A glacier hike is one of the must-dos when travelling to Iceland. Not often do you have the chance to come close to a thousand years old giant ice cube. So, of course, Andrew and I booked a tour and I thought I would share the experience with you as sharing is caring and information is king, mostly when spending a fair amount of money!
Glacier hike guides
We booked our hike with Arctic Adventures, we found them by simply googling and doing a price comparison. They came up as one of the cheapests and had very decent reviews. On the day, the team was very helpful and the guides were very knowledgeable giving us plenty of information about the glacier, the surrounding nature and the technicality of hiking on ice.
A glacier hike is expensive going easily from £70 to £100+++ per person. Our tour with Arctic Adventures cost £60+ and included the transport from their office to the start of the hike, an hour on the glacier and the equipment. It was one of the most reasonably priced we found!
What to wear on a glacier?
We had packed our skiing gear in prevision of this hike, so both Andrew and I wore our winter sports trousers and coats. We layered thinner workout tops and leggings under and to be honest we were slightly too hot! The day we went glacier hiking was beautiful and the sun was very strong so we could both have done without an underlayer or two. However, our guide mentioned that they had hail and freezing wind the two previous days. So better be safe than sorry and pack winter waterproof sportswear if you can.
All tour guides provide the special gear necessary to hike on the glacier. We were given crampons and an ice axe. It is very important to note that you will need to wear proper hiking boots as crampons require a solid shoe back otherwise they will not hold properly and dig into your Achilles’ tendons. We saw a few people showing up with waterproof sports shoes/boots and they were all asked to rent proper hiking boots on site. We wore our hiking boots almost the entire trip so they worth the investment anyway. Once at the glacier, the guides will also explain to you how to put your crampons on and use the ice axe.
We started our journey at Skaftafell tourist centre. Each guide company has a little cabin to check-in. After being given our crampons and ice axe we boarded a bus to Vatnajökull glacier – the biggest glacier in Europe!
We got dropped about 20-minute walk from the glacier itself so the first part of the hike is on dry land. We got split into two groups and started our journey on foot. Our guide talked about the local area, the glacier and how much it had reduced with global warming – pretty dramatically is the short of it.
To access Vatnajökull glacier we also had to cross a narrow suspended bridge. Nothing dangerous, but I noticed a few people weren’t feeling very confident doing it so I thought it may be worthed mentioning it.
Once at the base of the glacier, we got given a master class on crampons and ice axe. When our guide was satisfied with our tying jobs we started our ascension.
You will notice that on the pictures the ice looks quite dark. The glacier sits on a volcano so the ground surrounding it is black and dust covers the area with the most traffic. It definitely feels and looks a lot more like clear ice in real life.
Hiking on ice isn’t particularly difficult but it does require a bit of time to get used to. Step as heavily as an elephant and you will be just fine!
We spent an hour on the glacier and our only main disappointment with entire experience is that some people in our group found it a bit challenging which meant we didn’t go nearly as far as the other group did. So bit unfair as we all paid the same price to get the same experience, but unfortunately there wasn’t much we could do. I thought I would mention it as this is the downside of booking a 2 to 3-hour tour only, if your group is slow you won’t have time to do much. Retrospectively both Andrew and I thought we could have done much more and maybe should have book a longer tour or a smaller group one.
The views were spectacular though and we felt extremely fortunate to be able to afford such a special experience. As for most glaciers around the world, Vatnajökull ice cap is melting at a high rate and it saddens me to think that the next generation may not have a chance to hike it like we did…