Glacier Walking & Ice Climbing

I went on a tour offered by Arctic Adventures called “Blue Ice” and had my first intimate encounter with one of Iceland’s glaciers, Sólheimajökull. I´ve seen lots of glaciers, touched a few and chewed some ice off one, but never really played around on one.

arriving to the Glacier

It was pouring rain and grey, but the ice was actually glowing blue. Our tour guide, Valdi, explained that it takes 7m of cubic snow to form 1 cm of blue ice. That´s alot of snow. And Sólheimajökull, “Home of the Sun glacier” is one of the fastest moving glaciers in Iceland, receding about 75 cm and growing 65 cm every year. It is decreasing in size rapidly, mostly from a 10 cm annual height loss, and every day the glacier surface changes dramatically.

cramp ons

New moulins and cones form, with melting ice and lava gravel constantly shaping the topography of it, and lagoons of water and underground streams always thinning the ice layer.

We walked with cramp-ons over the glacier, which makes you feel like a small person with oversized feet, and you never quite trust the ground – the ice looks slippery, and the cramp-ons are supposed to give you adequate grip, but you’re always half-prepared to fall flat on your face. The ice is also transparent, sometimes for a meter or two, and you see the ice bubbles below the surface that could or could not be a thin layer of soon-to-break ice.

Sólheimajökull

Once you get used to stomping around, and figuring out the right angle to place your feet when going up or down hill, you realize you’ve been staring at the ground forever and remember to look up. The view is impressive – a scene from the movie Ice Age. Just blue ice, white ice, and black sand forming a massive landscape as far as your eye can see, disappearing into the grey horizon into what you know to be another, larger glacier.

the ice wall

We did some iceclimbing too, clumsily using two ice picks and the cramp ons to try and crawl up a wall of ice. We went one by one, each attached to our guide by a safety line, and awkwardly tried our best to reach the top while the other 8 tourists looked on. Most of us made it half way or more, but you could see the exhaustion in every person when their legs began to shake (“Elvis legs” our guide called it), and the point when one just had to give up, as they couldn’t muster up enough strength to get the ice pick lodged into the wall for another step. I barely made it to the top, and my hands and toes didn’t feel like they were there anymore. Repelling back down was much easier, and on the walk back to the car, I realized walking on ice seemed like a much simpler task.

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