Ice Flow, Nowhere To Go: Exploring The Ice Caves Of the Vatnajökull Glacier

Photo by
Art Bicnick

“Are you underwater!?” my mum’s Whatsapp pings through on the last wisp of 3G available in the Sapphire Ice Cave.

I’m not–but she’s right, I could be. Carved into dimples by the wind, the intensely blue ceiling looks more like the ripples of a lake than any form of ice I’ve ever known or seen before. Jess, Art and Tinna, our guide from tour company Local Guide Of Vatnajökull, have all disappeared around the corner. I held back, unwilling to dip my not-particularly-waterproof shoes into the glacial stream that twists into narrow ice tunnels somewhere beyond them.

ice cave

Vatnajökull ice cave. Photo by Art Bicnick

Race to the ice cave

Sitting in the Grapevine offices just over a week ago, wrapped in a blanket and gazing passive-aggressively at the broken radiator in the corner, I asked myself the question any sane intern would eventually ask themselves: I may have spent two and a half months in Iceland, but have I really seen enough ice? And without a visit to the ice caves of the Vatnajökull National Park, the answer would, of course, have been no.

“I may have spent two and a half months in Iceland, but have I really seen enough ice?”

This was the existential gripe our resident photographer-cum-driver-and-international-man-of-mystery Art sought to fix when he drove us interns 400km east to the Vatnajökull glacier. He spared no horses, fuelled by the bare essentials of Route 1 travel: black coffee, cigarettes and sheer, steely determination. Plus a mild to moderate amount of Taylor Swift playing on the Bluetooth speaker, intermittently drowned out by the sound of studded tyres skidding through the snow. To be fair, he said he didn’t mind.

Now I am, for all intents and purposes, alone in an ice cave. It’s probably not where I expected to be on a Saturday afternoon in late November. A hole in the ceiling surrounded by icicles lets the outside light through like a chandelier, the walls are glowing a deep blue, and the wind which made it difficult to walk down by Jökulsárlón has disappeared completely. There is only silence and the faint trickle of water.

Gals on tour

These caves, Tinna explained, change every year, formed by the meltwater canals that run off the glacier in the summer. This is the second year the Sapphire Ice Cave has been accessible, but it has changed shape since last year, shifting one hundred metres or so further back into the glacier.

Eventually, the torchlights return and Jess and Tinna reappear. They are shortly followed by Art, who frantically asks me to shine my torch against the ice to help him get a photo, then puts his foot in a stream of glacial meltwater. For some reason, all I can think of is The Tundra Rap from The Mighty Boosh: Ice flow, nowhere to go, Lost in the blinding whiteness of the tundra…

The sun has almost disappeared when we return to Local Guide’s gigantic Ford—they call her Kata— us thudding back over the rocks towards the glacier lagoon. Jess and I sit in the back eating Haribo Peaches and wonder aloud whether we think the hotel will have cocktails. By the time we reach Art’s rental car it has started snowing. The wind blows the flakes towards the windscreen and in the headlights, they look like fireworks.

The hotel, thank goodness, had cocktails—and more importantly a two for one happy hour deal on prosecco (It was Jess’s birthday). With a glass in each hand, we headed to our hotel room, put on our hotel-issue dressing gowns and had both passed out from ice-cave-prosecco induced exhaustion by 10 p.m.

Vatnajökull lies 380 kilometres east of Reykjavík. Tour provided by Local Guide of Vatnajökull. Car provided by Go Car Rental. Accommodation provided by Fosshotel

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