Iceland is an amazing country, from volcano’s and the production of geothermal energy to the glacial activity spread over the highlands. I have always enjoyed learning about physical geography and glaciation has definitely been a fascinating topic to me since I was a child.
Of course in Scotland we can learn the theory of glaciation and look at how it has shaped our country. The remnants of glacial activity are everywhere. I have previously visited Svalbard with BSES expedition and spent several weeks living and travelling across glaciers, seeing all the aspects of glaciation from the surface of an active glacier.
So when I learned that there was an opportunity to not only travel onto a glacier in Iceland, but actually go inside, I had to take that opportunity!
Into The Glacier
The company, Into The Glacier, is based at Husafell near Langjokull glacier. During the winter you meet at Husafell Centre as the roads further up are impassable. In the summer you can choose to meet at base camp, just below the glacier itself.
We were very excited about going up onto the glacier and wore many layers, expecting it to be quite chilly. However we really didn’t need quite so much inside the glacier itself. On top of the glacier it’s VERY cold and windy, but the vehicle is parked right beside the entrance. Inside the glacier there is no wind and it’s much warmer at 0 degrees celsius. So we would definitely suggest bringing layers (including wind/waterproof layer) for the vehicle/glacier surface, however take a bag so you can store away any extra layers when inside Langjokull.
From Husafell we had a 45 minute drive to base camp, over some rather large snowdrifts and ice. A little walk around at base camp to stretch our legs and we were back in the all terrain vehicle for another 20 minutes or so to the entrance. It was a little wild on the glacier so we couldn’t see anything at all, but apparently if it’s too bad to see the road someone walks in front of the vehicle for it to follow!
When we arrived at the entrance we were split into smaller groups to be led around the ice tunnel. Our guide was lovely and led us down to put on the grips for our shoes. They have smaller sizes for children, as well as the adult ones that slip over the sole of your boots.
The tunnels were dug out with machinery, but then LED lighting was placed behind some areas of ice to help visitors see better. It makes the tunnels very atmospheric and much easier to navigate.
The guide was brilliant at describing how the glacier itself moved and how it was constructed. I didn’t realise that the ice is never that old, the Langjokull glacier we were visiting only had 300 years of ice. Simply because ice melts at the bottom of the glacier due to the weight and friction. So you won’t be finding any exciting ice age remains digging inside the glacier!
The glacier has around 8-10 metres of snow on top per year, but a lot of this is melted and only around 2 metres survive a year. Whilst inside the glacier you can see grey lines within the walls, these are ash deposits from Iceland’s volcano’s. The most significant one to people in Europe will have been the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull that stopped international flights in Europe for several days due to the glass particles in the ash cloud. It was interesting to see that the glacier held information about the volcanic eruption.
Whilst excavating the tunnels the team found a crevasse, which is deep crack in the glacier due to the movement. When walking on a glacier you are always on the look out for crevasses, making long detours around them, or jumping across smaller gaps (roped up with other people in case you accidentally go down!). So seeing a crevasse inside the glacier was interesting.
Unfortunately with climate change warming the planet, the glacier is retreating. We could see on the chart in the glacier and also via the information at the Perlan Museum in Reykjavik that Iceland’s glacier will one day disappear entirely. It really does bring it home when you are standing inside a glacier, to know that it won’t be there for as long as it perhaps should.
By 2165 the glacier we were standing in will be gone, along with many others across the world. Perhaps that is the most important thing to take away from this trip, we should really think more about the future of our planet and how we are causing it to change.
As I mentioned it isn’t that cold in the glacier itself, but you will still need layers (particularly in winter) for the outside temperatures and wind chill.
If you have kids bring plenty of snacks and water, hopefully this will keep them busy on the drive up to the glacier. Particularly in bad weather when you can’t see much out the window!
Make sure you have a good camera and practice using it beforehand, the light inside the glacier is unusual and it make take some time to work out what are the best camera settings.
Touch the glacier walls, feel the difference in the textures between the walls that are higher in the glacier compared to those deeper down. Try drinking some of the glacial melt-water dripping into the tunnels!
Head over to Into The Glacier to book your tickets for your next trip to Iceland!
* We received a free ticket for the purpose of this post, however all opinions are my own.