Glacier Hiking in Iceland
Glaciers, glacier lagoons, and delicious dinners
as we continue our road trip up Iceland's Eastern coast
The last time I'd seen a glacier was the Khumbu glacier and icefalls at the foot of Mount Everest. It was May, the warmest month of the year in the Nepali Himalayas, and I didn't hike across Khubu so much as I splashed in its cool water streaming and puddling across Base Camp. In Iceland, I had the unique opportunity to trek across Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajökull. I'm not going to even try spelling that phonetically.
We met our guide at Skaftafell National Park and got our cool trekking gear: an ice pick and crampons, spikes you attach to your hiking boots that make it easier to hike on ice. The trek began with a thirty-minute hike across flatlands to the start of the glacier, but only five years ago this was the beginning of the glacier. Although it may not look it, we had great sunny weather and were able to see the top of Iceland's tallest mountain in the distance. Traversing the barren remains of the glacier shows what a big difference just five years of warmer temperatures and glacial shrinking means for the landscape.
The ice cap is so large that there are several different glaciers stemming from it, and the glacier we hiked is Falljokull, or "falling glacier." Falljokull gets its name because it formed by thousands of ice crystals cascading down the cliff and into the ocean over thousands of years.
At the foot of the glacier, where the rocks abruptly gave way to solid ice, we put on our crampons and tried to maneuver without slashing our legs. I'm known for being a bit of a cautious climber but our guide instructed us to walk with decisive, heavy steps to really drive those spikes into the ice. Stomping up the glacier, childhood flashbacks of my mom commanding me to "stop stamping around and walk like a young lady" made me laugh a little.
Throughout the hike, we admired the view of the ocean from up on the glacier and several ice formations made by the ice melt.
My two favorite glacier features were the cave, shown above, and a bright blue miniature waterfall in the middle of the glacier. The glacier water here is among the purest water in the world, and if you don't mind your hands getting chilly you can drink from any stream. The only downside is that unfortunately you shouldn't drink too much of it since it hasn't been filtered through rocks at all and is void of vital minerals.
In all, the hike wasn't too strenuous although I couldn't have done it without the crampons. The ice pick, however, was a little more decorative!
We were so hungry by the time we finished the hike and got back to the car, but we were saving ourselves for a very special dinner. On the way to the restaurant, which was a few hours' drive away in Hofn, we pulled off on the side of the road and made a stop at the Glacier Lagoon. Just a quick walk up a hill opened up a view of the most unique lagoon, almost a lake, sprinkled with icebergs of varying size.
We milled around for a while trying to find funny shapes in the icebergs and even saw a seal pop its head up once or twice.
After lots of fun on the glacier, it was time to begin our long drive to our cottage in Djupivogur. Before we could rest for the night, we stopped in the small port town of Hofn for an Icelandic delicacy called langoustine. I'd never heard of it before this trip, but it's a cross between a lobster and a crayfish found in the waters around Scandanavia. Pakkhus Restaurant in Hofn makes some of the best langoustine on the East Coast and we were dying to try it.
You're looking at about eight tails of langoustine and a langoustine egg roll, and everything was delicious. The texture of the shellfish was a cross between tender lobster and shrimp, and the flavor was succulent yet lighter since the langoustine was grilled. It was a lot of food but ended up being the only time I had this dish during the trip, so I'm glad I finished it!