When I was unexpectedly bumped off my EasyJet flight because I didn’t check-in days in advance (yes, they can do that!), my only wish was that I’d make it to Iceland at some point that same day or night.
“I’m trekking a glacier tomorrow for God’s sake. I can’t miss it!”
18 hours of travel later (just to get from Madrid to Reykjavik) I arrived at the airport to see the faintest glimmer of the Northern Lights before hopping on the bus.
As I starred out the window I had one of those feelings all of us travel for but too easily lose sight of, “I cannot believe I’m in the Arctic! I’m in freaking ICELAND. Is this for real?!”
I arrived in the city center around midnight to track down the place I would call my own little home for the next 6 days. This home was supposed to be one I’d be Couch Surfing in (staying for free through the website with the same name), but the hosts decided to go on vacation. They said I could stay anyway. Sometimes people are just that amazing.
I dragged my suitcase through the snow and found the house. I walked around the side, shoveled through some more snow and opened the little blue hobbit door. I entered the basement of a three story house I had all to myself. I felt like Kevin at the hotel in Home Alone. I wanted to run around, jump on beds and hug pillows! Instead, I kept my excitement mildly contained and forced myself to go to bed. I had to get up in 4 hours for my first official Arctic Adventure!
The drive to Sólheimajökull was spent mostly in the dark, as the sun doesn’t rise in Iceland in the winter until about 10:30am. By the time we reached it, it was finally daylight. We got on all the necessary gear and started the 30 minute walk to the edge of the glacier.
Although in this season it’s covered in snow, you could see the icy expanse go on for miles. Where the snow slid off or didn’t stick, bright blue ice stuck out like a sore thumb. With our crampons keeping us from sliding into deep crevasses, we followed the guides as we made the trek.
Not knowing much about glaciers, and having never visited one, I enjoyed stopping for facts and filling up my water bottle with melted ice we came across. It takes 8-12 meters of snow just to grow a glacier one centimeter! Knowing I was standing on thousands of years of growth was mind blowing.
Soon enough it was time to try out ice climbing. The wall we were going to scale didn’t look that high so I figured it would be easy and underwhelming. How wrong I was! Although I cheated a bit and used the holes made my previous climbers, it was still really difficult getting a good enough grip in the ice to hold my weight, cold hands and all. By the time I reached the top my arms were shaky and my calves tired. The repel down was a welcome decline.
The sky was getting darker by the minute, and although our group was having a nice time hanging around and chatting, the guides started to rush us to get ready for the walk back. We weren’t too cooperative, there were so many pictures to take!
Fifteen minutes later I’d realize why they were in such a rush, a snowstorm was making it’s way to the glacier and we still had to walk all the way back to the van. With snow flakes pelting my face and clumping into my hair, we walked single file over the glacier as the sky quickly darkened. I took the opportunity of the epic surroundings to take a Snapchat, as you do.
A Chilly Swim
As glacier trekking wasn’t adventurous enough, a few days later I decided to explore the Silfra fissure, the underwater continental divide between the European and North American plates. Unfortunately, a cozy Arctic cruise wasn’t going to let me see the best of it. I was going to dive in and swim through the 2 degree Celsius water.
After a visit to a lava tube in what was an other-worldly landscape, we drove to the fissure. It was time to prepare, and a fluffy buoyant onsie inside a dry suit was only the first part of the outfit. We then added a skin-tight rubber hood and gloves. We then secured all the areas which water might leak into with thick rubber-bands, just in case. Unless you are the bondage type, putting a rubber band around your neck is a very unnatural experience.
I took it as a decent trade off though. I really didn’t want that freezing water to leak in.
Lacking oxygen and covered from head to toe, I was ready. My only problem now was warming up my hands. From all the time spent outside suiting up, my hands had become numb and quite painful. Putting on the gloves didn’t do much to help the situation and I started to worry.
“Are you guys in as much pain as me? My hands are absolutely freezing?” A few of the others agreed but didn’t seem as terrified as me. I’m convinced they just didn’t want to say anything!
Not wanting to be a complete baby, I tried to hit my hands together and warm them up but the pain still made me have second thoughts. “Why am I doing this? This is torture?” I thought to myself. “Only 30 minutes, I can do it. They told us it would be fine,” I continually repeated in my head.
I thought jumping in the water would make it worse, but somehow the water around my gloves temporarily warmed up my hands. What a relief that was! They were now actually functional, which was crucial given I had a waterproof camera and I planned on being able to use it!
With the buoyant suits we floated down the river with out heads gazing down into the crystal clear rift, bumping into each other occasionally. Every view was an impressive one, whether it was the many shades of blue down below, or the snow covered surroundings outside.
I was the only one with a camera on the journey, and for possibly good reason. It was a bit distracting from the experience. Still, being the photo addict I am, I had to have the ability to photograph the trip! I tried my best to get photos of the others so they could have some too.
Paranoid I would drop the bulky thing down into the depths of the earth, I cling onto it as tight as my numb hands could bear.
When we reached the end about 30 minutes later, I was completely ecstatic from the experience but also ready to get out. I had started to get quite cold again, and my feet and hands were really starting to feel it. I hopped out only to barely make the walk back without screaming and hollering. I couldn’t get those gloves off and my hands under warm water fast enough. Some hot cocoa was then the icing on the cake, and I was finally warm inside and out.
One day I was trekking a glacier, and the other I was snorkeling down the continental divide. Just another normal experience in Iceland!
I joined both of these tours courtesy of Arctic Adventures. The glacier tour is called their Blue Ice tour and the snorkeling was part of the Black and Blue snorkeling and caving tour. Both were unique and unforgettable experiences. Arctic Adventures provides most of the gear needed, but also rents out waterproof pants, jackets, hiking boats and waterproof cameras. The prices of the tours definitely reflect the prices of Iceland, and lunch is usually not included, but reasonably priced food can be purchased. You should also remember to bring your own water. If you have the budget, I would absolutely recommend a tour with them, as these are once in a lifetime activities!