Photo Diary: Glacier Hiking in Iceland!
Glaciers and icecaps cover more than 11% of Iceland's land area. The largest of these is Vatnajökull, which has nearly 30 smaller outlet glaciers that flow from it, including Sólheimajökull. Here you can take guided hikes to explore the surface of the glacier. If you’ve never been glacier hiking – add it to your bucket list. Hiking above it or below it will undoubtedly be one of the best experiences in Iceland.
The top of the glacier is covered in black volcanic ash. Most glaciers sit adjacent to or on top of the countries active volcanos. The black ash actually protects the glacier from the sun, serving as a natural sunscreen, helping to slow and prevent melting.
Even with the black ash to cover it, the glacier melts consistently throughout the summer. Sólheimajökull used to extend all the way out to the end of this valley; over the last few years it has slowly eroded.
In order to explore the glacier it's necessary to wear the appropriate hiking and safety gear. This includes ankle-high hiking boots and crampons that will give you the support you need to walk properly on the glacier's surface. The crampons have spikes that extend into the ice to help stabilize your steps. A safety harness, which you wear around your legs and waist, ensures that your guide can help pull you up in the even that you fall or get stuck in a crevasse.
As you enter of the glacier's natural fissures you'll be welcomed by the most mesmerizing blue walls. The walls are smooth to the touch and are blue because of the way glacial ice compacts, resulting in a stretching of the oxygen-hydrogen bonds in the water that absorbs the red end of the light spectrum.
There are other glacier hikes and tours around the country that take you inside ice caves and tunnels, where you're completed surrounded by glacial ice - unlike here where we only entered the glacier through a fissure (or natural break in the glacier that exposed a sliver of its interior).
Regardless of what type of glacier hike you do, it's guaranteed to be an experience you won't forget. Not only is exploring the surface of the glacier exciting but the entire process of prepare for the hike, learning how to walk properly with crampons on, and understanding the natural history of the landscape was part of what made it truly memorable. There is no doubt that it was one of the highlights of our entire trip.