Climbing Langjökull Glacier in Iceland

One of my coolest experiences while in Iceland was climbing on a glacier, and crawling inside of a glacial ice cave, as part of the Top 10 Tour with Extreme Iceland. I had seen a number of glaciers before, but I had never gotten so up-close and personal with one as I did in Iceland. There is a huge difference between seeing a glacier in the distance and actually connecting your feet with the huge mass of ice.

Another really cool aspect of climbing the glacier was physically getting to it. In order to reach the tongue of the ice, we had to cross a freezing-cold glacial lake on a speeding jet boat that I thought was going to send me flying out into the water. It was exhilarating and tiring, but one of the most fulfilling adventures I have ever been on.

When most people think of Iceland they think of ice, but in reality, only 14.3% of Iceland is covered by lakes and glacial ice caps. Of these ice caps, Langjökull (Long glacier) is the second largest in Iceland. Langjökull produces a number of smaller glacial outlets, one of being named Norðurjökull (North glacier). Norðurjökull’s tip melts into glacial lake Hvítárvatn; the start of the Hvítá river.

To begin our journey, we had to drive down seemingly endless miles of off-road trails and bumpy paths ways. It was quite exciting in itself. We finally arrived at the docking zone, and prepared ourselves with warm clothing, gloves and life-jackets.

Everyone boarded the small orange jet boat, lining the sides and front. There was only one seat in the middle, for the driver, and the rest of us held on to straps on the edges. At first I was quite sceptical of my safety, but I was assured that I would be perfectly fine (and I was). We set off.

The wind not only whistled past my ears, but screamed. The speed and the cold air worked together to form small tears in the corners of my eyes, that were quickly whipped away by the raging wind.

I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as I popped up and down, up and down, over and over again, on the bouncing boat’s edge over the waves. I felt like a human jack-in-the-box performing in unison with all of the other passengers on the boat. I popped, my neighbour popped. My friend at the front of the boat popped twice, and we all popped together at twice the height. Everyone was laughing.

Taking photos during the boat ride was pretty impossible, as I was holding on for dear life. With all of the popping, I didn’t want to end up as a human-popcorn-gone-overboard.

Upon arrival one of our guides effortless scaled the side of the glacier and quickly disappeared over the top. I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, but he certainly did it very well!

Next, we were instructed on how to properly fasten our crampons and how to safely utilize our ice picks. After a quick lesson, we were on our way to the edge of the ice.

I was the first one up, behind our guide. I tested my crampons on the ice and stomped my way up the first few feet. Realizing that it wasn’t too hard, I confidentially scaled the carved-out stair case directly behind our guide. Being the first one up, I leaned over the edge to watch everyone else do the same.

Next we all made our way up, up and further up the mountain of ice. We stopped several times for a different view, quick rest, or brief explanation of why the ice looked the way it did. Suddenly, the second guide that had disappeared as soon as our boat reached the shore re-appeared and announced that he had found something exciting.

We quickly made our way to the top of a large ridge, and around a wide opening. A trickle of water ran out of what looked like a shiny glass doorway. We had arrived at a glacial ice cave!

My friend & I were the first to enter the cave. One behind the other, we had to crouch down to our hands and knees, and crawl inside the low tunnel. With each step and shuffle, the ice lightened in colour and became bluer and bluer. I made my way around the last corner, ice crunching and echoing off every surface, and emerged into a tall, narrow room of brilliant aqua-coloured ice. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at.

The ice was smooth and finely sculpted by running glacial waters, and mirrored hand-blown glass. A natural skylight in the ceiling allowed day light in, reflecting the bright colours off of every surface. The rest of our group waited outside the opening for us, but it felt like we had entered a completely different world, and no one else was around. I couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful and peaceful little haven. Here we had found it inside a glacier, in the middle of Iceland.

We climbed some more, and wandered around the wide open surface of the glacier, looking at different shapes and crevices. Eventually, we all started to make our way back down the glacier, toward the boat. It was quite tiring with all of the exercise and stomping into the ice. However, I think that glacier climbing is something that everyone can do, as there were three young children with us in our group!

The thing that set this tour apart from others of its kind was that we were literally in the middle of nowhere. We were not surrounded by herds (yes–like sheep) of tourists and swarms of other people; we were alone in the wilderness. We were told that we were only the 25th group to ever participate in this particular tour, and I think that is pretty cool!

I’ve said it countless times since I returned home from Iceland, but I really hope to go back some day soon. In the chance that I get to, I will most definitely find myself climbing another glacier with Extreme Iceland!

And now for another quick video…


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5 Responses to “Climbing Langjökull Glacier in Iceland”

  1. Aussie on the Road
    September 17, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

    Climbing Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand was one of my favourite experiences during my trip there last year. It’s such a thrill to be standing on something so ancient and powerful.

    I’d love to climb another one someday 🙂
    Aussie on the Road recently posted..Ten of Australia’s Best Kept Secrets, Part 1

    • Seattle
      September 17, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

      And it’s perfect that most glaciers are located in ideal travel spots.. I’d LOVE to climb one in New Zealand! 😀

  2. nod 'n' smile
    September 18, 2011 at 12:14 am #

    Great post and photos! I went on a glacier hike in Iceland earlier this year as well and had a wonderful time. With the snow and volcanic ash, I thought the landscape looked just like a black and white ink drawing.

    • Seattle
      September 18, 2011 at 12:30 am #

      That’s definitely a good way of explaining how it looks! It’s too bad that they’re all covered like that.. but it just means that we’ll have to go back one day and check them out without ash cover 😀

  3. Tijmen
    September 18, 2011 at 12:39 am #

    I had a few chances, but never really climbed a glacier 🙁 It’s very high on my to-do list now 🙂

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