Tackle the ice in Iceland
By Simon Henry
Now, I’m no Marco Polo (more Dora the Explorer), but I do love an adventure. In fact it’s more than that. I’m competitive, always have been, but I know my own limits. Perhaps a glacier hike would be a step too far for an early-30s guy whose physical peak was at his childhood Jungle Jim? If, like me, you’re worried that reaching the dazzling heights would be too much exertion for someone who’s closest link to Iceland to this point was picking up potato waffles for tea – fear not! The summit is more achievable than you think…
Although most-renowned for its Northern Lights (aurora borealis), Iceland’s weather Gods meant I never actually got to see them… (good start!). But apparently you can see them from Scotland so I won’t hold it against them. I went on to discover that magical Iceland is so much more than some unpredictable, twinkly green lights anyway.
I joined the popular Golden Circle Tour which stops at Gulfoss Waterfall. This awe-inspiring natural phenomenon is not to be missed with gallons of ice cold water plummeting 32 metres into the rugged canyon below. If you’re scared of heights don’t look down – the walls reach up to 70 meters in height. The view is best in winter when the surrounding rocks are covered in snow and ice.
An absolute hit is the Blue Lagoon. No, not the awful, luminous Magaluf summer cocktail, but the natural geothermal seawater that surrounds the area. For those who are worried about the cold (like me), you’ll be pleased to know you can enjoy a cocktail at the Lagoon Bar without leaving the water (yes, they do serve ‘blue lagoons’ if you really must… cocktails were approximately €10 each). You can also treat yourself to a glorious in-water massage or just let the soothing 40 degree warm waters drench your soul and you’ll know why this is one of the 25 wonders of the world.
All wonderful. All essential. But for me, the prospect of a glacier hike really captured the true spirit and beauty of Iceland.
GLACIER HIKE – FIT FOR ALL?
Available every day, all year round, there is just no excuse for not visiting the ancient and ever changing frozen waters of an Icelandic glacier. Led by a brilliant group leader from Arctic Adventures, from the off I felt like a real adventurer. Crampons on, walking poles in hand and off we went. Getting used to ‘stabby walking’ to dig into the frozen ground, I started like a reject from Dancing on Ice. After quickly adapting, we gracefully trekked across amazing ice formations, sinkholes and jagged ridges.
‘This isn’t too bad,’ I initially thought. ‘Come on Iceland, test me!’ Then came the words: ‘Here’s your ice wall. Climb it’. I wasn’t sure if it was the cold immobilising me or fear? Then, like a Game of Thrones warrior (the death-defying scenes where Jon Snow and the Wildlings climb the wall were filmed here, no less) I was handed an ice axe which I plunged into the icy depths and began my ascent, reaching 35 foot high. Victory!
My initial panic that it would be too much for me was unfounded. Although more challenging than the hike, everyone in the group of different ages and physicality managed the climb and we all left with a huge sense of achievement.
As an added treat on our return journey to Reykjavik, we stopped at the beautiful waterfall Skógafoss. No Gulfoss, but a calming end to the day. Embrace what Iceland has to offer and you’ll talk about it endlessly.
Trips start at around 130 Euros with Arctic Adventures and pick up and drop off from your accommodation is included.
SOME FAQ ABOUT THIS TRIP:
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO YOU NEED?
Warm outdoor clothing and good hiking shoes are essential. Specialist equipment and tools such as ice axes, crampons and safety lines are all provided.
IS IT COLD AND DARK ALL THE TIME?
Iceland is the westernmost country in Europe and its weather can be unpredictable. Average temperatures in July are about 12 degrees centigrade in Reykjavik, and usually a bit warmer in the north and east of Iceland. Despite the obvious connotations with its name, it doesn‘t snow as much as you‘d think.
The sun only sets for only a few hours per day between May and August during a phenomenon called “midnight sun“ when it‘s pretty much light for the whole 24-hour period. In contrast, there are around 4-5 hours of effective daylight during mid-winter.
IS THE NIGHT AS GOOD AS THE DAY?
Although drinks are famously expensive (up to £9 for a pint), the night life was a huge surprise. If you go expecting a scene to match the landscapes – calm, tranquil and beautiful – you’d be wildly mistaken. Icelanders party like there’s no tomorrow. The club ‘Dolly’ was my favourite but I don’t want to hold you back…local, Nanna Gunnarsdóttir knows best.
Don‘t let the darker winter months put you off. The geothermal energy means that streets and buildings are well-lit during winter darkness and you‘ll get better flight and hotel prices.
Don’t fork out for expensive accommodation but instead use your cash for once-in-a-lifetime trips you’ll never forget.
Have a drink before you go out. Icelanders don’t go out till later (their evenings kick off around 11pm and go into the early hours) so if you’re still in the hotel at 9pm you won’t be missing out.