Reykjavik Excursions Blog
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Five things glacial to do in Iceland

10/9/2018 Blog

Have you ever heard people say that Greenland is icy and Iceland is green? Well, although the saying may have some truth to it, they don’t call it Iceland for nothing. Around eleven per cent of the country’s surface is covered with white, icy glacier. So we thought we would recommend a few glacier-related activities for you to consider – happy icing!

Take a boat ride between icebergs

A blog about Icelandic glaciers is likely to begin with the same place your eyes begin with when they first look at a map of Iceland. The big white blob in the bottom right corner. If you’ve seen a map of the island recently, you’ll know what we’re talking about. The 8.300 square kilometre blob has a name. Vatnajökull. A combination of Icelandic vatn for water and jökull for glacier. Water glacier, if you like, and it happens to be Europe’s biggest glacier.

The Vatnajökull sight no passer-by can miss, consequently, has a lot to do with water. South of the glacier, just of the main road, you will find Jökulsárlón. It’s essentially a retirement home for melting chunks of ice, a lake where ice breaks off the glacier and floats around while it slowly melts into oblivion. If you’ve never seen an iceberg, the thought that just around a tenth of the ice is visible above the water is chilling. Granted, not as chilling as the fact that our glacial ice is melting faster than it freezes back. The sight is one of the Hollywood stars of Icelandic nature, featuring in productions such as Batman Begins, Tomb Raider and two James Bond movies. More luxurious travellers will want to stay here for longer than the mandatory car park selfie pit stop. To do so, why not take a boat ride and float alongside the mighty chunks of ice?

 

Climb Iceland’s highest peak

More hardcore outdoorsmen will also want to know that Iceland’s highest peak is to be found in Vatnajökull national park. Also south of the vast expanse of Vatnajökull lies Öræfajökull, an ancient volcano covered by the same glacial sheet. Atop this volcano, at 2.110 meters altitude, lies the pyramidal peak that is Hvannadalshnjúkur, the roof of Iceland. Be sure to get in touch with an experienced guide if you dare make the trip, as glacial crevasses can be as sneaky as they can be dangerous. Also, try to go on a good day with clear visibility, as the view can range from jaw-dropping to mildly disappointing.

 

 Go inside a glacier

 The countries second biggest glacier is called Langjökull, or long glacier, aptly named because of its lengthy shape. It lies in the west of the Icelandic highlands, parallel to the volcanic zone that cuts Iceland in half from southwest to north. One of the spectacular things to be done if visiting Langjökull is to go inside it. Yes, inside the glacier. A man made ice cave makes it possible to visit the blue ice buried beneath the surface, all in the company of a jolly guide, of course.

 

Check out some sculptures

Just because a glacier is bigger, it doesn’t mean it has to be more beautiful. Sólheimajökull or “sun world glacier” is a testimony to this fact, as its popularity isn’t necessarily matched by its size. It is, in a way, like a tongue sticking out from the larger Mýrdalsjökull. Many of the smaller glaciers have the honour of being named separately, while the untrained eye won’t see where one begins and another ends. Sólheimajökull is in many ways a more accessible and easy going tour than the strenuous hike up to Hvannadalshnjúkur, the roof of Iceland. One can pack their things and leave the capital not too insanely early in the morning, hike a glacier, and be back for drinks in the night. The view from the smaller Sólheimajökull, it just so happens, is not too shabby, as it’s nearest surroundings are mostly the southern lowlands of Iceland. The sights along the hike are breathtaking, almost like a sculpture exhibition at times, and a tour on the glacier can be as informative as it is beautiful.

Sólheimajökull, like many glaciers, is also a living testimony of how rapidly the earth’s arctic ice is shrinking, as scientists have predicted it will be gone within decades. We could be the last generation to enjoy the ice formations that mother nature has been moulding here for centuries.

 

Ski, meditate or wait for an alien invasion

Not all glaciers in Iceland have the honour of having a national park named after them. Snæfellsjökull, or “snowy mountain glacier,” is one of the lucky few. Sticking out on the edge of the world, or the stub sticking westwards out of Iceland’s mainland known as Snæfellsnes peninsula, is one of the more serene, beautifully symmetrical and beloved glaciers of Iceland. On a good day, one can see the glacier out on the horizon from Reykjavik, with locals pointing out that “huh, you can see the glacier quite clearly today,” as casually as one might say “huh, nice weather we’re having.”

Snæfellsjökull, probably owing to its beauty, is one of the more written and talked about glaciers in Iceland. Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, where the mysterious entrance to our planet happens to be this very glacier, is just one example. It features prominently in Icelandic folklore and is believed by many to be one of the earth’s mystic points of power, with people ascending to the top regularly to meditate, roll around in the snow or perform whatever ritual they feel gets them in touch with the almighty power they believe to be hidden there. The glacier was even believed to be the point to which aliens would visit our planet back in 1993. Whether or not you believe in such things, the glacier also happens to one of the places one can go skiing in the summer!

All of the above being said, it should be noted that a visit to the surface of a glacier is not without its dangers. The untrained eye won’t spot the crevasses hidden beneath the surface. Make sure that when you go, you do so with proper gear and under the supervision of a trusted guiding service.


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