I was perfectly content with the idea of roadtripping, camping, and trekking around Iceland for two weeks – aka “roughing it” on the cheap – but I knew I wanted to splurge on at least ONE uniquely Icelandic activity or attraction. My short list included snowmobiling, ice climbing, and horse riding – but in the end, glacier hiking won out. I mean, how often do you get to frolic on a glacier? The only other time I’d done it was on my 21st birthday in New Zealand, when I visited Fox Glacier.
I was beyond excited to tackle Falljökull Glacier with Glacier Guides, though thanks to the impending eruption of Bardarbunga I took off for Iceland not knowing whether we’d even make it there. Little did I know that volcanic eruptions were NBD in Iceland – in fact, a local newspaper’s front page one day had a photo of the eruption with ‘YAY!’ written across it. When a nation is rooting for a potential natural disaster, you know they’re hardcore (and potentially out of their minds). Needless to say, there was a far greater chance of rain disrupting our glacier excursion than an erupting volcano.
The morning of our excursion, we headed to Skaftafell National Park and checked in at the Glacier Guides office for our Glacier Explorer Tour. We were immediately fitted for crampons and equipped with a helmet, harness, and ice ax and asked to board a converted school bus which would take us to the glacier. I wondered if I’d accidentally signed us up for an ice climbing trip instead, which in all honesty I’d have been pretty ok with. Turns out, we’d been provisioned with all this equipment as a safety measure. Indeed, it’s far easier to rescue someone from atop a glacier if they’re already wearing a harness; additionally, our ice axes doubled as walking sticks, which we ended up using mostly to balance ourselves as we traversed steep sections of the glacier.
A quick bus ride found us at a makeshift parking lot about a 20 minute walk from the foot of the glacier, at which point we were divided into a few groups of 7-8, each with a different guide. I appreciated how they staggered the groups’ entry to the glacier site so that we weren’t all crowding it at the same time. And, bonus: Our group was first in line!
Our guide, Lauki, walked us to the start of the glacier where he went over some safety measures and showed us how to fashion ourselves with our befuddling new gear. I could hardly pay attention, what with the massive pile of ice beckoning next to us. Soon enough, fully equipped, we hopped onto the ice!
We spent a few leisurely hours walking around the glacier, gradually climbing upwards toward where the flat walkable ice meets the craggy blue, mostly-vertical ice. As we walked, Lauki gave us all sorts of information about the glacier. We learned that it has receded in recent years due to lack of snow in Iceland (really, Iceland is not as snowy as you’d expect!), and that the reason it exists in the south of the country rather than the snowier north is due to the intersection of the cold Arctic air and warm, moist Atlantic weather patterns. Abundant precipitation around the glacier makes southeast Iceland the most rain-laden area of the country. Indeed, this tidbit from the interwebs confirms as much:
Thankfully Lauki allowed plenty of stops for us to rest, take pictures, and ask him “any questions at all”. Believe me when I say we fully took advantage of this. While I was preoccupied snapping hundreds of near-identical shots of the glacier at every which angle, Karolina and Becca inquired about random things like why there always seemed to be clusters of three sheep throughout the country, what his thoughts were on global warming, and which restaurants he could recommend in Höfn.
The walk itself was just beautiful. I mean, how often do you get to be this close to a massive chunk of ice? Though our walk was fairly slow-going, there were some sweat-inducing uphill segments that required a certain level of fitness to conquer with ease. (Meaning: If you’re a chronic couch potato, you might have some difficulty here). Every so often we’d reach a steep ice hill where Lauki would gleefully cut a little staircase into the ice with his ax so that we could more easily trek onward. Impressive!
The best part of the whole experience, aside from the insane photo ops? Getting to drink water straight from the glacier. Just stick your face and/or water bottle right into the flowing water and enjoy. I have never tasted such fresh cold water in my near-30 years of life!
You might know (or if not, you shouldn’t be surprised to find out) that I’m not typically a fan of organized group tours of any sort. By nature I’m happiest when able to do most anything ‘to the beat of my own drum’ – and having to follow a set route, within a set timeframe, totally cramps my frolicking style.
But some things simply aren’t feasible for me to tackle independently unless I’m willing to risk my safety, pay an exorbitant amount of money, and/or smite the system. And let’s be real: usually it just isn’t worth the hassle and stress. Clearly I wasn’t going to traverse a glacier by myself, which is why I signed up for an Iceland glacier tour with Glacier Guides.
In my mind, the mark of a great tour company is one whose tours feel as un tour-like as possible. Glacier Guides allowed me to experience such a special part of Iceland with ample freedom. I wouldn’t change a thing about my glacier experience!
Thank you to Glacier Guides for providing us with a discount on our Iceland glacier tour. Note that all opinions expressed here and elsewhere on this blog are my unbiased own, and are uninfluenced by any gifts or incentives I may receive.
Have you ever walked on a glacier? If so, where?