Glaciers, glaciers everywhere
About 11% of Iceland is covered by glaciers, so it is only natural that we should see some of them during our visit to the small country. Once we were in the area around Vatnajökull National Park, we started seeing them often from the Ring Road. “There’s another glacier”, we kept saying as we pointed to a new one that appeared in the distance. We also knew that jökull meant glacier in Icelandic, so every time we saw a sign for an unpronounceable (to us) word followed by jökull , we knew there was another glacier nearby that we couldn’t quite see.
Blue Ice Experience, but mostly snow
Our plan was to get up close and personal with one particular jökull for our Iceland glacier tour at Skaftafell, what used to be a national park that has recently been absorbed into the greater Vatnajökull National Park. The Skaftafell Visitor Centre is where we met our tour group and fearless leader of Icelandic Mountain Guides. She prepared us well for our outing, informing us that we were the first she had ever had to strap into harnesses, but assuring us that we probably wouldn’t need them. She was simply being overly cautious because of the recent layer of snow that had covered the entire glacier. Only about two inches of snow was responsible for hiding the pretty ice while making crevasses invisible.
Fully equipped with harnesses, crampons, and ice axes, we jumped into a van and headed off to the nearby Glacier named Svínafellsjökull . After some ground rules, we were off, only realizing that we were actually on the glacier at the point that we tied on our crampons. Despite the lack of visible ice on this “Blue Ice Experience“, we did get to see an occasional column of ice protruding vertically out of the snow. Even though I had come for the ice, it was hard to be disappointed by the breathtakingly beautiful winter wonderland that we had all to ourselves.
Two hours passed by quickly as we wound our way through the bumpy landscape of the Svínafellsjökull tongue . Of course we paused often, taking time for the quintessential (dorky) ice ax snaps, in addition to my many wide angle shots of the epic scenery revealed around every corner. It was almost to stimulating, too be somewhere that beautiful. At a certain point, I had to stop taking pictures so I could just take it all in. A landscape like that starts looking the same everywhere anyway, although each scene is as equally stunning as the next. Here are just a few photos from the tour which don’t really do the landscape justice, but of course I tried by borrowing Dave’s iPhone for this next one.
Bring a polarizer for that bright snow and those blue skies! Don’t forget your lens hood to protect against sun flare.
I’m not against tours, I’ve taken more than I can remember, but I only do it when I can’t get to a place on my own. My general opinion and travel advice to you would be to travel independently when you can, but take a tour when your access to certain places is limited. In this case, it would have been pretty dangerous to go alone and unprepared when I am not familiar with the landscape or this kind of activity. Our tour guide knew where the snow covered crevices were, and she marked them for us to avoid. Other tourists did try to follow us, but they were warned to turn back, and for good reason. Be safe, but don’t miss out on an incredible experience just because you’re too stubborn to join a tour. :)