The day after our exciting snorkel adventure at Silfra and a one-night stop-over in Vik, we continued along the Ring Road, an easy two hours drive to the Skaftafell Visitor’s Center.
On the approach, we knew we had made the right decision to come here; in the distance we saw dramatic mountains hiding behind curtains of clouds with glaciers carving their way the the massive rocks. This truly was a spectacular view, and it made us even more excited for our next activity, a glacier hike!
Skaftafell is located inside the Vatnajökull National Park, which is so big, it covers 14% of Iceland! It’s special in the sense that it has a great variety of landscape features, created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, volcanic and geothermal activity. Iceland is concerned about the protection and conservation of this area, but also makes it accessible to nature lovers and hikers to make the most of it. There is an informative 15 minute free documentary about the region in the Skaftafell Visitor’s Center which I’d recommend you watch when you arrive.
We arrived at 11:30am, and it wasn’t long before we were given our crampons and pick-axes and jumping into an American yellow school bus to head off to the starting point. Interesting fact: apparently Iceland is the easiest place in the world to obtain a bus driving license.
All in all, the hike lasted about 3 hours, but it was a definite highlight of the trip (along with everything else!).
From the bus, we had an easy 30 minute-ish hike before we got on the ice. This was due to the fact that the glacier we were visiting (Öræfajökull) was a retreating glacier, and so over the last few decades it has considerably shrunken and it now takes longer to get on the glacier than in the past! There is actually a then and now photo in the Skaftafell Visitor’s Center on the wall, and afterwards, we took a look at it and were shocked to see just how different it looked in the past (early 1900s).
Along the way, it was interesting to spot some icebergs in the glacial lake, a newly formed ice cave and the moraines that have been created from where the glacier carved its way into the rock. I studied Glacial Systems during my A Level Geography, but it is so very different to see these formations in real life compared to reading about them from a textbook.
Soon, we were putting on our crampons and being given advice on how we should use them and our pick-axes, so we would walk on the ice safely! Normally, if you walk on ice you would fall flat on your face, but with crampons, you are defying everything. It was at first a little weird, as walking confidently on ice isn’t something I was used to, but I was stomping around comfortably very quickly.
Along the way, we stopped and peered in (not too far though!) into some crevasses and learning some horror stories of what could happen if we were to fall in. Word of advice: don’t fall into a crevasse! There was also some glacial water flowing on the top of the glacier at one point, and we were given the opportunity to drink it. It was very clean water, but as it has no minerals in it, it is not recommended to use as your only source of hydration.
Our guide was full of wit and had many anecdotes to share of his life and times on the glacier, and the glacier’s history. Unfortunately, not all the information was pleasant, and we learned about the terrible occurrence of what happened to two university students, Ian and Tony, from The University of Nottingham in 1953. The young men went missing on the glacier and although they say ‘the glacier gives up what it takes’, their bodies have still not been retrieved. However, since the disappearance, some of their equipment, clothes etc. from the expedition has been recovered from the surface of the glacier in recent years. The items are in a display cabinet in the Skaftafell Visitor’s Center. This article is an interesting read to find out more.
Before we left the glacier, our guide offered to take group pictures of us on the glacier which have given us a fond momento of our time there!
We walked back to the bus to head to the Visitor’s Center, where we were offered a hot chocolate which was very welcome after being on the ice.
We stayed overnight at the campsite at Skaftafell, next to the Visitor’s center, and it was an excellent base to visit Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake and Beach (45 minute drive) and a short hike to Svartifoss (Black Waterfall), a popular hike which starts next to the campsite, which we did the following morning.
Two minutes down the road is a Gas Station which also has a café, where we dined that evening. Unless you are staying in the hotel, take note that there are not many other food options in the area.
Glacier Guides were informative, professional and concerned about our safety on the ice. It was such an enjoyable afternoon and Skaftafell is a wonderful area in Iceland to explore, and a favourite among the places I visited during the trip!
Tour Company: Glacier Guides