Iceland Jet Lag Journal: Glacier Hiking
When I booked a trip to Iceland, I had basic goals: I wanted to see Icelandic horses roving through fields (done) and I wanted to feast my eyes on some blue ice. Aquamarine, vast, frozen hard landscapes of blue ice. Now that is best discovered in the very far east of Iceland where it is very unpopulated and very far from the airport, at Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður National Park. (Don’t ask me to pronounce it, I truly cannot pronounce a word in Icelandic.) I was with my mom, and I know she would not be happy renting a room inside the cottage of a fisherfolk couple out there. So instead Sistah Woman and I explored Sólheimajökull, a glacier that is melting so rapidly you can hear torrents of angry water flowing underneath the thick ice cap you are standing on.
First, we were sized for crampons so we could easily walk across the ice without slipping. Then, we were given pickaxes so we could look like the Seven Dwarves. Here’s Sistah Woman being fitted for her crampons by our guide Jono, a scientist who lives in the back of his van (which he lined with beautiful warm wood and is currently outfitting with a tiny kitchen) and studies glacier physics. Glacier physics! It’s a thing.
Then we hiked through the most marvelous spongy green landscape to reach Sólheimajökull glacier. As little as 10 years ago, this was all ice so we wouldn’t have had to hike a full mile to the glacier, but it is retreating and melting so rapidly that this was left in its place.
Sólheimajökull glacier has a wonderful otherworldly landscape full of ice ridges, frightful looking sinkholes, streams running across the ice, and lines of ash in the ice revealing the many volcanic eruptions Iceland has experienced throughout millennia. It is sometimes covered with sand or ash from past eruptions. Indeed, whole ridges are covered with a layer of dirt.
It’s truly a lesson in geography and climate change. This ice cave is beautiful, but its very existence means that running water drilled a hole during a storm to make this. And it’s a frozen ice hard glacier – so there really isn’t supposed to be running water drilling holes in the ice. When I opened my New York Times this weekend, the story in the magazine happened to be about how scientists are studying glaciers to see whether we can still influence climate change for the better, or if it’s too late.
The tour group we used was Icelandic Mountain Guides, and each tour guide took their group on a different route. The guides are not just knowledgable, they’re scientists. So they spend a lot of time on Iceland’s glaciers and know its nooks and crannies. Jono, for instance, discovered the ice cave on his own, kept it a secret, and we didn’t see any other hikers there.