Straight Thru: Iceland (Vatnajokull Glacier Hike)


Well here we are into our slow season, which means we have some time to work through our own personal photos!  Unfortunately injury, fall photos and Christmas season derailed our plans to get our Iceland blog series completed, however we are back and very excited to showcase the rest of our journey though this beautiful country in August!  If you need a refresher,  we will be breaking our photographic journey down into 6 posts:

  1. Driving the coast to Hali
  2. Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon boat tour and sunset
  3. Hiking Vatnajokull: Europe’s largest glacier
  4. Ice cubes on a black sand beach (& Random waterfalls)
  5. The Golden Circle Tour & Pingvellir National Park
  6. The Blue Lagoon

While planning our trip to Iceland, one of my biggest hopes was to see a glacier and to get a local guide to take us onto the glacier for a real, up close and live interpretation of the glacier, the glacier system and the history of the area.  After much research, we found Glacier Adventures, a local company who based their glacier excursions from Hali Country House, where we were staying for the night before!

Some quick facts about Vatnajokull:

  • it is Europe’s largest glacier mass
  • it is roughly 8300 square kilometres
  • It is approximately 1000m thick at it’s largest point
  • 7 volcanoes lie under Vatnajokull, many of which are active
  • contains 30 “outlet” glaciers/tongues that come down from the main glacier base

We started our adventure at the Hali reception house, where we met our guide, were suited up for the adventure and loaded into 4×4 vans to get us to the glacier.  We took an adventure just to get there, through Iclandic Farming roads (I honestly can’t even explain how these are considered roads).  The bumps, hills, gulleys and holes made for quite the adventure in itself.



We then arrived at the lake leading to the tongue of the glacier, where we had to load into a small zodiac boat to get across the lake and onto the glacier.


once on the glacier, we were suited with our crampons and ice pick, then onto the adventure.  This is where the photo overloading will begin and I apologize in advance… this tour was the most impactful experience of our trip, the beauty was incredible, the knowledge we gained was incomparable to anything we could have imagined, and the environment was miraculous!

When we first stepped onto the ice, I was a bit confused…. it was black!  I was expecting this majestic beautiful blue glacier, and was a bit disappointed to see the colour.  As we began to learn about the Icelandic glaciers, we quickly understood.  Over thousands of years, Vatnajokull has existed, surrounded by volcanoes, with 7 active volcanoes under it’s surface.  Each winter, the snow builds on the glacier, which is them compacted into the glacier… volcanoes erupt, as they have over thousands of years and the ash then settles into the glacier as well, compacted into the ice. As we walked further we began to see this beautiful contrast of bright blue ice mixed with dark volcanic ash!


As we got higher onto the glacier, the more white and blue ice we were able to see.  We learned all about the “plumbing system” of the glacier, which was fascinating.  Each summer the ice melts at the surface, often creating Moulins, which are small drainage tunnels into the large pipes, crevasses and deep drainage waterways that feed the base of the glacier, or come out into the glacier rivers that flow out from under the glacier.  We were able to see a Moulin that was just beginning to form, as well as some dried out tunnels along the way!


As conscious members of society, one of the most striking moments on the tour was when our guide asked us to turn around and look behind us, to this view:


She explained that at the start of the 1900’s, Vatnajokull glacier was expanding to the top of the mountains, with photos and memories of the local elders stepping off the tops of these mountains, onto the glacier itself, which, at the time, extended all the way down to the Atlantic ocean.  You could have heard a pin drop as that registered with all of us!  We looked around at this barren, vast area with the knowledge that global warming has had such a significant impact that in 100 years, Europe’s largest ice cap was receding at such an alarming rate.


In a quiet walk, processing all the information we had been learning about the glaciers, while observing the sheer size of this “small” tongue of the glacier, we came across a canyon… (did you know glaciers have their own canyons?  I didn’t) complete with a small waterfall and river.  It’s not until you see us in the photo that you can understand it’s sheer size!

Carrying on, we had some fun enjoying the glacier!


And came upon a dried out tunnel from the plumping system, which we were able to enter.  Being inside this tunnel was not something that words can describe!  How blue the ice was (caused by compression of ice and lack of light that is able to reflect off the areas), the size of this tunnel and the depth of it were mesmerizing.


I of course climbed into the tunnel for my photo, and was looking around in awe at the ice, the colours, and my surroundings.  I’m known for taking some quiet time to really observe and enjoy an area, hoping to ingrain it into my memory forever!  During this “memorable moment” a small piece of ice dropped down from the top of the tunnel… and SHOULD have hit my helmet…. if I had not been looking up in awe! Chunk of ice to the face… nothing like a black eye to remember a moment!  I climbed out of the tunnel with ash all over my face!!  This photo was taken after the guide had wiped away a lot of the ash to make sure I didn’t have an injury… those who know me well are likely laughing at this moment… these are the typical things that happen to me.




carrying on and nearing the end of our adventures on the glacier, we stopped at a small stream running down the glacier.  We had been told that Iceland’s water is the most delicious in the world, straight from the tap… which at the hotel, I believed!!  HOWEVER, to have the opportunity to drink glacier water, fresh filtered through layers of volcanic ash (hello earth’s own amazing microbial filtration system) we filled our water bottles with the most refreshing, cold delicious water either of us have ever tasted in our entire lives!!



This tour was an absolutely HIGHLIGHT of our trip, and we have had many conversations discussing what we heard and learned while on the glacier, as well as trying to plan when we can go back! This tour, the company and the tour guides are highly highly recommended if you adventure out to Iceland!  We understand that many people like to venture to Iceland to hit only the “golden circle” (which we will get to in another post), but venturing up the coast to the glacier is hands down the best choice we made for our Iceland vacation!