel dropped me off. There I met my Troll Expeditions guide, a Spanish national, who has lived in Iceland for a couple of years and is, to quote him, “addicted to the glaciers of Iceland.”
I also met the two other participants, a Danish couple, and was very pleased that we had such a small group. Although they had good walking shoes, the guide offered them somewhat sturdier mountain shoes. I had brought mine and didn’t need other shoes. He also handed us our crampons, icepicks and helmets to protect us from any falling rocks or ice. The guide was adamant that we use all the equipment and very scornful of guides that we met along the way that did not provide helmets. I totally agreed with him that mountains and glaciers are unpredictable and that safety comes first. It boosted my confidence in him as our guide.
On the glacier
We set off in a small van that brought us in about 20 minutes to the foot of the mountain and we walked to the bottom of the glacier. We had to cross a river over a small bridge that does not allow people to walk side by side. The guide told us that only two people can be on the bridge at one time, in case a piece of glacier comes apart and sweeps away the bridge. To quote the guide again: “If that happens, two dead is better than four.” I kind of liked his somewhat morbid sense of humour.
Once across the bridge (no deaths) we ascended onto the glacier where we put on our crampons. The guide was clearly very knowledgeable. He explained the different features of the glacier and why in some areas there are deeper crevices than in others, and how this is caused by the steepness of the mountain slope, resulting in different speeds at which the glacier moves.
The guide pointed out the little streams that form on the glacier and how they disappear in the depths, forming bigger or smaller almost vertical tubes. He warned us to stay away from the edge of those tunnels as “you may survive a fall in a crack, but your chances are very slim if you fall in one of these waterholes. You will probably drown or have frozen by the time they can get to you.”
Along the way up the glacier we admired the beautiful blue color of the ice in some areas. The guide drilled an anchor into the ice, attaching a rope to it to allow us to descend into a crevice to admire a small waterfall at the end of it.
After we got out again, we ascended some more until we got to the steep part of the glacier where we could go no further. To do so would require serious ice climbing. To give us a taste of how that goes, he walked around and up onto an ice wall of about 10 meters high and attached an anchor at the top. Again he attached a rope and came down again.
One by one, we got a chance to practice ice climbing while he secured us with the rope. I discovered that this is not all that easy, but I found it great fun. I even made it to the top. Although he had to secure me at one point as I almost lost my footing, it felt like an achievement.
After our efforts, we had our lunch on the glacier and then slowly started our descent. Throughout the whole tour we were very lucky to have good weather: mostly sunny and sometimes some clouds.
By the time we got back down, it looked a lot less good. Dark clouds were coming over the mountain to prove that weather conditions can change rapidly. We had been advised to wear layered clothing and that is good advice. I could take off some when the weather was good, but would have needed it if it had rained. We had a very good vacation in Iceland but this day for me was the best!
More information about taking an Iceland glacier hike
Here’s some additional information about this tour that my husband enjoyed so much:
The tour he took, Troll Expeditions’ five-hour glacier hike, leaves from Skaftafell terminal, which is 45 minutes west of Glacier Lagoon. Other tours by Troll Expeditions and by other companies may have different starting points. Some start at Glacier Lagoon, while some may include transportation from Reykjavik. Read the details carefully.
Prices vary widely, depending on the length of the tour, whether it’s a group or private tour, and whether it includes transportation.
Is this something you’ve done or would like to do?