From Iceland — Mýrdalsjökull: Scary Adventures On A Glacier

Mýrdalsjökull: Scary Adventures On A Glacier

Published February 8, 2010

Photo by
Julia Staples

As most Icelandic adventures, this one starts at eight-thirty in the morning at Reykjavík’s central bus terminal, BSÍ. Grapevine’s photographer and I are there to embark upon Reykjavík Excursions Glacier Adventure, which entails riding snowmobiles around the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. We board the bus, and I try to nap but get distracted by the driver, who turns out to be a knowledgeable and entertaining tour guide.

On the last leg of the trip there, we meet our guide, Andrína, who lives on a farm just below Mýrdalsjökull and proceeds to drive the last metres to the glacier in her jeep. We drive up a bumpy gravel road bridging a height gap of 700 metres, finally reaching a cute red cabin where we put on our glacier-gear. Once we reach the snowmobiles, Andrína tells us how to handle them. There is not much to it; the accelerator throttle is on the right handlebar and the breaks are on the left one.

Glacier Adventure I -  ef234c57e9becd7.jpg

We are finally ready to start the adventure. The group pairs up on the snowmobiles and we start the drive. A few seconds in, I realise I’m just not very good at this. I desperately fail to comprehend how everyone manages to just speed off, leaving me trying to figure out how to steer this weird metal beast.

After a while, the rest of the group notices our fading ability to keep pace and slows down. Confused desperation makes way for pure joy. However, my enjoyment only lasts for a few minutes, ultimately turning into a thrill which will ultimately transform to fear.

After going around a bit and discovering the beauty of the colour white, we set our sights for the top of the glacier. This is where our troubles start. The weather suddenly changes, and the wind shows its force according to true Icelandic tradition. The only way to stay in control of my snowmobile is to lean against the wind, hanging on one side of it.

The wind gets worse, along with the visibility. Suddenly, we realise that one of the couples (along with their snowmobile) is missing. We stop and the guide goes looking for them for what seems like hours. Have they landed in some obscure crevasse the guide didn’t know about? The photographer and I exchange frightened looks. The couple eventually reappears, thankfully, and we carry on through the storm.

In order to see something I am forced to remove the visor from my helmet. As the wind gets worse and worse, I start wondering if these are normal conditions for an adventurous trip. The storm seems to be trying to prove who is stronger. After a few minutes of fighting it, we are defeated and our snowmobile tilts over. Our guide comes to the rescue, and we proceed onto the next round of adventuring.

We drive on. We wonder whether the guide has any idea where we are. She stops every now and then to check her GPS—but what if it’s not working? Would a rescue team find us? Will we ever get home again? Will we die on some snowy rock on a snowy rock in the outskirts of the North-Atlantic? Will our mothers cry? As I lose sight of the snowmobile in front of me, I feel all hope slip away.

In the midst of my despair, we start seeing the outlines of a mountain! And no mountain has ever appeared this beautiful, for it means that I can see—and if I can see, there is no more storm!

Indeed, Andrína makes us stop to enjoy the view of the glacier tongue below us. At this moment in time, I’m not really in the mood for sightseeing. I’d rather open a bottle of champagne and celebrate life. We head back to the cabin and—except for falling off our snowmobiles every now and again—the way back remains peaceful.

As soon as we reach safe ground, we corner our guide with questions: Did you know where we were at all times? Did the GPS work? Is the weather always like this?” She answered yes to all of them, adding that the winter weather is usually like this.

While Andrína takes us back down to her farm and our bus, I ask her a few questions I should have maybe asked in advance. I find out that she has been guiding this tour since 1994, that she has never lost anyone or had to call a rescue team, and that the worst things that happened during these trips were “some broken legs”.

Later, on the bus, it gets quiet. The exhausted adventurers take a well-deserved nap. A good, scary day is over.

Trip provided by Reykjavík Excursions


Due to a devastating server crash, we lost all the original images that appeared with this article in its original, printed form. If you find the replacement images disappointing, feel free to browse our .pdf arcives and search for the originals. 

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