Glacier Hiking in Iceland
Comprising huge formidable masses of ice that shimmer a striking iridescent blue, glaciers form when snow stays long enough to turn into ice. Over numerous years, multiple layers of snow are compressed to form a solid block of ice. As such, most glaciers are easily thousands of years old.
In addition, these masses are actually able to move – glaciers can advance forwards at speeds averaging around 2 centimetres per year. The shape of these glaciers changes as they move, sometimes forming cracks and crevasses, some of these morphing into stunning ice caves. And in Iceland, more than 10% of the land is covered by glaciers!
On top of admiring these incredible natural formations from afar, did you know that you can hike on them too? Available all year round, glacier hiking is an exciting and novel activity suitable for all ages.
I embarked on a hike on Vatnajokull Glacier, which is the second-largest glacier in Europe by area. It covers about 8% of Iceland’s land mass and is located along the South Coast.
I embarked on the hike with a tour company; it’s highly recommended to do this hike with expert guides, who will also provide you with the necessary equipment. Crampons (boots with spikes on the sole), for one, are essential to help you walk on the ice. Helmets, ice axes and gloves complete the setup!
Walking with crampons isn’t an elegant affair, as we were told. We were instructed to stomp down hard with every step, ensuring that the spikes are firmly in the ice before taking the next step. We’d be like a group of trolls, our guide said with a chuckle. And with our thick ice jackets and puffy water-resistant pants, we definitely felt the part – as a group of nervously excited trolls deliriously anticipating the adventure that lay ahead.
I was part of a group that comprised about 10 people. We had a short hike over a stretch of black sand before reaching the glacier.
Glacial ice is a brilliant startling blue – this is due to the dense ice absorbing every other colour of the spectrum except the colour blue. Take a deep breath and take in this magnificent sight – it’s as if you’ve landed on a whole other planet altogether.
We spent about an hour navigating the ice; it’s pertinent to only follow the guide, who’s familiar with the glacier area and aware of which areas to avoid. We stomped our way through vast blue fields, across thin crevasses and past sheer drops.
We had a break about halfway through, giving the group the perfect opportunity to snap plenty of photos! This was where our ice axes came in handy as props.
Scoop up a handful of refreshing glacial water – we were assured by the guide that it was pure and safe to drink.
Our guide was hilariously tickled to teach us this creative shot – “it’s all about the angle!”.
Before we knew it, it was time to descend and exit the glacier. This glacier hiking experience was easily one of the highlights of my Iceland trip; bidding goodbye to this magical world of blue was hard to do, I could have easily spent another hour or two exploring.
Cliché as it may be, the feeling of being on top of that glacier was something I’d never forget; it was truly a one-of-a-kind experience.