Over four years ago, I had an absolute blast glacier trekking in Juneau. After that, I always said I’d take it to the next level but it’s not exactly like I have a glacier in my backyard. To be honest, I had forgotten this goal entirely until we spontaneously booked a trip to Iceland. Instantly, ice climbing, like the Golden Circle, was a must-do on our trip.
Ice climbing can be done all over the world, though it certainly seems quite fitting in Iceland. The big advantage to Sólheimajökull Glacier, though, is you’re basically on top of the glacier as soon as you arrive at the parking lot. There’s no long trek just to get to the starting point, which means you spend more time on the ice instead of in transit. Once we were geared up with helmets, harnesses, crampons, and ice axes, we were on the glacier with just a five-minute walk.
The first part of our tour was just getting used to how to walk on the glacier. With a fresh layer of snow on top of everything, it becomes necessary to check your path carefully before proceeding. You never know when the snow will be hiding dangerous crevasses or when the snow itself is so deep that your crampons won’t help you trudge through the snow. Our guide pointed out what to look for while regaling us with Icelandic legends.
The climb itself was not at all what I expected. For starters, we did things backwards in order to work with a suitable ice wall: we rappelled down, then climbed back up.
Coming back up was easier than you’d think. The ax doesn’t need to be buried in ice in order to be effective and crampons make it simple to steady yourself on even the slickest and steepest of walls. I caught on quickly, which was a surprise to me given that rock climbing isn’t exactly my forte.
We were lucky to be in a private group – just myself, my husband, and our awesome guide from Arcanum – but that was just coincidence since we visited in winter. It gave us plenty of time to try out our new moves without freezing while waiting for a large group to take their turn.
In fact, since we were just rotating on and off, we were tired out before the end of our allotted time, giving us the opportunity to just explore the glacier. That’s not a bad alternative, especially when there are ice caves and other cool formations to explore!
If you go…
We spent the day with Arcanum, an awesome operator that’s situated about 2 hours away from Reykjavik. You’ll need a car (or to arrange transportation) to get there and we learned the hard way that you’ll want a high-clearance vehicle to make it down the last ~2 miles to their post. (Hint: stop at Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss on your way to or from).
At the time of our visit, a 3-hour glacier ice climb was about US$125 per person, including all rental equipment. While that’s not cheap, it’s a bargain compared to other Iceland tours and fair compared to adventure activities all over the world. I was not perked or paid in any form to write this review but I’m happy to share since we had such a great time.
If ice climbing is a bit too strenuous for you, they’ll also arrange glacier walks with crampons in your choice of 1-3 hours in length. We saw many people out on the glacier for this tour and they all seemed to be having a great time.
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