Iceland 2015: Glacier Hike

This is the 8th post on our trip to Iceland. Find more here.

Day 8: Climbing the Ice

All this is glacier The next day we continued our glacial adventures by taking a trip up the Fallj√∂kull glacier near Skaftafell. We bought our tickets for the half-day hike the morning of, but the other guide company had already sold out so it’s clearly best to buy in advance. We arranged our tour through Glacier Guides, and had a great time.

After a 15 minute school bus ride we arrived near the base of the glacier. We were divided up into groups of six (us and two pairs of Canadians) plus a guide (Magnus, half Icelandic, half Mexican). Magnus led us through the black lava sand riverbed towards the glacier. In fact, the gravel we were walking on was only a few inches deep, and underneath lay the “dead ice”, more glacier that is insulated, keeping it from fully melting away. That section can actually be quite dangerous because you can’t tell whether the ice beneath you is solid or if it might crack open!

Ice tunnelCrampons and Ice AxeAll geared upIcelandic drinking fountain

When we first reached the lower ice of the aptly-named glacial tongue, our guide helped us don our crampons, harnesses, and helmets, and armed us each with an axe (for fighting trolls and to use as a walking stick). The jagged metal points on the crampons did an excellent job at keeping our feet firmly planted on the ice. He also taught us the proper way of drinking water from the streams running along the glaciers–you get one sip per pushup!

Megan on iceAnother groupThe ice fall

We hiked up the glacial tongue, passing small streams and narrow crevices. Around lunchtime we reached the edge of the “ice fall”, a much steeper area where chunks of ice are imperceptibly sliding down, before flattening out and becoming a part of the tongue. Magnus led us to a wonderful lunch spot with a small blue pond with a tiny island, encircled by cliffs of ice and snow. We ate our granola bars on the edge of the pool and refilled our water bottles from the stream.

A nice lunch spotTim considering a swimLunch island

We continued our hike, wandering through alleyways of ice. The glacier was a bit dirty from a thin layer of ash from previous eruptions, a reminder that if you followed it to the top, you’d be standing on a hundred foot thick block of ice sitting on top of a volcano. That’s a somewhat dangerous combination. Our guide showed us where the ash had settled into the water pools, producing a black gunk that almost looked like tar or oil. Dipping your finger into it revealed an incredibly fine black mud (supposedly great for the skin!)

Megan and the mountain

Another nice poolWe had nice weather throughout the hike–a mix of sun and clouds, but only a few drops of rain towards the end. Despite being surrounded by ice, it wasn’t that cold, and I quickly got hot wearing just my rain jacket and a long sleeve shirt (although Megan was comfy in her new Icelandic wool sweater and rain jacket). Our guide was excellent, and we learned a lot from him about the glaciers, as well as Iceland in general. It was an excellent trip, and the 5 hour trip was a good length–the shorter trips wouldn’t have taken us up into the ice falls, and we were tired but not exhausted by the time we hiked back down to the bus.

Running total:

Waterfalls: 73
Roundabouts: 37
Arctic Foxes: 1!
Rainbows: 5

This is the 8th post on our trip to Iceland. Find more here.