Hiking a Glacier in Iceland

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When in the land of fire and ice, it only makes sense to make time to actually walk on ice. However, in order to hike a glacier you really need the right a equipment and a guide who knows the ice. We were hesitant to book a tour because we didn’t want to limit our schedule or spend too much time in one place. But we made an exception for the glaciers and ended up booking a tour with Icelandic Mountain Guides because they offered a half day tour with a lot of start times to chose from. They were great and we were so glad that we opted to actually go out on the ice.

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Know Before You Go – Except for the cost and length of tour, these tips stand regardless of what glacier you visit:

  • Cost: 14.900 ISK or about $120 USD per person
  • Length: 3.5 hours
  • Necessary equipment: Hiking boots that cover your ankles, rain gear, warm clothing, water, and a snack.
  • When to book: Check the website for availability. We booked 5 weeks out, but another couple didn’t make a reservation and were able to join our group just 15 minutes before heading out to the glacier.
  • Best time of year to visit: You’ll have better weather in the summer but can only explore the ice caves in winter.  You win some, you lose some.
  • Good to know:  Hiking boots can be rented from Icelandic Mountain Guides right before the tour for 1000 ISK / $8 USD per person. Cash is preferred – get there early so you make sure you get the size you need, they only have a few of each size.

This was Henry’s first time on a glacier and my second…although my first was when I was 10 and I fell into the mud at the end so, you know, it was about time I put that memory behind me and had a good experience with glaciers. We picked Solheimajokull because of its proximity to other things we wanted to do in Iceland. Our days were pretty packed with things we wanted to see, and Solheimajokull happened to fall on a day when we had to drive the least amount of distance and when all of the sites on our list were right off of Route 1.

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After driving around and seeing the base at some of the other glaciers in southeast Iceland, I’m glad we picked Solheimajokull. It felt a lot less crowded and overwhelming. After the initial climb onto the the glacier, we rarely saw the other groups that had climbed ahead and behind us.

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You can opt to add glacier climbing to your tour, but after watching people struggling with this on our hike, we were really glad that we had chosen to just do the hike. If you’ve never hiked a glacier before, I’d recommend starting off “easy.” We had to put a lot of power into our steps on the ice so we didn’t slip and fall. It definitely took more energy than a normal hike on dry land and the glacier climb required a lot of upper body muscle and power that I just don’t have right now (or ever). We spent about 2 hours on the ice and another 1.5-2 hours preparing for the ice and walking to the glacier from the parking lot.

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On the tour, we learned about how the ash from volcanic eruptions gets embedded into the ice and forms these natural peaks. There is actually only a thin layer of ash and underneath is thick ice that has been insulated. There’s more science to it and the ash actually melts away all of the other surrounding ice to form these peaks. DSC_0186

Probably the coolest thing that we did when on the glacier was drink water off of a stream that flowed along the top of the ice. It was cold, pure glacier water that tasted like it had just been bottled. It was so good that everyone in our group filled their water bottles from the water. Our guide showed us a silly way of drinking right from the glacier, so of course we had to try it out! These pictures don’t do justice to how clean and clear the water actually was. A lot of the ash that you see here was buried in layers under the surface of the ice.

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Since we were hiking in the summer, it was unsafe to go inside any of the famed glacier caves, but we still got to see some pretty cool formations in the ice. My favorite was this natural archway that had been hollowed out.

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We were there on a perfect day with no rain or wind, but I imagine everything is even more beautiful where there’s blue sky to help make the ice look even bluer. When you go, be sure to bring along a snack to get you through the hike. It takes a lot of energy to hike up the glacier and we really wished we had grabbed a granola bar before heading out.

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Finally, I have to give a huge shout-out to Icelandic Mountain Guides who were so nice and patient with everyone as we learned how to navigate the ice. We got a quick history of the glacier and learned about some of the projects going on with universities to track the changes in the glacier. We also learned that 2016 might be the last summer that tour groups will be able to go onto Solheimajokull because of the rate at which the ice is melting. Overall, they provided a really fun experience on the glacier. Here’s our guide snapping a quick selfie before taking the shot of us above >>

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Peace.

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