The tail end of summer serves as the perfect time to start planning your Icelandic adventure for next winter! Our country comes alive in the colder months with plenty of exciting outdoor activities. The sun may set sooner, and the snow may start to fall, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an unforgettable experience in the great outdoors! The best bet for thrill seekers and casual tourists alike is by exploring the glaciers that cover Iceland! So, let us take a quick look at Iceland’s famous winter pastime: glacier hikes and ice cave tours.
What Are Glaciers?
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to glaciers. Everyone thinks they have an idea what these frozen behemoths are, but few are cued into how they are formed. Let me quickly enlighten you with a crash course about glaciers.
Iceland has over 200 glaciers, and a substantial percentage of our country consists of ice. They have long captured the imagination of visitors and Icelanders alike. A common misconception is that these colossal, naturally-formed, wonders are made from ice. This is incorrect. Glaciers are actually formed from freshly fallen snow. The snow becomes compacted over time and eventually, due to extreme amounts of pressure and time, it creates a glacier. This is also why these icy beauties have such a unique blue hue.
Throughout the glacier-forming process, air bubbles are pushed out of the forming ice, which creates exceptionally pure ice. This is why when you make ice cubes in your freezer they are generally opaque and cloudy; the more air in the ice the more it looks foggy and white. Due to its purity, glacial ice better refracts blue spectrum light which gives it a brilliant, vibrant hue. Interesting, right! We truly feel blessed in Iceland to have this natural wonder. It is important to note that glaciers are shrinking at a breakneck pace, and as of now, glacier melt-off accounts for over 20% of the rivers and lakes in Iceland. Better go before they’re gone!
Glacier Hiking: What is it? Why should I go?
There is a good reason why Hollywood chooses to use Iceland as the backdrop for adventure and sci-films: its scenic vistas are otherworldly and breathtaking. And that is precisely why you should book a tour for this Ice awsome Icelandic experience! Common places to do glacier hikes and ice caves walks are the Mýrdalsjökull glacier near Vík and the Skaftafellsjökull glacier in Vatnajökull National Park. You can also take a tour as a day trip from the country’s capital, Reykjavik.
A glacier walk is pretty self-explanatory: with the assistance of an expert guide, tour-goers are brought to the most scenic and thrilling locations on the glaciers. A few things are necessary to enjoy a safe and fun glacier walk.
The first thing you always need is a guide. Glacier ice can sometimes, very rarely, become unstable over time. Trained Icelandic guides have the knowledge and know-how on how to spot these forming fissures and potentially deadly cracks. They also have extensive knowledge of the geological history of these expansive ice-scapes and experience navigating them. The second thing you will need is equipment. All tour companies will provide you with this, so no worries about packing anything out of the ordinary. Just make sure you have warm clothes and gloves. Tour providers will give you crampons (special shoes with sharp prongs to grip the ice for walking), walking poles, and helmets. Remember always to wear your protective helmet and follow the guide’s explicit instructions. We don’t want you getting hurt on your Icelandic vacation.
You may still be asking yourself, “Yeah but why should I go on an Icelandic glacier walk?” Well, for two simple reasons: 1) the frozen landscapes you will see will be like nothing you have ever experienced; and, 2) you may not get the chance in the future. The first reason is obvious. Grab your camera because you aren’t going to want to miss this photo opportunity. However, more importantly, you may not have the chance in the future. Global warming is a very real threat. I know it’s not fun to think about, but it is a real possibility. Jump on the opportunity while are precious glaciers still exist.
Icelandic Glacier Caves and Ice Caves: The Real Deal
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love glacier walks, but for me, again personally, I think touring glacier and ice caves is the real crown jewel of glacier-based activities. Glacier and ice cave tours are the same thing, with one significant difference: you go inside and underneath the ice when visiting a cave. For me, that’s where Iceland is most beautiful. These ice caverns are formed when runoff water carves a hole or passage. The most exciting aspect about them though is they are different year to year; you will rarely visit the same glacier cave twice. As such, you have your very own unique Icelandic experience that will never be the same twice.
Also, this is the perfect venue to snap some incredible photos. Glacier caves consistently generate massive amounts of Instagram traffic, and for a good reason: they are just breathtaking. Deep blues and vibrant emerald and amethyst shades coat the smooth icy walls of these cavernous interiors. There is truly no other place in the world like it. Add it to the list of a trillion reasons you should visit Iceland.
Ice caves are a bit different in that they are accessible year round. Ice caves form when ice freezes on cave walls. Aesthetically they are also different than glacier caves, in that they can have brilliant red and brown walls of ice instead of blue. This is because they take on the shade of the rocks they cover. Whichever you route you decide to choose, you will have an invigorating icy adventure.
Rules to Remember on your Glacier and Ice Cave Tour
Safety is extremely important during your Icelandic glacier and ice cave adventure. Exploring glacier caves is inherently more dangerous because these frozen passages are much more unstable. Since the ice is continually melting and refreezing, the structural integrity of each location is different. Tour guides are certified in the appropriate safety training, and they are constantly checking for any structural damage.
Ice caves are slightly safer, but still, use caution. Ice can fall at any moment, so always wear the helmet provided by your tour operator and be aware of your surroundings. Treat your guides’ commands like the rule of law. The most important thing to remember is to have fun. I am not trying to scare anyone with safety tips, but they are essential. However, experts check the caves with such regularity that you don’t have anything to really worry about. Come with a sense of imagination, your camera, and let your mind melt when you see the indescribable beauty I have attempted to convey.
Iceland’s Coolest Activities: Glacier Hikes and Ice Caves
Book your tickets to Iceland and take a trip of a lifetime. The time has never been better to come to visit us, especially with the attractive travel deals and packages all over the web. If I could choose one thing to do over again in my life, for the first time, it would be taking a glacier walk, or a visit to a glacier or ice cave. Both nature’s power and beauty are displayed so intensely in these icy activities, that once you do either, you will never forget it. Plan your trip to Iceland. Frosty adventures await you. See you soon!