When visiting Iceland several things may jump out at you. The friendly and stunning Nordic people, the simple yet impeccable Scandinavian design, and of course, the glaciers.
The glaciers weren’t the first thing we noticed when we arrived in the early morning. But even with just the faint blue glow over the horizon, it was enough to illuminate their massive silhouette. Despite it’s meager size and population, Iceland is home to 13 glaciers! This makes up 11% of the entire country. So really there’s no way of avoiding them for long. Rather than delay the inevitable, we decided to take one head on and climb it!
Now despite our aggressive attitude this isn’t the type of thing that you just saunter up to and start scaling, there are dozens of tour companies that will gleefully guide you up these ancient chunks of ice. Just ask a Flight Centre Travel Consultant for more info.
We decided, this being our first time in the “Land of Fire and Ice”, we would take things slow and on the small side. We chose the smallest glacier in the country and it goes by the name of Sólheimajökull, covering 11 square km, a small fraction of 8,300 km covered by Iceland’s largest glacier! But regardless of its actual size, it looked pretty daunting to us when we we’re standing at the foot of it.
Now, your first step before even setting foot on the ice is getting properly outfitted in your gear. You’ve got to slip yourself into your harness, having it rest firmly on your hips and around you legs. Our tour included some ice-wall climbing at the end, and this is what your safety line will be attached to.
Then, you strap yourself into your crampons! These are the spikes you’ll attach to your boots to able to gain traction up there. Figuring out how to properly secure them may seem mind boggling, but you’ll know you did it right when they’re so tight you don’t know how you’ll get them off.
The final and simplest step is your helmet, we all know what a helmet is for, but their bright colour is to help keep track of you surrounded by all the shimmering blue and white.
Once the hike was underway something was immediately apparent to me, how soft and cushy the footing was! Not exactly what I was expecting hiking a glacier. This is because closer to the base we were walking through a mix of ice chips and ash. Like many of the other mountains and glaciers, there was a volcano sitting beneath Sólheimajökull, a fact that is both fascinating and unnerving. But rather than focus on that, we turned our attention to the amazing landscape unfolding before us as we trekked higher.
The glacier seemed to sprawl out endlessly under us. It would alternate between wide flat plains of ice, low sweeping valleys, then to towering cliffs and sheer walls of ice. The bright sunshine that afternoon (a rarity in Iceland) made the whole glacier shimmer, truly accentuating its cool blue tones . We were surprised how blue the ice really was, we were told this occurs when there is no air trapped in the ice when it forms. We don’t know how that’s possible, but all we know is that they don’t have ice like this where we come from.
Almost distracted by the beauty around us, we hadn’t realized we had made it to our summit for that day. All that was left to conquer was a steep ice wall that we were invited to try our hand (or ice-axes) at climbing.
Our guides had scrambled up the wall with ease to secure the safety lines, but to Icelandic glacier-guides making it look easy didn’t reassure us to much. But our reservations aside, we both made a mental line in that wall which would act as our goal. As long as we made it to there, we’d be satisfied. It’s a good thing we did that, because once its just you and the ice; there’s a lot more to it then we originally thought. So much of it is about your body position, keeping close to the wall and making sure your crampons are kicked in hard.
While we may not have been masters of the wall that day, we managed not to make too big of fools of ourselves and were able to repel back down with a feeling of triumph.
Triumph is a feeling you’d be hard pressed to keep out of your heart and mind in Iceland. Even just a small scale journey like ours makes you feel like an adventurer having placed your flag upon the rugged, unforgiving, but most of all stunning terrain of the “Land of Fire and Ice”.
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