Glacier hiking in Iceland with Icelandic Mountain Guides

 

Iceland is a land of beautiful extremes, from some of the Earth’s most active volcanoes to massive glaciers that dominate the landscape. With glaciers covering 11% of the country one is never far from ice, making Iceland one of the best places in the world where you can easily get up close to a glacier. Sólheimajökull, located 2 hours from Reykjavik and near the popular tourist route of the Golden Circle, is perhaps the most accessible of Iceland’s glaciers. Our adventure started as we pulled onto a gravel road from Iceland’s Ring Road, the vibrant greens of the coast giving way to the lunar gray of the volcanic mountains. Driving down the gravel road with nothing to either side and ice capped mountains in the distance we wondered if we were going in the right direction. A twenty minute drive delivered us with little fanfare to a parking lot and and a spartan building that in high season serves as a cafe.It was here that we  got our first glimpse of Sólheimajökull and met our guide Sigurður of Icelandic Mountain Guides. The constantly changing topography of a glacier can be dangerous for the inexperienced so its always a good idea to use a guide when exploring this icy landscape. Each of us armed with a pair of crampons and an ice ax we were off to explore this otherworldly landscape.
Glacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.comGlacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.com

Leaving the stability of solid ground it took me a few minutes to get comfortable walking with the crampons, but once I got them gripping the ice I was good to go. At the base of the glacier it was easy to see how these enormous masses of ice, which appear immovable and immobile, shift over the Earth’s surface. Sigurður explained that as the ground warms it melts the ice from below forming a thin layer of water that acts as a lubricant allowing entire glacial sheaths to glide over the earth and each other. The glacial melt and runoff forms cracks, crevasses and ice caves.

Glacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.com

Sólheimajökull is not the pristine white landscape that you might expect. The ice is layered with both volcanic earth from the ground below and ash from the occasional volcanic eruption (I’m looking at you Eyjafjallajökull). Glacial ice is so dense that the crystalline structure of the ice has changed resulting in that iconic ethereal blue glow, though much of the newer surface ice is still clear.
Glacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.comGlacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.com

Following our guide Sigurður, we continued our trek upward.  By now my steps were sure and confident, instead of constantly looking where my next step would be I could now look up and take in in my surroundings The icy expanse no longer appeared endless, the mossy slopes of the Myrdal mountains now flanking the edge of Sólheimajökull. The topography of this island of ice was as varied as any continent. Streams and lakes punctuated gently sloping plains, rolling hills give way to cliffs and canyons. As we neared the summit we pass a group of local Icelanders, some wearing lopapeysa (the traditional icelandic sweater), out for an afternoon of ice climbing.Glacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.com
Glacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.comGlacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.com

Reaching the top I was rewarded with the view of the glacier carved valley below. Solheimajokull is one of the glaciers featured on Chasing Ice, a documentary that has filmed the retreat of this and several other glaciers over multiple years. Less than ten years ago the tongue of the glacier reached the end of the visible glacial river in the picture below. Yet again I am reminded of how fragile our glacial ecosystems are.
Glacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.com Glacier hiking in Iceland www.casualtravelist.com

Hiking up a glacier was one the highlights in my trip to Iceland. Do you want to explore a glacier up close?

 

I was graciously offered a discount by Icelandic Mountain Guides but as always all opinions remain my own.

44 Comments on “Glacier hiking in Iceland with Icelandic Mountain Guides

    • You don’t seem like someone who would shirk away from a challenge Patti 🙂

  1. That view from the top really is worth it – fantastic stuff. I really thought your pictures were magical. My daughter is desperate to Iceland, and one day we will do it!

    • Thanks Sarah! You should check out We 3 Travel for tips on going to Iceland in the summer with kids.

  2. What a fantastic post. I had never really considered making a trip to Iceland anytime soon, but after seeing your photos and your description of the landscape I might just have to hop on over from Ireland and have a look 🙂 Looked like quite the trek as well!
    Curtis Engler recently posted…Samhain – A Pagan FestivalMy Profile

    • You aren’t that far from Iceland (relatively speaking) you should visit if you get the chance.

  3. Hiking a glacier sounds seriously epic! Those spiky boots look dangerous but super useful (coulda used them when I was sliding around on the black ice growing up in Canada). I’ve been seeing many posts about Iceland lately and it is making me really want to go there!
    Prianka | Map Halves recently posted…Liebster AwardMy Profile

    • It tool a while to get use to the crampons but they certainly were handy. I didn’t slip even once!

  4. Climbing up a glacier looks like a really fun experience. I would be a bit scared to slip on the ice, but I’m sure that you get use to it after a while. Thanks for sharing! Now I want to go to Iceland even more….!

  5. Wow, this looks amazing!

    I live in the UK, and many of my classmates from Asia seem to go to Iceland during holiday weeks as they often times can’t afford to go home. I’ve always wanted to go, but heard it was expensive. How would you say the cost of something like glacier hiking was for you?

    Thanks for all the pictures, having a ton of Wanderlust now!

    Kayla

  6. Beautiful photos! I would love to explore a glacier up close. It looks like a fun family activity.

    • Check out We 3 Travel, she has a few posts about going to Iceland with kids.

  7. Iceland… Iceland… every one is talking about it. I think it should be on the hot spot list for 2015. And, for good reason it is absolutely incredible. I would love to go someday. Your photos are beautiful. I haven’t seen such nice ones especially of the glacier.
    Mama Munchkin recently posted…Passports with PurposeMy Profile

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  9. yes!! i definitely want to do this. this actually reminds me of glacier hiking at fox glacier. i’ve talked to other people who often compare new zealand and iceland to have lots of similar landscapes. 🙂
    Esther Lee recently posted…Aer Duffel Pack ReviewMy Profile

    • Wasn’t it just an awesome expreience? I was there in summer so I didn’t get a sunset lol.

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