Glacier Walk on Sólheimajökull

Glaciers are fascinating – although they seem fully solid and static, they are not. They change every day, every season…

A glacier hike is a must do for any adventurer in Iceland. You can find a hike for all levels of difficulty, and there are plenty of routes to accommodate the first time ice mountaineer. Even children can do the walks, as long as they are at least ten years old.

Sign of the times – this deep inlet has actually been covered by the glacier only a few years ago

We signed up with Arcanum Glacier Tours for our hike, for which we would venture onto one of the tongues of Mýrdalsjökull, a glacier in the south of Iceland, east of Eyjafjallajökull – the volcano that erupted in 2010, disrupting air traffic in Europe.

The absolutely otherworldly landscape of the Sólheimajökull Glacier

The walk would take place on one of its many tongues, Sólheimajökull, which translates to sun glacier, or sunny glacier, I’m not sure.

The panorama of Sólheimajökull, an amazing combination of bright ice and black ice

We were super lucky with the weather. The sun was shining beautifully when we began, and it pretty much stayed that way for the entire day. The weather in Iceland is, usually, unpredictably bad. So I’m truly thankful for the sunshine we got, because a glacier hike in the wind and rain might turn out to be quite a scary experience.

Some of the crevices on the Sólheimajökull Glacier are really huge and dangerous, and one should not get too close under any circumstances – the two hikers on the opposite side can give an idea of the size of this one

Our guide for the trip was Lukaz, an experienced mountaineer who had travelled the diameter of Vatnajökull, one of Iceland’s major landscape features, the previous winter.

Ice, rock, ash – Iceland is truly a land of ice and fire, and the likes of Sólheimajökull are the best places to experience this primordial land

Because it was a sunny day, I was fine in a merino T-shirt and a cardigan. Had it been cold and wet, you’d need a proper winter coat and a rain jacket as it can get quite cold on the glacier. The walk began with us getting our safety equipment fitted (we were provided with harnesses, helmets, crampons and ice-axes).

Yes, it is an insect… yes, it is walking on the ice… yes, it is very much alive

After a quick lesson on how to walk on the ice, we began to hike up the glacier. The first part is pretty steep, but luckily, there were a few men carving steps into the ice to make it easier for us novices. In case you’re wondering – yes, they have to do this everyday. A rather Sisyphean task!

These guys have to carve steps into the steepest parts of the Sólheimajökull Glacier everyday as the glacier keeps changing, making their work from the day before redundant

After a few minutes of climbing up, we get onto the plateau of the glacier, and from here on it was easy going. All you have to remember is to step hard and make sure the spikes of your crampons get a good hold on the ice!

An expansive vista of the Sólheimajökull Glacier, on a surprisingly beautiful sunny day

Glaciers are fascinating – although they seem fully solid and static, they are not. They change every day, every season – and they move, just like a river would move, causing cracks to form on the surface, cracks that can turn into canyons.

Also, we must not forget they are relics from the ice ages that have came and went. The glacier we stood upon was around 60,000 years old. That’s a long time ago, around the time humans had invented the bow and arrow.

Here is Bella, getting ready to drink 60,000 years old water, which actually tasted heavenly fresh

Along the way, someone asked about the strange piles of ash that were everywhere, some not even a foot tall, some nearly a story high. Lukaz explained that they were ash cones, or dirt cones. If you’re interested, this Reddit thread can give you a decent explanation. Better yet, when you’re on your hike, ask your guide!

The ash/dirt cones are plentiful on the Sólheimajökull Glacier, and their creation is one of those amazing stories of nature

There were all sorts of impressive surface forms on the glacier, most notably, caverns and canyons which we all got a good look at, from a safe distance, of course!

The hike was two hours and packed with a lot of information and funny anecdotes pertaining to Icelandic culture and history. I won’t lie – coming down was, as usual, the most difficult part. We had to be very careful – I slipped and fell once and saw a couple of others did the same too. But it’s no big deal, the ice is soft. Mostly.

The glacial river, cutting its way through the ever changing landscape of the Sólheimajökull Glacier, contributing steadily to its demise in the process

I had an excellent time on the glacier – the hike was both beautiful and informative, and it was also nice to get out and engage in some physical activity after lots of sitting in the car!

A lonely rock on the bed of black ash, at the foot of the Sólheimajökull Glacier