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Over four years ago, I had an absolute blast glacier trekking in Juneau. After that, I always said I’d take it to the next level but it’s not exactly like I have a glacier in my backyard. But you can bet as soon as our flights were booked, ice climbing in Iceland was a must-do on our trip. They say there’s no better place to try it than Sólheimajökull Glacier
Starting with a Sólheimajökull Glacier Hike
Ice climbing can be done all over the world, but the big advantage to Sólheimajökull Glacier is you’re basically on top of the glacier as soon as you arrive at the parking lot. There’s no long trek just to get to the starting point, which means you spend more time on the ice instead of in transit, and that’s what we’re all hoping for, right?
We started up by gearing up with helmets, harnesses, and crampons — the equipment that everyone needs for a glacier walk tour. In fact, the first part of our ice climbing trip was exactly the same as the shorter glacier hike. Adventurers (like us!) would eventually get to the more adrenaline-pumping parts but if your goal is to see ice features up close, or maybe just stick with your family, then the glacier walk is a great start.
Since Sólheimajökull is so convenient, we were on the glacier with just a five-minute walk.
The first part of our tour was just getting used to how to walk on the glacier. With a fresh layer of snow on top of everything, it becomes necessary to check your path carefully before proceeding. You never know when the snow will be hiding dangerous crevasses or when the snow itself is so deep that your crampons won’t help you trudge through the snow. Our guide pointed out what to look for while regaling us with Icelandic legends.
If you’ve never been on a glacier before, you may be surprised to learn that their topography is always changing. Waterfalls or glacial lagoons that are there one day may be gone the following week as ice melts and re-freezes or as new snow falls. The only constant when it comes to glaciers is that you can’t count on anything. That’s why a guide is so important, so you don’t lose your way and you don’t fall through what is actually very thin ice.
Ice Climbing Iceland
After checking out a few glacier features, it was time for us to split off to the climbing portion of our adventure.
The climb itself was not at all what I expected. For starters, we did things backwards in order to work with a suitable ice wall: we rappelled down, then climbed back up.
Coming back up was easier than you’d think. Ice axes don’t need to be deeply buried in order to be effective, which was a surprise to me. The crampons make it simple to steady yourself on even the slickest and steepest of ice walls. I caught on quickly, even though traditional rock climbing isn’t exactly my forte.
We were lucky to be in a private group – just myself, my husband, and our awesome guide from Arcanum — but that was just coincidence since we visited in winter. It gave us plenty of time to try out our new moves without freezing while waiting for a large group to take their turn.
In fact, since we were just rotating on and off, we were tired out before the end of our allotted time, giving us the opportunity to just explore the glacier. That’s not a bad alternative, especially when there are ice caves and other cool formations to explore!
How to Do it: Glacier Tour from Reykjavik
We spent the day with Arcanum, an awesome operator that’s situated about 2 hours away from Reykjavik. That makes it borderline doable as a day trip and you could certainly make it a stop on part of a longer Ring Road roadtrip. Spend the night at the Golden Circle and hit up glacier hiking the next day!
You’ll need a car (or to arrange transportation) to get there and we learned the hard way that you’ll want a high-clearance vehicle to make it down the last ~2 miles to their post. (Hint: stop at Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls on your way to or from).
At the time of our visit, a 3-hour glacier ice climb was about US$125 per person, including all rental equipment. While that’s not cheap, it’s a bargain compared to other Iceland tours and fair compared to adventure activities all over the world. I was not perked or paid in any form to write this review but I’m happy to share since we had such a great time.
If ice climbing is a bit too strenuous for you, everyone seemed thrilled with the glacier walks they offered. Day tours ranged in length from 1-3 hours, depending on how many features you want to see up close and personal.
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