Standing with our backs to the gusting wind, every so often we take a peek back at the massive blue glacier we’re about to climb. Sólheimajökull glacier tongue, the southwestern outlet of the Myrdalsjokull icecap, is about 8 kilometers long and 1-2 kilometers wide. And just 20 years ago, the glacier had covered the very spot we were now standing and shivering in the biting wind. Sadly, like most glaciers of our world, Sólheimajökull glacier is rapidly receding. So the fact that we were about to go glacier hiking on this massive piece of ice felt incredibly special.
Our guides from Icelandic Mountain Guides fitted us with crampons and gave us each an ice axe, which would be used as both a walking stick and to stop ourselves just in case anyone fell.
Our small group of 10 then set out carrying our crampons threaded on our ice axes with our guide, Katherine, who smiled as she told us she had 20 years experience with glacier hiking. At the tip of the glacier tongue, we got a lesson on how to properly put on our crampons and some basic techniques.
Glacier hiking is no walk in the park. It can be extremely dangerous since the ice is always moving and changing. Snow can cover thin ice and crevasses. Surface water flowing down the glacier can form moulins, shafts in the ice that can be hundreds of meters deep. Basically, you don’t want to fall because if you survived, you’d probably have some broken bones.
Once we were all comfortable with the basic technique of applying pressure to dig our crampons in, we got a few more lessons and practiced how to climb a steep slope. Sometimes skirting around those moulins requires a technique called Frenching. We practiced walking with our left foot straight and our right foot at a 45 degree angle. And what goes up must come down, so we practiced a technique putting our ice axes behind us, bending our knees, and leaning back as we firmly stuck one foot after the other into the ice.
Up, up, up we went. The wind blew tiny pieces of ice across the glacier, our crunching punctuated by the tinkling sounds of ice dancing across ice. Finally we reached the summit of the glacier. What a view! We could see the mountains and the Myrdalsjokull icecap behind us and all the way to the sea and the Westman Islands in front of us. On our descent, we found an ice cave. Flowing melted glacier water sometimes creates caves like this and they can go quite deep. You can never be sure with the ice and the caves can be really narrow, so we did not go all the way inside the cave, but our guides thought the cave probably ran about 200 meters into the ice.
We had a fantastic day glacier hiking and can’t wait for our next opportunity to go glacier hiking again!
Know Before You Go
- Bring water! We didn’t and we were definitely regretting that decision.
- Bring a snack like a candy bar or a power bar for a quick boost of energy. It can be tiring glacier hiking up to the summit!
- The glacier hike takes about 3 hours on the glacier.
- The meeting spot is Sólheimajökll Cafe, which is about a 2.5 – 3 hour drive from Reykjavik depending on the weather and road conditions.
Thank you to Iceland Mountain Guides for hosting us in order to bring you this story. All opinions are entirely our own.