Being on a glacier is a life-changing experience - and you can't help but feel tiny when standing on an ocean of ice that is taller than a skyscraper!
Seeing the glaciers in Iceland is just one of the things that you can’t miss on any visit to this small island country. It’s one of the sights that is absolutely necessary on this little country/island and they are big. Really big. Imagine the Statue of Liberty — now double it. Imagine being surrounded by icy blue hills as far as you can see…Thats how massive these glaciers can be. So when we found out that it’s not only possible to see them, but actually go hiking on one, we knew that we simply had to go for it.
Because we’re city folk and our hiking experience is slim to none, we reached out to Icelandic Mountain Guides for a little professional support. These guys were awesome! They picked us up from our hotel, drove us out to Sólheimajökull Glacier (it’s ok if you can’t pronounce the name, neither can we), and outfitted us with all of the gear we needed to look like legit mountaineers.
We’ll be honest, before coming to Iceland, going to a glacier is not something we ever thought about doing. But now after having gone on this glacier walk, we’re already thinking about trips to other countries where we can see even more glaciers (We see you Chile!). If you’re interested in hiking a glacier (you should be!) keep reading and we’ll give you all the details about our experience.
So You Want to Visit Sólheimajökull?
Do yourself a favor, don’t try to do this on your own. Spend the money and and go with a professional tour company like Icelandic Mountain Guides. This is really the only safe way to explore Sólheimajökull. If you try going on your own, without proper training, you run a really high risk of getting hurt (or maybe even killed). It’s not uncommon for snow to cover holes in the ice, and if you should happen to step in the wrong place, you might just find yourself sliding down into a deep crevasse.
You will also need proper gear, just so you an walk on the ice. Crampons, ice axes and a harness are a must! Luckily for us the tour we had booked, provided us with the necessary hiking equipment that would safely navigate us through the ice fields and they showed us how to properly use them. We were properly fitted with Crampons, which acted as a spiky snow shoe that went over our snow boots and allowed us to walk around without slipping an sliding everywhere. After we were acclimated with our new toys, we layered up and were on our way to hike the glacier.
What You'll See on the Walk
After ignoring the obligatory “Danger! Do not go any further!” sign (hey, we’re with professionals here!) we began to make our way onto the glacier. I’m pretty sure we had our mouths wide open (and probably drooled a little bit), just at the sheer beauty of what was surrounding us. Beautiful. Unreal. Massive. Incredible. I could use every adjective to describe what we were seeing, yet I still couldn’t do this natural phenomenon any justice.
What we experienced while on this glacier was one of the most rewarding views we’ve ever seen. Colors of blue and white from the ice and dark grey from the lava, swirl around to make peaks that pop out into a triangular maze. These triangles are joined together to form an even larger triangle and the process repeats, until you have a pointy massive glacier. Little pathways are naturally carved out from the melting ice and all around you are caves and crevasses waiting to be explored.
To us, everything seemed to look the same, but to our experienced guide the scenery was always changing. Always different and always new. As the ice melts and snow falls, the landscape of Sólheimajökull changes, with new peaks and pathways emerging. The result are unique trails which make every visit different. lts' nature in all its glory - beautiful, reactive and fierce!
Our guide, Thurston was wonderful and constantly pointed out his favorite spots and breathtaking views. Part history lesson and part explorative adventure, we were able to learn so much about the glaciers by walking around and exploring all the features, such as the water cauldrons, crevasses, ridges and waterways. One of the coolest parts was climbing through a nice cave and being surrounded by the darkness of ice. A little to suffocating for me, Chris was a trooper and walked as far as he could in the cave, while I safely climbed the walls using the ice axes!
The hike itself was really easy going and we were somewhat allowed to go at our own pace, as long as we stayed on the trail. There were plenty of opportunities to stop and take pictures and everywhere you looked was a better view than the last. The hike was easy and any discomfort we had was immediately obliterated by the sheer beauty of what was around us…maybe this outdoorsy thing isn’t so bad.
Talk about things being put into perspective. I never felt so small or realized just how big the world truly is. It was a moment of self-realization, a time when we both grasped just how incredible the Earth is. The pages of National Geographic were becoming real, and we were seeing something that only very few people get to experience.
The Tour Didn’t stop with Glacier Walking
It’s all fun and games you realize it’s getting pretty cold and your tired and hungry. Right as the sun was beginning to set we made our way back to the van, anxious to warm up and get fed. About twenty minutes away from the glacier we stopped at a great little boutique hotel where we were served home-made Icelandic stew and got a chance to re-group before we began hunting for the lights.
After a few helpings of the most delicious lamb stew and skyr we had, it was determined that our chances to see the lights were in our favour so the group headed out and started making our way back to Reykjavik. During our hunt, we made a quick stop at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which was completely lit up. Having never seen a waterfall at night, we took advantage of the unique setting and tried to capture as many photos of we could.
Unfortunately we never did see the Northern Lights but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Our guide was on the phone non stop with his friends, trying to find sighings and was constantly on the look at. We drove around for a few hours ,making stops here and there hoping to see the green lights dancing in the skies. Fully aware that a sighting can’t be guaranteed (it is mother nature after all) we still had a lot of fun staring out at the skies, in the warmth of our van.
Walking on a glacier is one of those things you have to do once in your lifetime. Coming to Iceland we knew that we absolutely had to visit the glaciers…it was just one of those bucket list items we had on our ever growing list. Lucky for us, it’s an activity that suits the travel junkie yet is equally appealing to a more lax type of travel - like us ;)
See the Glaciers Before They’re Gone.
The earth’s climate is changing. It’s a fact. Global warming is causing glaciers all over the world to disapear at a crucially rapid rate and this is clearly evident in Iceland, where climate change is even more dramatic. The glacier we hiked was actually featured in a really good documentary called “Chasing Ice” (go watch it on Netflix!). Shown through the lens of photographer James Balog, this documentary is a beautiful way to show the world the seriousness of the problem, through visually proof - in beautiful photos. Chris had seen the movie several years ago, but after we visited Sólheimajökull glacier, we re-watched the movie and it took on a whole new meaning for us, since we had seen it for ourselves first hand.
Tips & Notes
There was absolutely no way, Chris and I would venture out to the glaciers in freezing temperatures without the safety of a professional and proper equipment. So do yourself a favor and book a tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides, you won’t be disappointed
The ride from Reykjavik to Sólheimajökull Glacier is about 3 hours each way. To break up the drive, we stopped at Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, which are two really beautiful waterfalls. These little pit stops not only gave us a chance to see some beautiful scenery, but to also get out of the van and stretch our legs.
This is an all day tour so pack some snacks! On the way home in the evening you do stop at a nice little restaurant where you can try home-made Icelandic stew and order a few Icelandic beers. But for much of the day, your on your own for food and drinks!
It may seem obvious, but bring warm clothes — you are walking around on ice after all! Even if you think you’re wearing enough layers, you should probably bring another just in case. And do bring proper shoes, you’ll be walking on ice, and your cute boots or tennis shoes will likely not cut it. Icelandic Mountain Guides does provide you with some basic hiking gear, but they can’t help you if you don’t have the right clothes!
The trail you take through the glaciers is easy paced and not too rigorous.
Although the guides to their best to find the Northern Lights, they are a natural phenomenon and a sighting can’t be guaranteed.
For more information about hiking Icelands' Sólheimajökull Glacier, follow the link below