From Iceland — Glacier Walking On Sólheimajökull: Water, Water, Everywhere

Glacier Walking On Sólheimajökull: Water, Water, Everywhere

Published February 11, 2011

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We all dream of the perfect vacation, filled with unforgettable moments and taking brochure-worthy photos to make our Facebook buddies super jealous. But let’s face it: Sometimes the weather just doesn’t cooperate. Rain may dampen your socks, but it doesn’t have to dampen your spirit. What you get out of any vacation is entirely up to you. As I waited outside for my bus in the early morning, I put up my hood to shelter from the rain. It was chilly and windy, and the rain showed no sign of letting up: Not the ideal conditions for hiking on a glacier. C’est la vie. I wasn’t about to let a little water keep me from having a fun day. I’ve always tried to find the bright side in any situation, and today would be an occasion for such “silverlining” thought.

The hike was on Sólheimajökull, a “crawling tongue of the main glacier, Mýrdalsjökull,” as our bus driver, Ævar called it. On the way back we would stop at two waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. The drive from Reykjavík to Sólheimajökull took a little more than two hours. Along the way, Ævar pointed out numerous landmarks that could be seen from the bus… on a sunny day, that is. Today, few of those sights weren’t hidden by the rain and fog.

Come hell or high water

Nevertheless, our hosts, Icelandic Mountain Guides, made the very best of what they were dealt. They provided everything we needed for glacier-hiking: crampons, rain gear, boots, and even ice axes, which turned out to be more of a photo prop than a necessary survival tool, but fun for taking a few whacks in the ice. Our glacier guide, Maxim, was cheerful and informative. Meanwhile, the rain came down. It rained when we started; it rained during the hike; and it rained when we left. Despite this, our tour group of nine faced the conditions with a remarkable optimism and sense of adventure.

We stepped off the bus and crossed a soggy field of volcanic ash left by Mýrdasjökull’s cranky neighbour Eyjafjallajökull, with Sólheimajökull looming ahead. Maxim was quick to point out that only twenty years ago, the glacier covered this field. With my crampons on, and my rain gear only slightly delaying the rain as it made its way through my layers of clothing, we stepped onto the ice.

A cold shower

Not long into the hike, the wind picked up. The thick fog closed in around our group, and in no time we found ourselves engulfed in a world of the elements. There was nothing ahead or behind but fog, and nothing at hand but wind and rain and ice. This was not the most scenic of hikes, as was evident in many of Maxim’s sentences starting with, “On a clear day, from here you can see…” but I found myself strangely pleased.

Maybe it was the experience of being in a land seemingly lost to time and space, or maybe it was the humorous absurdity of standing soaking wet on a field of ice, but never did the group seem upset. In fact, looking around all I could see were smiling faces. We laughed as we took photos of ourselves drenched from head to toe. It’s a great way to look at it: You’re going to be wet no matter what, so why not laugh about it?

What rain?

The hike lasted about two hours, perhaps cut a bit short by the fact that very few of the tour’s sights were visible, and could be described as a casual stroll rather than a hike. It wasn’t especially strenuous, although the increasing weight of my coat as it absorbed more and more water did feel great to shrug off once back on the bus. Back in our seats, we met another tour group who had visited some museums, comfortable and dry. They must’ve thought we had gone mad as we arrived laughing and drenched to the core.

On the way back, the bus stopped at two of Iceland’s scenic waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, for both tour groups to get out and take pictures. Already soaked, my glacier companions and I were the first off to get some great shots, heedless of the rain and spray from the falls. One of my fellow ice-hikers, Clint Wilson of New York, whose spirit was a ray of sunshine on an otherwise dreary day, summed up the day perfectly. “Remember when you were a kid, and it was no big deal to get wet? I’m actually having fun!” Clearly, Clint has the right attitude to take on vacations. So when the weather laughs at you, just laugh with it.

This trip lasts around ten hoursfive hours driving, four hours hiking, and stops at waterfalls. Tour provided by Icelandic Mountain Guides and costs 19.900 ISK. The trip provides transport and an experienced guide, and hiking and rain gear. Lunch not included, but you can grab something along the way if you forget to pack one.

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