Take a Walk on the Ice Side: Glacier Walk | Iceland

There’s nothing I love more than cold weather, winter clothes, and the feeling my extremities going numb. NOT! I definitely gravitate more toward warm weather climates, which is probably why everyone seemed so surprised when I announced that I would be visiting Iceland at the end of January this year. I shopped for warm clothing and even bought a new jacket in preparation for my trip, especially in anticipation of my glacier walk. I completely believed I was going into subzero weather and would freeze without appropriate attire so I packed enough clothing for me and probably a family of four.

The focus of my trip was the MidAtlantic 2012 conference, but this was definitely seen as the highlight of my trip. A coach picked us up at the hotel and we were on our way. After stopping at two other hotels in Reykjavik to pick up other participants, we started our two hour ride to South Iceland. There was one stop on the way was at a convenience store for a bathroom break and time to pick up snacks and we were quickly back on the road and arriving at the parking lot in front of the glacier. From the Mountain Guides web site:

On this Iceland day tour you will be guided through the labyrinth of a glacier tongue extending down from the fourth biggest glacier in Iceland. Only two hours from Reykjavík you find the Eyjafjallajökull massif, and just a little further east the Sólheimajökull glacier, a tongue extends down from its mother glacier, Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland’s fourth largest. On this tour you will go on a safe and easy walk on crampons up onto the ice field where you will discover a wonderland of ice sculptures, ridges and deep crevasses, and learn about the glacier and the effect of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 on the glacier and its surroundings.

From the parking lot it looked like a lot of ice with tiny little people dotted out in front. Perhaps I really hadn’t thought carefully about this. After all, back in Boston I tend to shy away from slippery ice on the sidewalks and black ice on the roads. What was I doing here? But there was little time to think as we were walking up toward the glacier to get our crampons and picks to start the walk. In case you don’t know what a crampon is, they are a necessity when you are traveling on snow and ice and don’t want to slip. With them, you can cross glaciers, ascend snow slopes, climb frozen waterfalls and scale vertical-to-overhanging ice-smeared rock.

Our experienced guides made sure our crampons were correctly put on and then instructed us on how to walk on the glacier, which was by firmly placing our feet on the ice while walking with our legs a bit farther apart than usual, something akin to a cowboy walk. The guides were like spider monkeys as they traversed the ice leaving those of us on the glacier for the first time feeling a little perplexed as to how exactly they were able to do it. I will emphasize to anyone considering this that the “walk” is not on flat land and does require an ability to climb and hike so although the trip has the word “walk” in the description, if you have mobility issues or aren’t in the best of shape, you definitely want to consider this before trying it. I also recommend not overdressing and I had my hat off within 10 minutes of walking up because I was so hot. Dress for warmth, but you won’t be cold so dress appropriately.

The view from anywhere that you stood along the hike (that’s what I’m calling it now), was beautiful. Whether on the way up or on the way back down, there was always something to see. The blues in the ice, the green peaking through snow on the mountain caps, or the black dirt, which was volcanic ash all gave the area around us a unique look and a true appreciation for nature and all that was around us. Not that long ago this area was easy to walk across and someone that lives in this area tells of putting socks over her shoes and walking across the glacier to pick the berries on the other side. As time passes and the glacier recedes it makes for more of a hike than a simple walk, but I feel we were the lucky ones.

Here is a quick video that will give you an idea of how big of an area it was where we walked up and down the glacier:

The walk on the way down was easier than on the way up, but different in that if you fell, well you were going a long way down. We passed a glacier lake along the way. I wonder how cold it is in there? During the summer you can take this walk, but many take it wearing shorts. Yes, shorts! The sun reflects off the ice and it can get quite warm (I hesitate to say hot since I haven’t tried it). How cool is that? I would love to dive into the lake after hiking even if it was cold just to say I tried it!

We made our way back down to the bottom of the glacier where we removed our crampons and carried them with our picks back to the coach to begin our journey home. This was an entire day trip so if you have a day and want to see a different part of Iceland as well as a mammoth glacier, I highly recommend this trip. Next time I’ll share more on our trip back including two stops at waterfalls.

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