Vatnajökull National Park – Misadventures of Glacier Hiking

I’m ending my Iceland series with a bang. The title says it all, my first (and possibly last) experience with glacier hiking was filled with misadventures. This post gets a bit embarrassing so without further ado, let’s start!

Glacier Hiking

Glacier hiking is an activity that can be done in Iceland the whole year round. The seasons do have an effect on the conditions of the ice though. In winter, there’s usually a layer of snow over the glacier which makes it quite easy to walk. In summer, the top layer of ice is soft which also makes it quite easy to grip and therefore, to walk.

At the start of winter (aka the moment I was in Iceland) the ice is frozen solid and there’s almost no chance of snow which means that walking conditions are quite hard. Literally.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

My Experience on the Glacier

Let me start by saying that I didn’t know I was battling aneamia at the time. You might remember I wrote this in my post about Jeju Island: “I was still slightly jetlagged which I’ll use as an excuse as to why I didn’t manage to finish the hike to the top of the track”. As it turns out it was just a slight problem with my health and even months later in Iceland, I didn’t know about it. That’s why even the short walk to the glacier through a gorgeous landscape left me completely out of breath.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

My out-of-breathness made me feel anxious about what was to come. However, the way to the glacier had plenty of obstacles to keep my mind occupied. I’m awkward on the best of days, so being out of breath and trying to cross a river whose bridge has been destroyed certainly added to my anxiety.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

At the end of the 20-minute obstacle course walk we reached the glacier and I was in awe. I had not expected a steep slippery hill in front of me. I thought glacier hiking would be on a flat surface. Below the hill we put our shoes with irons and helmets on. It took me extra long because subconciously I wanted to delay the moment of the climb as much as possible.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Inevitably, the moment arrived. Normally, I overthink things and in the end they turn out to be OK. It happened to me at least twice during my travels that the actual events trumped my fears beforehand. The first example is the Bloukrans bungee jump and the second is the Cango cave system – both in South Africa. The glacier hike was also much tougher than I had initially thought.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

We had to really kick our feet into the ice in order for the irons to be able to grip. There were times I wasn’t sure my feet were latched on to the ice correctly and in those cases it was so difficult for me to move. I was totally aware of the fact that if I would lift up one foot the other one could slide out from under me. Luckily, the guide saw the fear in my eyes and she held on to me until we reached the top of the hill.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Here, I had the opportunity to take some pictures like walking around on ice is the most normal thing to do.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Some parts on the top of the hill were flat, but in those parts the ice had big gaps which you had to step over. My mind simply blocked, and the guide had to help me again. I basically held on to her the whole way there and back.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

My favourite part of the hike was the visit of another ice cave. My mum has difficulty with confined spaces, so whereas the ice cave we visited the day before was big and roomy – the ice cave we visited on the glacier was quite tight. She opted out, but I made my way inside confidently.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking
The guide is showing how low you have to bend down to get into the cave

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Actually, come to think of it, my favourite part of the hike was when I reached the bottom of the hill again. I was shaking like a leaf, but I was so happy I survived without falling.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

I even enjoyed the hike back through the landscape more than on the way to the glacier. Not even the lack of bridges could stop me from running back to the car.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

Conclusion

If you are like me and you usually have a fear of falling, slipping or tripping, glacier hiking might not be your thing. Even without the effects of the aneamia I would’ve been super scared of slipping and gliding all the way to the bottom of the hill. I was really thankful that the Glacier Guides were so helpful. If one of the guides wouldn’t have escorted me I would have probably broken down in tears and I would not have enjoyed the experience at all. Thanks to her, I managed to look around me to enjoy the beauty of the glacier. It is a truly impressive hike with gorgeous landscapes. It’s just not for the faint-hearted.

At the start of this post I said it would possibly be my last glacier hike, but honestly who am I kidding? I’ll continue doing the things that push my nerves to their limit. If I’m faced with a glacier in the future – I’m looking at you Fox Glacier in New Zealand – I’ll probably do this again. I just hope I’ll have such an awesome guide as the girl from Glaciar Guides.

Vatnajökull National Park - Glacier Hiking

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6 thoughts on “Vatnajökull National Park – Misadventures of Glacier Hiking

  1. This looks absolutely incredible, such a once in a lifetime opportunity. The photographs and writing is so captivating, I’d love to do something like this so much omg.

    Amy;

    1. Thank you, Amy-Anne! It really was an incredible experience even though it was very scary at the same time!

  2. Haha omg I think I would feel the same as you!! I’m all for hiking and the rest of it, but for some reason I clam up when I think of doing a glacier hike. I’d be convinced every step that I’m going to roly poly to the bottom lol. Maybe one day I’ll do one just to conquer my fear!

    1. Haha I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one who would be scared to tumbling all the way down! It might be worth telling the tour company beforehand. I was lucky enough to get my own escort up the glacier which really helped 🙂

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