In Depth: Vatnajökull Glacier Hiking
Upon reaching the base of the massive Vatnajökull Glacier – the largest glacier in Europe – we met our guide from Glacier Guides and suited up with waterproof pants and hiking boots. Our guide, Mark, was from Australia and had been living in Iceland doing glacier tours for many months. On our glacial trek that was 2km up and 2km down, we got to speak with our guide about his experience living in Iceland, and the thought of moving to Iceland for a few months to fully experience the country definitely crossed my mind.
We hiked toward the Falljokull glacier tongue for about twenty minutes through a field of greens and passed many sheep grazing. Mark explained to us how the glacier was receding and the entire valley was actually on top of a huge bed of ice, buried below the surface. Temporary bridges made out of metal poles and wooden planks allowed us to cross some of the rivers of meltwater runoff trickling down from the glacier.
After hiking a bit more up to the base of the glacier, we stopped for a moment to strap on our crampons, special metal spikes for the soles of our shoes that allowed us to safely walk on the ice.
As we took our first steps on the glacier, the ice crunched beneath our feet and we could not stop smiling as we agreed this might be the most awesome thing all of us have done.
Our guide Mark pointed out interesting parts of the glacier as we trekked up, like little ditches called mulans (meaning windmills in French) that help to drain the ice and meltwater. We also learned that the only life on the glacier is moss, which takes twenty years to grow in Iceland.
We reached a section with a large trickling river of glacial water and our guide instructed us how to do a “Viking pushup” to lower ourselves down to the water to take a few sips of the cleanest, purest water straight from the glacier.
Our hike continued up until the base of the peak, where we were met with an absolutely break-taking view, both of the glacier above us and of the meltwater valley below us.
Mark showed us how to use icepicks to scale our way up the side of the glacial icewall, which was a fun photo op.
The hike back down the glacier was coming down from a natural high, both literally and figuratively. We were all so in awe of the sights we had just seen and the fact that we had actually just hiked on the largest glacier in Europe – an experience none of us will ever forget.