Going to Iceland without going glacier hiking is like going to Cancún without going to the beach – you’ve just gotta do it! In order to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity, I signed up for the Glacier Experience with Arctic Adventures.
Arctic Adventures is one of Iceland’s most well respected adventure companies. They offer all types of activities throughout the year. We met our guide Olof (yes, like the snowman in Frozen) and his two friends at the base of the glacier about two hours east of Reykjavík.
The guys passed out helmets, harnesses and ice axes while Olof fitted crampons to our boots. In case you aren’t familiar, crampons are these metal daggers that attach to your boots so that you can more easily grip the ice. Once the whole crew was ready, we walked from the parking lot to the opposite end of a lake.
When we got there he taught us how to put the crampons on and gave us a few safety tips. This was my first time holding an ice axe, wearing crampons and seeing a glacier so I was super excited to get going. Feeling like a total badass, I hopped right behind Olof to begin our glacier hike. He told us to trust our crampons and enjoy the view rather than staring down at our toes the whole time.
Taking his advice, I stuck close and we began our ascent. As soon as we began I was amazed. I don’t know what I expected a glacier to be, but this far surpassed my expectations. In my head a glacier was more like a giant pile of packed snow that floats in the ocean. This was a whole lot different. It was a massive block of ice with ridges, caves, crevices and sink holes.
Olof explained that Sólheimajökull is a moving glacier. It is constantly morphing and changing shape. Every day it looks different. Due to climate change, in the last ten years, the glacier has shrunk about one kilometer in length. In fact, the lake we passed to get to the glacier was not there a century ago.
He also told us that this glacier is part of the larger Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Mýrdalsjökull entirely covers Iceland’s fiercest volcano, Katla. Katla is severely overdue to erupt and many Icelandic residents fear the day. He explained that it is not a matter of if Katla will erupt, but when. The last time Katla erupted there were massive floods and the area was covered in dark black ash.
As we continued on, Olof pointed out the ash beneath the layer of snow. Like layers in a cake, Katla has left thick layers of ash between the ice. If it hadn’t snowed the night before, the glacier would be black in most places.
Just before heading back to the base, we made one surprise stop at a small ice cave hidden in the glacier. Of course I was overly eager to hop inside and slipped on the ice, but I survived, axe and all, leaving just enough time for me to carve my name into the ice before the descent. Much like snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure, glacier hiking was one of the best experiences I had in Iceland.