From Iceland — Nothing like a Cold Glacier on a Summer Day: Hiking With Glacier Guides

Nothing like a Cold Glacier on a Summer Day: Hiking With Glacier Guides

Published July 3, 2009

It is June, and I’m eating lunch on a large slab of ice with my axe sticking out of a slight incline nearby. In an alternate universe, say, my summers past, I would be contemplating the strength of SPF I should use on a trip to the beach, not wielding a sharp tool while crossing a frozen landscape. I had willingly chosen, however, to enter in to this sort of personal twilight zone.

I left the newly comfortable surroundings of Reykjavík to head out east in pursuit of some glacial adventures. Turns out, I was about to be a part of another new venture as well. One of the owners of Glacier Guides, an excursion/hiking company based out of Skaftafell, picked me up, and we quickly made a stop to trade the customary van for a freshly painted yellow school bus. Won on eBay and shipped by boat from the United States, this golden reminder of my shining years of youth was the latest addition to the three week-old company.


Bionic ice travellers

Pulling in to Skaftafell, the bus was greeted with huge smiles as the other guides checked out the new set of wheels. They took a break from the construction of their eco-friendly headquarters to hop on and also retrieve some much needed supplies. As Einar Ísfeld, one of the owners had told me, “This company is 10 percent planning and 90 percent action.” It certainly looked that way, as the guides had the foundation down after only a couple days of hard manual labour. Before I knew it, this all-action attitude had grabbed a hold of me, and I was immediately sent to do a short glacial hike.

Soaring Spirits

We drove over to the Virkisjökull glacier, where we hiked a little over rocky black earth, which slightly resembled a not so beautiful wasteland. As Jökull Bergmann, our guide (also an owner of Glacier Guides), informed us, this land was typical of glacier surroundings. We strapped on our cramp-ons before reaching the ice – they are basically large metal talons that make the average human a bionic ice traveller. From there we explored the easily traversable glacier that slowly extended in to the dark outer edges of the land. We stopped to throw things in to the deep crevasses running throughout the glacier, and it came to an end; it was an easy introduction to my ice adventures to come, and left me itching for some more exploration.

One of the following days, I got the opportunity to strap on those bionic ice feet again and take my glacier travels up a notch. After picking up six others, we headed to the Fjallsjökull glacier lagoon. Again, we hiked over the fine black rock towards our destination, the glacier formations across the water. As we did so, a tremendous cracking sound filled the air. We ran towards the banks of the lagoon, and witnessed a large (very large) chunk of blue-infused ice break off from the main glacier: the main glacier that we were soon to be hiking on. Everyone laughed a little nervously as our guide assured us we were not hiking near the location of the ice breakage.


A boat with wheels?

We then took a boat across the lagoon towards the large maze of ice pinnacles. With our cramp-ons and ice axes, and some instructions on the correct way to walk up and down the ice, we were off. The crevasses we witnessed were extremely deep, and the views of the mountain landscape were more stunning than any I had ever seen. The unsoiled ice formations growing up on either side of me and the deafening silence made for an almost bizarre, maybe even spiritual experience.

After lunch, the hike turned back, and we climbed up and down the glaciers looking for an exit spot. Sometimes we reached unexpected dead ends, but our guide would skilfully navigate us out. On the short boat ride back, we once again rode through the waters that were teeming with icebergs and more extremely blue formations. Our guide then drove us to Jökulsárlón, where we took a longer ride in a larger boat with wheels, through a lagoon of icebergs similar to those we had seen before.

During this last boat trip, I started contemplating. These Glacier Guides had the coolest job. Ever. Not that they didn’t work their asses off. I mean, a three week-old company was building a house by hand, painting a school bus and, to top it off, taking people on some killer glacier areas all day. They were clearly action junkies, and I was happy to be in for the ride, even if it brought me away from the lazy warm beach days I had come to know as my normal summers. I would choose a picnic on the ice of the Fjallsjökull glacier over a little bit of warm sand any day.

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