Wrapping up my posts in Iceland with one of my most treasured and unique memories – ice climbing in Iceland!
There’s a lot of moments, before and during traveling, where I feel drawn to an adventure but then think to myself, “Is this a crazy idea?!” or “Is this worth it?!” Skydiving in the Rocky Mountains of Canada and paragliding in Switzerland were among some of those impulse driven moments. Now I’m adding this adventure to the list of ‘things-I-did-on-impulse-but-don’t-regret-for-one-minute’ moments.
I asked my friends if they would be interested in ice climbing but they declined, in part due to cost – since it was not cheap (not that anything in Iceland could be considered ‘cheap’). Though my friends wouldn’t be joining me for this adventure, they did drive me to the Vatnajökull National Park to send me off! The national park is a protected wilderness area centred around Vatnajökull glacier. They waited till I got ready (putting on my layers and layers of clothing and strapping on all the gear to my body and backpack), then said goodbye!
The tour lasted approximately 5+ hours and the tour group was small so I got to learn a lot about the others on the tour and our guide. We did a little bit of regular hiking before reaching the start of the glacier. We strapped on our crampons, which are a necessity to securely travel on snow and ice. Crampons are strapped to the sole of your shoes and have pointy, downward facing edges that let you “dig” into the ice.
It’s a little bit awkward at first to walk in crampons since your feet almost stick into the ice with each step – so it’s naturally more work. You also walk a little wider than normal since you don’t want to clip your own legs with your crampons. It’s a lot more comfortable than a ski boot, but still rigid.
Our guide was incredible – mixing in history and geography along our trek. Iceland-born native, he was passionate about guiding and spending his time outdoors.
It’s tricky to dress for ice climbing since your in a constant state of flux between hot and cold. When you’re moving you build up heat really quickly, but the moment you stop moving and wait for someone else to climb, you cool down as quickly as you warmed up. I found layering helpful. As for food, we packed our own lunch. I brought more snack type foods, which I found easier to digest and more satisfying to eat after several climbs. Also nothing quite as refreshing (and cold) as glacier water!
Ice climbing and rock climbing are as different as ice and rock. It was a new feeling to be rappelled down and then climb upwards. Though experience/skill wasn’t a requirement to go on tour, it was still physically demanding – at the end of the day, I was ready to curl up in a pile of blankets with a glass of wine (which I actually did at the end of the day). Overall, it was such an adventure and definitely something I recommend if you have a chance (and sense of adventure)!
In the meantime… my friends also saw ice, but floating ice at Jökulsárlón in south-east Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National. Icebergs broke off from the glacier float in the lagoon.
We stayed in the most lovely cottage-home. Said simply, it was felt quite literally placed in the middle of nowhere. It was remote, peaceful, and quiet. We saw stars at night (unfortunately no Northern Lights). We cooked both nights we stayed in the cottage – there was a lot of food, a lot of wine and drinks, laughter, meaningful conversation. It was warm and cozy – I wish I had more ways to describe the how full I felt.
Saying goodbye to this road trip was like parting with a good friend – heavy in ways, but anticipating the next adventure together. Once I’ve travelled somewhere I don’t feel compelled to return to that place because I know there is so much more to see of the world – but from time to time I find myself stumbling upon special places that make me think, ‘I’ll be back’. Iceland was one of these special places. I will return one day!