From Iceland — Glacier Hiking: Ice Axes, Blood, And Rainbows

Glacier Hiking: Ice Axes, Blood, And Rainbows

Published June 17, 2011

Photo by
José Hernández

Glacier hiking and ice climbing, like many things in Iceland, are once in a lifetime opportunities for most travellers. Many people in the world may never even get the chance to attempt either of the two. But after at the very least attempting both of them, one feels accomplished and humbled at the very same time. Accomplished for having done something active and unique, humbled by the beauty and awesomeness of nature. These were both feelings I was lucky enough to retain after a trip to the Sólheimajökull glacier.

Sólheimajökull by José Hernández


Sólheimajökull is 150 km outside of Reykjavík, about a two and a half hour drive not including stops. If you don’t have your own glacier hiking gear and it’s your first time visiting a glacier, a guide is recommended. Those guys will provide the proper equipment and information on how to use it, leaving little to no chance of severe injury.

When we passed a snowy-topped mountain, a passenger in our group expressed his curiosity as to what it was. We were informed that it was Mt. Hekla, a volcano prone to erupting about every decade, the last eruption being in 2000. “It’s due for an eruption”, our guide Simmi warned. But Hekla has been a tame volcano compared to Katla, a volcano we were less than 60 kilometres from when we finally arrived at Sólheimajökull glacier.

Sólheimajökull by José Hernández


As we drove through the Mordor looking glacier valley (Simmi thought it looked more like Helm’s Deep, which eased my mind; it wasn’t only tourists that thought Iceland had Middle-Earthen qualities), we learned that Sólheimajökull is the outlet glacier or the glacier tongue to Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the fourth largest glacier in Iceland. Beneath Mýrdalsjökull, an ice cap glacier, lies Katla. Katla, as mentioned in our last issue, is the volcano that blew up a century ago with an eruption so large it caused a “year of winter” in Europe. Being this close to such a volcano is… mildly unsettling.

When we arrived, we had to put on contraptions called ‘crampons’. They go directly on your feet, giving you traction on the glacier and the ability to ice climb. Once the crampons were securely on, Simmi and his colleague Billi gave a quick tutorial about the proper way of walking with the appliances on our feet, before we took the fifteen-minute hike to the location where we would do our ice climbing. Along the way, we stopped to see a moulin, a hole wherein water and other materials collect. Usually found around crevasses, a moulin can reach the very bottom of the glacier, or can be shallow. Water carries black sand, ash, and other sediments down the moulin, and when the glacier recedes, black cones are left to mark the spot where a moulin once was.

Sólheimajökull by José Hernández


Ice climbing is something everyone needs to try at least once. When facing the wall it may seem daunting, but don’t be deterred by your initial fear. Once up on the wall, the adrenaline will take over and it will be hard to stop. And falling isn’t even a worry. When you do “fall” off the wall, the guides belaying you do such a good job, you don’t move an inch. Our guides provided a safe environment, where it felt comfortable to at least give climbing a try. As long as you don’t ice axe the rope. Then there might be some issues though (like having to buy everyone in your tour group a beer).


After everyone had tried their hand at ice climbing, the group made its way back to the van and for the cool down part of the trip, we visited Skógafoss. Skógafoss is one of the most ‘popular’ waterfalls in Iceland, not only for the beauty of the waterfall itself, but also because of the rainbow that can be seen on sunny days by the mist that the waterfall creates. Waterfalls are a wonderful sight, rainbows are gorgeous, and when you put the two together, you get sorta the most wondergeous thing ever seen. After basking in the glow of the waterfall and its rainbows, we drove back to Reykjavík, tired after a good day’s work.

Arctic Adventures puts together a fun, informational trip to a glacier for a day of hiking, climbing, and sightseeing. Not many people in the world get to see glaciers, go ice climbing, or see a waterfall that creates one of the most gorgeous rainbows ever seen. This trip allows you to do all three. The beauty of it is that you even feel like you accomplished something if you decide to test your abilities at ice climbing. There isn’t a better feeling in the world than feeling accomplished and seeing beautiful, awe inspiring nature at the same time.

Trip provided by Arctic Adventures. Book trip at or call +354-5627000. This tour is called: ‘Blue Ice – Glacier Hiking Day Tour’.

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